Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates

Foods in this group are all important sources of starchy carbohydrates; one of the main types of carbohydrate. Starchy carbohydrates play an important part of our diet by providing our bodies with energy. Think of foods in this group as ‘fuel’ for your body.

Carbohydrates can be broadly classified into two types: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are more commonly known as sugars, and are quickly absorbed into our bodies and should be eaten in limited quantities. Complex carbohydrates include starchy foods and fibre. These are broken down and absorbed more slowly than simple sugars and therefore give a more sustained release of energy to help us feel full for longer.

What foods are included in this group?

  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Cous cous
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Quinoa
  • Noodles
  • Oats
  • Breakfast cereals

How much should people eat and why?

As well as providing us with energy, foods in the starchy carbohydrate group are an important source of fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins. The Eatwell Guide suggests that just over one third of our daily food intake should come from starchy carbohydrates, meaning that most people need to eat 4-6 portions per day and each meal should contain a portion of starchy carbohydrate.

The latest government guidance on carbohydrates and health

The government asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) to provide clarification on the relationship between dietary carbohydrates (sugars, starches and fibre) and health as the last review of the evidence had taken place over 20 years ago and new evidence had emerged that needed to be evaluated and, if needed, translated into new public health messages and healthy eating advice.

SACN published their final report in 2015 and this showed that since the last review in 1991, the evidence indicating that a high intake of sugars is harmful to health had strengthened. The report set out a number of dietary recommendations for carbohydrate intake.

This includes:

  • Total carbohydrate intake (including all sugars and starches) should provide around half of the energy we consume
  • Dietary fibre intake should increase to 30g per day for adults and 16- 18 year olds, 15 g per day for children aged 2-5 years, 20g per day for children 5-11 years and 25g per day for children 11-16 years.
  • Average intake of free sugars should not exceed 5% of the total energy in out diet

What are free sugars?

SACN used a new term to describe the types of sugars that need to be reduced in the diets of most of us. Free sugars is the term used to describe sugars added to foods by manufacturers, cooks and consumers, plus the sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.

The sugar (lactose) naturally found in milk and milk products and the sugars naturally present in fruits and vegetables are not considered to be free sugars. Free sugars are not the same as ‘total sugars’. This can be quite confusing as food labelling shows ‘total sugars’ and not ‘free sugars’. Some examples below show the difference between free and total sugars in foods.

The new dietary recommendations for free sugars was designed to minimise the health risks associated with high intakes of free sugars, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. For people of a healthy weight, SACN advises that the reduction in free sugars should be replaced by starchy carbohydrates, fruits and vegetable and, for those who consume dairy products, by lactose naturally present in milk and milk products. For those who are overweight, reducing free sugars intake would be part of an overall goal of reducing total energy (calories) intake.

  • The recommended amount of free sugars has been halved from 10% of dietary energy to 5% or less
  • Public Health England has calculated that this means:
    • No more than 19g per day of free sugars for children aged 4 to 6- this is equivalent to 5 cubes of sugar
    • No more than 24g per day for 7 to 10-year olds – this is equivalent to 6 cubes of sugar
    • No more than 30g per day for children from aged 11 and adults- this is equivalent to 7 cubes of sugar

Only 1 in 8 adults achieve this recommendation

Elior’s Action On: Starchy Carbohydrates

Which starchy carbohydrates should you be choosing?

You should choose wholegrain, wholemeal or higher fibre versions of starchy carbohydrate foods. Most people don’t eat enough fibre and these varieties are higher in fibre and also the best at keeping us feeling full. Starchy carbohydrate foods are naturally low in fat. Be aware of starchy carbohydrates that have been fried or had fat added to them such as chips, sautéed potatoes, butter on bread and potatoes and creamy sauces on pasta or rice dishes.

Be aware of starchy carbohydrates that have been fried or had fat added to them such as chips, sautéed potatoes, butter on bread and potatoes and creamy sauces on pasta or rice dishes. See the ‘Top Tips’ section for more advice when serving these foods at your site.

A word on fibre

Fibre is a special type of complex carbohydrate found only in plant-based foods. Fibre is very important in order to maintain a healthy digestive system. There are two main types of fibre found in our diet: insoluble and soluble. Starchy carbohydrates, particularly wholemeal and wholegrain varieties are important sources of insoluble fibre (also sometimes referred to as ‘roughage’) and this is the type of fibre that is important for our digestion.

Soluble fibre can be found in oats, as well as other foods such as pulses, fruit and veg. The importance of fibre in our diet was further confirmed by the SACN review of carbohydrates and their recommendation that for good health adults should be consuming 30g of fibre every day.

How much is a portion?

One portion counts as:

  • 3 tbsp/25g breakfast cereal, or 1 wheat biscuit
  • 1 slice bread/toast or 1 small bread roll
  • 1 small pitta bread or small chapatti
  • 3 crackers
  • Half a plain scone
  • Half a bagel
  • 1 large, or 2 small potatoes (120g)
  • 2 tbsp rice, pasta or noodles (uncooked)