The present study was aimed at evaluating in patients with type 2 diabetes: (1) the glycaemic response to four starchy foods based on wheat, typical of the Italian diet; (2) the importance of some food characteristics in relation to their effects on postprandial glucose response. Seventeen patients with type 2 diabetes (eleven men and six women) participated in the study. All patients consumed, in random order and on alternate days, 50 g available carbohydrate provided by 90 g white bread and, according to a randomised procedure, an equivalent amount of carbohydrate provided by one (n 8) or two (n 9) of three other different test foods (g): pizza 85, potato dumplings 165, hard toasted bread 60. Foods had a similar nutrient composition. Plasma glucose response, measured for 180 min, was significantly lower after the potato dumplings than after white bread at 90 (P<0·05), 120 (P<0·01) and 150 (P<0·05) min. No difference was observed in postprandial plasma insulin response after the various test foods. The percentage of starch hydrolysed after 5 h in vitro hydrolysis with α-amylase was about 30 % lower for potato dumplings than for the other foods. However, no differences in the resistant starch content, the rate of diffusion of simple sugars added to a dialysis tube containing the food, and the viscosity of digesta were observed among the test foods. Scanning electron microscopy of potato dumplings showed a compact structure compatible with impaired accessibility of starch to digestive enzymes. In conclusion, carbohydrate-rich foods typical of the Italian diet which are often consumed as an alternative to pasta dishes are not equivalent in terms of metabolic impact in diabetic patients. Due to their low blood glucose response, potato dumplings represent a valid alternative to other starchy foods in the diabetic diet. Food structure plays an important role in determining starch accessibility to digestion, thus influencing the postprandial blood glucose response.