Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007.
When it comes to diet and nutrition, it might seem that the reoccurring message is “less is more.” But with non-starchy veggies, for once, more is better! This is especially true for people with diabetes who count carbohydrates to manage blood sugar.
The difference between starchy and non-starchy vegetables
Starchy vegetables have more carbohydrates than their non-starchy counterparts. And the type of carbohydrate (mostly starch) in these veggies can have a significant impact on blood sugar. Some examples of starchy veggies include corn, peas, potatoes, and parsnips. Most starchy veggies contain 15 grams of carbohydrate per 1/2 cup serving, with the exception of cooked winter squash and pumpkin, which contain 15 grams of carbohydrate per one cup serving.
Non-starchy vegetables contain significantly fewer carbohydrates than their starchy relatives and in some cases are considered “free” foods in a diet for diabetes. The list of non-starchy veggies is long, and the options for cooking and preparing them are endless!
Non-starchy veggies include spinach and leafy greens, artichoke hearts, asparagus, green beans, sprouts, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, onions, pea pods, peppers, radishes, zucchini, tomatoes, and turnips.
With only five grams of carbohydrates in ½ cup cooked or one cup raw serving of non-starchy veggies, they have little impact on blood glucose levels. And unless you are eating a plateful, these veggie choices are counted as “free” foods when carbohydrate counting. By definition, “free” foods contain five grams or fewer of carbohydrates and provide less than 20 calories per serving.
If you do decide to eat a plateful, you will need to add up the servings and count the carbohydrates, but you will be doing your body a favor! Non-starchy vegetables contain loads of healthy nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber (on average two to nine grams per serving). And if you choose the brightly colored varieties, you will get a large, healthy dose of beneficial antioxidants as well. Aim for a half plate of veggies at each meal and/or three to five servings per day as a minimum.
The best veggies for your buck—and body
Consider all of your options when adding non-starchy vegetables to your diet: fresh, frozen, and canned.
Fresh. The biggest bang for your buck nutritionally. A wide variety can be found at the grocery store even as vegetables rotate in and out of season. But beware the unopened produce drawer in the refrigerator; fresh veggies do not last forever and beg to be eaten soon after purchase (or picking, if you grow your own).
Frozen. The next best thing to fresh. Make a healthy choice by purchasing veggies without added ingredients or sauces.
Canned. Always available at the supermarket. Choose low-sodium varieties, and drain and rinse before preparing and eating.
Try a new non-starchy vegetable each week to find your favorite.