Dear Holly: What are starchy vegetables? Should I avoid them? -Spuds
Dear Spuds: Starchy vegetables have their name because they are a rich source of carbohydrate. They include potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn and dried beans. Our body needs carbohydrates for fuel, but many of us go overboard with carbs and so our meals are out of balance; more carbs relative to proteins and fats, and likely too many calories overall.
Ideally, a meal would have a moderate amount of carbohydrates, some protein and heart-healthy fats and a whole bunch of non-starchy veggies and perhaps some fruit.
Starchy vegetables are not better or worse than their non-starchy peers, they’re simply different. Potatoes are probably the veggies with the worst reputation of the bunch, but that stems from their common prep in a deep fryer more than their original nutrient content. Clients often tell me that corn is their favorite vegetable. I too enjoy sweet corn, but if that starchy vegetable is a side dish on the menu, I am going to pair it with broccoli or some other lower calorie veggie.
Beans are a very healthy food that we could stand to include more often. In addition to their complex carbohydrate content, beans also are a very rich source of fiber and protein.
The most important thing to know about starchy veggies is their proper portion. To estimate how big of a portion of carbohydrate-rich foods is best for you at your meals, make a fist and set it on your usual plate; that is the max for all carb-heavy foods – spaghetti, rolls, rice or those starchy veggies including corn, peas, potatoes and beans.
If you can’t get enough mashed potatoes, rice or spaghetti, there are some tricks to enjoying these kinds of foods while maintaining a healthy balance. You can “dilute” mashed potatoes by adding steamed cauliflower which you mash – it tastes the same and cuts the calories. You can also use a food processor to cut cauliflower into tiny pieces as a substitute for rice for a fraction of the calories. When roasting potatoes, add lower-calorie peppers, onions, eggplant and mushrooms to the roasting tray.
I love using cooked spaghetti squash or julienned zucchini in place of pasta. You can use a julienne peeler to tame a pile of zucchini into delicate pasta threads – a healthier alternative to another loaf of zucchini bread. I even grill planks of zucchini and use them as a flavorful (and gluten free) alternative to lasagna noodles.
A balanced meal is a healthy meal! Starchy veggies are part of healthy eating, as long as the portion is not too large, and you also include non-starchy veggies too!
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