Starchy Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

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Starchy vegetables are high-quality carbs that contain valuable nutrients, but they're more calorie-dense than non-starchy, water-rich varieties, so be sure to eat them in moderation.

Starchy vegetables are high-quality carbohydrates that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Unlike poor-quality carbs, such as white bread, regular pasta, and other refined-grain products, starchy vegetables like sweet and white potatoes, winter squash, peas, and corn offer ample nutrition and are a great addition to your diet when prepared in a healthy way. That said, starchy vegetables are higher in calories than nonstarchy vegetables (like leafy greens, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, and celery), so it’s important to moderate your portions, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Because of their high starch content, starchy vegetables raise blood-sugar levels more than nonstarchy types, so individuals with diabetes need to be especially careful about limiting their intake.

Starchy vegetables are a good source of fiber. A high-fiber diet aids in weight loss and weight management since fiber fills you up quickly and staves off hunger. Moderate portions of starchy vegetables at meals (such as half a baked potato or half a cup of corn, peas, or winter squash) are a nutritious addition to any weight-loss plan. Eating a diet rich in fiber can also help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Some starchy vegetables contain antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin that may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. These antioxidants also help keep your skin, hair, and bones healthy.

Winter squash and sweet potatoes are some of the richest sources of beta-carotene, which contributes to the growth and repair of the body’s tissues and may also protect your skin against sun damage. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body, and food sources of beta-carotene are the best way to get your vitamin A, since extremely high doses of pre-formed vitamin A in supplements can cause serious health problems. (Food sources of beta-carotene are entirely safe, since the body tightly regulates how much beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A.) Winter squash like acorn and butternut also provide another carotenoid called beta-cryptoxanthin, which may decrease your risk of developing inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

Some research suggests that folate and vitamin B6, two B vitamins found in starchy vegetables, may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and slow age-related memory loss. Your scalp, hair follicles, and growing hair also benefit from these two B vitamins. And since folate contributes to the production of serotonin, it may help ward off depression and improve mood. In addition, vitamin B6 helps create dopamine, a mood neurotransmitter that may help combat PMS symptoms.

Some of the minerals commonly found in starchy vegetables include potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Potassium and magnesium may help lower blood pressure and cardiovascular-disease risk, preserve bone health, and relieve PMS symptoms. Magnesium may also help ward off migraine headaches. Zinc is a mineral that contributes to tissue growth and repair throughout your body. It helps keep your skin and hair healthy, and is found in the retina of the eye, where it helps fight macular degeneration.


Acorn Squash | Butternut Squash | Corn | Green Peas | Sweet Potatoes | White Potatoes | Winter Squash | Yams

 

Acorn Squash
Acorn squash is a type of starchy, winter squash with a dark-green skin and sweet, yellow-orange flesh. Acorn squash provides beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, antioxidants that help maintain skin, hair, and eye health and may help prevent and manage arthritis. Acorn squash is also a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in lowering blood pressure and preserving bone health, and vitamin B6, which helps maintain healthy hair and may help reduce PMS symptoms.

 

Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is a type of starchy, winter squash with a pale orange skin and sweet, nutty orange flesh. Butternut squash is a good source of beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, antioxidants that help maintain skin, hair, and eye health and may help prevent and manage arthritis. It also contains potassium, a mineral involved in lowering blood pressure and preserving bone health, and vitamin B6, which helps maintain healthy hair and may help reduce PMS symptoms. Butternut squash can be roasted, pureed into soup, or used in stews. Butternut squash seeds are also excellent toasted.

 

Corn
Corn is a starchy vegetable that provides a good amount of fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, and keeps you feeling full, thereby helping with weight loss. Beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin are antioxidants in corn that may help prevent and manage arthritis, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Whole corn is considered a whole grain, and it’s a versatile gluten-free grain option for individuals with celiac. Fresh summer corn is sweet and delicious, but when it’s out of season, frozen corn is an equally nutritious choice. IBSsufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to fiber-rich vegetables like corn and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Green Peas
Green peas are starchy vegetables that are rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, and keeps you feeling full, thereby helping with weight loss. Green peas are also a good source of folate, a B vitamin that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and slow age-related memory decline. Peas also supply vitamin C, which helps keep skin, hair, and eyes healthy, and vitamin K, which some research suggests may help preserve bone health. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to fiber-rich vegetables like peas and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are starchy, root vegetables that provide a good amount of fiber (especially when eaten with the skin), which helps lower cholesterol, reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, stabilizes mood, and keeps you feeling full, thereby helping with weight loss. Sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that may help prevent and manage arthritis, and maintain skin, hair, and eye health. They also provide potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and bone health, and vitamin C, which supports oint health and may help protect against arthritis.

 

White Potatoes
White potatoes are starchy, root vegetables that provide a good amount of fiber (especially when eaten with the skin), which helps lower cholesterol, reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, stabilizes mood and keeps you feeling full, thereby helping with weight loss. Potatoes are a good source of potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and preserve bone health. The antioxidant vitamin C in potatoes may help prevent and manage arthritis pain, as well as keep your skin, hair, and eyes healthy.

 

Winter Squash
Winter squash is a category of starchy vegetables that includes acorn squash, butternut squash, and kabocha. Winter squash is a good source of potassium, vitamin B6, and the antioxidants beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, nutrients that help protect against cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and memory loss, as well as maintain skin, hair, and eye health.

 

Yams
Yams are a starchy vegetable, similar to sweet potatoes, but with a much lighter color flesh and a flavor that is typically not as sweet as sweet potatoes. (In the US, most products labeled as yams are actually sweet potatoes; true yams are difficult to find in US markets.) Yams are a good source of fiber (especially when eaten with the skin), which helps lower cholesterol, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, stabilize mood, and keep you feeling full, thereby helping with weight loss. Yams are rich in potassium, a mineral that may help lower blood pressure and preserve bone health, and vitamin C, which participates in joint health and may help protect against arthritis. Candied yams (which are actually sweet potatoes) contain lots of added sugar or corn syrup, making them an unhealthy vegetable choice.