Starchy Vegetables: Are They Good for You?

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What are Starchy Vegetables?

Starchy vegetables get a bad rap for being “unhealthy.” I mean, potatoes and corn aren’t even really in the vegetable food group, right? Many blame starch for preventing weight loss and wreaking havoc on blood sugar levels. Discover the reasons why starchy vegetables are must-have foods. 

So, which vegetables are starchy?

Starchy Vegetable List

  • Corn 
  • Green Peas
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Green split peas 
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Parsnips 
  • Yams
  • Taro
  • Cassava 

Beans and Lentils

  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Great Northern beans
  • Navy beans
  • Soybeans/edamame
  • Mung bean
  • Adzuki beans
  • Cannellini beans
  • Black  Lentils 
  • Brown Lentils
  • French Green Lentils
  • Green Lentils
  • Split Red Lentils
  • Red Lentils

Winter Squash

  • Butternut Squash
  • Acorn Squash
  • Delicata Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Blue Hubbard Squash 
  • Carnival Squash
  • Kabocha Squash 
  • Red Kuri Squash
Starchy vegetable list infographic

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, protein, and fats are macronutrients that make up the foods you eat.

Simple and complex are the two categories of carbohydrates.

  • Complex Carbohydrates include starches and fiber. 
  • Simple Carbohydrates are sugars. 

Simple carbs include foods like milk, fruit, honey, desserts, and sugary beverages. Since starchy vegetables contain starches and fiber, they are considered complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are better for managing blood sugar levels.

simple carbs foods displayed on a table: sugar, candy, bread, pasta, rice

Starchy Vs. Non-Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables have more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables. Here is a comparison of the carbohydrates in a starchy veggie like potatoes compared to a non-starchy veggie like broccoli.

1 cup of potatoes = 33 grams of carbohydrate (source)

1 cup of broccoli = 6 grams of carbohydrate (source)

broccoil florets on a black stone graphic about starchy vs non-starchy vegetables

Counting Carbohydrates

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, you might count your carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar levels healthy. Some people count carbohydrates to lose weight. 

If you’re not sure how counting carbohydrates works, here’s how:

1 serving of carbohydrates = 15 grams of carbs

Each serving of these starchy vegetables is 15 grams of carbohydrate.

½ cup Garbanzo beans

½ cup mashed potatoes 

½ cup corn

1 cup butternut squash

To reach 30 grams of carbohydrates, you’d have to eat 1 cup of Garbanzo beans.  This would make two servings of carbohydrates because one serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Is Corn a Starchy Vegetable?

grilled corn on the cob is a starchy vegetable.

Of all vegetables, corn has one of the highest levels of starch (source). Corn is a starchy vegetable. A medium ear of corn has 19 grams of carbohydrates (source).

Are Peas a Starchy Vegetable?

fresh green peas in a wooden bowl with peapods displayed on a wooden board. Peas are a starchy vegetable.

Peas are a starchy vegetable. A cup of peas contains 21 grams of carbohydrates (source).

Are Beets a Starchy Vegetable?

beets chopped on a cutting board. Peppers, carrots, peapods and radishes are displayed on a black background

Beets are not a starchy vegetable because there are only 8 grams of carbohydrates in a ½ cup of beets (source).

Is Cauliflower a Starchy Vegetable?

roasted cauliflower with red pepper sauce presented in a black plate. cauliflower is not a starchy vegetables.

Cauliflower is not a starchy vegetable because it only has 5 grams of carbohydrate in 1 cup (source).

Is Zucchini a Starchy Vegetable?

grilled zucchini on a white plate with bread and garlic displayed on dark background with burlap cloth

With just 4 grams of carbohydrate in 1 cup of zucchini, the summer squash is a non-starchy vegetable(source).

Benefits of Starchy Vegetables

All vegetables matter–even the starchy ones. Here’s why. Starchy vegetables (and other foods containing complex carbohydrates) contain nutrients that satisfy your hunger and keep you feeling full. They are full of nutrients that are important for both short term and long term good health. 

