Carbohydrates (carbs) are the least known of the three macronutrients these days. Carbs are thought to be the ingredient you should avoid at all costs in the age of the ketogenic diet, but your body and brain need carbs to work at their best. In fact, the USDA/DHHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 say that we should get between 45% and 65% of our daily calories from carbohydrates.
“Carbs are automatically seen as bad, just like protein is automatically seen as good,” says Rachael Hartley, R.D., a qualified dietitian and author of the book Gentle Nutrition. “Because of this idea, many people think that eating healthy means limiting carbs, even though carbs are the body’s preferred source of fuel and a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre.”
Editor’s note: Weight loss, health, and body image are all complicated topics. Before you decide to go on a diet or change the way you eat, we encourage you to read about the dangers of diet culture to get a wider view.
From a scientific point of view, carbs are sugar molecules that break down into glucose or blood sugar, giving cells, tissues, and organs energy. Grains, starchy veggies, cheese, and fruit are all good sources of carbs and are healthy foods. Carbs come in two main types: simple and complex. Complex carbs are found in whole grains and starchy vegetables, while simple carbs are found in pure white grains and fruit. Even the ones that aren’t as healthy can be part of a balanced diet because they all give you energy and nutrients. Harley says, “All foods have a purpose, and even “unhealthy” carbohydrate foods can be good for you”, this may or may not include processed foods.
But when we put together this list of high-carb foods, we looked for carbs full of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Many of these options have sugar that comes from natural sources, which will help keep your energy up. Dietitians say that the following are the best carbohydrate-containing foods.
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Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels are lower in people who eat oats, which are a form of complex carbs. Plus, the prebiotic fibre in oats feeds the healthy bacteria that live in your GI system.
Hartley says, “I like muesli for breakfast because it tastes good and fills me up. It also has soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and is good for the gut.”
You can eat oats in many different ways, like muesli or warm muesli with fruit, nuts or nut butter on top.
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Berries of all kinds are good sources of complex carbs and are full of vitamins and minerals. For example, blueberries are a good source of fibre and vitamin C and contain important micronutrients like potassium and manganese.
Researchers have also found that eating blueberries and strawberries every day, which are both high in antioxidants, may help with things like inflammation, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and brain health.
Whether fresh, frozen, or dried, Berries are an easy way to add sweet pops to meals and snacks. Add them to pancake batter or oatmeal for breakfast, salads for lunch or dinner or as a healthy and tasty snack with nuts and chocolate.
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Potatoes are packed with nutrients. They can have up to 4 grammes of plant-based protein, almost 5 grammes of fibre, and 25% of your daily potassium needs. If you want to know if you should eat white potatoes or sweet potatoes, the answer is that you should eat the kind of potato you like best.
Hartley says, “A lot of people think white potatoes are unhealthy or don’t have any nutrients, but they actually have a lot of vitamin C, potassium, and fibre.”
Some ways of cooking potatoes (like grilling instead of frying) make them healthier than others, but all of them can be part of a healthy diet.
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Bread may get the worst reputation among carbs, but it can be a simple way to meet your carb needs and get other important nutrients. All breads have different amounts of fibre and vitamins like calcium and magnesium and can be part of a healthy diet. Whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, and other whole grain foods have more nutrients than their refined, white cousins.
“Refined grains are a great choice for athletes and other active people I work with because they give them quick, easy-to-digest energy before a sports event,” says Hartley. Or, if you have a stomach bug, a piece of white bread is more likely to make you feel better and settle your stomach than a bite of whole wheat or rye bread, which has more fibre.
Try toasting a slice of your favourite bread for breakfast, dipping it in good olive oil, or making one of these tasty sandwiches for lunch.
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Farro is an old grain that looks and feels like a cross between couscous and rice. It tastes nutty and is very healthy.
Like most grains, farro is a good source of fibre. Each serving (1/4 cup dry or 1/2 cup cooked) has about 5 grammes of fibre, 18% of the daily value (DV). Plus, each dish has about 6 grammes of protein from plants.
