Carbohydrates can be divided into three main categories: sugar, fiber and starch.
Starches are the most commonly consumed type of carb, and an important source of energy for many people. Cereal grains and root vegetables are common sources.
Starches are classified as complex carbs, since they consist of many sugar molecules joined together.
Traditionally, complex carbs have been viewed as healthier options. Whole-food starches gradually release sugar into the blood, rather than causing blood sugar levels to spike rapidly ().
Blood sugar spikes are bad because they can leave you tired, hungry and craving more high-carb foods (, ).
However, many of the starches people eat today are highly refined. They can actually cause your blood sugar levels to spike rapidly, even though they’re classified as complex carbs.
That's because highly refined starches have been stripped of nearly all their nutrients and fiber. Simply put, they contain empty calories and provide little nutritional benefit.
Many studies have also shown that eating a diet rich in refined starches is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain (, , , ).
This article lists 19 foods that are high in starch.
1. Cornmeal (74%)
Cornmeal is a type of coarse flour made by grinding dried corn kernels. It is naturally gluten-free, which means it is safe to eat if you have celiac disease.
Although cornmeal contains some nutrients, it is very high in carbs and starch. One cup (159 grams) contains 126 grams of carbs, of which 117 grams (74%) is starch ().
If you are choosing cornmeal, opt for a whole grain instead of a de-germed variety. When cornmeal is de-germed, it loses some fiber and nutrients.
Summary: Cornmeal is a gluten-free flour made from dried corn. One cup (159 grams) contains 117 grams of starch, or 74% by weight.
2. Rice Krispies Cereal (72.1%)
Rice Krispies are a popular cereal made of crisped rice. This is simply a combination of puffed rice and sugar paste that is formed into the crispy rice shapes.
They are often fortified with vitamins and minerals. A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains over a third of your daily needs for thiamine, riboflavin, folate, iron, and vitamins B6 and B12.
That said, Rice Krispies are highly processed and incredibly high in starch. A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 20.2 grams of starch, or 72.1% by weight ().
If Rice Krispies are a staple in your household, consider choosing a healthier breakfast alternative. You can find a few healthy cereals here.
Summary: Rice Krispies are a popular cereal made with rice and fortified with vitamins and minerals. They contain 20.2 grams of starch per ounce, or 72.1% by weight.
3. Pretzels (71.3%)
Pretzels are a popular snack high in refined starch.
A standard serving of 10 pretzel twists (60 grams) contains 42.8 grams of starch, or 71.3% by weight ().
Unfortunately, pretzels are often made with refined wheat flour. This type of flour may cause blood sugar spikes and leave you fatigued and hungry ().
More importantly, frequent blood sugar spikes can reduce your body’s ability to lower your blood sugar effectively, and may even lead to type 2 diabetes (, , ).
Summary: Pretzels are often made with refined wheat and may make your blood sugar spike rapidly. A 60-gram serving of 10 pretzel twists contains 42.8 grams of starch, or 71.4% by weight.
4–6: Flours (68–70%)
Flours are versatile baking ingredients and a pantry staple.
They come in many different varieties, such as sorghum, millet, wheat and refined wheat flour. They are also generally high in starch.
4. Millet Flour (70%)
Millet flour is made from grinding the seeds of millet, a group of very nutritious ancient grains.
One cup (119 grams) of millet flour contains 83 grams of starch, or 70% by weight.
Millet flour is also naturally gluten-free and rich in magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and selenium ().
Pearl millet is the most widely grown type of millet. Although pearl millet is very nutritious, there is some evidence that it may interfere with thyroid function. However, the effects in humans are unclear, so more studies are needed (, , ).
5. Sorghum Flour (68%)
Sorghum is a nutritious ancient grain that is ground to make sorghum flour.
One cup (121 grams) of sorghum flour contains 82 grams of starch, or 68% by weight. Although it is high in starch, sorghum flour is a much better choice than most types of flour.
That's because it is gluten-free and an excellent source of protein and fiber. One cup contains 10.2 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber ().
