Some weight loss diets curtail carbohydrates, but some carbs can be healthy. Carbohydrates get a bad rap. Some popular weight…
Some weight loss diets curtail carbohydrates, but some carbs can be healthy.
But it would be inaccurate to label all carbs as disadvantageous to your health.
“Not all carbs are created equal,” says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Miami. “Some are better for you.”
In fact, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel and is one of three macronutrients — including fat and protein — your body needs in large amounts.
— Simple carbs. These carbs contain shorter chains of sugar molecules, making them quick and easy to digest. Simple carbs can be found in refined sugars and in products with added sugar, like sodas, syrup and candy. However, simple carbs are also naturally occurring in fruit, milk and dairy products, which provided vitamins and minerals. Because simple carbs break down quickly, they are a fast source of fuel for your body but can also cause your blood sugar to spike.
— Complex carbs. Because these contain longer sugar molecule chains, complex carbs will digest more slowly and enter your bloodstream at a slower pace than simple carbs. They provide a steady stream of energy — in the form of glucose — that can keep you fueled and feeling full for a longer period of time. Examples of healthy, highly nutritious sources of complex carbs include whole grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts. Refined grains, which have been processed and milled to remove the bran and germ from the grain, are technically considered complex carbs; however, it’s important to remember that they are less nutritious than whole grains.
For a healthy eating regimen, incorporate plenty nutritious complex carbohydrates and limit your intake of processed grains and foods with added sugar.
Many foods with healthy carbs are packed with nutrients.
An array of unprocessed, whole foods that have carbs contain healthy amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Many also have antioxidants, a substance that neutralizes free radicals, prevents cell damage from oxidative stress and may help shield against cancer and other chronic diseases.
Carbs play important roles in our body. By providing immediate energy and supporting muscle function, carbs provide us with the fuel we need to accomplish and perform our regular daily tasks.
But we also need carbs for brain health. Because of the intricate network of 86 billion neurons, the human brain requires a large amount of glucose in order to function. In fact, our brains utilize approximately 20% to 25% of the glucose in the body.
“If we omit carbs and/or don’t provide ourselves with enough, this can result in brain fog, fatigue and irritability,” Kimberlain says. “At times this can lead to grabbing for food in the moment that may not be the best fuel source and/or even possibly over-consuming at meals.”
Types of foods that include healthy carbs that provide vitamins, minerals and fiber include:
— Beans and legumes.
— Whole grains.
— Vegetables, both starchy and non-starchy.
Here are 12 healthy carbs you should eat:
A medium apple of 6.4 ounces has about 25 grams of carbs, as well as 4 grams of both soluble and insoluble fiber and 14% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Apples contain soluble fiber, which dissolves in water to create a gel that boosts digestion, in the form of pectin. Pectin can help prevent constipation and may also help lower LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” kind, without affecting HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind, research suggests. Another health benefit is that pectin is fermented by beneficial bacteria in the colon. This creates short chain fatty acids that could help shield your body from bowel diseases and certain cancers.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, draws water into your stool and adds bulk to help food pass through the bowel. This helps keep you regular, promotes weight control and boosts insulin sensitivity, which also helps lower your risk for diabetes.
As with most fruits and vegetables, the skin is where most of the fiber and nutrients are found, so don’t skip on eating apple peels.
In addition to fiber, you’ll also get a good amount of quercetin, a flavonoid, which is a naturally-occurring chemical found in plants that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
There are various types of beans, including black beans, edamame, pinto beans, red beans and soybeans — all of which are good sources of complex carbs high in fiber.
A 1-cup serving of boiled, unsalted beans contains:
— Black beans: 41 grams of carbs, including 15 grams of dietary fiber.
— Fava beans: 33 grams of carbs, including 9 grams of dietary fiber.
— Pinto beans: 45 grams of carbs, including 15 grams of dietary fiber.
— Red beans: 40 grams of carbs, including 13 grams of dietary fiber.
— Beans are also a good source of iron.
“Iron carries blood throughout the body, helping you feel energized,” explains Kaylee Jacks, a registered dietitian with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Dallas.
Not only are beans high in fiber and iron, but they’re also a protein powerhouse, with most types of beans containing about 15 grams of protein per cup.
“This meatless protein source is a good option for vegetarians to meet their protein needs,” Jacks says.
You can enjoy beans as a side dish or in soups, stews, tacos, burrito bowls and salad.
A cup of raw beets contains 13 grams of carbohydrates. Beets are also packed with phytonutrients, which are chemical compounds that are naturally found in plant foods and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
This root vegetable contains folate, magnesium and vitamin C, but they are also rich in nitrates, a naturally occurring chemical that your body converts to nitric oxide, which helps dilate your blood vessels. This process, called vasodilation, increases blood flow and helps lower blood pressure.
For this reason, beetroot juice and powder supplements are popular among athletes to enhance endurance and performance.
An analysis of 23 scientific articles, published in 2017 in the journal Nutrients, suggests that consuming beetjuice can improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes by increasing efficiency. In clinical studies, including a 2017 study of 40 male soccer players and a 2018 study of 15 male gym-goers, researchers have shown that beetroot juice enhanced peak output and improved performance during high-intensity intermittent exercise.
You can boil, steam or roast beets, which can be served as a side dish or as part of a salad.
