Starchy foods are our main source of carbohydrate and play an important role in a healthy diet. They are also a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. As well as starch, they contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Types of starchy foods
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and cereals are all examples of starchy foods and should make up just over a third of the food you eat, as shown by the Eatwell Guide.
These foods contain fewer than half the calories of fat. However, watch out for the added fats used when you cook and serve them, as this is what increases the calorie content.
In the UK, adults are recommended to eat 30g of fibre a day. Looking at the nutritional information on foods can give you an idea of how much fibre is in a food.
Wholegrain varieties of starchy foods are good sources of fibre.
Fibre can help to keep your bowels healthy and can help you to feel full, which means you are less likely to eat too much.
Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants.
There are two types of fibre, insoluble and soluble.
The body can’t digest this type of fibre, so it passes through the gut helping other food and waste products move through the gut more easily.
Wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wholewheat pasta are good sources of insoluble fibre.
This type of fibre can be partly digested and may help reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
Oats and pulses are good sources of soluble fibre.
Foods containing fibre
Examples of food containing fibre are:
- bowl of porridge: 5g
- banana: 1.5g
- apple: 1.2g
- wholemeal bread (two slices): 4g
- bowl of wholemeal pasta: 4.2g
- jacket potato: 5g
- baked beans: 3g
- handful of nuts: 3g
Tips to eat more starchy foods
These tips can help you to increase the amount of starchy foods in your diet:
- choose wholegrain varieties to increase the amount of fibre you are eating
- porridge is perfect as a warming winter breakfast
- whole oats with fruit and yoghurt make a great summer breakfast
- opt for wholegrain cereals or mix some in with your favourite cereal
- try different breads, such as seeded, wholemeal, and granary
- try brown rice - it makes a very tasty rice salad
Potatoes are classified nutritionally as a starchy food and don't count towards your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Instead, potatoes count as starchy food because when eaten as part of a meal, they are generally eaten instead of other starchy sources such as pasta, rice or bread.
Potatoes are a healthy menu choice when they're not cooked with too much salt or fat.
They’re a good source of energy, fibre, B vitamins and potassium.
Although potatoes don’t contain much vitamin C compared to other vegetables, in Northern Ireland we get a lot of our daily vitamin C from them because we eat so many.
When cooking or serving potatoes, try to go for lower fat (polyunsaturated) spreads or unsaturated oils like olive or sunflower oil instead of butter.
Leave the skins on where possible to keep in more of the fibre and vitamins.
If you’re boiling potatoes, some nutrients will leak out into the water especially if you’ve peeled them. To stop this happening, only use enough water to cover them and cook them for the minimum time.
Acrylamide is a chemical substance formed when starchy foods, such as potatoes and bread, are cooked at high temperatures (above 120°C).
Information on how to reduce acrylamide at home, including advice on cooking and storing potatoes, is available at:
Rice and grains
Rice and grains are an excellent choice of starchy food.
Choose wholegrain options where possible.
They give us energy, are low in fat and good value for money. They also provide us with some protein.
There are many types to choose from, including:
- bulgar wheat
- all kinds of rice, such as quick-cook, arborio, basmati, long grain, brown, short grain and wild
As well as carbohydrates, rice and grains contain:
- protein, which the body needs to grow and repair itself
- fibre, which can help the body get rid of waste products
- B vitamins, which help release energy from the food we eat, and help the body to work properly
Rice and grains can be eaten hot or cold and in salads.
Storing and reheating rice and grains
There are a few precautions you should take when storing and reheating cooked rice and grains. This is because the spores of some food poisoning bugs can survive cooking.
Further information is available at:
Breads, especially wholemeal, granary, brown and seeded breads, are a healthy choice to eat as part of a balanced diet.
Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown breads give us energy and contain:
- B vitamins
- vitamin E
- a wide range of minerals
White bread also contains a range of vitamins and minerals, but it has less fibre than wholegrain, wholemeal or brown breads.