Farro also has micronutrients like non-heme iron, which comes from plant sources. Each serve has 2 mg of non-heme iron, 10% of the DV. You can put farro in a taco bowl, toss it in a salad, or serve it as a dish with fish and vegetables.
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Pumpkin comes from the squash family and is a sweet, nutrient-rich vegetable. In addition to complex carbohydrates, pumpkin is a good source of beta-carotene, a vitamin that is good for your skin and eyes.
One cup of plain pumpkin purée has fibre, vitamin A, potassium, and non-heme iron, which are all important nutrients.
For a protein-rich snack, mix 12 cup into plain Greek yoghurt with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a drop of honey. You can also use it to make pumpkin pie for the holidays.
7 . Rice
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Rice is often seen as one of the main food items responsible for weight gain. There are common myths about rice that are similar to those about potatoes. Even though dark rice has more nutrients than white rice, both types of rice are good for your health.
Hartley says, “I like the nutty taste of brown rice in many dishes, but white rice is a favourite and a staple food in many cultures.” “White rice is inexpensive, easy on the digestive system, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and has only one less gramme of fibre than brown rice.”
Also, whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta have a little bit more fibre than refined grains like white rice and pasta. Fibre can help you feel full and pleased, but you should stay hydrated and slowly add more fibre to your diet so your body can adjust.
“Like with potatoes, your choice of rice should be based on what you like best, which can change depending on how you’re feeling and what else you’re eating,” says Hartley.
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Dates are sweet, dried fruits that can be used as a source of healthy carbohydrates. They also contain important nutrients, like fibre and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Just two Medjool dates have about 12% of the daily value for fibre, or 3.2 grams. Dates have soluble fibre, just like oats, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol. They also have fibre that doesn’t dissolve in water, which helps keep the digestive system working well.
Dates are a good source of calcium, B vitamins, non-heme iron, potassium, copper, magnesium, and other important chemicals. You can chop them up, put them in salads or rice meals, or put nut butter on them and eat them as a snack.
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Along with other dairy products, yoghurt is a source of lactose, which is a natural sugar. Even though some yoghurts, like Greek yoghurt, have more protein than others, all yoghurts have important nutrients besides carbs.
Yoghurt has calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics that are good for your bones and gut. One thing to watch out for is how much sugar is in yoghurt. You should choose Greek yoghurt instead of normal yoghurt because it naturally has less sugar and more protein.
Like our other food suggestions, the best way to choose yoghurt is to go with what you like best. You can eat yoghurt by itself as a small snack, or you can use it to make sweet-and-sour breakfast foods like smoothies and parfaits, or you can use it to make savoury foods like dips and sauces.
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Bananas are a great source of simple carbs because they have natural sugars and are full of potassium and magnesium. They also have plant-based substances called prebiotics that help “feed” your good bugs.
Before you work out, eat a whole banana for quick, easy-to-digest energy. You can put it in a treat (banana split, anyone? ), a sandwich for lunch with nut butter and honey, or even a spoonful of nut butter as an afternoon snack. Try splitting a banana and putting it in your yoghurt bowl for a quick, healthy breakfast in the morning. It’s a filling food that gives you a lot of energy and is full of fibre, vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, and other nutrients.
Wrapping Up: What Is The Best Carbohydrate To Eat?
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient and a source of energy that the body needs. Some carbs may be healthier than others, but Hartley says the most important thing to do with carbs is to eat enough of them and include them in meals and snacks often. If you don’t eat carbs for a long time, your blood sugar regulation can get out of whack. She says, “Carbs are the main fuel for our brains, so eating them regularly can help with mood, energy, and focus.” A low-carb diet can result in weight loss and various health benefits, but removing carbs altogether from your diet may not be the best decision.
Instead of pushing yourself to eat foods you don’t like, focus on eating the healthier carbs or refined carbs that you enjoy, and trust that a variety of carb sources will give you a good mix of nutrients. Food gives us energy and keeps us healthy, but it is also so much more. Food rituals and events can be a way to keep our spirits up. “Fun” foods that are high in carbs are often a big part of upset eating. To have a good relationship with food, you need to give yourself permission to eat all kinds of carbs and to enjoy happy, exciting, and meaningful meals.