Are some veggies more fattening than others?
It’s not an unreasonable question.
As you know, we’re experiencing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in most of the Western world. (Actually, it’s not just the western world- India and China now lead the US in the number of diabetics, but even adjusted for population the percent of the population that’s diabetic in India is almost twice that of the US. But I digress.)
And although most people don’t think immediately of vegetables when they think of cutting “fattening” foods from their diet, but some people who are really conscious about carbs have nonetheless asked me about vegetables as they relate to insulin, blood sugar and weight loss.
There’s a lot of confusion about certain starchy vegetables that have a “high glycemic index”, vegetables that people following lower-carb eating plans have been told to avoid. So the short answer to the question about vegetables being fattening is this:
If you’re a person for whom blood sugar management is a real issue, yes, some vegetables like potatoes (white and sweet), corn, and parsnips might be worth limiting. But in my opinion, the argument about vegetables and sugar is a little bit of a tempest in a teapot.
Here’s why. There are two real culprits in the obesity crisis. One is the fast-acting carbs and sugars in breads, cereals, pastas, desserts, cakes, rolls, crackers and fast food. Two is the obscenely large portions of everything else. As my wisecracking pal, the brilliant nutritionist and USDA researcher C. Leigh Broadhurst, PhD, says, “No one ever got fat on peas and carrots!”
So of course, we always want to keep an eye on how much sugar we’re eating, as well as on the foods that can raise blood sugar (and with it, the fat storing hormone insulin). In that regard, we have nothing to fear from most vegetables.
There are, however, some exceptions, and it’s not always easy to identify them just from the glycemic index. The glycemic load is a far more telling measure of the impact a food will actually have on your blood sugar in the real world.
- Some starchy vegetables- peas for example—have a glycemic index of 80 (high!) but a glycemic load of 3 (extremely low) meaning the typical portion won’t do much to your blood sugar.
- Carrots are another vegetable with a bad rap because of its glycemic index but its glycemic load is also 3.
- Potatoes have high glycemic load and high glycemic index.
- Tomatoes, actually a fruit, have the ability to raise your blood sugar as well.
So eat your vegetables and, unless you’re highly sensitive, don’t worry about sugar or carbs (exceptions being the starchy veggies like corn and potatoes).
Just to get you started, here’s a list of the vegetables that earned a “STAR” for outstanding performance by a vegetable in my book “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”
You can’t go wrong with any one of them!
- Brussels Sprouts
- Swiss Chard