Carbohydrates — aka carbs — the most misunderstood of macronutrients. This unjustly maligned food group boasts so many different forms with varying levels of nutritional value. As such, we know it can be a bit hard to get your head around what carbs will support your health and fitness goals and which ones will slow it down.
Now we bet as a kid you were often told to eat your veggies or as an adult that incorporating fresh vegetables into your diet can be the healthiest dietary update you can do for yourself, well this is both correct and incorrect at the same time. Confused? Bread, pasta and other grains aren’t the only high-carb foods out there — some veggies fall into that category as well.
We know it can be mind-boggling to navigate the realm of high-carb vegetables, knowing which ones to eat and which ones to avoid. So we’re here to help you sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff and show you that there is a difference between a pile of oil-drenched french fries — high in glucose, but low in nutritional content — and that big bowl of fresh, nutrient-dense spinach.
Whether your goal is weight-loss/weight management, to get leaner or increase muscle-mass — you’ll need to be mindful of which high-carb vegetables you incorporate into your meals, and which ones you eat intermittently if at all.
What are high-carb vegetables
Okay, let’s get things started with what you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to find out — what are high-carb vegetables? Generally, a good rule of thumb is the starchier the vegetable, the higher the carb content is. A handy way of establishing whether you’re eating a high-carb vegetable is the sweeter the flavor, the higher the glucose content, making it — you guessed it — a high-carb vegetable. Think sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and squash.
The sweetness you taste when eating them is effectively an indication of the glucose levels in that particular veggie (glucose is a simple sugar that circulates in our bloodstream and fuel our biochemical processes — from your brain functions to muscle movement). However, too much isn’t necessarily a good thing either, especially if you live a sedentary lifestyle. High-carb vegetables have a more dramatic effect on your blood sugar levels than their low-carb brethren and, in turn, affect your insulin levels — which often leads to weight gain or problems shedding those extra pounds, despite regular exercise.
Where do high-carb vegetables rank on the GI index?
In case you lent over to the person next to you and were like, “What in the world is the GI index?” — no worries, we’ll explain. The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly food raises your blood sugar levels compared to the glycemic load (GL), which factors in the serving size of a food. The index is measured on a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose (sugar) given a value of 100. Fast-burning carbs (simple carbs) like sweeteners, fruit, candy, soda, and juice are high on the GI scale and can boost your blood sugar quickly. On the other hand, slower-burning carbs (complex carbs) like peas, carrots, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, green beans and red peppers, by comparison, keep your blood sugar more level over time.
High-carb vegetables and weight loss
For those of you looking to lose weight or manage your existing weight, you’ve probably done some research and read that, generally, the best route is to follow a low-carb meal plan, and there are bucket loads of different diet plans out there. From the ketogenic diet (low-carb, high-fat), paleo or Dukan’s (low-carb, high-protein) to the Zone diet (low-GI). Low-carb diets, where you exclude high-carb vegetables and grains, doesn’t automatically equate to low body mass.
Oftentimes, high-protein diets can also lead to weight gain. It’s all about balance. Regular exercise paired with correctly portioned, nutrient-rich foods that include fibrous carbs such as fresh veggies and legumes will help you on your weight-loss or weight management journey. What it all boils down to is finding a way to eat that you enjoy, and that is sustainable over a lifetime — rather than just for the sake of weight-loss.
High-carb vegetables and lean muscle mass
As any fitness professional or nutritionist worth their weight in salt will confirm, there is a correlation between building lean muscle mass and fat-burning. But how does eating high-carb vegetables fit into this equation when we know that muscles require protein to grow and get stronger? Well, research shows that along with protein, muscles also need carbohydrates, as a catalyst for the process of whole body protein synthesis. An example would be that the average man would require a ratio of 3:1 carbs to protein as a post-workout snack, to expedite muscle building and regeneration.
List of high-carb vegetables
We mentioned a handful of high-carb vegetables earlier, but here are a few of the most commonly eaten ones with their respective carbohydrate content in grams. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the below list is a rough guideline and correlates to the vegetable in their raw state, cooking vegetables chemically changes their molecular composition and thus changes the carb content and portion size.
- Black-eyed peas: 1 cup = 100g carbs
- Garbanzo beans: 1 cup = 126g carbs
- Pinto beans: 1 cup = 120g carbs
- White beans: 1 cup = 122g carbs
- Lima beans: 1 cup = 112g carbs
- Green peas: 1 cup = 120g carbs
- Carrot (chopped): 1 cup = 12g carbs
- Butternut squash (chopped): 1 cup = 16g carbs
- Sweet potato (chopped): 1 cup = 27g carbs
- Parsnips (sliced): 1 cup = 24g carbs
- Potato (diced): 1 cup = 27g carbs
- Pumpkin (chopped): 1 cup = 8g carbs
- Plantains (sliced): 1 cup = 47g carbs
- Corn: 1 cup = 27g carbs
- Mustard greens: 1 cup = 3g carbs
- Alfalfa sprouts: 1 cup = 1g carbs
- Lettuce: 1 cup = 1g carbs
- Spinach: 1 cup = 1g carbs
- Kale: 1 cup = 1g carbs
- Bok choy: 1 cup = 2g carbs
- Swiss chard: 1 cup = 1g carbs
- Onion: 1 cup = 15g carbs
- Green onion/scallion: 1 cup = 7g carbs
- Leeks: 1 cup = 12g carbs
- Celery: 1 cup = 3g carbs
- Zucchini: 1 cup = 4g carbs
- Eggplant: 1 cup = 5g carbs
- Tomato: 1 cup = 7g carbs
- Green bell pepper: 1 cup = 7g carbs
- Sweet red pepper: 1 cup = 7g carbs
- Cauliflower: 1 cup = 5g carbs
- Okra: 1 cup = 7g carbs
- Asparagus: 1 cup = 5g carbs
- Turnips: 1 cup = 8g carbs
- Radishes: 1 cup = 4g carbs
- Green beans: 1 cup = 5g carbs
- Green cabbage: 1 cup = 5g carbs
- Red cabbage: 1 cup = 5g carbs
High-carb vegetables to avoid
At 8fit, we don’t believe in avoiding foods, but rather eating in a well-balanced, wholesome way by incorporating all of the main food groups and the perfect-for-you ratio of carbs, fats, and protein. However, if you want to be mindful of what high-carb vegetables will work with rather than slow down your health and fitness efforts, then it’s wise to opt for those fiber-dense, slower-burning veggies with the low GI scoring that will feed your muscles, and release energy gradually while keeping your blood sugar levels constant and your appetite satiated.
Sign up for 8fit to give some of our low-carb recipes a go. Our nutritional experts have accurately calculated and finely tuned macronutrient ratios to suit your body’s needs and fitness goals.