Meeting Carbohydrates – Starchy Vegetables

Plants are carbohydrate factories. Plants take the carbon dioxide we breathe out, mix with water, add energy from sunlight, and produce sugars, starches and fiber – the three categories of carbohydrates. Starch is actually made by plants to efficiently store glucose, the sugar we’re most familiar with for its role in diabetes as it circulates in our bloodstream. When starch is stored in the edible parts of a vegetable we call the food a starchy vegetable.

Starchy vegetables are important to diabetes management because the starch stored by plants quickly breaks down to glucose during digestion, and raises blood glucose levels. Starchy vegetables are also important to diabetes management because they are healthy, and are foods we love to eat. So, we need to balance our love of starchy vegetables and their nutritional benefits with their impact on blood glucose levels.

Starchy vegetables

Some common starchy vegetables are potatoes, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, parsnips, hard shell squashes (acorn, butternut, etc.), pumpkin, taro, cassava. And, the carbohydrate content of starchy vegetables remains when these foods are processed – potato and corn chips, grits and corn meal, etc. Beans are sometimes placed into this group too, but let’s discuss beans later as legumes and pulses (lentils).

The nutrition benefits of starchy vegetables include high quality carbohydrates and fiber, but also important vitamin and minerals. White potatoes are a great source of potassium, important to blood pressure control, and the orange flesh of sweet potatoes and winter squashes gives away their vitamin A (beta carotene) content. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, zinc, and several antioxidants add to the nutritional value.

We need to manage portion size with starchy vegetables because they are rich in carbohydrate. A portion size containing 15 grams of carbohydrate – one “carb choice” – is ½ cup cooked for most of the starchy vegetables, and 1 cup for the hard shell squashes and pumpkin.
Starchy vegetables are too nutritious and too delicious to avoid, and with a little planning you can easily work them into your diabetes eating plan.

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