Don't think of vegetables as calorie-free components of your diet. Even though many vegetables have very few calories per volume, some high-carb vegetables provide energy in the form of starch — most notably potatoes, corn, peas and butternut squash.
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Often categorized as "starchy," vegetables like potatoes, corn, peas and butternut squash provide more calories in the form of carbohydrates compared with nonstarchy veggies like spinach or cauliflower.
While only a doctor or dietitian can tell you whether certain foods are right for you, the fact that some vegetables are high in carbohydrates is not a reason to swear off them — even if you're somebody who is watching your carb intake. The complex carbohydrates in starchy vegetables are great for fueling the body and providing essential nutrients you need for many functions.
Why Are Carbs Important?
Carbohydrates, along with fats and proteins, are a macronutrient, meaning that they give you energy in the form of calories and that your body needs them in large quantities. As the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains, great sources of carbohydrates are vegetables, fruits and whole grains, as they provide vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Less than ideal sources of carbohydrates are added sugars, which provide energy without any additional nutrients that your body needs, thus potentially leading to calorie surplus and weight gain.
When your body breaks down carbohydrates, it converts starches and sugars into glucose, which is transported through the bloodstream then taken up into the cells in your body via insulin. Those cells then use the glucose for energy to function. When the glucose levels in your body are stable, you ultimately feel better. This is why experts like those at the Harvard School of Public Health recommend going for slow-digesting carbohydrates, which will provide a steady stream of glucose rather than a quick rush of it.
About High-Carb Vegetables
Now, back to vegetables. As Johns Hopkins explains, all vegetables have at least some carbohydrates, but some vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and some are lower. High-carb vegetables would be those classified as starchy vegetables — namely potatoes, corn, peas and butternut squash.
While some people try to avoid carbohydrates as a way of controlling their blood sugar or their weight, Johns Hopkins emphasizes that some of the carbohydrate content in vegetables is fiber, which slows digestion and prevents blood sugar spikes. The fiber will also help you stay satiated until your next meal. And as the American Diabetes Association points out, fiber is a carbohydrate that not enough people are getting —most people get only half the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber in their diet.
If you want to get a better perspective of what high-carb vegetables have to offer, take a look at their nutritional breakdown:
Potato: According to the USDA, one medium baked russet potato has about 168 calories, mostly from its 37 grams of carbohydrates. Of those carbohydrates, 4 grams are fiber and less than 2 grams are sugar.
Although the Harvard School of Public Health does not consider potatoes a vegetable, potatoes are still a food that offers plenty of nutritional benefit, per the USDA's listing: One medium baked potato has 20 percent of your daily needed potassium, 10 percent of your daily needed iron, 12 percent of your daily needed magnesium and 16 percent of your daily needed vitamin C.
If you want to get creative in the kitchen with a russet potato, try making LIVESTRONG.com's Vegetarian Chili Potato, which tops the spud with protein-packed bean chili and sour cream.
Corn: Also popular among vegetables high in carbohydrates is cooked sweet corn, which the USDA lists as having 143 calories per 1-cup serving. Those calories derive mostly from the corn's 31.3 grams of carbohydrates, of which 3.6 grams are fiber and 6.8 grams are sugar. Corn provides about 4 percent of your daily needed iron, 7 percent of your daily needed potassium, 9 percent of your daily needed magnesium, 8 percent of your daily needed zinc and 9 percent of your daily needed vitamin C.
If you're looking to make something with corn, be sure to try LIVESTRONG.com's Zucchini and Roasted Corn Mason Jar Salad. This light meal or healthy appetizer combines roasted corn with zucchini, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, mint and olive oil for a colorful addition to your eating plan.
Peas: Another high-carb vegetable is peas, which, according to the USDA, have 117 calories per 1 cup, with 21 grams of carbohydrates. Of those carbohydrates, 8.3 grams are fiber and 8.2 grams are sugar. A 1-cup serving of peas also provides 12 percent of your daily iron, 8 percent of your daily potassium, 11 percent of your daily magnesium, 16 percent of your daily zinc, 64 percent of your daily vitamin C and 30 percent of your daily vitamin K.
If you want a fresh way to incorporate peas into your diet, use them to make LIVESTRONG.com's Mac and Cheese and Peas, which uses cashews, almond milk and nutritional yeast to make its "cheese" sauce for a different spin on classic comfort food.
Butternut squash: Last but not least, the USDA lists 1 cup of butternut squash as having 82 calories with 21.5 grams of carbohydrates, 6.6 grams of which are fiber and 4 grams of which are sugar.
Butternut squash offers a wide breadth of nutrients, including 6 percent of your daily needed calcium, 7 percent of your daily needed iron, 12 percent of your daily needed potassium, 14 percent of your daily needed magnesium, 127 percent of your daily needed vitamin A, 34 percent of your daily needed vitamin C and 18 percent of your daily needed vitamin E.
For a fun side dish, trying making LIVESTRONG.com's Butternut Squash Fries, which calls for spicing up this high-carb vegetable with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Even better is the fact that the recipe calls for dipping them in a high-protein combo of almond butter and Greek yogurt.
For a better perspective comparing some of these high-carb vegetables to low-carb vegetables, the USDA lists 1 cup of cooked cauliflower as having 29 calories and only 5 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 cup of cooked spinach as having 41 calories and only 7 grams of carbohydrates. Other non-starchy vegetables, as categorized by Johns Hopkins, include asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, rutabaga and tomato, among many others.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease: “Carbohydrate Counting and Diabetes”
- American Diabetes Association: “Get to Know Carbs”
- Johns Hopkins: “The Truth About Starchy Vegetables”
- Harvard School of Public Health: “The Problem with Potatoes”
- USDA: “Baked Russet Potato”
- USDA: “Cooked Yellow Sweet Corn”
- USDA: “Peas”
- USDA: “Butternut Squash”
- USDA: “Cooked Cauliflower”
- USDA: “Cooked Spinach”
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Carbohydrates"