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Ask an R.D.: What's the Difference Between Starchy and Non-Starchy Vegetables?

By Stephanie E - Jenny Craig Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D. Expert Reviewed

You’re standing in the produce section, surrounded by vegetables in all different colors, shapes and sizes. But which ones should you choose: starchy or non-starchy vegetables? Don’t stress — A mix of both types is best, and you can enjoy a variety of non-starchy and starchy vegetables when you’re trying to lose weight. We sat down with Briana Rodriquez, Registered Dietitian at Jenny Craig, to find out how to get the most out of your greens (and all the other veggies in between). 


Here’s how to tell the difference between the two, some examples of non-starchy and starchy vegetables and how you can support your weight loss goals with both types of veggies.
 

What is starch?

Before we get into starchy and non-starchy vegetables, it helps to understand starch. Starch is a chemical compound, and a type of carbohydrate, that’s made from excess glucose (sugar) within plant leaves.1


When it’s extracted from a plant or vegetable, starch is a tasteless white powder that you might even have in your pantry (think: corn starch and tapioca starch). When you eat starchy foods, your body breaks the starch down into sugar and uses it for energy. 

What are starchy vegetables?

Photo by Cleardesign1 on iStock

roasted sweet potatoLike their name suggests, starchy vegetables contain more starch than others. 


Because starchy foods in general are sometimes considered to be too high in calories and carbohydrates for weight loss (think: pasta, bread, etc.), they’re often avoided. But you shouldn’t shun starchy vegetables! In fact, including them in your diet can support your weight loss goals and your overall health. 


“Starchy vegetables are good sources of nutrients and fiber,” Rodriquez says, “while they typically have more calories and carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables, that doesn’t mean they can’t be included as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.” 


Check out these examples of healthy starchy vegetables and some of the nutrients they contain:

  • Butternut squash – Potassium and vitamin A2
  • Corn – Phosphorus and potassium3
  • Peas – Calcium and vitamin C4
  • Potatoes – Magnesium and phosphorus5
  • Pumpkin – Calcium and vitamin A6
  • Sweet potatoes – Vitamin A and vitamin C7


However, just because these veggies pack a nutrition punch, that doesn’t mean you should go overboard, especially if you are trying to lose weight. 


“If you’re eating high-starch vegetables in excess, the glucose they provide can be stored in the body as fat. This could make it difficult to reach your weight loss goals,” Rodriquez says. 


You can still enjoy starchy vegetables as part of a balanced diet, just focus on enjoying smaller portions, Rodriquez recommends.

 

 

What are non-starchy vegetables?

Photo by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash

asparagus on cutting boardThe less starch a vegetable has, the fewer carbohydrates and calories it typically has.8 Non-starchy vegetables are great sources of dietary fiber, a type of carbohydrate that promotes good digestion and helps you to feel full and satisfied. These results make non-starchy veggies great for supporting weight loss.


“Non-starchy vegetables are very high in nutrients, they contain fiber, and some even contain protein. You’ll get these benefits for very few calories,” says Rodriquez. “Overall, when you add more non-starchy veggies and less high-starch ones to your plate, you’ll have a more filling and nutritious meal.”


Some examples of healthy non-starchy vegetables include:

  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes


Fresh and frozen produce are both great options when you’re looking to buy starchy and non-starchy veggies, says Rodriquez.

 

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Pro tip: If you’re following the Jenny Craig program, you’ll find these non-starchy vegetables — and many more — on the Fresh & Free Additions list.

Eating vegetables to support weight loss

To lose weight, you’ll want to create a calorie deficit, where your body uses more calories than you consume. One way to do that is to follow the 80/20 rule for weight loss — you’ll focus 80% of your efforts on eating a healthy diet and the remaining 20% on incorporating exercise to create a calorie deficit. 


That’s why portioning high-starch vegetables is important, Rodriquez says. 

 

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Try this: To stick to your weight loss goals, she recommends adding volume by filling most of your plate with a variety of colorful non-starchy veggies first. Then, add a ½ cup portion of starchy veggies to your plate, along with some lean protein, and if you’d like, whole grains, dairy and/or fruit. Check out these helpful visual cues to measure out the different foods on your plate.


Need some non-starchy vegetable inspiration? Try these delicious recipes:

The bottom line

Most people can benefit from eating more vegetables. Enjoying a variety of starchy and non-starchy vegetables is a great way to support your overall health. If your goals include weight loss, just make sure to be mindful of your portion sizes when eating starchy vegetables. 


If you want to lose weight, you don’t have to give up the foods you love! Jenny Craig takes a balanced approach to weight loss: You’ll enjoy a variety of chef-crafted menu items inspired by foods from around the world, which include delicious starchy and non-starchy veggies. And the best part? No food group is off-limits. And with the help of a personal weight loss coach, you’ll have the support you need to succeed. 


Connect with a weight loss coach today to get started!

 

Book Free Appointment with Jenny Craig

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.britannica.com/science/starch

[2] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168474/nutrients
[3] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168539/nutrients
[4] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170017/nutrients
[5] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170438/nutrients
[6] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168450/nutrients
[7] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168483/nutrients
[8] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/starchy-vs-non-starchy-vegetables#carbs-and-calories

Stephanie Eng-Aponte

Stephanie Eng Aponte
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig and has written for the health and wellness, tech, and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. They employ an “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoy the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find them photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.


Favorite healthy snack: green apple slices with sunflower butter

 

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN

Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. 

 

Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!) 

 

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This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals. 

 

Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy. 

 

This article contains trusted sources. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source. 

 


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