Vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They contain many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Two types of vegetables exist -- non-starchy and starchy. According to the American Diabetes Association's food exchange list, starchy vegetables, also called sugary vegetables, are categorized as whole-grain foods, not vegetables, because they contain more carbohydrate than non-starchy vegetables. You can build a healthy meal plan by replacing processed grains and sweets with starchy vegetables.
The most common starchy vegetables are cassava, corn, parsnips, green peas, plantains, white potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, winter squash, yams and sweet potatoes. Variations of these vegetables, such as cassava, or mixed dishes containing these foods, like succotash, are also starchy vegetables.
One serving of a starchy vegetable is equal to one carbohydrate exchange and contains approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat and 60 to 80 calories. A serving size is generally 1/2 cup. The serving size is 1 cup for pumpkin, winter squash and oven-baked french fries. For a large, 3-ounce baked potato with the skin, the serving size is one-quarter. French fries and other fried starchy vegetables are fast foods, not whole grains.
Starchy vegetables provide many nutritional benefits. Sweet potatoes and winter squash are rich in beta-carotene, which is important for vision, immunity, growth and vibrant skin, nails and hair. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, one small potato -- which is 4.9 ounces -- with skin contains almost twice the potassium as one small, peeled banana -- which is 3.5 ounces. Diets high in potassium may help prevent certain cancers, hypertension and bone loss with aging. Because starchy vegetables are high in fiber, eating them on a regular basis can help you to achieve the Institute of Medicine's recommended daily intake of 25 or more grams of fiber per day.
Starchy vegetables are calorie dense; eat them in moderation. The 2010 United States Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages you to eat three or more servings of whole grains each day. Prepare starchy vegetables using low-fat cooking methods, like baking, steaming, microwaving or sauteing in vegetable oil or cooking spray. Enjoy starchy vegetables as part of any meal or snack. Wash your fruits and vegetables with cold water before preparing them and use a vegetable brush for cleaning the skin when necessary.
Beth Conlon is a registered dietitian with work published in several peer-reviewed journals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Saint Joseph's University and a Master of Science in nutrition from Marywood University. Conlon is currently pursuing a doctorate in biomedical sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.