Starch From Food: Which Types Are Good and Bad?

Starch From Food: Which Types Are Good and Bad?

Medically reviewed by Jamie Johnson, RDN

Starch is a complex carbohydrate in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and other foods. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred primary energy source and contain essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

However, some starches contain more nutrients than others. Instead of focusing on starches you should avoid, consider the nutrient-dense types and ways to include them in your eating plan.

This article discusses starches, which foods contain higher amounts of nutrients, and how they can impact blood sugar.


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Effects of Starch on the Body

Starch is a complex carbohydrate in plants’ roots, tubers, and seeds. Starches are the most important food source of carbohydrates; they get broken down into glucose (sugar) to give the body energy. The brain and red blood cells depend on glucose for energy.

The body tightly regulates your glucose levels. However, metabolic diseases like diabetes can thwart this process. People with diabetes may not make enough insulin, or their insulin is not used efficiently (as in insulin resistance, when cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin and can’t take up glucose from the blood), or a combination of both. The types and amount of carbohydrates you eat can impact blood sugar.

Foods that contain smaller sugar molecules, like fruit, get broken down in the body quicker. Foods with a lots of starch without fiber (think bagels, cookies, and pretzels) also get metabolized faster, leading to hunger shortly after eating and blood sugar spikes in people with diabetes. Yet, starchy foods with fiber are metabolized slower and can increase satiety while stabilizing blood sugar.


Starches from vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes provide the body with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and energy. The body prefers to use carbohydrates for energy and stores extra glycogen to keep blood sugar in a healthy range. Eating a variety of starches is essential, especially for highly active people.

Starches that contain fiber (whole grains, plants, legumes, and vegetables) can contribute to gut health and reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.


Some starches, like refined grains and processed foods, lack fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals and contain sodium, fat, or sugar. It is easy to overeat these foods, which can contribute to excess calories, a key factor in weight gain. These foods are not as nutrient-dense as other starches.

For people with diabetes, consuming starch with protein, healthy fat, and fiber can help keep blood sugar stable. The quality and amount of carbohydrates (carbs) consumed can impact blood sugar. Excess carbs in the form of added sugar or fried foods can increase the risk of developing high triglycerides (a type of fat that can increase heart disease and metabolic syndrome risk).

Types of Food Starch

Rapidly digested starch is present in cooked foods like potatoes and bread and can be converted to glucose quicker than slowly digested starches. Some fiber types are referred to as resistant starches because they cannot be digested.

Resistant starch is found in the following foods:

  • Oats
  • Legumes
  • Underripe bananas
  • Whole grains

Foods that are high in starch are still nutritious. Potatoes contain starch and offer plenty of nutrients, including:

  • Potassium
  • Fiber (higher when you eat the skin)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folate (Vitamin B9)
  • Niacin
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Copper
  • Manganese

Low-Starch Examples

Low-starch foods like non-starchy vegetables contain about 5 grams (g) of carbohydrates per 1 cup of raw or one-half cup of cooked food. Protein-rich foods and fats contain little to no starch. Examples of low-starch foods are:

High-Starch Examples

Paying attention to starches is an important part of blood sugar management, especially if you have diabetes. The type and amount of starch you eat and what and when you eat it can impact your feelings of fullness (satiety), energy, and mood, as well as blood sugar.

Eating high-starch items with healthy fats, fiber, and protein can prevent overeating and increase feelings of fullness. Examples of high-starch foods include:

  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Cassava
  • Cereal grains
  • Starchy vegetables (white potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash)
  • Snack foods (pretzels, crackers, chips)
  • Baked goods (bagels, breads, muffins, cookies, cakes, donuts)

Whole Grains vs. Refined

High-starch items like grains can be refined or whole. A whole grain contains the endosperm, germ, and bran. Whole grains contain more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant-based compounds. Refined grains can be fortified with nutrients that are stripped away during processing.

How Much Starch to Eat Daily

How much starch you should eat daily depends on height, weight, age, gender, overall calorie needs, fitness, nutrition, and health goals. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, experts recommend adults eat six 1-ounce grain equivalents, with at least half being whole grains, plus 1.5-cup servings of legumes and 5-cup equivalents of starchy vegetables.

Starch Swaps

There are plenty of options if you are looking for more nutrient-dense carbohydrates. Be sure to choose foods that contain fiber and ones you enjoy eating.

Research has found that people who consume high amounts of dietary fiber have a 15% to 30% decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular-related mortality (death) and incidence of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. Risk reduction was highest when fiber intake was 25–29 g daily.

Some high-starch food swaps and ways to add them to your diet are:

  • Try quinoa or chickpea pasta instead of regular pasta. They may contain more fiber, protein, and other plant-based compounds. You can also add zucchini noodles to your traditional pasta mix.
  • Choose a cereal with whole-grain oats and mix in berries, flaxseed, cinnamon, nuts, and seeds rather than a high-sugar cereal. You can also try overnight oats made with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.
  • Swap crackers and pretzels with whole grain crackers topped with hummus or guacamole, or whole-grain popcorn with nutritional yeast and vegan cheese flavoring. If you’re looking for something crunchy, snack on cut-up vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, broccoli) with low-fat cheese, nut butter, or yogurt dip.


Starch is a complex carbohydrate that provides the body with energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eliminating foods containing starch makes meeting your fiber needs difficult and can lead to a lack of vitamins and minerals. Fiber is an incredibly important nutrient for overall health.

While no food is inherently bad, the types of carbohydrates you eat, how much, and what you eat with them can impact your blood sugar, energy, mood, and weight. When choosing starches, opt for nutrient-dense ones most of the time. These include starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash, whole grains, legumes, and fruits.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.