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How Do Root Vegetables Affect Blood Glucose?

Written by
Brooke McKelvey
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Katie Kissane
MS, RD
a person picking radishes

So many of our favorite recipes contain root vegetables, we don’t quite know where to begin with this one. From celery root soups to carrot and potato stews and yam casseroles, they’re some of the most versatile vegetables around. 

And the good news is that you would most likely find most of them on a list of healthy foods too! So the next time you have a craving for a hearty stew, roasted veggies, or filling soup, consider adding some root vegetables to it. 

Root vegetables are a popular inclusion to any healthy diet. They’re often used as ingredients in supplements and may help with healthy weight gain and healthy weight loss depending on the vegetable and how your body responds to it. Here’s everything you need to know about root vegetables and how they affect your health and blood sugar levels. 

What Exactly Are Root Vegetables?

two pairs of hands holding carrots with eggplant and cauliflower alongside

You’ve likely heard them called tubers or starchy vegetables, but as simply put as possible, a root vegetable is any vegetable that grows underground. Remember that not all root vegetables are tubers, even though they’re a word commonly used to describe most of them. 

The botanical term geophytes refer to both root vegetables and tubers, but you don’t have to know too much about that. You should know that tubers typically grow beneath the soil. Their vegetables usually form at the base of this root. Common tubers include jicama (a Mexican turnip), sunchokes, cassava, and potatoes. 

Root vegetables are veggies that are not technically roots but grow underground, like yams, beetroot, carrots, radishes, rutabaga, and turnips. At the end of the day, though, they’re pretty interchangeable. They are all great inclusions in a balanced diet and usually have similar effects on your health. 

Root vegetables are considered a seasonal autumn and winter vegetable group. They are harvested in the fall and can be stored in cool, dark areas for long periods. Typically, many root vegetables are nutrient-rich and filled with health benefits. Many root vegetables are starch-filled, meaning that they can be carb-heavy. This makes it essential to balance portion sizes and other nutrients in any meals that you include them in. 

More About The Carbohydrate Content of Root Vegetables

carrots, leeks, cauliflower and radishes

The majority of root vegetables are considered starchy vegetables. As a reference, non-starchy vegetables include broccoli, asparagus, baby corn, spinach, and so on. As a quick refresher if you didn’t already know, starches are a carbohydrate that your body breaks down into glucose, or blood sugar, for your body to use. When you eat too many carbs, you may experience blood sugar spikes. 

Because root vegetables are, well… roots, they absorb a vast amount of nutrients from the soil they dwell in. The roots are often the source of many nutrients found in surface-dwelling vegetables and fruits. When you eat the root, you eat the source of these nutrients. 

Some of Our Favorite Root Vegetables

a baking tray with roasted carrots, shallots, potatoes and rosemary sprigs

There are just so many root vegetables to choose from, we’re not going to be able to give you an extensive list that includes each one. But here are a few of our favorites and what you need to know about them: 

Potatoes

Potatoes are so popular, they’re actually the most consumed vegetable in the United States. They’re rich in vitamin C, vitamin D, and potassium. They are one of the most versatile root vegetables globally, super filling and full of resistant starch

Carrots

a person cutting carrots on a marble chopping board

Carrots are a root vegetable, possible cultivated in Iran, with some sources saying the wild carrot originated in Afghanistan. Carrots can be orange, purple, red, yellow, and white. They’re sweet, flavorful, and contain vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and vitamin K. Carrots are also rich in beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A—it’s pretty beneficial for your eyes

Beets

We love beetroots, not just for their rich red color but also their sweet, earthy taste. Beets contain many antioxidants and naturally occurring nitrates. The nitrates found in beets may help reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow. 

Turnips

a bunch of radishes on fabric

Turnips are a descendant of the mustard plant. They’re available in various colors and flavors and are rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate.

Parsnips

Parsnips look like pale carrots and are a delicious addition to stews. They’re extremely rich in fiber and nutrients like potassium and vitamin C. They have the same consistency as carrots but have a nuttier flavor. Parsnips are also a great addition to your diet if you are pregnant because of the folate content, which may help prevent birth defects.

Ginger

A pestle and mortar with ground ginger, next to a chopping board of fresh ginger pieces

Ginger is a widely used medicinal root vegetable, an excellent garnish, and a great addition to curry pastes. Not only is it packed full of flavor, but it is linked to decreasing inflammation and pain. Ginger has also been linked to reducing symptoms of nausea.

Onions

Onions are such a staple; they’re an excellent addition to almost any dish. They’re also a fantastic thickening agent in soups, stews, and curries. Onions are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C. Research has shown links with onion consumption and reduced cancer risk. Some studies have found that consuming raw onions may reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Garlic

A pod of garlic cloves on a fabric

Garlic is one of the most widely used flavor additives in dishes worldwide. It’s packed with vitamin B, vitamin C, and manganese. Garlic is linked to lower blood pressure. Some studies have even linked it to boosting immune functions and preventing infections.

Fennel

Fennel tastes somewhat like black licorice, and it’s an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Studies have also shown that fennel seeds are linked to reducing blood sugar levels.

Root Vegetables and Blood Sugar Levels

assorted root vegetables at a vegetable market

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you’re probably used to monitoring your blood sugar. But tracking glucose levels can also be a helpful way to optimize your health, screen for prediabetes, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Using a tool like a CGM, you can see how your body responds to foods like root vegetables.  

While some root vegetables have been linked to controlling blood sugar levels, it’s always best to exercise caution when consuming carbohydrate-filled foods. Make sure that you balance meals with root vegetables in them with greens and proteins. Of course, not everyone does well with low-carb diets, so remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all here. It may be helpful to speak with your doctor or a dietitian about the amounts of root vegetables that you’re adding to your diet. 

Cooking With Root Vegetables

Wondering how to pick root vegetables? It’s essential to pick firm vegetables when selecting them at the store or at your local farmers’ market. All root vegetables should be smooth and be free of any damage. If there are any soft spots or bruises, continue your search. When you take them home, store them in a dark, cool area in your home. Exposing them to sunlight will cause them to ripen and turn rancid. If you need to keep them in your refrigerator due to temperature, make sure to put them in a bag. And when you’re ready to cook with them, try some of our favorite root vegetable recipes:

Basic Roasted Root Vegetables from thekitchn

Assorted root vegetables on a table with some sliced ones in a baking tray with parchment paper

This recipe is easy to make and packed with nutrient-rich root vegetables. To make it, you’ll need:

  • 3 pounds root vegetables, such as raw carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and beets
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves    

Root Vegetable Tian from Food & Wine

A dish of baked root vegetables with a sprig of sage s garnish

This recipe is not only a beautiful crowd-pleaser, but it will also provide you with a myriad of nutrients and vitamins. To make it, you’ll need:

  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained, 1/4 cup liquid reserved
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 medium-size red beets, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and cut diagonally into 1/8-inch-thick slices
  • 2 small red onions, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
  • 2 ounces (around 1/2 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
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