Starches are complex carbohydrates that produce vital energy when your body converts them to glucose during digestion. These starches in provide fuel for your muscles, brain and other vital organs.
When you’re planning your diet, choose low-fat, minimally processed starchy foods rather than refined starches to control your intake of calories and increase the nutritional value of your meals, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To help out, here's a partial list of healthy starchy vegetables and other foods:
- Whole grains
- Sweet potatoes
- Pinto beans
- Garbanzo beans
- Lima beans
- Dried beans
Nutritional Value of Starches
Starches, sugars and fiber are carbohydrates, a class of nutrients that play essential roles in energy production and digestion. Because starches consist of chains of molecules, they are considered complex carbohydrates. Starchy foods such as wheat, legumes, potatoes and some vegetables and fruits help you meet your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
Many starchy foods are also rich in fiber, an indigestible complex carbohydrate that regulates bowel activity. The food exchange program developed by the American Diabetes Association establishes general values for starchy foods. According to these guidelines, one serving of a starchy food has 15 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 80 calories. The specific nutritional values of individual foods may vary.
Starchy Vegetables and Fruits
Potatoes, corn, parsnips, pumpkin, squash, yams and sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables. One-half cup of corn, 1/4 of a large baked potato, 1 cup of pumpkin or squash constitute a serving of starchy vegetables, according to the American Diabetes Association’s food exchange list.
Bananas are a starchy fruit, offering 6 grams of starch per medium banana, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Starchy vegetables and fruits also provide fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. One-half cup of sweet potato has 21 grams of total carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 20 milligrams of vitamin C and 19,218 international units of vitamin A, according to the USDA.
Legumes Are a Source of Starch
Legumes of all shapes, sizes and colors are starchy foods. Pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, peas and lima beans are rich in starches. Dried beans also provide protein, fiber, iron, potassium and other essential nutrients.
One serving of legumes equals about one-half cup of cooked beans. One-half cup of lentils offers 20 grams of total carbohydrate, 8 grams of fiber, 9 grams of protein, 3 milligrams of iron and 365 milligrams of potassium, according to the USDA.
Whole Grains and Cereals
Wheat, barley, rice, rye and other grains are rich in starches. Because the milling process removes the nutrient-rich bran and germ from grain kernels during the production of flour, breads, cereals and other starchy foods made from refined flour contain less fiber and fewer vitamins and minerals than whole-grain products, the CDC notes.
One slice of bread, one 6-inch flour tortilla, 1/3 cup of cooked rice or barley and 1/2 cup of ready-to-eat dry cereal equal one serving of a starchy food. One-half cup of cooked whole wheat cereal provides 17 grams of total carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and 16 micrograms of selenium, according to the USDA.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Sweet Potato, Cooked, Baked in Skin, without Salt, 0.5 Cup
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Lentils, Mature Seeds, Boiled, without Salt, 0.5 Cup
- AHA: Carbohydrates
- CDC: More About Carbs
- American Diabetes Association: Carbohydrate Counting
- American Diabetes Association: Create Your Plate