I’ve never been a fan of low-carb diets: our bodies and our brains need carbohydrates to work effectively. A few years ago, while preparing for a marathon with Team in Training, a fellow runner told me she was trying to lose weight. That’s cool. Then she told me about her super-restrictive low-carb diet. At the time, I was getting my master’s degree in nutrition and I couldn’t resist sharing my opinion. “You. Must. Eat. Carbs,” I told her, carrying on about how high-carb foods are essential for rebuilding the energy stores that you deplete running long distances. (Read 6 more reasons your body needs carbohydrates here.)
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 fiber. Here are 6 “great” carbs to keep in your diet.
Whole-wheat pasta. 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!
Related link: Fusilli with Italian Sausage & Arugula (pictured above) and More Healthy Pasta Recipes in 30 Minutes.
Quinoa: 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.
Related link: Toasted Quinoa Salad with Scallops & Snow Peas and More 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.
Related Link: Barley Hoppin' John and More 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.
Related link: Bulgur with Ginger & Orange and More 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.
Related link: Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili and More Wheat Berry 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.
Related link: Try This Recipe: Cheesy Popcorn
What healthy carbs do you love? Tell us what you think below.