Berries are small but mighty fruits. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are packed with nutrients and antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure, fight cancer and promote digestive health. Plus, they’re high in fiber, which supports your gut health.
For example, a cup of blueberries contains 21 grams of carbohydrates, 3.5 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein and about 24% of the amount of vitamin C you’ll need on a daily basis.
Berries also contain an array of other nutrients, including copper, folate, potassium and vitamin K. By providing so many vitamins, minerals and nutrients, as well as antioxidants, berries are widely considered “superfoods.”
“Berries are nutritional powerhouses,” Kimberlain says. “Research shows that increased berry consumption is linked to lowering risks for heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.”
White and brown rice both are good sources of carbs. But when it comes to nutrition, brown rice has the clear advantage over its white counterpart, says Vanessa Spiller, a certified nutritionist based in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The difference between the two is that white rice is a refined grain, which undergoes a process that removes much of the grain’s nutritional value, while brown rice is a whole grain, which consists of the entire grain, including the bran, germ and the endosperm. Because brown rice is minimally processed, it retains the most nutritional value.
“Brown rice packs more fiber and antioxidants, as well as more important vitamins and minerals,” Spiller says.
A cup of brown rice contains 4 grams of fiber, nearly 2 grams of manganese and 5 grams of protein.
You can use brown rice as a tasty side dish or as part of a rice bowl with proteins and veggies.
A cup of cauliflower has 5 grams of carbohydrates, which means the cruciferous vegetable is a great choice if you want something starchy but not too high in carbs, says Katie Fitzgerald, a clinical nutritionist based in Dallas.
In a variety of dishes, you can exchange nutrient-packed cauliflower for ingredients that are higher in carbs.
“Cauliflower is a carb chameleon,” Fitzgerald says. “For example, mashed white potatoes can be swapped with cauliflower puree, and white rice can be replaced with finely chopped and steamed cauliflower rice. These changes can cut calories in half while increasing the vitamin and mineral content of a meal.”
One cup of cauliflower contains 2 grams of fiber, as well as folate and vitamin C and vitamin K.
While adherents of the keto regimen aren’t likely to put this legume on their menu, chickpeas are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium and potassium, Fitzgerald says.
One cup of drained chickpeas from a can contains 210 calories and 35 grams of carbs, including nearly 10 grams of fiber. For the same serving size, you’ll also get approximately 11 grams of protein, making chickpeas an excellent source of this macronutrient.
Farro is an ancient wheat that can be a nutritious part of your diet, says Gillian Culbertson, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
“It is a wheat grain that was one of the first domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago and was used in Egyptian bread making,” Culbertson says.
Rather than a single type of grain, farro generally refers to three types of grains: einkorn, spelt and emmer, which is the most commonly sold variety in the U.S.
A ¼-cup serving of uncooked farro contains 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per serving, as well as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including niacin, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Farro’s high fiber content can aid in maintaining a healthy weight and promoting digestive, cardiovascular and metabolic health.
With a nutty flavor and chewy texture, farro is a good base and protein source for plant-based dishes, bread and baked goods.
Are you stressed or feeling moody? You may need more magnesium in your diet — and lentils are a terrific source of the mineral, Fitzgerald says.
Magnesium is essential to healthy brain function. Consuming inadequate levels of magnesium is associated with depression and anxiety, Fitzgerald notes. But thankfully, 1 cup of lentils contains 17% of the amount the federal government recommends for daily consumption.
“Feature lentils as a side dish, add them to bulk up a soup or sprinkle them on a salad to make it more interesting,” Fitzgerald says.
Oats are a healthy, nutrient-rich carbohydrate food, Jacks says. In fact, ½ cup of dry rolled oats contains about 27 grams of complex carbs, 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, providing long-lasting, sustained energy throughout the day.
Because oats are an excellent source of fiber, consuming this food regularly can help improve your cholesterol and supports healthy digestion and weight.
There are several types of oats, including:
— Oat groats.
— Steel-cut oats.
— Rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking).
For a fiber-rich, low-calorie snack that’s a treat not just at movie theaters but at home, consider popcorn, Jacks says. Popcorn can be a healthy snack — when it’s prepared the right way.
One cup of air-popped, unsalted popcorn contains only 30 calories and 6.2 grams of carbs, including 1.2 grams of dietary fiber. Instead of slathering your popcorn with salt and butter, try seasoning your popcorn with healthy herbs and spices.
Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and contain antioxidants and phytonutrients.
One medium sweet potato, cooked without skin, contains 26.7 grams of carbohydrates, 3.8 grams of dietary fiber and nearly four times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. It also contains calcium, vitamins C and B6, iron and magnesium.
“Sweet potatoes are also lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes, which means they’re less likely to cause a blood sugar spike,” Spiller says.
The glycemic index is a measure of a carb’s effect on blood sugar. Foods are ranked on a scale of zero to 100 based on how much and how quickly the foods raise blood sugar levels after consumption.
Low glycemic foods typically have a ranking of 55 or less, while high glycemic foods have a ranking of 70 or higher. Foods that are rapidly digested and cause substantial fluctuations in blood sugar have a high glycemic index. On the other hand, foods — like sweet potatoes — with a low glycemic index are digested more slowly and cause a more gradual increase in blood sugar levels.
12 healthy carbs you should eat:
— Brown rice.
— Sweet potatoes.
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Update 02/07/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.