Fall in Duluth brings a plethora of root vegetables and squash into the season.
Root vegetables grow underground and include tubers (potatoes, yams), tuberous roots (sweet potatoes), bulbs (fennel, onions, corms, celery root), rhizomes (ginger) and tap roots (beets, carrots, parsnips). Interestingly, squash is botanically a fruit!
People often wonder where potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, yams and other starchy vegetables that they heard were “bad” for them fit into their eating plan. Starch simply refers to a type of carbohydrate and is found in a variety of foods, including grains and starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, peas, plantains, corn, butternut squash and other root veggies are vegetables with a higher carbohydrate content.
Non-starchy vegetables are the ones that typically grow above the ground, like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuces, peppers and so on. All vegetables are carbohydrate-containing; it’s just that certain ones have more than others. A half cup of starchy vegetables like potato has about 15 grams, whereas a half cup of a non-starchy vegetable like broccoli has about five grams of carbohydrate. Being that starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrates, they also contain more calories.
Having a higher carbohydrate content doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad and, in fact, they’re nutrient-dense, rich in vitamins and minerals, and high in fiber. It does, however, mean that you want to keep the portion size in mind when including these foods at your meal. Most healthy individuals can include somewhere between a half cup to full cup of cooked root vegetables or squash at a meal. It also would be important to make that your only starch at the meal. For example, don’t also have a dinner roll or rice at that meal.
Starchy vegetables are rich in B-vitamins, particularly vitamin B-6 and folate, as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium and zinc. They also offer antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene and others! Many of these nutrients support our nervous system and brain health, and offer cardiovascular protection.
Root vegetables and squash are great sources of fiber, which helps you feel full and supports a healthy digestive system. High-fiber diets have been found to prevent inflammation and chronic disease and can help individuals achieve and sustain a healthy weight. Acorn squash has nine grams of fiber per cup!
Roasting is my favorite way to prepare root vegetables. It brings out their sweetness and can taste luxurious with a variety of herbs and spices added to the natural caramelization. Simply chop your root vegetables — such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and beets — into approximately one-inch cubes, toss in a drizzle of avocado oil, add your favorite dried or fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes.
Jean Larson is a registered dietitian at Essentia Health.