Vegetables are healthy carbs, but if you’re on a low carb diet, you’ll get better results if you pick non-starchy veggies over the starchy ones.
The challenge is telling them apart!
In this post, you’ll find…
- Lists of Starchy Vegetables vs Non-Starchy Vegetables
- 3 Tricks you can use to tell if a vegetable will support (i.e. non-starchy) or oppose (i.e. starchy) your efforts to lose weight.
Starchy Vegetables vs Non-Starchy Vegetables on a Low-Carb Diet [Video]
In this video, I explain how to tell the difference between starchy and non-starchy vegetables.
You’ll see plenty of examples of both types of veggies and learn some quick tips for telling them apart.
List of Common Starchy Vegetables
- garden peas (English peas)
- sweet potatoes (yams)
- rutabagas (swede)
- squash (acorn & butternut)
- water chestnuts
List of Common Non-Starchy Vegetables
- Beans (green, yellow, wax)
- beets (beetroot)
- Brussels sprouts
- lettuce varieties
- snow & snap peas
- squash (summer & spaghetti)
What is Starch?
Starch is a term that describes the carbohydrate molecule.
If something is starchy, then it contains a long chain of sugar molecules bonded together.
So, starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrates than their non-starchy counterparts.
Starchy vegetables also tend to have a higher glycemic index which means they will cause more of a spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels.
That is not what you want when you are on a low carb diet for weight loss, so you’re better off avoiding or limiting starchy vegetables.
Starchy or Non-Starchy???
There are obviously many different vegetables, so how do you tell which is which?
Well, I’ll admit that some of it does come down to memorization, but there are some tricks that you can use to tell the difference.
DISCLAIMER: These tricks are not hard and fast rules, but they will help guide you in the right direction.
Trick #1: Starchy Veggies Tend To Be Dense Vegetables
One thing you can look at to tell if a vegetable is starchy is its density.
If you pick up a starchy vegetable, like a potato or rutabaga (a.k.a. swede), you notice that it is very dense and heavy.
Root vegetables, like parsnips and turnips, are also dense and hearty vegetables.
Non-starchy vegetables are often light, airy or watery
If you pick up a non-starchy vegetable, you notice that it weighs very little.
Leafy greens are examples of light, non-starchy veggies.
Another example is bell pepper.
Bell peppers are hollow in the middle making them very light, which is a clue that they are non-starchy in nature.
Now, you could argue that some non-starchy vegetables are heavy…cucumbers, zucchinis, and onions come to mind.
But, the weight of these veggies is mostly due to their high water content, so even though they are on the heavier side, they are considered non-starchy vegetables.
What About Carrots and Beets (Beet Root)?
There are a couple of vegetables worth singling out here, namely carrots and beets or beetroot for those of you living outside of the U.S.
Carrots and beets are dense, yet they kind of ride the fence between starchy and non-starchy vegetables.
They are not the starchiest of vegetables, but they have a relatively high Glycemic Index, which means they cause a rise in your blood sugar and insulin level.
So, the bottom line on carrots and beets is that you’ll be happiest with your weight loss results if you limit your consumption of them.
Trick #2: Fall Vegetables Tend to Be Starchy
Another trick that you can use when looking at starchy vegetables vs non-starchy vegetables is the time of year the vegetables are harvested.
Fall vegetables tend to be higher in starch.
This high-starch content may be one of those ancestral factors that have carried through into our modern lives.
Higher starch foods helped our ancestors pack on pounds so they could survive the long, winter months when food was scarce.
So, Fall vegetables like pumpkin and winter squash (i.e. acorn and butternut) are starchy vegetables.
Non-Starchy Vegetables Tend to Have Shorter Growing Seasons
Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, but if a vegetable has a relatively short maturation process, it is more likely non-starchy in nature.
In other words, if you are able to walk out to your garden and harvest the vegetable all summer long, then it is more likely a non-starchy vegetable.
Lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes fit this “frequent harvest” description.
Trick #3: Starchy Vegetables are Eaten in Celebratory Meals
One more little trick you can use if you haven’t quite got the hang of distinguishing between starchy and non-starchy vegetables is to think about when you eat them.
If you live in the U.S., you celebrate Thanksgiving with a big Thanksgiving meal.
If there are vegetables on the table, they are more likely to be starchy ones.
For this large celebratory meal, we eat things like sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and butternut squash and end the meal with pumpkin pie.
Non-starchy vegetables don’t make their way into too many large celebratory meals, but they do go great on a salad.
Non-Starchy Vegetables are Eaten in Salads
Kale, spinach, broccoli, artichoke hearts, celery, and onions add flavor and fiber to your salad but very few carbs!
These low-carb vegetables add volume and nutrients to your diet which helps keep hunger away and the pounds off.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.