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Starchy vs Non-Starchy Vegetables

by (1655)
Updated about 7 hours ago
Created May 02, 2010 at 11:53 AM

This isn't exactly a Paleo question, so my apologies.

And also, this question feels like a really stupid question. But the Interwebs just aren't giving me a clear answer so I thought I would appeal to you guys for help.

I'm trying to limit my vegetables to only non-starchy ones (as though cavemen knew the difference!). But I'm having a very hard time finding lists of starchy and non-starchy vegetables on the Internet, so I can know which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.

Here's the particular problem: every list I find contradicts the other lists I find. For example, I found this list of non-starchy vegetables:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes-diet/da00073

and this list of starchy vegetables:

http://www.buzzle.com/articles/starchy-vegetables-list.html

The problem is: both lists contain "beets". Both lists contain "carrots". Etc. It just makes no sense to me. (And that's just in the firs three letters of the alphabet!). Every other list I've found has such similar contradictions, so I just don't know what to avoid or emphasize.

Any recommendations for any lists?

My question suggests two very closely related questions: is there an "official" way to differentiate starchy from non-starchy vegetables, like a metric we can use?

And: is there a good "rule of thumb" (and perhaps cavemen knew/followed the rule of thumb) as in "Avoid vegetables [that have characteristic X]" because X is closely aligned to the starchiness - the color, where it is grown, or something like that? Rules of thumb make things much easier.

Gratzie!!!

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37187 · February 06, 2012 at 9:25 PM

@Ambimorph, my morning yogurt with fruit has more g of carb than that and I'm still losing--slowly, but still losing. So, either my absorption is still incomplete or I disagree with your flat statement.

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15976 · November 19, 2010 at 3:41 PM

excellent summary, david. I completely agree.

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18671 · May 02, 2010 at 7:02 PM

I agree with almost everything here, except a cup of starchy vegetables a day for weight loss. A cup of potato has about 50g of carbohydrate, which is too much for many people to lose weight.

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19220 · May 02, 2010 at 3:06 PM

I think that if chimps can do it our ancestors could too http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/11/071113-chimps-tools.html

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401 · May 02, 2010 at 2:57 PM

I don't think you're giving hunter gatherers much credit at all. IF you pull up any plant you see they have roots of some sort. I don't think it takes much time to realise that you can eat some roots. By the mesolithic there's quite a lot of evidence that shows hunter gatherers were getting pretty good at thier jobs. To suggest that they weren't smart enough to eat roots is just plain wrong.

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11 Answers

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1710 · May 02, 2010 at 6:34 PM

I wouldn't worry about the starch content in food. It's barking up the wrong tree. Starches are polysaccarides made of glucose molecules strung together, and pure glucose is harmless, EXCEPT if eaten in excess. After all, it's the body's fuel. If you don't eat glucose, you'll always make it from Amino Acids, at the same time that you manufacture ketones from lipolysis. "The brain will have its glucose."

There are really only two pitfalls with respect to dietary carbs: too much fructose without the naturally occurring fiber and antioxidants that neutralize it's evil effect, and too much total carbohydrates. The only reason to avoid fruit is to limit fructose and total carbs. The only reason to limit starch is to limit total carbs. You'll notice that starch, per se, is only a problem in quantity. And in certain packages that may contain antinutrients.

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2520 · May 02, 2010 at 1:22 PM

More and more, scientists are finding that foods that cause major spikes in blood glucose to be deleterious to health - particularly to heart health and to organs involved in the production and result of insulin production. Starchy vegetables can cause blood glucose spikes in some individuals. If you are one of them (and if you are overweight, the chances are good that you are), then you're better off limiting your consumption of all starches. If you're not sure whether your body copes with starchy veggies, grab a BG monitor and do some post-meal testing (one-hour post-prandial glucose). If one baked potato sends your BG into the diabetic spectrum, then you have your answer.

For more information, check out Hyperlipid and The Heart Scan Blog.

So if you fit into the category that suggests you need to back off the starchy veggies, then just look at the nutrition data available online (starch = carb count minus sugars and fiber). Personally, when I'm involving veggies at all in my diet, I stick to leaves since starches trigger carb cravings and other problems thanks to my insulin resistance. There's certainly enough variety in just the non-starchy veggie category to keep me interested and inspire my culinary experimentation. :)

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20 · May 04, 2010 at 2:27 PM

The difference between the lists may be explained by the difference in purposes behind the lists.

Diabetics are often told to eat some or small portions of the starchy or sugary root vegetables for the vitamins and minerals. A paleo diet might include root vegetables since Indigenous tribes (of America which is what I know a little more about) would dig root vegetables of their area, such as yucca in the south west.

Someone on a low carb diet would avoid most or all of the root vegetables due to the high insulin response, Someone on a low glycemic diet might eat jerusalem Artichoke since it is known to have a low glycemic response due do the high amounts of inulin in it. Inulin is a fiber or fibrous starch, I'm not sure which.

