Starchy Foods. Are They Good For You?

November 12, 2012

Starchy Foods. Are They Good For You?

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which looks at food consumption in the UK, has produced a report which shows that most of us should be eating more starchy foods. But why is this and what exactly, is a starchy food?

Starchy foods are sometimes thought of as fattening but they contain fewer calories than fat or alcohol and more importantly they are full of the nutrients that our bodies require. If we take starchy foods in our diet then we guarantee a good source of energy produced from the starch, fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins present. Ensure that you cook the food healthily without added fat for the lowest calorie option. Starch is the most common form of carbohydrate in our diet. The government recommends that we should eat some starchy foods every day as part of a healthy balanced diet. They say that about 30% of the diet should be made up from starchy foods.


Carbohydrates, from starchy foods are a great source of energy for the body, simply because the body can convert them more easily into glucose than proteins or fats. Glucose is a form of sugar which the body uses to produce energy. Although carbohydrates are very good, a diet too high in carbohydrates can disturb the body’s balance by varying the blood sugar level. This can show itself in many different ways, such as energy fluctuations and mood swings which in the end leave you irritated and tired.

There are two types of carbohydrate: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates, known as starch or starchy foods can be found naturally in foods and also refined in processed foods. Simple carbohydrates are also known as sugars. They can be found in either a natural or refined form too.

Natural sugars are found in fruit and vegetables.

Complex carbohydrates as natural starches are found in: root vegetables, bananas, barley, beans, brown rice, chickpeas, potatoes and wholegrain and wholemeal foods such as cereals and bread.

Examples of complex carbohydrates as refined starches are found in: pizzas, white bread, biscuits, pastries, cakes and white rice, flour and pasta.

Simple carbohydrates (sugars) are found in: biscuits, cakes, pastries, chocolate, honey and jams, sweets and snack bars. And this form of carbohydrate (sugar) can cause tooth decay.

All carbohydrates form glucose when digested. Glucose is transported around the body via the blood and taken to cells that require it for energy. The slower the release of glucose means the body is more stable and energy levels produced are more sustainable. If the carbohydrate is more refined then the glucose is released into your blood faster. These peaks and dips in your blood sugar level reflects itself in the body’s energy level being less stable. So it can be seen that complex carbohydrates provide a slower and more sustained release of energy than simple carbohydrates which contributes to long-term good health, appetite control and sustained energy levels.

A balanced diet ensures that your intake of carbohydrates, protein, a little fat and fibre are all at reasonable levels. But some people insist on using other diets. The low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diet normally means that most starchy foods are avoided. To compensate these diets tend to be high in fat. The government advises that eating a high-fat diet (especially when saturated fats from foods such as meat, cheese, butter and cakes are present) can increase your risk of heart disease. Because fruit, vegetables and fibre all have carbohydrates present a low-carb diet can also be low on the amount of fruit, vegetables and fibre present. The government advises that starchy foods should make up about a third of your diet. This means that potatoes, bread, cereals, rice and pasta should make up about a third of the food you eat. Where you can, choose wholegrain varieties and do not cook in fat or oil.


As a source of fibre, wholegrain varieties of food are excellent. If you are trying to lose weight wholemeal foods have other benefits too. They fill you up because of the fibre present which helps us to feel full. This leads to eating less because we are not hungry. This all adds up to wholegrain starchy foods being a very good choice when trying to lose weight. The fibre present also helps the bowels by keeping everything regular.

There are two types of fibre, and they are only found in foods that come from plants. The first type is called insoluble fibre and the body can’t digest this type of fibre. It just passes through. But it does help with regularity and removes the possibility of constipation. This kind of fibre can be found in wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wholewheat pasta.

Soluble fibre can be partly digested and is thought to help reduce the cholesterol levels in the blood. This fibre is found in oats and pulses.

How to make starchy foods more appealing?

Even though it’s the healthy option if it doesn’t appeal then it won’t get eaten. So here are a few ideas to make meals more appetising and get a bit more starch into your diet.

  • Always choose the wholegrain varieties when you cook, this also increases your fibre intake.

  • Oatmeal can make a terrific porridge for those cold winter mornings and then add yoghurt to make a light summer breakfast.

  • Try to eat more of the rice or pasta and less of the sauce. Use brown rice.

  • Make wholemeal and granary breads your regular loaves.

  • Eat less meat and more vegetables or pulses. If you’re having a pork chop and mash, have more mash and some vegetables and buy yourself a smaller chop.

Types of starchy foods

If people are talking about the common types of starchy foods usually included will be potatoes, rice, pasta and grains. Often the grains are made into bread. Potatoes are classified nutritionally as a starchy food and although it is a vegetable it does not count as a portion of fruit and vegetables a day. Instead, according to the UK Government potatoes count as starchy food. They tend to be eaten as part of a meal instead of other starchy sources, such as pasta, rice or bread. If cooked properly they can be a healthy choice. This means boiling them in just enough water with no salt, certainly not as chips or roast potatoes. They are a good source of energy, fibre, B vitamins and potassium. In the UK potatoes are eaten with most meals, so although they do not contain a lot of vitamin C we get a high amount of our daily allowance of vitamin C from this source, even though green vegetables or oranges are much higher values.

Rice and grains give us energy, they are low in fat and can be bought quite cheaply. This all adds up to a good choice of starchy food. Many people only consider white rice but there are many types to choose from. How about couscous, bulgar wheat and all kinds of rice, such as quick-cook, basmati, long grain, brown, short grain or jasmine rice. Grains and rice are high in protein, which the body needs for growth and to repair itself, fibre and B vitamins, which are required to release energy from the food we eat. The body cannot work properly if we are deficient in any of these.

Wholemeal, granary, brown and seeded breads are the healthier types of bread to eat as part of a balanced diet. They contain B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and a wide range of minerals. These vitamins and minerals are present in white bread too, but it has less fibre than wholegrain, wholemeal or brown breads.

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