Low-carb dieters shun foods like potatoes and grains because of their starch content. As it turns out, there might be some benefit to eating starchy foods in moderation, as many types of starches have positive effects on health. These foods also contain other important nutrients, such as fiber.
What Are Starchy Foods?
There are three types of carbohydrates, namely sugar, fiber and starch, points out the U.S. National Library of Medicine. When you subtract the sugar and fiber from the total carbohydrate content, you are left with the starch content. The foods with the largest proportion of starch are often called starchy foods.
Grains, such as wheat and rice, and grain products top the list of starchy foods. White bread has 14.3 grams of total carbs and 11.9 grams of starch per slice. Whole wheat bread has 13.7 grams of total carbs and 10.4 grams of starch per slice. One cup of cooked brown rice provides 44.5 grams of total carbs, of which 42.3 grams are starch, while one cup of cooked white rice has 45.8 grams of total carbs, of which 43.8 grams are starch.
Potatoes are the most notable member of the starchy vegetable group. Per 3.5 ounces, boiled potatoes have 20.1 grams of total carbs, and 17.4 grams of starch. Corn is also high in starch, with 20.9 grams per cup. Beans contain starch, too, with 40.8 grams in a cup of black beans.
Starches: The Good
Starches get a bad rap, but it's not all glum news. Carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy. They provide fuel for all physiological activity and supply the majority of the energy your brain needs to function, as reported in a November 2014 review in Advances in Nutrition.
Whole foods that contain starch are often high in fiber, too. Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate, but your body can only minimally digest it, and it contributes very few calories to your diet. However, it benefits your health, helping to reduce cholesterol, normalize bowel movements and lower your risk of bowel diseases, states the Mayo Clinic.
Fiber may also aid in weight loss by making low-calorie foods more satiating and delaying the release of a hunger-stimulating hormone called ghrelin, according to a review published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in January 2019.
Healthy starches include starchy vegetables and whole grains. These foods are chock-full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Thanks to their fiber content, they digest slowly and provide a steady source of energy for the body. Yes, even potatoes, though much-maligned, are a healthy source of complex carbohydrates.
Read more: 16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs
Starches: The Bad
Refined and processed starchy foods can wreak havoc on your health. For example, refined grains, such as white flour and white bread, have most of their fiber removed during milling, which gives them a smoother, finer texture and milder flavor.
With very little fiber, they digest quickly and spike your blood sugar. This provides immediate energy, but it is quickly depleted, leaving you feeling fatigued. You may also feel hungry again soon after eating, which may lead to increased calorie intake and weight gain.
Many junk foods contain starchy simple carbs, as well as other unhealthy ingredients like saturated fat, excess sodium and added sugar. Potato chips, donuts, sugary cereals and cookies are among them.
When choosing starchy foods, go for whole, unprocessed grains and vegetables. Check the nutrition facts and look for high-fiber, low-sugar options. When tempted by starchy simple carbs, reach for half a baked sweet potato or a slice of whole-grain bread instead. Be sure to stick to one serving as many starchy carbs are high in calories.
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for White Bread"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Carbohydrates"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Whole Wheat Bread"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Cooked Brown Rice"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for White Rice"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Black Beans"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Cooked Yellow Sweet Corn"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Boiled Potatoes"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential For a Healthy Diet"
- Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: "The Role of Fiber in Energy Balance"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cutting Carbs? Don’t Say ‘No’ to These Starchy Foods"
- American Heart Association: "Carbohydrates"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Carbohydrates"