Carbs have gotten an unjustifiable bad reputation with the widespread hype of diets like the Atkins and keto diets.
As an ISSA-certified nutritionist, I recognize the importance of carbs and will never recommend cutting your carbs intake drastically. Carbs are the fuel that the human body prefers, and they provide us energy all through the day. And, like other healthy foods, there is much more to an apple or a slice of whole-grain bread than just carbohydrates. In addition, many foods that contain carbohydrates also have other essential nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, etc., that keep your body performing at its best. All this is to say; there are many carb-rich, super-healthy foods that are definitely worth a spot on your plate. Here are my six favorite healthiest carbs full of nutrition that deserve to be included in your diet.
Six Healthiest Carbs You Should Be Eating
# 1. Whole Grains
Many people do not correctly understand the idea of whole grains. So I am going to put it here in simple terms. All grains start as whole grains. They all comprise three parts that make up each grain, also called seed or kernel. Namely, these parts are the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whereas the bran and germ have nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, protein, and healthy fats, the endosperm has mainly carbs. During the refining process of grains, the bran and germ get removed – meaning they’re devoid of most of their nutrition and left with primarily the carb-rich endosperm.
Whole grains are healthy, and we should be eating them for various reasons:
First, they are rich in fiber and other nutrients (such as iron, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants) that can help protect us from chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Moreover, recent research shows that they might also be the best food we can eat for heart health.
Plus, the presence of fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help keep us feeling fuller for longer.
Tip: Go for foods like quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, and even popcorn.
# 2. Fruit
Sometimes people don’t prefer eating fruits due to their sugar content. But there is a lot of difference between the ways added sugar and naturally occurring sugars ( such as the sugar in fruits) affect our bodies. When we eat the natural sugars in fruit, we also get to eat the fiber and nutrients present in the fruit. That slows down how quickly our bodies digest them and helps avoid the sharp blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash) we would get from added sugars. Moreover, eating naturally occurring sugars like those present in fruits will likely help us eat less sugar overall. Thus you don’t have to sweat it when you top your oats with berries or eat an apple as a snack. Instead, eating more fruits has been linked to several health benefits such as maintaining weight, improving heart health, and protecting you against chronic illness.
# 3. Non-starchy Vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables are higher in fiber and lower in sugar compared to starchy vegetables. In general, they have about five grams of carbs per serving. A serving is about one cup of leafy greens or one-half cup of other vegetables – whether fresh, frozen, or canned.
They contain a wide variety of nutrients, and so offer a slew of impressive health benefits. For example, the presence of fiber helps control weight, improve blood sugar control, and reduce diabetes risk. Moreover, they are high in antioxidants that can help fight inflammation, lower cancer risk, improve brain health, and more. Due to their vast array of health benefits, they deserve a regular spot on your plate, irrespective of the amount of carbohydrates that they contain. To get the most out of them, try to eat all the different colors of the rainbow.
Non-starchy vegetables should fill about one-half of your plate.
Examples of non-starchy vegetables include:
- Black olives
- Purple cabbage
- Brussels sprouts
- Red peppers
- Summer squash
# 4. Starchy Vegetables
You can guess from the name; starchy vegetables have more starch compared to non-starchy vegetables. Starch is a type of carb that our bodies break down into glucose. Therefore, starchy vegetables have higher calories compared to non-starchy vegetables. Furthermore, they also contain less fiber, so they don’t leave us feeling as full as non-starchy vegetables.
Let’s start by clearing some doubts: potatoes are vegetables, corn is a vegetable. These and other starchy vegetables should not be avoided because they are higher in carbs than non-starchy vegetables. Remember, they are still vegetables. For example, potatoes are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C and have some protein to make them a good candidate for inclusion in the healthy foods list. They help boost gut health, improve the immune system, and are high in antioxidants (particularly if they are purple color or sweet potatoes. Corn offers similar nutrition and health benefits. Most importantly, starchy vegetables are tastier, healthy, and deserve to become a part of your plate if you enjoy them.
Just because starchy vegetables are delicious, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, you should not think of them as the more, the merrier. Always keep in mind that you should limit them to about 1/4 of your plate. In addition, because starchy vegetables are higher in carbs, they can trigger a spike in your blood sugar level.
Examples of starchy vegetables include:
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
- White potatoes
- Acorn squash
- Butternut squash
I love legumes. Soybeans, dried beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils are part of the versatile legume family. Legumes have a substantial amount of carbohydrates per serving. Therefore, they are also part of the carbs group.
They are shelf-stable, budget-friendly, eco-friendly, easy to cook, and provide a wide array of nutrition. Of course, legumes have carbs that offer us energy. But they are so much more than just carbs. They are a vegetarian and vegan-friendly protein source for people who follow a plant-based diet. Also, they are rich in fiber, which helps control cholesterol, blood sugar levels, better digestion, and gut health. In addition, they’re rich in many other nutrients and antioxidants too. Legumes have a slew of health benefits, and more studies come out every month on why we should make more room for them in our day-to-day diet. They have been found to support weight loss, reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, decrease diabetes risk (and regulate diabetes if you’re already diagnosed), and cut down the risk of cancer. From topping your salad with lentils to snacking on hummus and many more, there are some delicious ways to get more of these super-healthy carbohydrate foods in our everyday diet.
# 6. Dairy
Milk and milk products contain naturally-occurring carbs and sugar. As there are so many dairy options, it is difficult for us to know the healthy ones. However, unless we are lactose-intolerant or – sensitive, we don’t have to worry about consuming dairy. Actually, dairy products are full of some top-notch nutrition. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, protein, vitamin B12, and potassium. As with fruits, the protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients in dairy slow down the digestion of carbs, which helps prevent a spike in blood sugar. In addition, dairy is essential for building and maintaining strong bones, muscles, and more. If you aren’t lactose-intolerant or -sensitive, there’s no need to exclude this healthy carb food from your diet.
Lately, carbohydrates have been billed as a dietary villain by many trending diets. However, there are several food options that contain energizing carbs and boast excellent health benefits, as well. These carb-rich foods, from whole grains to legumes, vegetables and fruits to dairy, deserve to be included in your regular diet.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”