Healthy Carbs for a Balanced Diet
While "carbs" has been thrown around loosely, going without them does not necessarily translate into good health. Don't forget to take this "good carb list" on your next grocery store visit!
From "carb-free” to "low-carb," the stigma of carb provokes the general public to question the macronutrient and wonder if it is truly needed. But going without carbohydrates does not necessarily translate into good health.
So how do you know which carbs can be beneficial to a balanced diet and should land into your grocery cart? We have taken out the guesswork so don't forget to take the "good carb list" to the next store visit!
What Foods Are Considered Carbs?
Carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients, with fat and protein being the other two. There are two overarching types of carbohydrates, including simple and complex carbs.
What Are Simple Carbohydrates?
Simple carbs or sugars either contain one or two sugar molecules and classified into monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, and galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, maltose, and lactose).
Their short structure causes them to be generally digested and absorbed much more quickly compared to complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs include natural sugars provided by nutritious veggies, fruits, milk and dairy products, though most of the intake comes from refined sugar.
Refined and simple sugars are stripped away from nutrients and fiber. Common sources include corn syrup, table sugar, candy, and soft drinks that essentially offer nothing more than sugar and calories
Such products are regularly targeted as high-carb foods to avoid or branded onto a list of bad carbs, as they are commonly associated with weight gain and diabetes.
What Are Complex Carbohydrates?
Complex carbohydrates are also known as starches and polysaccharides, which contain three or more sugars. Their longer structure causes them to be generally digested and absorbed more slowly compared to simple carbs.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are examples of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates come in their whole, unprocessed form and are naturally an excellent source of fiber, offer essential vitamins and minerals, and bare a number of health benefits.
Despite the source, carbs are a main source of energy and are quickly utilized by the brain and muscles. The ones not used immediately are stored in the liver or muscles for a later time.
However, in absence of carbohydrate, the body turns to fat and protein for energy. And certainly, the body can benefit from limiting high-sugar foods offering little to no nutritional value.
But limiting carbs can restrict the intake of fiber and phytochemicals, chemicals found in plants, proven to be beneficial to health. Incorporating this list of healthy carbs offers valuable nutrients.
Your List of Good Carbs
1. Oats: Oats are a type of whole grain, which provide essential B vitamins and minerals along with significant amounts of fiber. They also provide five grams of plant-based protein per ½ cup.
2. Quinoa: Quinoa displays the versatility of a grain while being a complete protein, meaning it provides all essential amino acids that must be obtained from food sources. Add quinoa to soups, salads, and breads or swap traditional rice-based dishes.
3. Popcorn: Also a whole grain, those kernels get a lot of bang for their buck. Without added butters and oils, a three cup serving of popcorn is only 110 calories! Popcorn is also an excellent fiber source to snack on.
4. Black Beans: While known for their high fiber content, beans are also a great plant-based protein source, especially for individuals who cut or reduce animal meats from their diet. Cost-friendly and versatile, throw in salads, add in casseroles and soups, or prepare as a side dish to naturally increase fiber and protein intake.
5. Chickpeas: Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a vegetarian and vegan-friendly protein source. They also offer generous amounts of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals including folate, zinc, and iron.
6. Lentils: Similar to beans, lentils are considerably versatile, making it a simple ingredient to incorporate into numerous nutritious meals. Lentils are also a good source of fiber along with valuable micronutrients, including potassium, folate, iron, phosphorus, manganese, thiamin, and vitamin B6.
7. Almonds: Almonds and other nuts are relatively low in carb and supply healthy fats shown to support heart health, longevity, and several other benefits. They are also a significant source of calcium, posing as a valuable alternative for those with a milk allergy, are lactose intolerant, or simply trying to reduce dairy intake.
8. Milk: Bone-strengthening milk and dairy products contain the natural-occurring sugar known as lactose. But beyond lactose and calcium content, milk is also an excellent source of protein and a natural, convenient option following a workout.
9. Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is packed with protein and probiotics, living bacteria beneficial to digestive and overall health. To ensure the benefits of Greek yogurt, be sure to choose a product absent of added sugars. Take advantage of the versatility of a plain Greek yogurt by mixing into smoothies, adding fresh fruit, topping onto oatmeal, substituting for sour cream or mayonnaise, and blending with soups.
