When choosing your healthy carbs, these should be at the top of your list.
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Carbohydrates have not gained many popularity points over the past few years. Deemed the weight-gain culprit by many trendy diets, this macronutrient is one that has not gotten a lot of love among the wellness crowd.

But carbohydrates are the body's primary fuel source. And by eliminating this macro from your diet, you run the risk of feeling sluggish, having heart-health challenges and even increasing your risk of certain cancers.

So, carbohydrates are not the villain nutrient that many people are led to believe. The key is to focus on choices that contain fiber, micronutrients and other factors that support your overall health.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Your body depends on you eating enough macronutrients to be able to function properly. And among the three macronutrients—protein, fat and carbohydrates—the body prefers to use carbohydrates as its primary fuel source. Sure, it can use protein and fat as fuel too, but the process is much less efficient than when it leans on carbs.

Carbohydrates are found in a variety of foods, from homemade whole-grain bread to those tiny heart-shaped candies that you eat on Valentine's Day. And while all carbs will give your body the components it needs to make energy, not all carbs will support your health in the same way.

Carbohydrates can often be differentiated by whether they're made up mostly of whole-food sources or of ingredients that have been processed and refined; many contain a mix of both. Whole-food-based carbs (sometimes referred to as "complex carbohydrates") are typically higher in fiber and other nutrients than refined choices, and they should make up the bulk of your carb intake. Examples of these healthier carbs include whole grains, fruit with skin and beans.

Refined carbs (sometimes called "simple carbohydrates") often consist of mostly white flour and/or sugar. Eating too many of these carbs may result in a spike in blood sugar and, oftentimes, they do not offer much in the nutrition department. Candies, cookies, white bread and soda are examples of refined carbs. While all foods can absolutely be a part of a healthy diet, as long as they are eaten in moderation, these are not considered to be the healthiest carb choices out there.

How to Include Carbs in a Healthy Diet

Despite what many trendy diets suggest, carbs should be included in your diet if you are trying to support your health. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) recommends that most Americans have 45 to 65% of their total daily calories come from carbs. So, if you are eating 2,000 calories a day, then you should be eating 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day. Hardly a low-carb diet.

But that doesn't mean that you should down a dozen glazed donuts or guzzle a gallon of sweet tea to meet your quota. Choosing healthy carbs is essential to helping your body feel satisfied, keeping your bowel movements regular and even reducing your risk of developing certain diseases.

The updated Dietary Guidelines offers some guidance when navigating carb choices:

  • Grains: Both enriched and whole grains play a key role in healthy dietary patterns and diet quality. As such, half or more of the grain choices should be whole grains, with the remaining being from enriched sources. Generally speaking, people should aim for 6-ounce equivalents per day of grains.
  • Fruit: Rich in important nutrients, 2 servings of fruit should be eaten every day. Fruit can be consumed in its fresh form, but it can also be enjoyed in other forms like frozen and dried, as long as sugar, salt and other ingredients are not included.
  • Vegetables: 2½ cups of vegetables should be consumed every day. While nonstarchy veggies should make up the bulk of the vegetable choices in a diet, starchy vegetables, beans, peas and lentils should be important parts of a balanced diet as well.
  • Dairy: 3 dairy cup-equivalents should be eaten every day according to the guidelines. While not all dairy foods are rich in carbohydrates, foods like milk and yogurt contain lactose and therefore are considered a carbohydrate.
  • Foods with Added Sugars: Foods and beverages high in calories from added sugars should be limited. This includes candies, cakes, sodas and other sweet treats.
Sweet Potato Pommes Anna (Layered Potato Casserole)

The 10 Healthiest Carbs You Should Be Buying

There are lots of carbohydrate-containing foods out there. But among all the choices, there are some that are healthier than others. If you are on the hunt for the healthiest carbohydrate foods out there, here are 10 that get accolades in the nutrition department.

1. Quinoa

This trendy side is technically not a grain, but instead is a seed. But since it's served as a side dish or a base for grain bowls like many other grains, it's classified as such.

