Best Carbs for Clean Eating

By: EatingWell Editors  |  EatingWell Quick and Clean: 100 Easy Recipes for Better Meals Every Day

How to buy the healthiest breads, pasta and more when you're eating clean.

How to buy the healthiest breads, pasta and more when you're eating clean.

The idea behind eating clean is focusing on the healthiest foods in each category. That means fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy proteins and fats and whole grains. When it comes to the carbohydrates in your diet, stick to healthy ones. That means whole grains over refined grains and sugar. Whole grains deliver fiber, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. The cleanest whole grains are the ones that look the most like they did when they were harvested, like quinoa, brown rice and oats. But whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread count too—you just may need to check labels. If you're looking to eat cleaner, use this guide to help you choose and shop for clean-eating carbohydrates.
Pictured recipe: West Coast Avocado Toast
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1. Bread

Tomato & Smoked Mozzarella Sandwiches
Pictured recipe: Tomato & Smoked Mozzarella Sandwiches
Even bread that doesn't taste sweet or salty can have surprisingly amounts of added sugars and salt. Check the labels and choose brands that contain no more than 200 mg of sodium per slice and have no sugars in the ingredient list. In-store bakeries aren't necessarily any better than packaged brands—check those ingredients and labels too.

2. Pasta

Creamy Fettuccine with Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms
Pictured recipe: Creamy Fettuccine with Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms
Whole-wheat pasta is rich in good-for-practically-everything fiber. But don't confuse it with enriched wheat-flour pasta, which is made from refined wheat flour that's been stripped of the nutritious bran and germ but had vitamins and minerals added back. Look for "whole-grain flour" or "whole-wheat flour" as the first ingredient.

3. Rice

Cherry, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad
Pictured recipe: Cherry, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad
Brown rice, purple rice, black rice and red rice are all considered whole grains and they're naturally gluten free. One rice caveat? Rice contains varying levels of arsenic, a natural element found in soil and water that is associated with certain cancers and heart disease when consumed in high amounts over time. The amount of arsenic in rice varies based on the type and where it's grown, with brown rice having more than white. The bottom line? It's safe to continue eating rice, but vary your grain choices so that you're not eating rice all the time.

4. Tortillas

Salsa Scrambled Eggs
Pictured recipe: Salsa Scrambled Eggs
Opting for a flour tortilla? Check that the first ingredient on the label is "whole-wheat" flour or "whole-grain" flour and that it doesn't contain any partially hydrogenated oil. Corn tortillas are made from masa, a type of flour made from soaking corn in a lime solution, which adds calcium and makes B vitamins and protein more available, while only losing a little of the bran. Some brands contain added sugars, such as corn syrup; check the ingredients label and skip those that do.

5. Breadcrumbs

Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese
Pictured recipe: Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese
Store-bought breadcrumbs can contain added sugars and partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fat). Skip them by making your own at home: trim the crust off whole-wheat bread, tear the bread into pieces and place in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Then spread on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F for 10-15 minutes.

6. Pita Chips

Garlic & Herb Pita Chips
Pictured recipe: Garlic & Herb Pita Chips
Buy pita chips made with whole grains as the first ingredient or buy whole-wheat pitas and bake them into chips at home. Cut 4 whole-wheat pita breads into 4 triangles each. Separate each triangle into 2 halves at the fold. Arrange, rough-side up, on a baking sheet. Spritz lightly with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil. Bake at 425°F until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

7. Tostada shells

Butternut Squash & Black Bean Tostadas
Pictured recipe: Butternut Squash & Black Bean Tostadas
Look for tostada shells made from whole-grain corn flour that don't contain palm oil or partially hydrogenated oils, which can have negative effects on heart health. Palm oil, an oil that comes from palm trees, is high in saturated fat, which may raise LDL "bad" cholesterol. It also contains a type of saturated fat called palmitic acid, that could increase appetite. And finally, most harvesting for palm oil destroys rainforest habitat. Choose tostada shells that are baked or cooked in healthier oils, such as canola, safflower or sunflower oil. Or buy corn tortillas and make your own.

Watch: How to Make West Coast Avocado Toast

Clean-Eating Meal Plan
Clean-Eating Snacks
Clean-Eating Dinner Recipes