6 Reasons Why You Need to Eat More Non-Starchy Vegetables

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In this essential guide to non-starchy vegetables, we will reveal six reasons why these veggies are beneficial to your diet.

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What Are Non-Starchy Vegetables?

Eat your veggies, a famous mantra dating back to early childhood for many of us. It seems like every sitcom on TV had at least one child refusing to eat their greens. Some of us could probably relate. Though they may not have been our favorite, we understood that vegetables are important to eat.   

Why should we eat our veggies? They’re essential to eat because they’re naturally jam-packed with vitamins and minerals. 

The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research recommend eating lots of vegetables, emphasizing non-starchy vegetables to prevent cancer (source). Dietitians often recommend filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Non-starchy vegetables are available in a variety of flavors, forms, colors, and textures. They are the go-to foods to help with weight loss, lower inflammation, and keep blood sugar levels regular.

Vegetables come in two ways– starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables. So, what makes them different?

non-starchy vs. starchy vegetables image with garden vegetables on a wooden background.

Non-Starchy vs. Starchy Veggies

Starchy veggies are known for their higher starch and fiber contents. Starch and fiber are types of carbohydrates.

Non-starchy vegetables have lower carbohydrate amounts because they have lower starch and fiber content. You can see below that non-starchy vegetables have fewer carbohydrates per serving compared to starchy vegetables.

 

Non-starchy vegetables

1 cup of spinach = 1.1 grams of carbohydrate (source)

1 cup spaghetti squash= 4 grams of carbohydrate (source)

1 cup cauliflower= 6.1 grams of carbohydrate (source)

Starchy vegetables 

1 cup of acorn squash = 22 grams of carbohydrate (source)

1 cup of sweet potato= 27 grams of carbohydrate (source) 1 cup pinto beans = 37 grams of carbohydrate (source)

Generally speaking, starchy vegetables have about 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving ( ½ cup cooked) and non starchy vegetables have about 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving (½ cup cooked and 1 cup raw) (source).

Non-Starchy Vegetable List

  • Alfalfa sprouts 
  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Baby corn
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Bean sprouts
  • Beans
    • Green beans
    • Italian beans 
    • Wax beans
    • Yellow beans 
    • Yard-long beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Broccolini
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Bok Choy
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage 
  • Celery (If you can’t eat celery, check out this list of celery alternatives.)
  • Chayote
  • Cucumbers
  • Daikon
  • Eggplant
  • Hearts of palm
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leafy Greens 
    • Beet greens
    • Collard greens
    • Kale
    • Mustard greens
    • Swiss chard
    • Turnip greens 
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions (Can’t eat onions? This blog post will give you lots of alternatives to onions.)
  • Peppers
    • Banana pepper 
    • Bell pepper
    • Cayenne pepper
    • Chilli pepper
    • Jalapeno pepper
    • Poblano pepper
    • Scotch bonnet pepper
    • Sweet Italian pepper (Pepperoncini)
  • Portobello Mushrooms 
  • Radishes
  • Red Cabbage 
  • Rhubarb
  • Rutabaga
  • Salad greens
    • Arugula
    • Chicory
    • Endive
    • Escarole
    • Radicchio
    • Romaine
    • Spinach 
    • Watercress
  • Scallions
  • Snap peas
  • Snow peas
  • Summer Squash
    • Crookneck Squash
    • Patty Pan Squash
    • Spaghetti Squash
    • Yellow Squash
    • Zucchini Squash
  • Turnips
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Water chestnuts 
non-starchy vegetables list graphic with garden vegetables displayed in the background

Benefits of Non-Starchy Vegetables

Low in Calories

Non-starchy vegetables help with weight loss because they are naturally low in calories.

Low in Fat

Non-starchy vegetables are naturally low in fat, supporting good health.

High in Vitamins and Minerals

There is no denying that non-starchy vegetables are nutritionally wealthy. See which non-starchy vegetables are rich in specific vitamins and minerals.

  • Folate– beets, artichokes, avocado, broccoli, asparagus, turnip greens, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens
  • Vitamin A– Swiss chard, carrots, kale, turnip greens, tomatoes, spinach, beet greens  
  • Vitamin C– Kohlrabi, cauliflower, jicama, peppers, zucchini, rutabaga, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, mustard greens   
  • Vitamin K– okra, artichokes, avocado, broccoli, kale, asparagus, turnip greens, brussels sprouts, spinach, beet greens, mustard greens
  • Potassium– avocado, bamboo shoots, beet greens 
  • Omega 3 fatty acids– avocado 
  • Iron– hearts of palm, beet greens, spinach 
  • Calcium – collard greens 
  • Manganese– hearts of palm, broccoli, kale, beet greens, spinach  
  • Magnesium– beet greens
  • Vitamin B6 – broccoli, avocado 
  • Riboflavin– beet greens, spinach 

Good Source of Fiber

Fiber is a must-have in your diet to help maintain the health of your digestive tract. Studies have found that fiber helps with lowering cholesterol and weight loss. The fiber content of these vegetables helps you feel full and satisfied after a meal.

High Water Content

Are you getting enough water? If not, veggies can help. Non-starchy vegetables help with hydration. Lettuce, celery, bok choy, and radishes are the top four vegetables with the highest water content (source). The water content of non-starchy vegetables also helps you feel full.

High in Antioxidants

Vegetables are studied for their disease-fighting nutrients called antioxidants. Carotenoids, anthocyanins, polyphenols, and allium sulfur compounds are types of antioxidants.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are known for lowering cancer and disease risk (source).

