Photo: Corn in field

by Sabra Leomo, RD

People are often surprised to hear that the corn they are eating with meals doesn’t really count as a vegetable, or may be hindering their weight loss goals. If you are included in that group of people, let’s chat.

First, let’s talk about the difference between starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Keep in mind that starchy vegetables aren’t “bad” and can fit into a healthy diet, but you just want to watch portion sizes.

Vegetables in general are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are packed with all of the good things that we want in our diet! They are also low in fat and can be low in calories. The “can be” is where we need to differentiate our veggies.

Corn, potatoes (sweet potato and taro), and peas fall into a special category of vegetables called “starchy vegetables”. The carbohydrate content can be similar to foods that we often think of as “carbs” like rice, bread, and pasta. Because they have a higher carbohydrate content they are also higher in calories than non-starchy vegetables.

For example, ½ cup of corn is around 80 calories and contains about 20 grams of carbohydrates. Compare that to ½ cup of broccoli which is about 25 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates. You can eat the same amount of broccoli while consuming fewer calories.

I often tell people that non-starchy veggies are their BFF when they are trying to lose or maintain weight. Non-starchy vegetables make it possible to decrease calorie intake without decreasing the overall meal size. You are able to eat a similar volume while consuming fewer calories.

Filling ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, ¼ with healthy whole grains or starchy vegetables and the remaining ¼ of your plate with protein can be a good option for feeling full and satisfied while consuming fewer calories.

Another perk of non-starchy vegetables is they make great snacks between meals when you need a little something to snack on. Add a source of protein like hummus, Greek yogurt dip, or nuts to your veggie snacks to keep hunger at bay.

Below are examples of common non-starchy vegetables. Fresh or frozen vegetables are fine! I always keep my freezer stocked with veggies just in case I run low on fresh options or to add to quick meals.  Choose frozen vegetables without added sauce or seasonings which add extra calories.

Non-Starchy Vegetable Examples:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini
  • Peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Tomato
  • Cucumber
  • Cabbage/Bok Choy
  • Artichoke
  • Daikon
  • Jicama
  • Green beans/Long beans

Next time you are choosing vegetables at a restaurant or for your meals at home, shuck the corn and go for non-starchy vegetables!