Eating plenty of vegetables each day is important for good health.
Vegetables are nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also offer protection against many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
There are two main categories of vegetables: starchy and non-starchy. Starchy types include potatoes, corn and beans, while non-starchy types include broccoli, tomatoes and zucchini.
The key distinction between the two lies in their total starch content, a carbohydrate type. However, these vegetables do have several other differences.
This article examines the benefits and key differences between starchy and non-starchy vegetables.
- Carbs & calories
- Resistant starch & protein
- Non-starchy vegetables for weight loss
- Culinary uses
What are starchy and non-starchy vegetables?
Starch is the main type of carbohydrate in your diet.
It’s often referred to as a complex carb, as it comprises several joined sugar molecules.
Starch can be found in various foods, including bread, cereals, noodles, pasta, and starchy vegetables.
However, most vegetables contain only small amounts of starch and are classified as non-starchy.
Generally, cooked starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, pack about 15 grams of carbs and 80 calories per 1/2 cup (70–90 grams). In contrast, non-starchy types like broccoli contain about 5 grams of carbs and 25 calories in an equivalent portion.
US health agencies recommend eating 2.5 cups of vegetables daily — both starchy and non-starchy.
Here are some common examples for each group:
- Beans (kidney, navy, pinto, black, cannellini)
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Bean sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Salad greens
Summary: Vegetables can be classified into two main types based on their starch content. Starchy vegetables include potato, corn, peas and lentils, while non-starchy varieties include broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower and mushrooms.
Starchy and non-starchy vegetables are rich in nutrients
Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables boast an impressive nutrient profile.
While nutrient content varies depending on the type of vegetable and the cooking method, all types naturally contain a range of essential vitamins and minerals.
Vegetables are some of the richest sources of potassium, vitamin K, folate and magnesium. These nutrients are important for bone health, heart health and healthy pregnancy.
Vegetables also contain small amounts of other beneficial nutrients, including iron and zinc.
What’s more, they’re loaded with antioxidants — such as vitamins C and E — which are compounds that help protect cells from harmful damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress.
As a result, antioxidants may fight aging and reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Vegetables also tend to be naturally low in sugar, fat and sodium — so you can eat a relatively large quantity without many adverse health effects.
Summary: Starchy and non-starchy vegetables are rich in many important vitamins and minerals, including potassium, folate and vitamin K. Both types are a good source of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E.
Starchy and non-starchy vegetables are rich in fiber
Another shared feature of starchy and non-starchy vegetables is their high fiber content.
While fiber content varies according to type, most starchy vegetables contain 4–6% fiber — about 2–4 grams per 1/2 cup (70–90 grams), or 6–14% of the reference daily intake.
Some starchy vegetables pack even higher amounts. For example, lentils, beans and chickpeas contain 5–8 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup (70–90 grams) or 20–32% of the reference daily intake.
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Similarly, non-starchy vegetables are also rich in fiber. Most non-starchy vegetables contain 2–3.5% fiber and 1.5–2.5 grams per 1/2 cup, or 7–10% of your daily needs.
Fiber can keep your bowel movements regular. Studies suggest it may also prevent digestive conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and reduce cholesterol, blood sugar levels and your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
For these reasons, eating a range of starchy and non-starchy vegetables daily is a great way to meet your fiber needs and improve your digestive and overall health.
Summary: Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables are good sources of fiber, which promotes digestive health and may reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Starchy vegetables are higher in carbs and calories
Some types of starchy vegetables — including potato and corn — have caused controversy due to their high starch content.
Though some people believe they should be avoided altogether, starchy vegetables provide a range of beneficial nutrients and can make a healthy addition to your diet when consumed in moderation.
Compared to their non-starchy counterparts, starchy vegetables contain higher numbers of carbs and calories.
One big difference between starchy and non-starchy vegetables is their carb content.
Starchy vegetables pack around 3–4 times more carbs than non-starchy types, with about 11–23 grams of carbs in every 1/2 cup (70–90 grams).
For this reason, if you have diabetes or follow a low-carb diet, you may want to limit your intake of starchy vegetables.
That’s because they contain a similar number of carbs as bread, rice and cereals. Starchy vegetables can raise your blood sugar levels faster than non-starchy types.
However, all starchy vegetables except potatoes rank low to medium on the glycemic index (GI). This measures how much and quickly a food raises blood sugar levels after eating.
Therefore, most starchy vegetables produce a slow, low rise in blood sugar levels despite their carb content.
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If consumed in moderation — in servings of about 1/2–1 cup (70–180 grams) — starchy vegetables may be suitable for people with diabetes or maintain a low-carb diet.
