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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans currently recommend that most adults consume 5 to 6 cups (or cup equivalents) of starchy vegetables each week to help meet their total vegetable goals. Yet, as confusion around "good versus bad carbs" persists among consumers, there is a risk of starchy vegetable avoidance in favor of other carbohydrate foods perceived as equally or more nutritious – or even carbohydrate avoidance all together.
Using menu model analyses, nutrition expert Keith Ayoob, EdD, RDN, Associate Professor Emeritus, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, demonstrates the real-world implications of eliminating starchy vegetables in the diet and swapping them for grain-based foods. The results? Replacing starchy vegetables with grain-based alternatives, including whole-grain foods, for one day led to a 21% decrease in potassium, a 17% decrease in vitamin B6, an 11% drop in vitamin C and a 10% reduction in fiber.
It's tempting to think of all carbohydrate foods as interchangeable. But these foods are categorized within different food groups for a reason – perhaps most importantly, they tend to have vastly different vitamin and mineral contents.
Compared to grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes tend to be higher in potassium, designated a nutrient of public health concern by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans because inadequate intake is associated with increased health risks. They can also provide an excellent source of vitamin C.
Though neither grains nor starchy vegetables are considered a major protein source, the protein quality in potatoes, a starchy vegetable, is notably higher than the protein quality of grains, comparable in quality (as measured by "biological value") to the protein in egg and milk. And though food choices from both groups can help add fiber to the diet, grains offer unique nutritional benefits as well, typically offering more thiamin, zinc and vitamin E.
As is so often the case in the world of nutrition, guidance comes down to balance, variety and moderation – which might sound boring, but all three would benefit most people's eating styles. It's important to get the right mix of vegetables and grains and include both starchy and non-starchy vegetables to help ensure we're meeting both our macronutrient and micronutrient needs.
It's important to recognize that some cultural groups traditionally use certain carb-containing foods over others. That's why more research is needed to understand how different carbohydrate food choices impact diet quality and what culturally appropriate foods should be encouraged to help close any nutrient gaps.
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
A perspective recently published in Frontiers in Nutrition underscores the unique role starchy vegetables play as a vital vehicle for essential nutrients.
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