10. Cottage Cheese: Being a dairy product, cottage cheese is naturally rich in protein and calcium. The adaptability of cottage cheese is comparable to Greek yogurt, standing alone as a notorious snack or paired with fresh fruit, added into pastas for creaminess, or mixed into smoothies to accelerate protein content.
11. Apples: Apples offer both soluble and insoluble fibers that promote heart and digestive health. For a complete well-balanced snack, dip apple slices in protein-packed Greek yogurt and peanut butter.
12. Bananas: Bananas are known for their notorious potassium content, contributing to heart health and lowered risks of high blood pressure and stroke. The high fiber content is further associated with heart health along with managing diabetes and weight.
13. Berries: Naturally sweetened berries are far from delicate when it comes to health, as they are antioxidant powerhouses. Though all berries provide fiber, raspberries provide the most and offer 8 grams per one cup!
14. Tomatoes: No matter how you say tomato, this red or green berry-type fruit is packed with antioxidants. Lycopene, the bright red pigment providing tomatoes its color, may be protective against cancer, heart disease, and inflammation.
15. Watermelon: Like tomatoes, watermelon also contains promising levels of lycopene. Since watermelon is about 92 percent water, its name is an appropriate fit. The high water content is a sufficient way to keep hydrated and quench thirst on warm days.
16. Bell Peppers: Whether green, red, yellow, or orange, the bold colors of bell peppers offer more than visual appeal, but powerful nutrients to the body. They are extremely versatile and can be snacked on in their raw form or cooked into main meals or side dishes.
17. Broccoli: Broccoli is a type of cruciferous veggie packed with fiber and nutrients, including the phytochemicals known as indoles and isothiocyanates. The properties of these plant compounds have shown to protect against cancer.
18. Carrots: Carrots are popularly known for their high vitamin A content, promoting good vision. But they also offer fiber, antioxidants, and additional vitamins and minerals. Pack carrot sticks as a snack or throw chopped carrots into salads, casseroles, or soups.
19. Cauliflower: Though it is said to limit foods absent of color, there is always an exception to the rule. Cauliflower, though lacking a vibrant color, is not deficient in essential nutrients. It is an excellent source vitamins C, K, and B6 as well as folate and pantothenic acid.
20. Spinach: Spinach and other green, leafy veggies are low in calories while offering extensive amount of nutrients, including fiber, iron, calcium, folate, and vitamin C. Spinach is also extremely versatile and can be mixed into a salad, sautéed with garlic and olive oil, and blended and hidden in smoothies and sauces.
21. Pumpkin: That fall time favorite is packed with vitamins A and C along with generous amounts of fiber. Add to oatmeal, smoothies, and baked goods. Also, don't forget about the pumpkin seeds, as they are also packed with fiber and nutrients.
22. Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are undoubtedly top the complex carbs list, though they are packed with vitamin A and supply 300 percent daily needs! Sweet potatoes are also significant sources of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese with a heaping amount of fiber.
23. Spaghetti Squash: Swap out a heavy bowl of white pasta noodles with the flesh of spaghetti squash. Unlike white pasta noodles, spaghetti squash is low in carb while offering an extensive amount of nutrients. But like any pasta, toss in olive oil, pesto sauce, fresh tomato sauce, or these other guilt-free ways to eat spaghetti squash.
Though the carbohydrates indicated above are an excellent start, there are certainly more nutritious options to include in a balanced diet. So in addition to taking the healthy carb list, these tips can help you navigate the grocery store healthily:
• Choose Colorful Foods: In the absence of a nutrition label, good and low-carb options are commonly vibrant to the eyes and packed with nutrients.
• Don’t Go Hungry: Going to the store hungry can lead to impulse buys and a fuller cart of items you did not necessarily intend to purchase. If grocery shopping leading up to mealtime, choose a nutritious option to snack on in between, including Greek yogurt, a piece of fruit, or a cheese stick.
• Shop the Store’s Perimeter: The perimeter tends to house colorful produce, meats, milk and dairy products, and other fresh products.
• Take Advantage of Labels: Whereas the perimeter provides wholesome food products, the aisles can also offer nutritious items. But take advantage of the ingredient label and stay weary of added sugar, sodium, and oils. As a general rule of thumb, stick to products with less than five ingredients.
• Consider the Self-Checkout: Use a self-checkout if offered, as most common checkout and register lines are loaded with temptations for impulse buys even in the absence of hunger. Utilizing a self-checkout can reduce the urge to grab candy, chips, and other convenience snacks.