Due to their high carb content, starchy vegetables also have more calories — around 3–6 times more than non-starchy vegetables.
While calorie content varies depending on the type, most starchy vegetables provide 60–140 calories for each 1/2-cup (70–90-gram) serving, compared to 15–30 calories in the same amount of non-starchy vegetables.
Therefore, be mindful of your portion size and cooking method when preparing and consuming starchy vegetables, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. The calories can quickly add up.
However, consuming 1/2–1 cup (70–180 grams) of boiled, roasted, baked or steamed starchy vegetables at each meal is unlikely to result in excess weight gain when incorporated into a healthy diet.
Summary: Starchy vegetables have 3–6 times more calories and carbs than non-starchy types. As a result, it’s important to eat starchy vegetables in moderation, especially if you have diabetes or are looking to lose weight.
Starchy vegetables are a better source of resistant starch and protein
Starchy vegetables are also a great source of resistant starch and protein, both of which have several health benefits.
Starchy vegetables are especially rich in a type of starch known as resistant starch.
Resistant starch acts in a similar way to soluble fiber. It passes through your digestive tract mainly unchanged, then is broken down by beneficial gut bacteria.
When gut bacteria break down resistant starch, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Resistant starch and SCFAs have several positive effects on your body. They may protect against digestive conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, and reduce blood sugar, weight and cholesterol.
Starchy vegetables, including beans, peas and corn, comprise around 1–5% resistant starch.
At 1%, potatoes contain somewhat low amounts. However, this increases by 5% when potatoes are cooked and left to cool — such as in a potato salad.
Lastly, some starchy vegetables — especially beans, chickpeas and lentils — are good protein sources.
They’re some of the best sources of plant-based protein, as they contain up to 9 grams of protein in a 1/2 cup (70–90 grams), or 18% of the recommended daily intake.
For this reason, beans, lentils and chickpeas make great substitutes for meat in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Their protein content may promote feelings of fullness, keeping your appetite and weight under control. It can also help build and preserve muscle mass and strength.
Summary: Most starchy vegetables are an excellent source of resistant starch. Some, such as beans and lentils, are also high in plant-based protein and a good alternative to meat in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Non-starchy vegetables contain many nutrients but few calories
Non-starchy vegetables are very low in calories, with only 15–30 calories in a 1/2 cup (70–90 grams).
For this reason, you can eat large portions of non-starchy vegetables without taking in enough calories to gain weight.
They’re also comprised of about 90–95% water, making them a good source of hydration in your diet. Therefore, non-starchy vegetables can help you meet your daily fluid needs.
Despite their low-calorie content, non-starchy vegetables are high in fiber and contain essential vitamins and minerals. They have small amounts of almost all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Additionally, non-starchy vegetables are low in carbs — only 4–6 grams in a 1/2 cup (70–90 grams). As a result, they have little impact on blood sugar levels and are suitable for people following low-carb diets or who have diabetes.
It’s best to consume various non-starchy and starchy vegetables throughout the day. They will add color, nutrients and flavor to your meals for very few calories.
Summary: Non-starchy vegetables are very low in calories and have a high water content. Still, they pack an impressive nutrient profile and provide nearly all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
The healthiest ways to eat starchy and non-starchy vegetables
In addition to their health benefits, starchy and non-starchy vegetables are delicious, versatile and easy to add to your diet.
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Fresh and frozen whole vegetables are generally considered the healthiest options, followed by juiced and canned varieties.
Remember that juicing reduces fiber content while canning often adds sugar and salt.
What’s more, preparation and cooking methods greatly impact these vegetables’ nutritional quality.
Choose cooking methods like baking, boiling and steaming while limiting unhealthy condiments, such as sauces or dressings, to avoid extra calories, salt and fat.
It’s also best to limit your consumption of fried and processed vegetable products — such as corn and potato chips — as they can be high in calories, fat and salt.
For good health, eat at least 2.5 cups of starchy and non-starchy vegetables each day to maximize your vitamin and nutrient intake.
Summary: Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables can be a healthy and delicious addition to your diet. The healthiest vegetable dishes are boiled, steamed or baked with the skin on — without unhealthy toppings such as sauces or dressings.
Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables pack an impressive amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Starchy vegetables have more carbs, calories, protein and resistant starch. They should be consumed in moderation — especially if you have diabetes, follow a low-carb diet or are trying to lose weight.
Non-starchy vegetables are very low in calories while offering similar amounts of fiber and nutrients as starchy varieties.
Both starchy and non-starchy make delicious and nutritious additions to your diet if prepared and cooked healthily.
Aim to incorporate at least 2.5 cups of both types into your daily meals to make the most of the different nutritional qualities that each provides.