Carbohydrate is a well-known word in the vocabulary of a person with diabetes. Carbohydrate-containing foods are made up of starch, sugar and/or fiber. Starch is a component of many carbohydrates including bread, pasta, rice, whole grains, starchy veggies, beans and legumes. It would be hard to have a diet totally free of starch, and you don’t need to eliminate it all together.

While starch, or any carbohydrate, raises blood glucose, foods containing starch can be eaten in moderation and blood sugar levels can still be controlled.

The key is learning which foods contain starch, how they affect blood sugar, and how to manage them in your diet.

Sugar is the carbohydrate that is very easily digested by the body and absorbed as glucose in the bloodstream and our body’s cells. Sugar absorption actually starts in the mouth — it does not even need to go through the entire digestive tract. Fiber is the opposite of sugar, in a way, as it takes much longer for the body to break down, and much of it passes through our digestive system and is eliminated as waste. And starch is somewhere in between. Not an “empty calorie” source as rapidly digested as sugar, but not as beneficial to our health as fiber.

When reading a Nutrition Facts label, you’ll always see Total Carbohydrate, Dietary Fiber, and Sugar listed. But you’ll notice that you never see Starch included on the label. If you are wondering how much starch is in a food product, your answer is in simple math. You subtract the dietary fiber and sugar from the total carbohydrate, and there you have it: the starch content. When counting carbohydrates for diabetes management, however, you need to use the Total Carbohydrate number to determine whether you should eat a food, not the individual sugar, fiber or starch totals.

Keep the following points in mind as you include starchy foods in your diet:

Breads, pasta, and cereals: choose whole grain. You’ll still be consuming starch, but the starch content of a whole grain product may be less than a processed white flour product. With whole grain choices you also get the added benefit of fiber, which aids in digestion and slows the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream.

Rice: choose brown or wild rice. These types of rice, compared to white rice that is all starch, have not had the germ and bran stripped during processing. That means they contain fiber, plus vitamins and minerals.

Beans and legumes: from black beans to lentils to soybeans to peanuts, these carbohydrate sources contain starch, but also fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein.

Vegetables: choose non-starchy veggies over starchy veggies most of the time. When you do consume starchy veggies, include the peel if you can, such as with potatoes. The peel offers beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Remember your carb counting when eating any of these starchy foods. Each of the following represents a 15-gram serving:

1/3 cup pasta or rice

1 slice bread

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup black beans

½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw starchy veggies

And if you are eating packaged carbohydrates, consult the Nutrition Facts Label for the most accurate carb count, looking for the Total Carbohydrate per serving.

Moderation, choice, and knowledge are the key when incorporating starchy foods in your diet.

To learn more about starch:

The Best Non-Starchy Vegetables for Diabetics
How to Recognize a Carbohydrate
Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat Potatoes?