Alpha and beta-carotene are types of carotenoids found in plants with yellow or orange pigments like carrots.

Lycopene is also a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red pigment.


Lutein is another carotenoid known for helping with eye health. Green leafy vegetables, brussels sprouts, summer squash, and broccoli contain lutein (source).

Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins are the antioxidants responsible for blue and purple plants like red cabbage, purple and black carrots, and eggplant.

Anthocyanins possess many health benefits as they are antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer (source).  

Polyphenols

Polyphenols may lower insulin resistance (source). They also reduce inflammation (source). Herbs like thyme and oregano have polyphenols.

Allium Sulfur Compounds

Garlic, shallots, onions, leeks, and chives have allium sulfur compounds (source). This group of antioxidants may prevent cancer due to lowering the bioactivation of cancer-causing agents and possessing antimicrobial properties (source).

health benefits of non-starchy veggies graphic with garden vegetables displayed on a dark background

Ways to Eat Non-Starchy Vegetables

There are many ways to eat non-starchy vegetables. One of the best ways to eat them is to eat them in season. Why? Have you ever bought a fresh tomato in the middle of winter? It’s likely mealy and tasteless. It is much better to buy it in the summertime season. In season produce tastes better and is more cost-effective.

garden vegetables in a wicker basket held by a woman

How to Eat Non-Starchy Vegetables

You’ve probably enjoyed non-starchy vegetables in a lot of different ways. Here are some fresh ideas on how to eat non-starchy vegetables.

ways to eat non-starchy vegetables graphic

Fresh/Raw

  • Chop fresh brussels sprouts or bok choy for a tasty raw salad.
  • Are you tired of carrot sticks? Chop jicama into sticks, squeeze on some lime juice, and sprinkle with chili powder or cumin.

Steamed

  • The best vegetables to steam are green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, carrots, and green leafy vegetables. 
  • Steamed vegetables can accompany any meal, from pizza to oven-baked chicken.

Sauteed

sauteed mushrooms in a cast iron skillet
  • There isn’t a vegetable that you can’t saute.
  • Garlic, mushrooms, asparagus, spinach, peppers, yellow beans, carrots– the list goes on.

Stir-Fried

  • Broccoli, snow peas, water chestnuts, peppers all make for a tasty stir-fry over brown rice or another gluten-free grain.

Roasted

  • Roast asparagus with olive oil and lemon pepper.
  • Try sliced zucchini on a homemade pizza.
  • Chop parsnips and carrots and to roast on a sheet pan.

Desserts

carrot muffins displayed with carrots on a white wood background
  • Baking with vegetables may sound strange, but it has its benefits.
  • Baking with vegetables helps to reduce waste if you use vegetables that are starting to go bad. It also adds more nutrition to some of your beloved baked goods.
  •  Zucchini bread, cauliflower crust fruit pizza, spinach muffins, and carrot cupcakes are all products of baking with vegetables.

Smoothies

green vegetable smoothies in glass bottles with black straws
  • You can have your veggies and drink them too. 
  • Load your fruit smoothie with veggies for an additional nutrition boost.
  • Try leafy greens, cauliflower, parsley, avocado, zucchini, or celery.

Juiced

  • Tomato juice, carrot juice, beet juice, cucumber juice, and celery juice are a few examples.
  • You can use these vegetable juices in smoothies and soups.
  • Use veggie juices in pasta sauces and homemade salad dressings with oil and vinegar.
  • You can also keep it simple by enjoying vegetable juice ice cold or sipping it hot from a mug.

Frozen

  • Keeping vegetables stored in the freezer means long-term storage and zero worries about your veggies going bad.
  • This is a great way to buy specially prepared vegetables like spiralized zucchini and riced cauliflower.
  • The non-starchy vegetables with high water content do not freeze well. See the section on hydration above.

Powdered

  • Beet powder can be added to your smoothie or even used as a food coloring.
  • Powdered greens are a popular way to add a high amount of nutrients to your omelet or smoothie.

Dried/Dehydrated

dehydrated veggie chips in a bowl on a dark wooden background
  • Preserve your veggies for longer by drying them out. 
  • The crunchiness makes them a healthy on-the-go snack. 
  • Kale chips, carrot chips, beet chips, and dried broccoli florets are some examples.

Canned

  • Canned vegetables are convenient when you’re short on time. They are also relied upon for long-term food storage.
  • Convenient  canned vegetables to buy are tomatoes, corn, green beans, artichokes, and water chestnuts.

Pureed

  • Puree cauliflower and garlic into a potato-like mash.
  • Puree carrots to add to a soup or stew.

Bottom Line

Non-starchy vegetables are essential to almost every diet. They have an incredible amount of nutritional value and can take your meals to the next level by adding color, crunch texture and volume. Non-starchy vegetables are generally included in all therapeutic diets and special diets. There are many to choose from, along with an endless amount of ways to prepare them to your liking.

non-startchy vegetables pinterest graphic with roasted veggies above title and a woman holding garden veggies below


Authors

  • Lisa Hugh is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Leap Therapist. She has a Masters of Science in Healthcare Administration. As a a Food Sensitivity Expert, her passion is helping people with complex medical and nutrition needs find food and groceries that are safe and enjoyable. Lisa enjoys helping clients in her private practice.

  • Gabrielle McPherson is a Registered Dietitian and Freelance Writer. Gabrielle has a masters degree in Clinical Nutrition and a bachelors degree in Dietetics. She has worked extensively with pediatrics and works as a freelance health and nutrition writer.

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