Do a search for a diet or allowed foods on the particular diet you're interested in and you might get a better idea of what is allowed for your situation. FWIW, kitty

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15583 · May 02, 2010 at 5:06 PM

I don't think there's any intrinsic reason to avoid starchy vegetables. Clearly starch is one of the better sort of carbohydrate you could consume (a slower, steadier form of pure glucose, no fructose). The only reason why it's a good idea to avoid "starchy vegetables" imo, is really because it's these vegetables that typically contain large amounts of carbohydrate. e.g. 17g/100g for potato, 7g/100 for carrots, 1.4g/100g spinach. I can't see any reason why a high ratio of starch: non-starchy carbohyrate would be a negative per se.

I think the practical use of "starchy vegetables" in "avoid starchy vegetables" is basically to say "avoid carby vegetables." In practise this means avoiding carby vegetables like potato, sweet potato, yams etc, because any reasonable serving will provide more carbs than a serving of any other vegetable.

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15976 · November 19, 2010 at 3:41 PM

excellent summary, david. I completely agree.

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56616 · May 02, 2010 at 12:44 PM

If a list of non-starchy vegetables contains carrots, that is a fail. Carrots have 1.8 g of starch per cup. A true non-starchy vegetable like kale has 0 g per cup. Just look it up on Nutritiondata. If it's a leaf it probably doesn't have much, if it's a root it probably has at least some.

A better way of dealing with starch is just set a limit per day.

Or don't worry about it at all. You're right- paleo has nothing to do with starch and in fact most hunter-gatherer cultures eat plenty of it.

If you are trying to carb restriction to lose weight, that's a different matter it's probably safer to consume only 1 cup starchy vegetables a day and leave the rest to meat with some leaves as a garnish.

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18671 · May 02, 2010 at 7:02 PM

I agree with almost everything here, except a cup of starchy vegetables a day for weight loss. A cup of potato has about 50g of carbohydrate, which is too much for many people to lose weight.

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37187 · February 06, 2012 at 9:25 PM

@Ambimorph, my morning yogurt with fruit has more g of carb than that and I'm still losing--slowly, but still losing. So, either my absorption is still incomplete or I disagree with your flat statement.

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4393 · January 19, 2013 at 8:31 PM

i know this q is well over 2 yrs old now, but anyways,

nutritiondata has a search tool here for finding out such info (which may not have existed at the time this question was asked),

eg.
here's the search results for foods that are lowest in starch within vegetable products

& here's the search results for foods that are highest in starch within vegetable products

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10 · January 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM

If you look at the food gathering habits of hunter gatherers still in existence in Africa, the men go off to hunt - small animals like rabbits, wild foul, etc - usually with mixed success. The women are the gatherers and come back with baskets full of root vegetables which are the staple diet of the people

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10 · February 06, 2012 at 9:19 PM

Look here:

http://www.bhlinc.com/pdf/PT79_FoodasPoints_0408.pdf

Starchy (15 g carb/serving): corn, peas, pumpkin, rutabaga, sweet potato, winter squash, and potatoes. Non-starchy (5 g carb/serving) do indeed include beets and carrots (and parsnips & turnips); above vs. below ground is not the test.

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285 · November 19, 2010 at 3:02 AM

There is also evidence implicating starch in autoimmunity.

As I understand it, the mechanism works something like this: - certain bacterium found in the gut, including Klebsiella, feed on starch, which in some individuals can result in an overgrowth. - Then, if you also have a leaky gut, the bacterium can pass into the bloodsteam intact, triggering an immune response. - Finally, via molecular mimicry, the immune system can begin attacking healthy tissue.

The theory is that by reducing your starch intake, you reduce the bacterium population and thus the level in the bloodstream, etc.

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407 · May 02, 2010 at 2:11 PM

For me, pretty much any "root" vegetable I consider starchy. I'm sure there are some that are lower in starch, but sticking with fruits and vegetables (that's another line that gets crossed all the time!) that grow above ground is my first restriction.

The way I look at it is that the roots are where all the energy is stored....so they would naturally be more carbohydrate-dense than the leaves. Of course the "fruit" of the plant also stores energy, but I think in lower quantities.

The other thing is that if we're looking at what "Grok" would eat....mainly he'd eat what he could see, so the greens and fruits/vegetables are what he'd go for mainly. I'm sure at some point he figured out that certain roots/tubers were edible, but I think that would be in times of famine, not as part of his regular diet.

I must say that I am very glucose sensitive. I have to keep my carbohydrate intake very low in order to continue to loose weight (still have another 30-40 pounds to go), so there are still a lot of "non-root" vegetables I avoid. I do splurge on occasion and have a small piece of potato or some other root vegetable, but it's infrequent and the portion is very small.

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401 · May 02, 2010 at 2:57 PM

I don't think you're giving hunter gatherers much credit at all. IF you pull up any plant you see they have roots of some sort. I don't think it takes much time to realise that you can eat some roots. By the mesolithic there's quite a lot of evidence that shows hunter gatherers were getting pretty good at thier jobs. To suggest that they weren't smart enough to eat roots is just plain wrong.

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19220 · May 02, 2010 at 3:06 PM

I think that if chimps can do it our ancestors could too http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/11/071113-chimps-tools.html

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20 · May 02, 2010 at 12:39 PM

Just off hand I'd trust the first list above vs. the second one. The second one list various types of beans as vegetables! If whomever put that together doesn't know that fact I'm not sure I'd trust anything else they say ;)

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