Maybe you're following a vegan, keto, vegetarian or paleo diet. Perhaps you're tracking macros, counting calories or, well, just eating. No regimen, diet or plan will deny that leafy, non-starchy vegetables are an absolute must.
Veggies that are low in starch (a type of carb) are also high in fiber (another type of carb), which is a nutrient that can help promote healthy digestion, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and help promote healthy weight management, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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While covering your plate with a variety of vegetables is ideal, leafy, non-starchy greens are generally lower in carbohydrates and calories. On the other hand starchy veggies (like potatoes and squash) are denser in texture and carbs.
You can eat both starchy and non-starchy vegetables together. But if your plate already has another carb source, like rice or quinoa, you may want to prioritize leafy greens to get all the nutrients and vitamins your body needs.
Non-starchy vegetables, particularly leafy greens, are also high in vitamins A, C and K, which act as antioxidants, helping to lower inflammation and oxidative stress, according to Eudene Harry, MD.
"But since no single vegetable contains every single nutrient, eating a variety can provide an array of nutrients that can help reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke," Dr. Harry says.
Read more: 10 Sneaky Ways to Eat More Vegetables
Low-Starchy Vegetables to Eat More Of
Take advantage of the many nutritious benefits of non-starchy vegetables by adding these to your plate. Each serving size is one cup raw unless otherwise specified, per the USDA.
- Spinach (7 calories, 1.1 grams carbs, 0.7 grams fiber)
- Swiss chard (7 calories, 1.3 grams carbs, 0.6 grams fiber)
- Dandelion greens (25 calories, 5.1 grams carbs, 1.9 grams fiber)
- Romaine lettuce (8 calories, 1.5 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber)
- Mustard greens (15 calories, 2.6 grams carbs, 1.8 grams fiber)
- Turnip greens (18 calories, 3.9 grams carbs, 1.8 grams fiber)
- Collard greens (52 calories, 8 grams carbs, 6 grams fiber)
- Arugula (5 calories, 0.7 grams carbs, 0.3 grams fiber)
- Cabbage (22 calories, 5.2 grams carbs, 2.2 grams fiber)
- Cauliflower (27 calories, 5.3 grams carbs, 2.1 grams fiber)
- Horseradish (2 calories, 0.6 grams carbs, 0.2 grams fiber)
- Radishes (19 calories, 3.9 grams carbs, 1.9 grams fiber)
- Brussels sprouts (38 calories, 7.9 grams carbs, 3.3 grams fiber)
- Watercress (4 calories, 0.4 grams carbs, 0.2 grams fiber)
- Kohlrabi (36 calories, 8.4 grams carbs, 4.9 grams fiber)
- Kale (8 calories, 1.4 grams carbs, 0.6 grams fiber)
- Bok choy (9 calories, 1.5 grams carbs, 0.7 grams fiber)
- Beets (59 calories, 13 grams carbs 3.8 grams fiber)
- Parsnips (100 calories, 23.9 grams carbs, 6.5 grams fiber)
- Turnips (36 calories, 8.4 grams carbs, 2.3 grams fiber)
- Carrots (52 calories, 12 grams carbs, 4 grams fiber)
- Onions (64 calories, 14.9 grams carbs, 2.7 grams fiber)
- Chives (9 calories, 1,2 grams carbs, 0.7 grams fiber per tablespoon)
- Scallions (32 calories, 7.3 grams carbs, 2.6 grams fiber)
- Garlic (4 calories, 1 gram carbs, 0.1 grams fiber per clove)
- Shallots (20 calories, 4.8 grams carbs, 0.9 grams fiber per 1 ounce raw)
Other Low-Starchy Vegetables
- Zucchini (21 calories, 3.9 grams carbs, 1.2 grams fiber)
- Summer squash (18 calories, 3.8 grams carbs, 1.2 grams fiber)
- Butternut squash (63 calories, 16.4 grams carbs, 2.8 grams fiber)
- Winter squash (39 calories, 10 grams carbs, 1.7 grams fiber)
- Eggplant (21 calories, 4.8 grams carbs, 2.5 grams fiber)
- Pumpkin (30 calories, 7.5 grams carbs, 0.6 grams fiber)
- Okra (33 calories, 7.5 grams carbs, 3.2 grams fiber)
- Celery (16 calories, 3 grams carbs, 1.6 gram fiber)
- Asparagus (27 calories, 5.2 grams carbs, 2.8 grams fiber)
- Rhubarb (26 calories, 5.5 grams carbs, 2.2 grams fiber)
The Health Benefits of Non-Starchy Vegetables
1. They're Linked to Promoting Healthy Brain Function
Non-starchy vegetables, especially leafy greens, are high in folic acid (aka folate), a B vitamin that helps promote healthy brain development and function, according to Dr. Harry.
After observing a group of 960 people aged 58 to 99 years old for about five years, researchers found that eating one serving of leafy vegetables each day is linked to helping slow cognitive decline, per a January 2018 study published in Neurology.
2. They're Tied to Good Heart Health
Increasing your daily intake of non-starchy vegetables can also protect your ticker. Even replacing some of the starchy veggies on your plate with some low-starch options is linked to lowering the risk of heart disease, according to a March 2018 study published in Circulation.
After looking at more than 41,000 adults, researchers in the above-mentioned study observed that swapping one daily serving of starchy vegetables with non-starchy veggies resulted in a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. Researchers also observed that replacing one serving per day of processed or red meat with low-starch vegetables was associated with a 23 percent lower risk of heart disease.
3. Their Low Carb and High Fiber Content Can Help Manage Diabetes
Carbohydrates, especially refined carbs like sugar, are known for spiking blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for people with diabetes. Reducing carbohydrates, however, can normalize blood sugar levels, helping manage this condition, according to a 2019 study published in Diabetes Management.
Researchers emphasized a diet rich in non-starchy vegetables due to their high fiber content. Fiber is crucial for helping control blood sugar, slowing the body's absorption of carbohydrates, according to the Mayo Clinic. The nutrient has also been associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Vegetables Can Help With Weight Management
Since many low-starchy veggies contain a decent amount of fiber, they could inch you closer to your weight-loss goals. Unlike protein, fats and carbs, fiber goes through your body undigested and passes slowly through the intestines, which can help you feel satiated after a meal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Eating enough fiber (the FDA recommends about 25 grams per day), can promote weight loss, according to an October 2019 study published in the Journal of Nutrition. After observing 345 adults on a calorie-restricted diet, researchers found that increasing dietary fiber helped participants most closely stick to their eating regimen.
Easy Ways to Add Low-Starchy Veggies to Your Diet
Aim to eat at least three to five servings of vegetables a day — one serving is about a cup of raw veggies, according to Dr. Harry. Keep these tips, courtesy of Dr. Harry, in mind when you're trying to add more of these rockstar veggies to your day:
- Add spinach or kale into your breakfast smoothie is a great way to incorporate leafy greens into your daily routine.
- Sauté them with a little olive oil and garlic to make them more appealing and pair with your favorite protein and carb.
- Get creative with dips, blending beets, olive oil, roasted garlic, Greek yogurt and fresh herbs.
Read more: The 18 Most Nutritious Vegetables
- USDA: "Spinach"
- USDA: "Kale"
- USDA: "Swiss Chard"
- USDA: "Arugula"
- USDA: "Cabbage"
- USDA: "Dandelion Greens"
- USDA: "Romaine Lettuce"
- USDA: "Mustard Greens"
- USDA: "Turnip Greens"
- USDA: "Collard Greens Chopped"
- USDA: "Bok Choy"
- USDA: "Cauliflower"
- USDA: "Horseradish"
- USDA: "Radishes"
- USDA: "Brussels Sprouts"
- USDA: "Watercress"
- USDA: "Rutabaga"
- USDA: "Kohlrabi"
- "USDA: Kohlrabi"
- USDA: "Zucchini"
- USDA: "Summer Squash"
- USDA: "Butternut Squash"
- USDA: "Winter Squash"
- USDA: "Eggplant"
- USDA: "Pumpkin Raw"
- USDA: "Okra"
- USDA: "Celery"
- USDA: "Asparagus"
- USDA: "Rhubarb"
- USDA: "Onion"
- USDA: "Leek"
- USDA: "Chives"
- USDA: "Spring Onions"
- USDA: "Garlic"
- USDA: "Shallots"
- USDA: "Beets"
- USDA: "Parsnips"
- Mayo Clinic: "Carbohydrates: How Carbs Fit Into a Healthy Diet."
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Listing of Vitamins"
- Frontiers in Neurology: "The Relationships Between Vitamin K and Cognition: A Review of Current Evidence"
- Neurology: "Nutrients and Bioactives in Green Leafy Vegetables and Cognitive Decline: Prospective Study."
- Circulation: "Estimated Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Associated with the Replacement of Various Foods with Vegetables in Two Large Prospective Cohorts"
- Diabetes Management: "A Clinician's Guide to Inpatient Low Carbohydrate Diets for Remission of Type 2 Diabetes : Toward a Standard of Care Protocol"
- FDA: "Dietary Fiber"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study"
- USDA: "Carrots"