Difference Between Starchy and Non-Starchy Vegetables

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021
3 min read

Eating more vegetables has been associated with a decreased risk of chronic disease and better overall health. But you may have heard that you should avoid starchy vegetables because they're high in carbohydrates. Read on to learn about the benefits and concerns of starchy and non-starchy vegetables. 

As the name implies, starchy vegetables contain more starch than non-starchy vegetables. Starch is a type of carbohydrate that your body breaks down into glucose. Starchy vegetables are higher in calories than non-starchy vegetables. They also have less fiber, so they may not leave you feeling as full as non-starchy vegetables. 

Starchy vegetables are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and should be included as part of your healthy diet. However, you should limit them to about 1/4 of your plate. Since starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates, they can cause a spike in your blood sugar.  

Examples of starchy vegetables includes: 

  • Corn
  • White potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Green peas
  • Beets
  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Turnips
  • Carrots

Non-starchy vegetables are higher in fiber and lower in sugar than starchy vegetables. They usually contain about 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving. A serving is one cup of leafy greens or 1/2 cup of other fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables should fill about 1/2 of your plate. 

Examples of non-starchy vegetables include: 

  • Black olives
  • Purple cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Celery 
  • Cabbage
  • Red peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Summer squash

Both types are high in nutrients. You should include a variety of vegetables in your diet. The color of the vegetables is a sign of their nutrients and antioxidants.  

A diet high in antioxidants can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.  You want to get a lot of different colors to make sure you get a lot of different antioxidants, including:

Red. Red vegetables such as beets and tomatoes contain antioxidants that lower your chances of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and clogged arteries. The red compounds may also help protect against cancer and help your brain work better. 

‌Blue and purple. Vegetables with these colors, including eggplant and purple cabbage, contain antioxidants that help prevent cancer, stroke, and heart disease. They're also important for healthy aging and memory. Additionally, they can help with urinary tract health and digestion.  

Green. Broccoli and spinach are two types of green vegetables that can help protect your eyes from macular degeneration. Green vegetables also help protect you from cancer and bad cholesterol

These antioxidants help your immune system work better and help regulate digestion. It's especially important for pregnant women to get enough green vegetables since they contain folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects.   

Orange and yellow. Vegetables with these colors include carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. They include nutrients and antioxidants that can help:   

  • Prevent heart disease
  • Promote eye health
  • Boost the immune system
  • Help build strong bones
  • Maintain skin health

White. White vegetables such as onions and cauliflower help your immune system function. They contain nutrients that help protect you from some types of cancer. They can also lower bad cholesterol and high blood pressure.    

Some starchy vegetables contain resistant starch. This is a type of starch that isn't digested in the small intestine. Because of this, it doesn't raise your glucose. Instead, resistant starch ferments in the large intestine. As it ferments, it improves your gut bacteria. Resistant starch can make you feel more full and it can: 

  • Improve your glycemic control
  • Prevent constipation
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower your odds of colon cancer

Good sources of resistant starch include:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils

One type of resistant starch is created by heating and cooling. To get more of this type, cook your starchy vegetables the day before you plan to eat them. Let them cool in the refrigerator overnight. You can then heat them up without changing the amount of resistant starch.