Load Up On Non-Starchy Vegetables

We all know that vegetables are good for us. Studies show that eating a vegetable-rich diet can help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. A diet loaded with vegetables can also help to lower blood pressure.

Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting antioxidants, and fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient for managing weight and diabetes. Fiber helps to keep you full and keeps blood sugar stable by slowing down digestion. It also helps lower cholesterol by preventing it from entering your bloodstream.

One of the best ways to get more fiber is to eat more non-starchy vegetables, or vegetables low in carbohydrates. But which types of non-starchy vegetables are best, and how should you purchase and prepare them to maximize their health benefits?

Read on to learn more about how to make non-starchy vegetables an important part of your daily diet.

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

What Are Non-Starchy Vegetables?

Non-starchy vegetables are vegetables that are low in calories and low in carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables, such as corn and potatoes, contain more carbohydrates, and, therefore, can increase your blood sugar at a quicker rate.

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

Types of Non-Starchy Vegetables 

The non-starchy vegetable group is a large one! There are a wide variety of options to choose from to suit any taste:

  • Artichokes
  • 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: one baby carrot is about 1 g of carbohydrate) 
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Chayote
  • Coleslaw (packaged, no dressing)
  • Cucumbers
  • 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
  • Scallions
  • Sprouts
  • Squash (cushaw, summer, crookneck, spaghetti, zucchini)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Swiss chard
  • String beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts
  • Zucchini

Purchasing Produce 

If possible, purchase produce in season. You'll reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing local produce. The less time the vegetables spend traveling, the better their 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, and other health issues. 

The Environmental Working Group shares an annual list of the top 12 produce selections that are found to have the highest levels of pesticides. It's called the "Dirty Dozen" and includes:

  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Sweet bell peppers

If you find that your vegetables are spoiling before you have a chance to eat them, consider purchasing frozen versions. Nutritionally, frozen vegetables are equal to—or even better than—fresh vegetables. This is because they are flash-frozen at peak freshness, which retains vitamins and minerals. Frozen vegetables are also easy to prepare because they are already pre-cut and washed.

How to Prepare Non-Starchy Vegetables

There are numerous ways to prepare non-starchy vegetables to make them a tasty and healthy part of your daily diet.

  • 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 and make the vegetables look dull. 
  • Avoid fatty toppings. Adding large amounts of butter, cream, cheese, salad dressing, or oil to your vegetables can increase the calorie content significantly. This will turn a low-calorie food into a high-calorie one. 

Recap

How you prepare your non-starchy vegetables is important. If you overdo it on butter, oil, salt, or high-fat dressings, you'll reduce the health benefits.

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, 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 pasta for spaghetti squash, or make zucchini pasta or cauliflower rice. 
  • Incorporate vegetables into your snacks. 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 carbs. 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.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. Boeing H, Bechthold A, Bub A, et al. Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseasesEur J Nutr. 2012;51(6):637-663. doi:10.1007/s00394-012-0380-y

  2. Juraschek SP, Kovell LC, Appel LJ, et al. Associations between dietary patterns and subclinical cardiac injury: an observational analysis from the DASH trialAnnals of Internal Medicine. 2020;172(12):786-794. doi:10.7326/M20-0336

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

  4. Environmental Working Group (EWSG). EWG 2021 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. 2021.

  5. American Diabetes Association. Non-starchy vegetables.

Additional Reading