15 Carbs Nutritionists Want You To Eat More Of
In the last few years, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, blamed for everything from our obesity and diabetes epidemics to heart disease and other health woes. What's more, thanks to success stories of popular , many believe steering clear of carbs altogether will lead to lasting weight loss. Yet that's not necessarily true, says Katie Cavuto, MS, RD, a dietitian in Philadelphia. "In fact, carbohydrates are an essential component of any well-balanced diet," she says. While simple carbs (think white bread, pasta, and sugar-filled foods) are calorie-dense foods that don't provide much in terms of nutrition, there are plenty of other carbohydrates—like fruits, legumes, whole grains, and even vegetables—that can play a key role in a healthy diet, she says.
Here, dietitians around the country share their favorite sources of carbohydrates, and why you should consider incorporating them into your meals. (Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with , our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)
This starchy veggie is an excellent source of anthocyanins, which help to decrease blood pressure and keep your heart healthy, says Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, a dietitian nutritionist at Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Quick tip: Cook them, then eat them after they've cooled (say, in a purple potato salad) and you'll get a hefty dose of resistant starch, which develops during the cooling process and decreases the absorption of sugar in the intestines, says Titgemeier.
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This plant-based source of protein and carbohydrates contains more than 10 g of fiber per serving, which helps to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, says Titgemeier. "The protein in lentil pasta also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer."
This carbohydrate is also a complete protein, which means it has all of the amino acids that animal proteins do, says Titgemeier. "Quinoa contains protein and fiber, which helps to slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates," she says. "It's a great, gluten-free grain that can be easily incorporated into cereals, salads, stuffed peppers, and more." (Make sure you read this before buying quinoa.)
This starchy veggie packs about 16 g of carbohydrates per cup, says San Diego-based dietitian Nancy Snyder, MS, RD, and it's a great stand-in for pasta. "I spiralize the squash into 'noodles' and pair with my favorite pasta sauce," she says. "Not only is this a great way to sneak in extra veggies, but these 'noodles' are satisfying without the heaviness of a typical pasta dish."
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Blaire Newhard, RD, a San Diego-based dietitian likes this grain because it ranks lower on the glycemic index than most other grains, which means it doesn't prompt big spikes in blood sugar levels. "Barley is a great source of carbohydrates that provides sustained energy, helping you feel fuller, longer," says Newhard.
You might think of beans as an excellent source of plant-based protein, and they are, says Newhard. However, they are also a great source of low-glycemic carbohydrates. "Beans are also loaded with iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium, which are minerals most Americans don't eat enough of," adds Newhard.
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Like beans, this plant-based protein source is also a healthy carbohydrate, says McKenzie Flinchum, RD, a dietitian in Vero Beach, FL. "Yogurt is also a good source of calcium, and it contains probiotics, which feed the 'good' bugs in your gut," she says. Opt for Greek yogurt varieties, says Flinchum, which are highest in protein.
Like yogurt, kefir is a fermented dairy product that is also an excellent source of carbohydrates, protein, and probiotics, says Sharon Collison, RD, a dietitian nutritionist for STAR Health at the University of Delaware. Bonus: "Kefir is typically purchased in single-serving bottles, so it's easy to drink on the go as a part of a healthy breakfast," says Collison.
Often found in Mediterranean, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern dishes, this ancient grain is gaining in popularity in this country recently thanks to its heart-healthy nutrition profile: In addition to being a healthy carbohydrate, it is also full of fiber, protein, magnesium, iron, and zinc, says Collison. Add it to soups and salads, or serve as a side dish instead of rice or potatoes.
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This small grain is the part of the wheat plant that sprouts and grows into a new plant, says Florida-based dietitian Gisela Bouvier, RD, and it's a carbohydrate that's full of other important nutrients, including vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, thiamine, phosphorus, and zinc. "Unfortunately, wheat germ is removed during the process of turning wheat into white flour," says Bouvier. To sneak this healthy carb into your diet, opt for grains made from whole wheat rather than white flour.
While this starchy vegetable can be highly processed and turned into corn syrup (found in unhealthy carbohydrates, like pre-packaged foods), fresh corn is a good-for-you carb, says Bouvier. "Corn is actually a whole grain that's rich in fiber, potassium, antioxidants, and vitamin C," she says. "Eat it fresh from the cob or as popcorn."
Loaded with vitamins D (the sunshine vitamin most of us are deficient in) and B (important for brain and heart health), mushrooms are also rich in selenium, an antioxidant that repairs cell damage, says Jennifer Glockner, RDN, a Los Angeles-based dietitian and creator ofTeddy Tries a Veggie, the first book in the Smartee Plate nutrition e-book series for kids. "I like to replace half of the ground beef with mushrooms when I make hamburgers or meatloaf for a healthy serving of carbohydrates—and less saturated fat than all-meat recipes," says Glockner.
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This root vegetable is a healthy carbohydrate that's part of the cruciferous vegetable family, says Glockner. "Radishes are loaded with vitamin C and fiber, and also have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties," she says. Add to salads, sandwiches, or eat them on their own raw or roasted.
Though all fruits are excellent sources of carbohydrates, nutritional therapist Anne-Marie Faiola says "the apple wins because it's portable, durable—no smashed berries in the bottom of my lunch bag!—and its skin has so much fiber in it that one apple gives you 17% of your daily fiber needs," she says.
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"Vegetables are always a solid carbohydrate choice," says Faiola.
Video: How to Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight
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