Load up on Non-Starchy Vegetables

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There is no denying that vegetables are healthy for us. Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. A vegetable-rich diet can also help to lower blood pressure.

Vegetables are nutrient-dense—loaded with vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting antioxidants and fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient when it comes to managing weight and diabetes. Fiber helps to keep you full, pulls cholesterol away from your heart and can help to regulate blood sugars by slowing down digestion. One of the best ways to increase your fiber content is to increase your vegetable intake, preferably non-starchy vegetables.

Non-starchy vegetables contain about 25 calories, 0 g fat, 5-6 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, and 0.5-2 g protein per 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw (without any added fat). In addition to being a low calorie, and low carbohydrate food, non-starchy vegetables add texture, flavor, bulk, and rich color to any meal. When you can, aim to make 1/2 your plate non-starchy vegetables. 

Non-Starchy Vegetables 

  • Artichoke
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Beans (green, wax, Italian - do not confuse this with legumes - white beans, navy beans, black beans, etc)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (green, bok choy, Chinese, red)
  • Carrots (note: 1 baby carrot is about 1 g of carbohydrate) 
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Chayote
  • Coleslaw (packaged, no dressing)
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion
  • Daikon
  • Eggplant
  • Greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip)
  • Hearts of palm
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce: endive, escarole, leaf, iceberg, Romaine
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Pea pods
  • Peppers (all types) 
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Salad greens (chicory, endive, escarole, lettuce, romaine, spinach, arugula, radicchio, watercress)
  • Snow peas or pea pods
  • Scallion
  • Sprouts
  • Squash (cushaw, summer, crookneck, spaghetti, zucchini)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Swiss chard
  • String beans
  • Tomato
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts
  • Zucchini

What Should You Think About When Purchasing? 

  • If possible purchase produce that is in season. You'll not only save money but reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing local produce. The less time spent traveling, the better the taste too. 
  • Think about purchasing organic versions of certain vegetables that contain more pesticides. Pesticide exposure may increase your risk of cancer, skin problems, asthma, infertility, etc. If you've never heard of "the dirty dozen list," you may want to read up on it. These are food items that contain higher levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables on the list include celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumber, etc. 
  • If you find that you are wasting your vegetables due to spoilage, consider purchasing frozen vegetables. Nutritionally they match up to fresh, if not better because they are frozen at peak freshness which retains vitamins and minerals. Frozen vegetables are easy to prepare too because they are already pre-cut and washed.

How Should You Prepare Them?

  • Saute your vegetables with a small amount of garlic and oil, such as olive or canola. 
  • Roast your vegetables in the oven on a cookie sheet with salt, pepper, a little bit of oil, and whatever additional herbs you like—rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, etc. 
  • If you are using your vegetables in a salad you can blanch them first to brighten up their color and soften them. 
  • Avoid boiling your vegetables as this can cause the vitamins to leach into the water. This can also make them look dull. 
  • Avoid adding large amounts of butter, cream, cheese, salad dressing, or oil to your vegetables as this can increase the calorie content significantly—turning a low-calorie food into a high calorie one. 

How Can You Get Non-Starchy Vegetables Into Your Diet? 

  • Aim to eat a variety of colored vegetables. Eating about three-to-five, 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw servings daily will boost your vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. 
  • Include vegetables in sandwiches, salads, side dishes, omelets, soups, stews and top protein with vegetables. 
  • Make vegetables the base of your meal. Eat lunch or dinner-sized salads, substitute pasta for spaghetti squash or make zucchini pasta or cauliflower rice. 
  • Incorporate vegetables into your snacks. Pre-cut carrots, peppers, celery, broccoli or whatever you like and pair them with hummus or guacamole for a protein and fiber-rich snack that is low in carbohydrate. You can even dip any of these into nut butter, such as peanut butter or almond butter for a protein and fiber-rich snack. 
  • Make 1/2 your plate vegetables. This will help you to reduce your carbohydrate and calorie intake. 
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Article Sources
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  1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Nutrition Handouts. N30 Version 5.0. Vegetables. https://www.move.va.gov/docs/NewHandouts/Nutrition/N30_Vegetables.pdf

Additional Reading
  • American Diabetes Association. Non-starchy vegetables. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/non-starchy-vegetables.html

  • Environment Working Group. EWG's 2019 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

  • United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/vegetables/vegetables-nutrients-health

  • University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center. Why is it important to eat vegetables. http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/MEND/Diabetes-NonCarbFoods.pdf