Non-Starchy Vegetables and Diabetes
Anyone who’s been diagnosed with diabetes knows that diet plays an important role in controlling blood sugar levels and managing the disease. One thing we have to watch is our intake of carbohydrates, which break down into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream and can lead to a spike in blood sugar.
Even fruits and vegetables can contain a substantial amount of carbohydrates, so one bit of sound advice we’re used to hearing in the diabetes community is, “don’t overdo it!” We just can’t afford to go off the rails when it comes to the foods we eat, and carefully monitoring the types of food we consume, and our portion sizes is a simply a necessary part of life.
However, there is one group of veggies - and it’s a big and delicious one - that are almost impossible to overdo even for those of us with diabetes. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Non-Starchy Vegetables, your go-to, go-anytime, go-for-it diabetes healthy choice.
What Are Non-Starchy Vegetables?
Basically, non-starchy vegetables are those that contain very few calories, zero fat, and, most importantly, minimal amounts of carbohydrates. The average non-starchy veggie contains no more than 5g of carbohydrates per 100g of weight, and in many cases far less. Compare this to starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and peas which contain substantially higher levels of carbohydrates.
Along with being low in all the bad stuff, non-starchy vegetables are also known for being loaded with good stuff like vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Additionally, they add texture, flavor, and color to almost any meal without risking a spike in blood glucose.
So, what are a few examples of these diabetes friendly veggies? The good news is, you’re probably already eating a lot of them. Here are our top seven picks:
Our Top 7 Non-Starchy Veggies
They’re not just delicious, they’re loaded with antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and other important nutrients.
These little green gems contain almost half of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin K, which is great for your bones.
Did you know broccoli is among the healthiest of all the veggies you can eat? It’s true. Loaded with Vitamins C and K, it’s also rich in potassium and other essential nutrients.
It’s not just low in carbs, it’s one of the most versatile veggies you can find. It can be enjoyed whole, chopped, turned into cauliflower rice, they even make great pizza crust out of it.
Leafy greens like kale and spinach are loaded with nutrients that aid in heart health (great for those of us with diabetes), improve digestion, and may even support disease prevention. What’s certain is that these greens are loaded with goodness and very low in carbs, which means dig in and enjoy!
Chances are you’ll find a wide variety of mushrooms at your local supermarket or health food store, and they’re all low in carbohydrates and high in nutritional value. They also happen to go great with just about anything - salads, pastas, omelets, or just sauteed and served over your favorite fish or chicken.
This one is a little tricky because not all squashes qualify as non-starchy vegetables. As a general rule, go with zucchini or spaghetti squash as your best bets. Grill up sliced zucchini with a little lemon for a great side dish. Replace starchy spaghetti noodles with spaghetti squash for a healthy Italian meal.
Some other favorite non-starchy veggies that didn’t make our list include asparagus, cucumbers, green beans, bean sprouts, celery, onion, and eggplant. If you’re a fan of any of these, congratulations, according to the American Diabetes Association you’re invited to eat more!
Shopping For Non-Starchy Veggies
Fresher is always better. Look for your favorite seasonal non-starchy vegetables at your local grocery store or health food market. When you go fresh, you’re in control of the preparation, so you know there are no added sugars, salts, or fats.
Frozen can also be a good choice and it certainly has a longer shelf life than fresh. Frozen does not mean less healthy, by the way. In fact, vegetables flash-frozen at their peak freshness will retain all their nutrients until you’re ready to prepare them. However, it’s important to check the label to make sure the frozen vegetables you purchase do not contain any additives like salt or sweeteners.
Canned vegetables can also present a convenient and long-lasting option. Here, however, you need to be extra cautious. Many canned vegetables contain a good deal of added sodium. Look for varieties that specify “no salt added” on the label. If you do happen to purchase cans with added sodium, drain the juice and rinse with water to remove as much salt as possible.
Mealtime Advantages of Non-Starchy Vegetables
As we’ve mentioned, the biggest advantage of non-starchy veggies beyond their nutritional value is that they contain very small amounts of carbohydrates, which means they won’t elevate your blood sugar dramatically. This is a huge advantage for those living with diabetes when it comes to sitting down to a delicious meal.
For instance, most of us enjoy a good pasta or rice dish every once and awhile. It’s also safe to say that breads and rolls can be hard to resist at the dinner table. Unfortunately, these are all starchy foods that we as diabetics must consume moderately and very cautiously in order to avoid rapidly increasing our blood glucose levels.
Managing this process becomes a whole lot easier when you pair starchy foods with non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens or brussels sprouts. You already know that non-starchy vegetables will not further add to your intake of carbohydrates and, therefore, you can savor some of those starchy indulgences with greater peace-of-mind.
How to Prepare Non-Starchy Vegetables
There are a lot of ways to enjoy non-starchy vegetables. The key really becomes making sure your preparation method avoids adding salt, sugary sauces, butter, cream, cheeses and other high-calorie, high-carb ingredients. After all, that defeats the whole purpose of choosing non-starchy veggies in the first place.
Here are four pure and simple preparation methods:
- Sautee veggies with a touch of garlic in a small amount of olive oil
- Grill fresh veggies and enjoy with slight squeeze of lemon or lime juice
- Roast veggies in the oven with diabetes friendly herbs like oregano or basil.
- Enjoy them raw in a salad or with a healthy dip such as humus
How often should I eat non-starchy vegetables?
The American Diabetes Association recommends trying to eat at least three to five servings of vegetables each day, with a serving size measured as ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables. Here’s the really good news. When it comes to non-starchy vegetables this is the minimum recommendation. The ADA says more is even better. So don’t hold back. If you’re hungry, break out the non-starchy veggies and go to town.
We hope you found this post informative and helpful. As always, before making any dietary changes to your diabetes health plan, it’s important to consult with your diabetes physician and care team.
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