Protein

Most vegetables are poor sources of protein. But, beans, peas, and lentils have the highest protein content of all vegetables. In 1 cup of lentils, there are 18 grams of protein! That amount of protein is higher than both grains and root vegetables.  Even green peas are protein rich!

photo of protein rich single ingredient foods like salmon, chicken, eggs, rice, pats, nuts cheese

1 cup of lentils = 18 grams protein(source)

1 cup of quinoa= 8 grams of protein (source)

1 cup of potatoes= 3 grams of protein (source)

1 cup green peas = 8 grams protein (source)

Fiber

Digestive health relies on nutrients like fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in starchy vegetables like beans, lentils, and winter squashes. The constipation fighting nutrient is crucial for the prevention of heart disease and weight gain. Women should eat 25 grams of fiber, and men should eat 38 grams of fiber daily.

1 cup of lentils = 16 grams of fiber(source)

1 cup of edamame   = 8 grams of fiber (source)

1 cup sweet potatoes = 4 grams of fiber (source)

Resistant Starch

If you are familiar with green banana flour, you may know about remarkable resistant starches.

Resistant starch is a type of dietary fiber that goes undigested in the small intestine. Upon entering the colon, resistant starches are fermented by good bacteria (source). Short-chain fatty acids are the products of fermentation, promoting cancer prevention (source).

beans and lentils on top of wooden spoons

Beans and lentils have the highest amounts of resistant starches (source). Potatoes are sources of resistant starches, too, but they should be eaten cold (and cooked) to reap the benefits.

Vitamins and Minerals

Did you know starchy vegetables are loaded with good nutrition?

Starchy vegetables like potatoes are full of nutrients like Vitamin B6, Potassium, Vitamin C (source).

Green peas also contain high amounts of Potassium (source).

Butternut squash and sweet potatoes have a lot of  Vitamin A (source)

Green peas, cassava, and butternut squash are rich in  Vitamin C (source, source, source).

Black beans are high in magnesium, while kidney beans are high in folate (source, source).

Cassava, taro, and potatoes contain significant amounts of Manganese

(source, source, source).

Antioxidants

Sweet potatoes and winter squashes are rich in an antioxidant called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene gives these vegetables their bright orange colors. Antioxidants play important roles in disease prevention because they reduce the presence of damaging free radicals.

Ways to Eat Starchy Vegetables

 You can buy starchy vegetables in many different forms:

  • Fresh
  • Frozen
  • Powdered
  • Canned
  • Dried
  • Pureed

For example, you can buy fresh acorn squash, frozen edamame, bean flour, canned potatoes, dried green peas, and pureed pumpkin. The many forms of starchy vegetables prove you can eat them in a wide variety of ways.

5 Ways to Include Starchy Vegetables in Your Diet

  1. Make a low carb pasta out of fresh spaghetti squash or frozen spiralized zucchini squash.
  2. Top your salad with air-fried edamame or chickpeas.
edamame in pods inside a white bowl

3. Add a side of roasted delicata squash with dinner.

4. Make a pumpkin pie smoothie by blending pumpkin puree,  vanilla yogurt, and spices.

5. Snack on lightly salted green pea crisps dipped in hummus. 

Pro Tip

Patients often tell me they are trying to cut carbs and that they have a dinner such fish or chicken with a salad or cooked vegetables. The meal seems filling and nice but then an hour later they are hungry and eating cookies and potato chips and seem to be hungry all evening.

Adding foods with complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables or whole grains to the meal helps to make the meal more nutritionally balanced and will likely prevent hunger and cravings later on. As a general rule, I recommend balanced meals that include a protein food + a starchy food + non starchy vegetables.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to fear starchy vegetables. Though they may provide more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables, they are still vital to a healthy diet. There are many starchy vegetables to choose from, each providing unique vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Starchy vegetables can improve your health and prevent disease. Their many forms make them easy to include in your everyday life. 

All about starchy vegetables: are they really good for you Pinterest graphic, mashed potatoes in a wooden bowl with a wooden spoon

Author

  • 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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