Why Non-Starchy Vegetables Are Key to a Healthy Diet

Vegetables, especially non-starchy vegetables, are a healthy and important part of your diet. They're packed with vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting antioxidants, and fiber.

Studies show a vegetable-rich diet can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of:

This article looks at which vegetables are starchy and non-starchy vegetables and how to add non-starchy veggies to your daily diet.

A variety of vegetables
Bhaskar Dutta / Moment Open / Getty Images 

What Are Starchy and Non-Starchy Vegetables?

Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables, such as corn and potatoes, contain more carbohydrates, and, therefore, more quickly increase your blood sugar.

In addition to adding key nutrients to your diet, non-starchy vegetables add texture, flavor, bulk, and rich color to any meal.

Typically, non-starchy vegetables contain roughly the following per serving of 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw (without any added fat):

  • 25 calories
  • 0 grams (g) fat
  • 5-6 g carbohydrate
  • 3 g fiber
  • 0.5-2 g protein

List of Non-Starchy Vegetables 

The non-starchy vegetable group is a large one. You have a lot of options to choose from, including some from each type of vegetable.

Non-starchy green vegetables include:

  • Artichokes and artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (green, bok choy, Chinese, red)
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Chayote
  • Cucumbers
  • Dandelion greens
  • Leeks
  • Okra
  • Peppers (all green types)
  • Scallions
  • Zucchini

Lettuces and greens in the non-starchy category include:

  • Arugula
  • Chicory
  • Collard greens
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Radicchio
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress

Some non-starchy red and orange vegetables are:

  • Carrots
  • Pea pods
  • Peppers (all red and orange types)
  • Pumpkin
  • Snow peas
  • Squash (cushaw, summer, crookneck, spaghetti)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Sweet potato
  • Tomatoes

Beans, peas, and legumes on the non-starchy list include:

  • Bean sprouts
  • Green beans
  • Italian beans
  • String beans
  • Wax beans, Italian, string

Other non-starchy veggies are:

  • Avocado
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Cauliflower
  • Daikon
  • Eggplant
  • Hearts of palm
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts

Benefits of Fiber

Non-starchy vegetables are rich in fiber, which is important for managing weight and diabetes. It helps keep you full and stabilizes blood sugar by slowing down digestion. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels.

List of Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and increase your blood sugar more than the non-starchy ones. That's important to keep in mind if you have diabetes or are on a low-carb diet.

You don't need to cut these veggies completely out of your diet, but you may want to limit them to a quarter of your meal or less.

Starchy vegetables include:

  • Acorn and butternut squash
  • Beets
  • Breadfruit
  • Cassava
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green peas
  • Hominy
  • Parsnips
  • Plantains
  • Potatoes
  • Taro
  • Yams

The starch content you get from these varies depending on how they're cooked. They're healthiest when they're:

  • Baked
  • Steamed
  • Boiled
  • Microwaved
  • Broiled or grilled

If you're cooking vegetables in oil, choose a healthy oil such as extra virgin olive oil, and use as little as possible.

Purchasing Produce 

If possible, purchase produce that's in season. You'll reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing local produce. The less time the vegetables spend traveling, the better their taste, too.

If your vegetables tend to spoil before you eat them, consider frozen versions. Nutritionally, frozen vegetables are equal to—or even better than—fresh vegetables. That's because they're flash-frozen at peak freshness, which retains vitamins and minerals.

Frozen vegetables are also easy to prepare because they're already washed and cut up.

Worried About Pesticides?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says all pesticides used on food must meet stringent safety standards and that very little of the chemicals are typically left on food by the time you eat it. They urge you not to limit fruit and vegetable intake over pesticide concerns.

How to Prepare Non-Starchy Vegetables

You can prepare non-starchy vegetables in numerous ways.

  • Sauté them. Use a small amount of garlic and oil, such as olive or canola. 
  • Roast your vegetables in the oven. Place them on a cookie sheet with salt, pepper, and a little bit of oil. Add your favorite herbs, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, or basil. 
  • Add them to your salad. To soften the vegetables and brighten up their color, try blanching your vegetables before tossing them into your salad.
  • Avoid boiling. This can cause the vitamins to leach into the water. 
  • Avoid fatty toppings. Adding large amounts of butter, cream, cheese, salad dressing, or oil to your vegetables can significantly increase the calorie and fat content.

Getting Non-Starchy Vegetables Into Your Diet 

Non-starchy vegetables are pretty versatile. You can include them in sandwiches, salads, side dishes, omelets, soups, and stews. You can also top protein, like lean meats, fish, tofu, or legumes, with vegetables. 

Here are a few more tips for getting non-starchy vegetables into your diet:

  • Aim to eat a variety of colored vegetables. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating about three to five servings of vegetables (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw each) per day to boost your vitamin, mineral, and fiber content.
  • Make vegetables the base of your meal. Eat lunch or dinner-sized salads, substitute spaghetti squash for pasta or make zucchini pasta, make or buy cauliflower rice. 
  • Incorporate vegetables into your snacks. Pair carrots, peppers, celery, broccoli, or whatever you like with hummus or guacamole for a low-carb, protein and fiber-rich snack. Peanut butter or almond butter work as a protein-rich dip, as well. 
  • Make 1/2 your plate vegetables. This will help you to reduce your carbohydrate and calorie intake.

Summary

Eating three to five servings of non-starchy vegetables per day is a great way to get more fiber and nutrients into your diet.

Non-starchy vegetables can be added to omelets, salads, sandwiches, soups, and more to help keep you full and balance your blood sugar.

Choose frozen or fresh seasonal produce and consider going the organic route for vegetables that are high in pesticides.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are non-starchy fruits?

    Most fruits have little or no starch. An exception is the banana, but the type of starch it contains functions much like dietary fiber, so it has less of an impact on your blood sugars than starchy vegetables.

  • What non-starchy vegetables should you eat if you have diabetes?

    Any non-starchy vegetable can be a great choice when you have diabetes. That's because they're low in carbohydrates and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. With canned or frozen vegetables, look for those that say "no salt" on the label.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studiesInt J Epidemiol. 2017;46(3):1029-1056. doi:10.1093/ije/dyw319

  3. Mozaffarian D. Dietary and policy priorities for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity: A comprehensive reviewCirculation. 2016;133(2):187-225. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018585

  4. University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center. Non-starchy vegetables

  5. Singh A, Raigond P, Lal MK, Singh B. Effect of cooking methods on glycemic index and in vitro bioaccessibility of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) carbohydratesLWT. 2020 Apr;121(7):109363. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2020.109363

  6. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Food and pesticides.

  7. American Diabetes Association. Non-starchy vegetables.

  8. Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Bananas.

  9. American Diabetes Association. Non-starchy vegetables.

Additional Reading

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.