Quinoa contains natural carbohydrates along with satisfying fiber and good-for-you antioxidants. Try this grain in a Mediterranean Chickpea Quinoa Bowl or a Slow-Cooker Southwest Quinoa Bowl.

2. Oats

Starting your day with a bowl of cozy oatmeal can help you get your healthy carb quota in a satisfying way. Oats naturally contain carbohydrates along with both soluble and insoluble fiber to support many factors of our health.

Of the fibers found in oats, beta-glucan is an important one, as it has proven cholesterol-lowering and anti-diabetes effects. From Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oats to Rhubarb Oat Muffins, the ways to include oats in your diet are plenty.

3. Strawberries

Naturally sweet and low in calories, strawberries are a fantastic fruit to help satisfy your sweet tooth. Candy is often loaded with added sugars, so opting for this fruit instead of gummy worms or lollipops will not only give your body natural carbs with no added sugar, but it will also provide beneficial antioxidants and nutrients like potassium, folate and fiber. That said, sometimes you just need some real candy, which we totally get.

For 21 breakfast recipes that include strawberries, click here.

4. Black Beans

Beans are a fantastic healthy carb choice because not only do they contain fiber and protein to help support satiety, but they also contain 20 grams of carbs per ½-cup serving. Opting for darker beans (like black and red kidney) instead of rice may result in lower LDL "bad" cholesterol concentrations after a meal and support a healthy blood pressure.

A classic Black Beans and Rice dish makes for a simple weeknight supper that is as good for you as it is tasty.

5. Pasta

While pasta is technically a refined carbohydrate, it can be part of a healthy diet thanks to its fiber and protein content, as well as the fact that it contains no added salt or sugar. Just focus on sticking to appropriate portion sizes and combining the pasta with vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and other good-for-you additions.

Pasta is a unique refined grain because its protein structure is digested more slowly, unlike many other refined grains that can contribute to a blood sugar spike. And according to a study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, higher pasta consumption (just over three servings per week) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke among postmenopausal women. And a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that including pasta in a diet is associated with better diet quality versus pasta-free diets.

6. Lentils

Lentils are a carb source that is also chock-full of other important nutrients like protein and fiber. Plus, these little legumes are a natural source of iron, magnesium, vitamin B6 and tons of other important nutrients. For a filling lentil dish, try Curried Lentils and Vegetables or Egyptian Lentil Soup for a nutrient-rich meal.

7. Milk

There aren't many things that are as satisfying as an ice-cold glass of milk. And since milk naturally contains carbohydrates along with protein and important vitamins and minerals like calcium and magnesium, a glass of this classic beverage is one of the healthiest carb sources you can find.

When choosing your milk, keep in mind that many flavored milks contain added sugars, which can contribute to a spike in blood sugars and provide empty calories. Classic white milk is your best bet when including milk in your healthy diet, and soymilk comes in second, as it contains a similar nutrition profile. Other milk alternatives, like almond milk and oat milk, also contain nutrients like calcium and vitamin D but are often much lower in calories, carbs, fat and protein.

8. Sorghum

Sorghum is an ancient grain that is a popular staple in parts of Africa and Australia, but it's consumed in other parts of the world, too. Like quinoa, sorghum naturally contains fiber and antioxidants, and it makes for a great side dish or an addition to soups. Or for a fun twist on a classic snack, pop uncooked sorghum as you would do with popcorn kernels and enjoy the little noshes that won't get stuck in your teeth.

9. Pears

Pears, or any whole fruit, make a perfectly portable carbohydrate source that takes the guesswork out of calculating serving sizes. Eating fruits like pears gives your body a boost of natural carbohydrates along with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

If you are looking for something beyond a plain piece of fruit, try Roasted Pears with Brie & Pistachios or Pear-Spiced Oatmeal for a little variety.

10. Sweet Potatoes

Believe it or not, all potatoes are great additions to a healthy diet, as long as they are not fried or loaded with added salt, sugar or other ingredients that should be limited. Sweet potatoes, in particular, are jam-packed with beta carotene, which can support a healthy immune system.

From Oven Sweet Potato Fries to Sloppy Joe-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, it isn't hard to find ways to include this sensational spud in your healthy diet.