I’ve never been a fan of low-carb diets: our bodies and our brains need carbohydrates to work effectively. Of course, not all carbohydrates are created equally. First of all, fruits, dairy and vegetables are all sources of carbohydrates. And when it comes to starches, there are indeed “good” carbs (we’ll get to that in a sec) and the “bad” ones that, if you eat them all the time, can raise your risk of developing diseases like heart disease and diabetes. (We’re talking about doughnuts, cakes and even refined white breads.) On the flip side, eating “good carbs” in place of refined ones can reduce your risk of these very same diseases—and may even help you to lose weight because they’re generally rich in feel-full fiber. One study in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating three servings of whole grains a day helped people reduce their total body fat and abdominal fat. Here are 6 “great” carbs to keep in your diet.
—Nicci Micco, M.S., EatingWell Content Director
Because sometimes you just need pasta—and whole-wheat kinds offer two to three times more fiber than refined white varieties, but they’re just as versatile and delicious. (Similiarly whole-wheat bread and brown rice are healthier choices than their “white” counterparts.)
To cook: Follow the package directions!
Consider it souped-up couscous. A delicately flavored whole grain, it provides some fiber (2 grams per half cup) and a good amount of protein (4 grams). Note: Research shows protein can help you feel full for longer. Rinsing quinoa removes any residue of saponin, its natural bitter protective coating.
To cook: Bring 2 cups water or broth to a boil; add 1 cup quinoa. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Must-Have: Easy Quinoa Recipes »
Barley is available “pearled” (the bran has been removed) or “quick-cooking” (parboiled). While both contain soluble fiber that helps keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, pearl barley has a little more.
To Cook: Pearl barley—Bring 1 cup barley and 2 1/2 cups water or broth to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, covered, until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Quick-cooking barley—Bring 1 3/4 cups water or broth to a boil; add 1 cup barley. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, covered, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Must Try: Hearty Barley Recipes »
Bulgur is cracked wheat that’s been parboiled so it simply needs to soak in hot water for most uses—a perfect low-maintenance grain. It’s also a good source of feel-full fiber: just 1/2 cup delivers 5 grams.
To Cook: Pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water or broth over 1 cup bulgur. Let stand, covered, until light and fluffy, about 30 minutes. If all the water is not absorbed let the bulgur stand longer, or press it in a strainer to remove excess liquid.
Must-Have: Hearty Bulgur Recipes »
Wheat Berries are the whole, unprocessed kernels of wheat. They're terrific sources of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc and, yes, fiber.
To Cook: Sort through wheat berries carefully, discarding any stones, and rinse with water. Bring 4 cups water or broth and 1 cup wheat berries to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, but still a little chewy, about 1 hour. Drain.
Must-Have: Easy Wheat Berries Recipes »
Popcorn. Because when you’re craving pretzels or potato chips...you’re certainly not going to reach for a bowl of oatmeal. Popcorn satisfies a snack craving and it’s a whole grain. No, I’m not kidding: Three cups of popped popcorn (what you get by popping 1 heaping tablespoon of kernels) equals one of your three recommended daily servings of whole grains and contains 3 grams of fiber.
To cook: Toss a heaping tablespoon into an air popper.
Must-Have: Easy Recipes for Popcorn Balls »
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