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.
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.
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)
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?
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?
Peas are a starchy vegetable. A cup of peas contains 21 grams of carbohydrates (source).
Are Beets a Starchy Vegetable?
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?
Cauliflower is not a starchy vegetable because it only has 5 grams of carbohydrate in 1 cup (source).
Is Zucchini a Starchy Vegetable?
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.
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!
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.
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 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).
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:
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
Make a low carb pasta out of fresh spaghetti squash or frozen spiralized zucchini squash.
Top your salad with air-fried edamame or chickpeas.
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.
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.
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.
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.