Starchy foods are an essential part of a nutritious diet. They are a vital source of energy and nutrition and provide the basis for a satisfying, balanced meal.

Starch is a type of carbohydrate consisting of glucose molecules. Glucose provides cells with energy and helps nerve cells in the brain function properly.

Starchy foods come in many forms, and people often consume them as staple foods in diets worldwide. Legumes, grains, and root vegetables are all examples of them.

A person with diabetes or high blood sugar may want to monitor their intake of starchy foods. This is because people with these conditions are more sensitive to blood sugar spikes that naturally accompany consuming carbohydrates.

Read more to learn about why starchy foods are an important part of a balanced diet, along with examples of nutritious, starchy foods to try.

Plate of chickpeas which are a fiber rich starchShare on Pinterest
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While starchy foods are naturally high in starch, they are not composed entirely of the substance. They can also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, naturally occurring sugars, and more.

Because they are high in starch, a carbohydrate, starchy foods provide the body with readily available energy. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in a person’s diet.

Learn more about carbohydrates.

There are various reasons why starchy foods are crucial as part of a balanced diet:

Energy

Starchy foods are a suitable source of energy because of their high carbohydrate content.

When a person’s body digests starch, it breaks down into glucose molecules. This glucose enters the bloodstream and powers nearly every cell in the body, including the organs, muscles, and brain. The body can use this glucose right away or store it in the liver for later use.

It is particularly important for brain function –– and the brain requires a lot of glucose.

In humans, the brain weighs about 2% of a person’s overall body weight. However, it consumes about 20% of an individual’s energy from glucose, making it the human body’s primary burner of glucose.

Fiber

Many starchy foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and beans, are high in fiber.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate with a unique molecular structure. Because its glucose molecules are bound tightly together, it is not easily broken down by the small intestine, meaning that it passes through the digestive system.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that most people in the United States do not include enough fiber in their diet.

The FDA says that fiber helps move waste through the digestive system. High fiber diets can also reduce a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020suggests that for every 1,800 calories, 25.2 grams (g) should come from fiber.

Learn more about the importance of dietary fiber.

Satiety

Satiety is the feeling of being full after eating. Certain foods make a person feel more satiated after eating them.

Research suggests foods containing fiber increase satiety. They also offer other health benefits, including improving the body’s insulin sensitivity and reducing fat storage.

Some starchy foods also rank highly on the food satiety index, a list developed by researchers in 1995. The list aimed to determine the foods most and least satiating to participants. Some of the top foods included potatoes, porridge, and brown pasta.

A nutritious diet fuels a person’s body sufficiently and provides a balance of nutrients. Starchy foods, which offer energy, fiber, and vitamins, are a crucial part of a person’s overall diet.

The FDA states that the recommended daily value for total carbohydrates is 275 g per day for each person. However, this amount will vary greatly depending on an individual’s height, weight, total daily calorie intake, activity level, and more.

Learn more about how to determine daily calorie intake.

The following lists provide the nutritional information of nutritious, starchy foods:

Legumes

Legumes are an accessible, inexpensive source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. In their dry form, they provide 2–3 times more protein than rice and wheat.

The following table provides the nutritional information for 100 g of cooked legumes:

CarbohydratesFiberProtein
Lentils20.1 g7.9 g9.02 g
Chickpeas13.5 g4.4 g4.92 g
Kidney beans2.8 g0.1 g1.8 g

Whole grains

Whole grain and whole wheat starchy foods provide a higher amount of fiber than their refined counterparts. People can find these in most grocery stores.

The nutritional information for different whole grains features below:

CarbohydratesFiberProtein
Barley73.5 g17.3 g12.5 g
Buckwheat71.5 g10 g13.2 g
Oatmeal11.36 g1.7 g2.21 g
Popcorn80.1 g2.9 g9.7 g
Pasta74.7 g3.2 g13 g

Vegetables

Vegetables are a low calorie, nutrient-dense way to incorporate starch into a diet. However, some vegetables, such as lettuce and cucumbers, are not starchy foods.

The nutrient content of common starchy vegetables features below:

CarbohydratesFiberProtein
Potatoes21.6 g1.5 g1.96 g
Parsnips17 g4 g1.32 g
Butternut squash11.7 g2 g1 g
Peas15.6 g5.5 g5.36 g
Corn18.64 g2 g3.26 g

Starchy foods produce acrylamide, a potentially harmful chemical, when a person cooks them at high temperatures for a sustained time.

The FDA says that acrylamide is a human health concern, and researchers need to conduct more studies to understand the full extent of its potential effects.

The agency suggests people limit their exposure to acrylamide by:

  • avoiding high-temperature cooking such as frying or roasting
  • being aware that certain foods, such as potato, grains, and coffee, have higher potential quantities of acrylamide
  • storing starchy foods in a cool, dry place, but not the refrigerator

For most people, a balanced diet includes starchy foods. However, for individuals with certain health conditions, too much starch intake may be harmful.

For example, those with diabetes need to be more aware of their starchy food intake than others. This does not mean they must avoid starchy foods, it simply means that because their bodies are more sensitive to carbohydrates, they need to pay close attention to what they consume.

The American Diabetes Association says that people with type 1 diabetes can benefit from carb counting. A person with type 2 diabetes should try to spread their carbs evenly throughout the day and avoid highly processed foods.

Individuals with specific dietary needs, medical conditions, or both, should contact a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for advice.

Starchy foods are an important part of a balanced diet — they provide energy, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. Eating enough nutritious starchy foods can help a person’s digestion, satiety, and energy levels.

Starchy foods come in many forms, including legumes, whole grains, starchy vegetables, and more.

People with diabetes may need to be careful of their starchy food intake, as these foods are high in carbohydrates. They may wish to contact a healthcare professional, registered dietitian, or certified diabetes educator for advice.