While “running” on the elliptical machine at the gym yesterday morning I noticed that a segment on the Rhode Show was coming on about fitness so I plugged in my earphones to tune in. I was just in time to hear the woman (no nutrition expert) saying to “eat protein at each meal” –ok, I am ok with that– and something along the lines of “watching the starches later in the day”– umm, perhaps, somewhat, but not necessarily, as there are different types of starches, some to definitely watch but some that are perfectly fine… and then for the biggie– “don’t eat carrots or tomatoes because they are high in starch; most people don’t know that“–ACCKK–these are the things that really get under my skin and I wanted to scream and shake some nutritional sense into this woman.
Unfortunately, I hear erroneous statements about food like this all the time– on the television, in magazines and mostly from people I talk to. I’ve heard it all: red grapes are okay to eat but not green grapes (or was it the other way around?), bananas are fattening and onions have too much sugar, just to name a few. People always want to know which fruits should be avoided and which are helpful for weight loss. Sorry, but it’s not that simple. And yet at the same time it is. The basic rule is as follows: there are no bad fruits or veggies. Please don’t obsess whether your pineapple chunks have more “sugar” than your strawberries or whether bananas are “starchier” than oranges. Just eat fruit and eat a variety. Eat the ones you like and enjoy them daily. Each has its own special blend of health benefits. I can just about guarantee that you did not develop your weight issues, diabetes or any other health concerns from eating too much fruit. Now, other things in your diet are another story and most likely those are actually the problem. I have to add as a little disclaimer here: I’m not saying to gorge yourself on big bowls of fruit if you have blood sugar problems– please talk to your dietitian about how to balance fruits into your meals. It can (and should) be done.
As for those starchy carrots and tomatoes….this is ridiculous. And the reason “most people don’t know this” is because it’s just plain not true. See the American Diabetes Association’s list of non-starchy vegetables here. It is true that there are vegetables that contain more starch than others and these are: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas and winter squash (not all technically veggies). These foods are all healthy and can be a part of a nutritious diet but because of their higher carbohydrate content are categorized with the whole grains. Starchy does not equal bad. Think of starchy as hearty. As in sweet potatoes are heartier than leafy greens and mushrooms.
To balance out a meal, instead of your grain (pasta, rice, bread, etc) you could have peas, potato, squash or corn as the “starch”. I constantly encounter people whose dinner vegetable is corn. They will have a hunk of meat, a baked potato and corn– which in reality means that they are having a lot of starch and just about zero vegetables. Many times I will have my sweet potato or butternut squash in addition to my quinoa, plus some green vegetables. There is no rule set in stone that says you can’t have both a starchy veg and a whole grain in a meal, just be conscious to include less starchy veggies too (see the list from the link— and yes, carrots and tomatoes are non-starchy!) Watch portion sizes of the starchier veggies and grains if you need to lose weight or control blood sugars. I never eat that hunk of meat with my meals, leaving me more room for the antioxidant rich, and yes dare I say, starchy vegetables. But do what feels right to you.
It really irritates me when specific fruits or veggies are labeled as bad for whatever reason. Just sticking up for what I love! Pick on other foods like white flour, white sugar and refined oils– those are the real culprits with no nutritional value. On the same token, it equally bugs me when a certain food is pegged as having miraculous properties. No single fruit, veggie or anything else edible is going to prevent you from getting cancer or make you automatically lose those unwanted pounds. Your dietary habits as a whole are what will have the greatest effect on your health. Yes, do add things like blueberries and broccoli to your day but also remember that if you continue to regularly eat donuts or hot dogs then you are not doing your body much good with the healthful additions. Think of your foods from a nutrient standpoint– try to eat the things that will give you the most benefit for their calories…and this equals plant foods! Not those 100-calorie packs, plates of white pasta or sugary beverages. So, eat plenty of fruits and veggies and know you are fueling your body with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals.