Starchy Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

Starchy vegetables are high-quality carbs that contain valuable nutrients, but they’re more calorie-dense than non-starchy, water-rich varieties, so be sure to eat them in moderation.

Starchy vegetables are high-quality carbohydrates that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Unlike poor-quality carbs, such as white bread, regular pasta, and other refined-grain products, starchy vegetables like sweet and white potatoes, winter squash, peas, and corn offer ample nutrition and are a great addition to your diet when prepared in a healthy way. That said, starchy vegetables are higher in calories than nonstarchy vegetables (like leafy greens, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, and celery), so it’s important to moderate your portions, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Because of their high starch content, starchy vegetables raise blood-sugar levels more than nonstarchy types, so individuals with diabetes need to be especially careful about limiting their intake.

Starchy vegetables are a good source of fiber. A high-fiber diet aids in weight loss and weight management since fiber fills you up quickly and staves off hunger. Moderate portions of starchy vegetables at meals (such as half a baked potato or half a cup of corn, peas, or winter squash) are a nutritious addition to any weight-loss plan. Eating a diet rich in fiber can also help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Some starchy vegetables contain antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin that may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. These antioxidants also help keep your skin, hair, and bones healthy.

Winter squash and sweet potatoes are some of the richest sources of beta-carotene, which contributes to the growth and repair of the body’s tissues and may also protect your skin against sun damage. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body, and food sources of beta-carotene are the best way to get your vitamin A, since extremely high doses of pre-formed vitamin A in supplements can cause serious health problems. (Food sources of beta-carotene are entirely safe, since the body tightly regulates how much beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A.) Winter squash like acorn and butternut also provide another carotenoid called beta-cryptoxanthin, which may decrease your risk of developing inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

Some research suggests that folate and vitamin B6, two B vitamins found in starchy vegetables, may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and slow age-related memory loss. Your scalp, hair follicles, and growing hair also benefit from these two B vitamins. And since folate contributes to the production of serotonin, it may help ward off depression and improve mood. In addition, vitamin B6 helps create dopamine, a mood neurotransmitter that may help combat PMS symptoms.

Some of the minerals commonly found in starchy vegetables include potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Potassium and magnesium may help lower blood pressure and cardiovascular-disease risk, preserve bone health, and relieve PMS symptoms. Magnesium may also help ward off migraine headaches. Zinc is a mineral that contributes to tissue growth and repair throughout your body. It helps keep your skin and hair healthy, and is found in the retina of the eye, where it helps fight macular degeneration.