The 6 Healthiest Carbs You Should Be Eating, According to a Dietitian
With the widespread popularity of diets like the keto and Atkins diets, carbs have gotten an unwarranted bad reputation. As a registered dietitian, I personally love carbs and will never be giving up my beloved pasta or bread. Carbs are the fuel our brains prefer, and they help give us energy throughout the day. And, similar to other foods, there is more to an apple or a slice of bread than just carbs. Many foods that have carbs also contain fiber, protein and other healthy nutrients that keep our body functioning at its best. All this is to say, there are several super-healthy carb-rich foods that deserve a spot on your plate. Here are the six healthiest carbs you should be eating.
Pictured Recipe: Purple Fruit Salad
1. Whole Grains
While the idea of whole grains might seem complicated, they are actually quite simple. All grains start out as whole grains, meaning they have three parts that make up each seed or kernel: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran and germ contain nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, protein and healthy fats, while the endosperm contains mostly carbohydrates. When grains are refined, the bran and germ are removed, which means they're stripped of the bulk of their nutrition and left with the carb-rich endosperm.
Whole grains are definitely worth a spot on your plate for several reasons. They are high in fiber and other nutrients (like B vitamins, iron, magnesium and antioxidants) that can help protect against chronic illness, like diabetes and cancer. Plus, recent research found that they might be the best food you can eat for heart health, as well. Plus, the protein, fiber and healthy fats help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Choose foods like brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole-grain bread and even popcorn to help up your intake.
Fruits can sometimes give people pause because of their sugar content. But there is a big difference in the way naturally occurring sugars, like the sugar in fruit, and added sugar affect your body. The natural sugars in fruit are eaten alongside the fiber and nutrients found in the fruit, which slow down how quickly your body digests them and prevents the sharp blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash) you would get from added sugars. Plus, choosing naturally occurring sugars like those found in fruit will likely help you eat less sugar overall. So don't sweat it the next time you want to have an apple as a snack or top your oats with berries. In fact, eating more fruit has been associated with a slew of health benefits like stabilizing weight, improving heart health and protecting against chronic disease.
3. Nonstarchy Vegetables
When it comes to vegetables, we like to think the more the merrier. Beyond being delicious and versatile, vegetables have an impressive array of health benefits. Their fiber content can help improve blood sugar control, stabilize weight and lower diabetes risk. They are packed with antioxidants that can help decrease cancer risk, fight inflammation, boost brain health and more. We could go on and on about why vegetables deserve a regular spot on your plate, regardless of the amount of carbs that they have. Eating all of the colors of the rainbow helps you get a wide variety of nutrients to get the most bang for your buck.
4. Starchy Vegetables
Let's start by clearing something up: potatoes are vegetables. Corn is a vegetable. Other starchy vegetables are vegetables and should not be avoided because they are higher in carbs than nonstarchy veg. Potatoes are packed with fiber, potassium and vitamin C and have some protein to give them more staying power. They can improve gut health, support a healthy immune system and are packed with antioxidants (especially if they are purple or sweet potatoes). Corn boasts similar benefits and nutrition. Most importantly, starchy vegetables are delicious, healthy and deserve a spot on your plate if you enjoy them.
Here at EatingWell, we love legumes. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are all part of the versatile legume family. They are budget-friendly, shelf-stable, eco-friendly, easy to cook and packed with impressive nutrition. Legumes contain carbs that help give us energy, but they are so much more than just that. They are a vegan- and vegetarian-friendly protein source for those trying to follow a plant-based diet. Also, they are high in fiber, which helps support better digestion and gut health, and they're packed with numerous nutrients and antioxidants to boot. The health benefits of eating legumes are numerous, and there are more studies coming out every month on why you should make more room for them in your eating pattern. They have been shown to lower risk of cancer, promote weight loss, improve heart health, reduce blood pressure and lower diabetes risk (as well as manage diabetes if you're already diagnosed). From snacking on hummus to topping your salad with lentils and more, there are several delicious ways to get more of these super-healthy carb foods in your daily diet.
With so many dairy alternatives on the shelves, it can be hard to know what is healthy. But, unless you are lactose-sensitive or -intolerant, you don't need to worry about consuming dairy. In fact, dairy is packed with some impressive nutrition compared to other types of milk alternatives. It's a great source of calcium, vitamin B12, potassium and protein. Lactose is responsible for the naturally occurring carbs and sugar in milk and milk products. Similar to fruit, the protein, healthy fats and other nutrients in dairy slow down the digestion of such carbs to prevent a blood sugar spike. Plus, dairy is important for building and maintaining strong bones, muscles and more. If you aren't intolerant, there's no need to avoid this healthy carb food in your eating pattern.
Lately, carbs have been made out to be a dietary villain by many trending diets. But there are plenty of foods that have energizing carbs and boast impressive health benefits, too. From whole grains to legumes, produce and dairy, these carb-rich foods deserve a spot on your plate. For more, check out these healthy carbs that can help you lose weight or control your diabetes.