Moreover, sorghum is a great source of antioxidants. Studies have shown that these antioxidants may help reduce insulin resistance, reduce blood cholesterol and may have anticancer properties (, , ).
6. White Flour (68%)
Whole-grain wheat has three key components. The outer layer is known as the bran, the germ is the grain’s reproductive part, and the endosperm is its food supply.
White flour is made by stripping whole wheat of its bran and germ, which are packed with nutrients and fiber ().
This leaves just the endosperm, which is pulverized into white flour. It is generally low in nutrients and mostly contains empty calories ().
In addition, the endosperm gives white flour a high starch content. One cup (120 grams) of white flour contains 81.6 grams of starch, or 68% by weight ().
Summary: Millet flour, sorghum flour and white flour are popular flours with a similar starch content. Of the bunch, sorghum is the healthiest, while white flour is unhealthy and should be avoided.
7. Saltine Crackers (67.8%)
Saltine or soda crackers are thin, square crackers that are made with refined wheat flour, yeast and baking soda. People commonly eat them alongside a bowl of soup or chili.
Although saltine crackers are low in calories, they are also low in vitamins and minerals. In addition, they are very high in starch.
For instance, a serving of five standard saltine crackers (15 grams) contains 11 grams of starch, or 67.8% by weight ().
If you enjoy crackers, opt for ones that are made with 100% whole grains and seeds.
Summary: Although saltine crackers are a popular snack, they are low in nutrients and high in starch. A serving of five standard saltine crackers (15 grams) contains 11 grams of starch, or 67.8% by weight.
8. Oats (57.9%)
Oats are among the healthiest grains you can eat.
They provide a good amount of protein, fiber and fat, as well as a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. This makes oats an excellent choice for a healthy breakfast.
Moreover, studies have shown that oats can help you lose weight, reduce your blood sugar levels and lower your risk of heart disease (, , ).
Yet even though they are one of the healthiest foods and an excellent addition to your diet, they are also high in starch. One cup of oats (81 grams) contains 46.9 grams of starch, or 57.9% by weight ().
Summary: Oats are an excellent breakfast choice and contain a great variety of vitamins and minerals. One cup (81 grams) contains 46.9 grams of starch, or 57.9% by weight.
9. Whole-Wheat Flour (57.8%)
Compared to refined flour, whole-wheat flour is more nutritious and lower in starch. This makes it a better option in comparison.
For instance, 1 cup (120 grams) of whole-wheat flour contains 69 grams of starch, or 57.8% by weight ().
Although both types of flour contain a similar amount of total carbs, whole wheat has more fiber and is more nutritious. This makes it a much healthier option for your recipes.
Summary: Whole-wheat flour is a great source of fiber and nutrients. A single cup (120 grams) contains 69 grams of starch, or 57.8% by weight.
10. Instant Noodles (56%)
Instant noodles are a popular convenience food because they are cheap and easy to make.
However, they are highly processed and are generally low in nutrients. In addition, they are typically high in fat and carbs.
For instance, a single packet contains 54 grams of carbs and 13.4 grams of fat ().
Most of the carbs from instant noodles come from starch. A packet contains 47.7 grams of starch, or 56% by weight.
In addition, studies have shown that people who consume instant noodles more than twice per week have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. This appears to be especially true for women (, ).
Summary: Instant noodles are highly processed and very high in starch. One packet contains 47.7 grams of starch, or 56% by weight.
11–14: Breads and Bread Products
Breads and bread products are common staple foods around the world. These include white bread, bagels, English muffins and tortillas.
However, many of these products are made with refined wheat flour and have a high glycemic index score. This means they can rapidly spike your blood sugar ().
11. English Muffins (44.4%)
English muffins are a flat, circular type of bread that is commonly toasted and served with butter.
A regular-sized English muffin contains 23.1 grams of starch, or 44.4% by weight ().
12. Bagels (43.6%)
Bagels are a common bread product that originated in Poland.
They are also high in starch, providing 38.8 grams per medium-sized bagel, or 43.6% by weight ().
13. White Bread (40.8%)
Like refined wheat flour, white bread is made almost exclusively from the endosperm of wheat. In turn, it has a high starch content.
