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Starchy foods

pasta tricolor Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes are a really important part of a healthy diet. Try to choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can.

How much do I need?

potatoes Starchy foods should make up about a third of the food we eat. Most people should be eating more starchy foods. So if you want to eat healthily try to think about the proportions of the different foods you eat in a day.

Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. As well as starch, these foods contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.

Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but they contain less than half the calories of fat. You just need to watch out for the added fats used for cooking and serving, because this is what increases the calorie content. If you're concerned about your weight, wholegrain varieties are an especially good choice.

Low-carbohydrate diets
'Low-carbohydrate' diets have had a lot of publicity recently. These diets usually involve cutting out most starchy foods.

Cutting out starchy foods, or any food group, can be bad for your health because you could be missing out on a range of nutrients. Low-carbohydrate diets tend to be high in fat, and eating a diet that is high in fat (especially saturated fat from foods such as meat, cheese, butter and cakes) could increase your chances of developing coronary heart disease.

These diets may also restrict the amount of fruit, veg and fibre you eat, all of which are vital for good health.

So, rather than avoiding starchy foods, it's better to try and base your meals on them, so they make up about a third of your diet.

If you're concerned about your weight see the Healthy weight section.


lentils Most people don't eat enough fibre. Foods rich in fibre are a very healthy choice, so try to include a variety of fibre-rich foods in your diet. These are all rich in fibre: wholegrain bread, brown rice, pasta, oats, beans, peas, lentils, grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables.

Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants. There are two types of fibre: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fibre
This is the fibre that the body can't digest and so it passes through the gut helping other food and waste products move through the gut more easily.

Wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals and fruit and vegetables all contain this type of fibre.

Insoluble fibre helps to keep bowels healthy and stop constipation. And this means we are less likely to get some common disorders of the gut. Foods rich in this sort of fibre are more bulky and so help make us feel full, which means we are less likely to eat too much.

Soluble fibre
This fibre can be partially digested and may help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Particularly good sources of soluble fibre include oats and pulses such as beans and lentils.

Tips for eating more starchy foods and fibre

Most people aren't eating enough starchy foods or fibre. Here are some good sources for you to choose from:
  • all sorts of bread including wholemeal, granary, brown, seedy, chapattis, pitta bread, bagels, roti and tortillas
  • potatoes, plantain, yam and sweet potato
  • more exotic choices included dasheen, coco yam and kenkey
  • squash, breadfruit and cassava
  • wholegrain breakfast cereals
  • beans, lentils, peas
  • couscous, bulgar wheat
  • maize, cornmeal
We should all be trying to eat a variety of starchy foods and choosing wholegrain, brown or high fibre varieties whenever we can.

Here are some tips to help you increase the amount of starchy foods and fibre you are eating:
  • Have more rice and pasta and less sauce.
  • If you're having sausages and mash - have more of the mash, some vegetables and one less sausage.
  • Add beans or lentils to your casseroles, stews and curries - this will also bump up the fibre content and because you will be able to use less meat, the meal will be cheaper and lower in saturated fat.
  • Try different breads such as seeded, wholemeal and granary and go for thick slices.
  • Try brown rice - it makes a very tasty rice salad.
  • Opt for wholegrain cereals or mix some in with your favourite cereal.
  • Porridge is a great warming winter breakfast and whole oats with fresh fruit and yoghurt makes a great start to a summer's day. Oats are a good source of soluble fibre.

All about rice and grains

rice bowls three Rice and grains are an excellent choice as a starchy food. They give us energy and are also good value and low in fat.

There are many types to choose from such as:
  • all kinds of rice - quick cook, abborio, basmati, long grain, brown, short grain, wild
  • couscous
  • bulgar wheat
Rice and grains contain:
  • some protein, which the body needs to grow and repair itself
  • some fibre that can help the body get rid of waste products
  • B vitamins, which release the energy from the food we eat and help the body to work properly
We should eat some starchy foods, such as rice, grains, bread and potatoes every day as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Rice is eaten in many countries throughout the world. There are many different types that have different tastes and textures.

Rice and grains such as couscous and bulgar wheat can be eaten hot or cold and in salads, such as tabbouleh.

Storing and reheating
There are a few things to remember when you are storing and reheating cooked rice and grains. This is because the spores of some food poisoning bugs can survive cooking.

If cooked rice or grains are left standing at room temperature, the spores can germinate. The bacteria multiply and produce toxins that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Reheating food won't get rid of the toxins.

Therefore, it's best to serve rice and grains when they've just been cooked. If this isn't possible, cool them within an hour after cooking and keep them refrigerated until reheating or using in a cold dish.

You should throw away any rice and grains that have been left at room temperature overnight.

Don't keep cooked rice and grains longer than one day and don't reheat them more than once. Check the 'use by' date and storage instructions on the label for any cold rice or grain salads that you buy.

All about bread

bread assorted Bread, especially wholemeal, granary, brown and seedy bread, is a healthy choice as part of a balanced diet.

Bread is a starchy food, like pasta, potatoes and rice, and these foods should make up about a third of our diet.

Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown bread give us energy and contain B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and 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 bread.

Bread has been a staple food in the UK for centuries. These days, more than 200 varieties of bread are available in this country, with origins from all around the world. These range from ciabatta, pumpernickel, baguette and soda bread, to bagels, flour tortillas and pitta.

Some people avoid bread because they think they're allergic to wheat, or because they think bread is fattening. But it's very important to talk to your GP before cutting out any type of food.

This is because you could be missing out on a whole range of nutrients that we need to stay healthy.

All about potatoes

potatoes Potatoes are counted as a starchy food rather than one of your five fruit and veg, because this is how they’re eaten as part of a meal. And they’re a great choice, particularly if they’re not cooked in 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 Britain we get a lot of our daily vitamin C from them because we eat so many.

Whether they're mashed, boiled, sautéed or steamed, you’ll find potatoes in many British and international dishes from shepherd's pie to Spanish omelette. Potatoes can also give soups a thick and creamy texture without having to add butter or cream. When cooking or serving try to go for lower fat (polyunsaturated) spreads or unsaturated oils like olive or sunflower instead of butter.

There are lots of varieties of potatoes, which are great for cooking in different ways. New potatoes are planted and harvested early in the year and are a little higher in vitamin C. Some are more ‘waxy’, good for using in salads, others have a ‘floury’ texture, great for fluffy mash. But for a good all-round potato choose a King Edward or a Maris Piper.

To get the most out of them, leave the skins on to keep in more of the fibre and vitamins. If you’re boiling them some nutrients will leak out into the water, especially if you’ve peeled them. So use only enough water to cover them and cook for the minimum time.

Storing and Cooking

You should keep potatoes somewhere dark, cool and dry, but not in the fridge. This is because putting them in the fridge can increase the amount of sugar they hold, which could lead to higher levels of a chemical called acrylamide when the potatoes are roasted, baked or fried at high temperatures.

Keeping potatoes cool and dry will also help stop them sprouting, you shouldn’t eat any green or sprouting bits of potatoes.