Give peas a chance: Let's stop shaming vegetables

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Frozen Peas in Blue Colander

You might have heard about a new study that will likely have people swearing off potatoes, corn and peas. Can't these starchy veggies ever catch a break?

The study, published last month in the journal PLOS Medicine, looked at three large groups of study participants who filled out food diaries and were weighed every four years over a 24-year period. The good news: The people who ate more fruits and vegetables tended to gain less or lose weight throughout the years.

Yet, lovers of potatoes, corn and peas, who reported a higher intake of these vegetables, tended to gain more weight. So while it's great to hear all the chatter that eating more fruits and vegetables can help control weight, articles have been totally shaming potatoes, corn and peas.

Here we go again. I think we should just be encouraging everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables ­– no matter what kind. We have a long way to go before most Americans meet daily recommendations. Can't we put our focus on upping overall intake, instead of warning people to avoid certain members of the category?

It's true that most people are too narrow in their vegetable choices and should mix it up. That's why current dietary guidelines recommend specific subgroups – dark-green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas (legumes) and starchy vegetables. In fact, 5 cups of starchy vegetables per week are recommended for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.

It's too bad that the main message coming out of this study is to avoid starchy vegetables. I wish it would be "more matters," which is the tagline for the nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation. I wish we focused on filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables – which is the rallying cry of MyPlate, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to illustrate the food groups that make up a healthy diet – instead inferring that only certain vegetables deserve a spot.

Potatoes, corn and peas have a lot to offer nutritionally – that's not where I would start to place the blame for creeping weight gain. Plus, it's important to remember that studies based on food diaries – or what's known as food frequency questionnaires – do not demonstrate cause and effect.

In the study, the authors explain: "Although these vegetables have nutritional value (potassium, vitamin C, vitamin b-6, iron, fiber and protein) they have a higher glycemic load (lower carbohydrate quality) that could explain their positive association with weight change."

Even so, I don't think this study should cause anyone to abandon potatoes, corn and peas. Yes, eat a variety of colorful vegetables and explore various preparations methods that don't involve a deep fryer. But don't feel like you need to leave these starchy vegetables off your grocery list.

So in honor of these frequently maligned vegetables, here are some ways to enjoy them:

Potatoes

  • Stuff a baked potato with garlicky roasted broccoli and top with shredded cheese.
  • Thinly slice your spud to make the trendy hasselback potato with loads of fresh herbs and garlic.
  • Slice a sweet potato into wedges, sprinkle with sea salt and roast until crisp.

Corn

  • Make a spicy corn salad with black beans, avocado, diced tomatoes and cilantro.
  • Stir up a sweet corn chowder or white chicken chili with corn.
  • Try Mexican Street Corn with queso fresco cheese.

Peas

  • Add peas to pasta and risotto.
  • Smash up peas for a green hummus.
  • Stir peas into couscous and whole-grain salads.​


More from U.S. News:
6 Tips for Keeping Off the Weight Once You Lose It
Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?
7 Questions You Should Ask to Keep Exercise Simple and Effective

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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