Grains and Starchy Vegetables

There is no end in sight to the debate as to whether grains help you lose weight, or if they promote weight gain. Even more importantly, do they help or hinder blood glucose management?

One thing is for sure. If you are going to eat grain foods, pick the ones that are the most nutritious. Choose whole grains. Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber.

Reading labels is essential for this food group to make sure you are making the best choices.

Every time you choose to eat a starchy food, make it count! Leave the processed white flour-based products, especially the ones with added sugar, on the shelves or use them only for special occasion treats.

What is a Whole Grain?

A whole grain is the entire grain—which includes the bran, germ and endosperm (starchy part).

The most popular grain in the US is wheat so that will be our example. To make 100% whole wheat flour, the entire wheat grain is ground up. "Refined" flours like white and enriched wheat flour include only part of the grain – the starchy part, and are not whole grain. They are missing many of the nutrients found in whole wheat flour.

Examples of whole grain wheat products include 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, tortillas, and crackers. But don’t stop there! There are many whole grains to choose from.

Best Choices

Finding whole grain foods can be a challenge. Some foods only contain a small amount of whole grain but will say it contains whole grain on the front of the package. For all cereals and grains, read the ingredient list and look for the following sources of whole grains as the first ingredient:

  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Whole grain corn/corn meal
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole grain barley
  • Whole farro
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Triticale
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum

Do you have celiac disease? Check out our gluten-free meal planning section for some essential tips.

Most rolls, breads, cereals, and crackers labeled as "made with" or "containing" whole grain do not have whole grain as the first ingredient. Read labels carefully to find the most nutritious grain products.

For cereals, pick those with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and less than 6 grams of sugar.

Best Choices of Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber . The best choices do not have added fats, sugar or sodium.

Try a variety such as:

  • Parsnip
  • Plantain
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Green Peas
  • Corn

Best Choices of Dried Beans, Legumes, Peas and Lentils

Try to include dried beans into several meals per week. They are a great source of protein and are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  • Dried beans such as black, lima, and pinto
  • Lentils
  • Dried peas such as black-eyed and split
  • Fat-free refried beans
  • Vegetarian baked beans


Tips for Carbohydrate Counters
Starchy foods are one of the main sources of carbohydrate in our diet—along with milk, fruits, and sweets. For most grains and starches, ½ cup or 1 oz contains 15 g of carbohydrate. A few exceptions are 1 cup of winter squash and pumpkin and ⅓ cup of rice has about 15 grams.

For the Plate Method
About ¼ of your plate should come from starchy foods. Remember, only the depth of a deck of cards! This is usually about ¾ to 1 cup of a starchy food.

For using the Glycemic Index
The general rule of thumb when using the glycemic index (GI) to select foods is that the closer to nature, or less processed a food, the lower the GI. For example, whole rolled oats have a lower GI than instant oatmeal. Dried beans, lentils and starchy vegetables all have lower GI values. Potatoes are an exception but a small serving can still fit into your meal plan.

  • Last Reviewed: August 1, 2013
  • Last Edited: February 19, 2014

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