Don't write off starchy foods

By Beth Cecil
Owensboro Health Healthpark dietitian

I recently did a program and cooking demonstration on the benefits and many uses of fruits and vegetables. I love to teach healthy eating and do cooking  classes, so much that we now joke at work that I am trying to become the “Rachel Ray” of Owensboro.

During this particular program I focused on the importance of eating a variety of fruits and veggies and made dishes with watermelon, black beans, tomatoes and corn. Yes corn, you heard me correctly. And if I would have had more time, I might have even thrown in a potato dish.

Now I know what you are asking yourself…should a dietitian actually be promoting starchy vegetables? 

Over the recent years, potatoes, corn and other starchy foods have really gotten a bad rap, mainly as a result of low carb diet craze. Even foods such as carrots and iceberg lettuce have been considered nutritional duds, lettuce for the supposed lack of nutrients and carrots for the alleged high sugar content. 

But don’t write these foods off just yet. Nutrition experts advocate eating a variety of foods and will certainly tell you that any food can fit into a balanced diet. The CDC, with its Fruits & Veggies--More Matters™ campaign, echoes this message and encourages Americans to consume a wide variety of colorful produce every day. Doing so will provide your body with many health promoting benefits and plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Every fruit and vegetable has its own unique nutritional benefits. Let’s look more closely at a few.

Potatoes: While they have been rumored to “make you gain weight”, potatoes are actually fat, cholesterol and sodium free. One medium potato contains 161 calories and is a good source of fiber with 4 grams per serving. They are also high in potassium and Vitamin C. Additionally, scientists have discovered that they contain 60 different vitamins and phytochemicals (disease fighting chemicals) and some studies link them to improving heart and lung health and boosting immunity. Their versatility, availability and reasonable cost make them a great choice for a side dish.

Corn:  I have had some wonderful sweet corn this summer. One ear of corn on the cob, boiled, contains 83 calories and 2 grams of fiber. One-half cup of frozen or canned corn has just 66 calories with 2 grams of fiber. Corn also contains several of the B vitamins , Vitamin C and phytochemicals, including one called Zeaxanthin which has been linked to enhanced immune function. Choose as a side dish or toss a few kernels into your bowl the next time you eat a salad, soup or casserole.

Carrots: If you worry about the sugar content of carrots, don’t; carrots contain natural sugar along with fiber and complex carbohydrates. Instead, focus on the fact that carrots are high in Vitamin A and beta-carotene and a good source of fiber, which can mean improved vision health and protection against chronic diseases such as colon cancer. One large carrot contains 31 calories and one cup has just 52 calories. They are great raw or cooked and can be enjoyed as a snack, side dish and in soups, stews, salads and casseroles.

Iceberg Lettuce: While it is typically true that darker is better when it comes to lettuce, that is no reason to banish iceberg completely. Personally, this is still my favorite type of lettuce. With only 7 calories per cup, iceberg is a very low calorie food and a good source of vitamin K and vitamin A. Use iceberg lettuce as a base for your salad and toss it with other varieties of lettuce and colorful veggies.

September is Fruits & Veggies--More Matters™ Month, so remember to choose a colorful assortment of fruits and veggies but don’t forget about these old favorites.