Carbs can be a healthy part of any diet—here's how to pick the best ones.
Nowadays it’s all about ditching the grains and fruit for veggies and fat, and while there’s nothing wrong with adding in healthy fats and greens to your diet, you might be saying “goodbye” to some really nutritious (and yummy!) foods that can—and should—be enjoyed on a regular basis.
So, before you toss those roasted sweet potatoes in fear of their “carb-y” profile, consider the benefits. Here are a couple of high-carb foods nutritionists want you to eat and include regularly in your diet to reap their rich vitamins and minerals, as well as their flavor.
“This gluten-free grain is a go-to in my kitchen because it’s versatile, inexpensive, and offers protein and fiber to help with satiation. Plus, oats contain a special fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner. Add them to smoothies, whip up a batch of warm, toasty oatmeal or use them for homemade granola and protein bites at home.
“Yes, I want you to eat a good old slice of whole-wheat bread. Not only does it contain more fiber and protein than traditional white bread, but it’s a great vessel for healthy toppings, like nut butter or avocado,” says Rizzo. Plus, it tastes great and can be a really good fix for quick pre-workout fuel. Make sure to check the brand to find breads lower in sugar and sodium and then pile on the healthy toppings.
100% Orange Juice
It’s totally okay to sip on a glass of OJ with breakfast to really wake you up fast. “If you’re running out the door and don’t have time to eat a piece of fruit, an 8-ounce glass of 100% orange juice is equivalent to a serving of fruit. It contains no added sugars and an 8-ounce serving is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of potassium,” says Rizzo.
What’s more, orange juice contains a compound called hesperidin, which research suggests may positively affect heart disease markers, blood pressure, and cognition, as well as reduce inflammation and oxidation, says Rizzo.
One of the most portable and easiest pre-workout snacks is the banana—and it’s pretty darn tasty, too. “It’s filled with potassium, which aids in hydration and blood pressure regulation, and it contains simple sugars to give you energy for a workout,” says Rizzo. Don’t ditch it just because it’s a pretty high-carb fruit option. You can even layer some peanut butter over it for some good fats and satiety.
These sweet spuds taste great, have just 100 calories in a medium-sized potato, and they are a great source of Vitamin A and fiber, which can fill you up and improve your skin health, explains Rizzo. “Just remember to eat the skin if you want to reap the fiber-filled benefits,” she adds, as that’s where the nutrition is really contained.
“Otherwise known as the edible seeds of plants in the legume family, pulses are broadly classified as dry beans, chickpeas and lentils, [and they] are nutritious, affordable and easy to cook with,” says Rizzo. They’re also a nice source of plant-based protein, which is great for those who choose meatless or are limiting animal protein in the diet.
“Lentils have about 9 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked and canned beans contains about 7 grams of protein per 1/2 cup,” says Rizzo, so you should totally be adding these to salads, soups, and more.
While so many cereals on the market are loaded with sugar, bran isn’t. Although it’s high in carbohydrates, it is also high in fiber, which means it will help keep you full and satisfied for hours after eating, says Brooke Zigler, MPP, RDN, LD.
“By eating a high-fiber breakfast, you are not only revving up your metabolism, but you will also be fuller for a longer period of time, and [will be] less likely to crash before lunchtime,” she adds. Her top picks are Kellogg's All-Bran, Bran Buds Cereals, and Nature's Path Smart Bran.
No need to forego Italian night or opt for zoodles when you’re really craving a hearty bowl of pasta. “While most pastas on the market have a ton of carbohydrates, they may lack the fiber to make them a satisfying option. If you love having pasta for dinner, an easy swap that I always recommend is switching to a high-fiber and high-protein pasta alternative,” says Zigler.
There are pastas made with chickpeas, edamame, black beans, green beans, and more—all of which pack on the protein and nutrients to give you a satisfying bowl. (Check out our handy primer to see which legume-based pasta you should try.)
“They are typically higher in fiber and protein than traditional pasta, which means you will be able to stay fuller for a longer period of time,” she explains. “Some of my favorite brands for these pastas are Banza, Explore Cuisine, Bella Bondonza, and Zeroodle,” she adds.
Butternut and acorn squash, as well as pumpkin, are considered starchy vegetables due to their high carbohydrate content, but they are still wonderful additions to the diet because of their rich fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium content, says Zigler. “Even though they are starchy vegetables, they are still relatively low in calories, which makes them a great option,” she adds. Add them to stews and soups or roast them with some herbs or spices.
Avocados are super fibrous and contain folate, which is great for maintaining weight management and improving brain function, the latter being especially important in pregnant women, says Zigler. “They are also loaded with healthy fats, which can help lower total and LDL blood cholesterol levels,” she says.
Don’t get too crazy and eat a whole avocado at once, though. “I would still encourage consuming a serving size of 1/4 or 1/3 of an avocado at a meal, depending on the person and their nutritional needs. Avocados are definitely a nutrient-dense food, but it is still important to consume avocados in moderation like any other healthy foods,” she says.
While all berries are a great fruit choice, raspberries actually contain a whopping 8g of fiber (32% of your daily needs) in just one cup, making them not only a delicious option, but also a super-filling one, too, says Zigler. “The fiber in raspberries is important for digestion and regular bowel movements,” she says, and raspberries also have about half your daily vitamin C needs in a cup serving, which is great for keeping the sniffles away this winter.
“Apples are another one of my favorite fruits to recommend due to their fiber content. One small apple has 4g of fiber per serving, making this an easy snack option,” says Zigler. There are tons of apples to choose from—honeycrisp, pink lady, granny smith, fuji—so feel free to try them all and see what you like. “I'd recommend pairing with a protein such as cheese or nuts to make it a filling snack,” she adds. This will help you fight munchies later in the day.