Two slices of white bread contain 20.4 grams of starch, or 40.8% by weight ().
White bread is also low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you want to eat bread, choose a whole-grain option instead.
14. Tortillas (40.2%)
Tortillas are a type of thin, flat bread made from either corn or wheat. They originated in Mexico.
A single tortilla (49 grams) contains 19.7 grams of starch, or 40.2% by weight ().
Summary: Breads come in many different forms, but are generally high in starch and should be limited in your diet. Bread products such as English muffins, bagels, white bread and tortillas contain about 40–45% starch by weight.
15. Shortbread Cookies (40.5%)
Shortbread cookies are a classic Scottish treat. They are traditionally made using three ingredients — sugar, butter and flour.
They are also very high in starch, with a single 12-gram cookie containing 4.8 grams of starch, or 40.5% by weight ().
Additionally, be wary of commercial shortbread cookies. They may contain artificial trans fats, which are linked with higher risks of heart disease, diabetes and belly fat (, ).
Summary: Shortbread cookies are high in starch, containing 4.8 grams of starch per cookie, or 40.5% by weight. You should limit them in your diet because they are high in calories and may contain trans fats.
16. Rice (28.7%)
Rice is the most commonly consumed staple food in the world ().
It is also high in starch, especially in its uncooked form. For instance, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of uncooked rice contain 80.4 grams of carbs, of which 63.6% is starch ().
However, when rice is cooked, the starch content drops dramatically.
In the presence of heat and water, starch molecules absorb water and swell. Eventually, this swelling breaks the bonds between starch molecules through a process called gelatinization ().
Therefore, 3.5 ounces of cooked rice only contain 28.7% starch, because cooked rice carries a lot more water ().
Summary: Rice is the most commonly consumed staple item in the world. It contains less starch when cooked, because starch molecules absorb water and break down during the cooking process.
17. Pasta (26%)
Pasta is type of noodle that is typically made from durum wheat. It comes in many different forms, such as spaghetti, macaroni and fettuccine, just to name a few.
Like rice, pasta has less starch when it is cooked because it gelatinizes in heat and water. For instance, dry spaghetti contains 62.5% starch, while cooked spaghetti contains only 26% starch (, ).
Summary: Pasta comes in many different forms. It contains 62.5% starch in its dry form, and 26% starch in its cooked form.
18. Corn (18.2%)
Corn is one of the most widely consumed cereal grains. It also has the highest starch content among whole vegetables ().
For instance, 1 cup (141 grams) of corn kernels contains 25.7 grams of starch, or 18.2% by weight.
Although it is a starchy vegetable, corn is very nutritious and a great addition to your diet. It is especially rich in fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals such as folate, phosphorus and potassium ().
Summary: Although corn is high in starch, it is naturally high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. One cup (141 grams) of corn kernels contains 25.7 grams of starch, or 18.2% by weight.
19. Potatoes (18%)
Potatoes are incredibly versatile and a staple food in many households. They are often among the first foods that come to mind when you think of starchy foods.
Interestingly, potatoes don't contain as much starch as flours, baked goods or cereals, but they do contain more starch than other vegetables.
For instance, a medium-sized baked potato (138 grams) contains 24.8 grams of starch, or 18% by weight.
Potatoes are an excellent part of a balanced diet because they are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium and manganese ().
Summary: Although potatoes are high in starch compared to most vegetables, they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals. That’s why potatoes are still an excellent part of a balanced diet.
The Bottom Line
Starch is the main carbohydrate in the diet and a major part of many staple foods.
In modern diets, foods high in starch tend to be highly refined and stripped of their fiber and nutrients. These foods include refined wheat flour, bagels and cornmeal.
To maintain a healthy diet, aim to limit your intake of these foods.
Diets high in refined starches are linked to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and weight gain. In addition, they can cause blood sugar to spike rapidly and then fall sharply.
This is especially important for people with diabetes and prediabetes, since their bodies can't efficiently remove sugar from the blood.
On the other hand, whole, unprocessed sources of starch such as sorghum flour, oats, potatoes and others listed above should not be avoided. They are great sources of fiber and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.