A recent study showed that eating a low-carb diet could help people lose more weight and cut heart risks better than a low-fat diet. But before you completely swear them off, keep in mind that we couldn’t survive without carbohydrates.
They’re essential fuel for our bodies — and brains — especially when participating in any kind of physical activity. But our bodies also need carbs to regulate mood and to keep our intestines moving. Plus, keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal. In fact, even on food labels, you’ll see the total number of carbohydrates in a packaged food is broken down into different types, usually sugars and fiber.
Fiber’s the good stuff: Often stripped from processed grains like white bread and white rice, it can help keep you full, lower cholesterol, prevent heart attacks and much, much more. Without fiber, refined grains lead to blood sugar swings that keep us craving more food. Whole, fiber-rich grains don’t.
You’ll want to watch out for sugar, but particularly added sugar. Fruits, some vegetables and even dairy products will contain some natural sugar, which is included in a food’s total grams of sugar. To get a sense of how much added sugar is in a food, scan the ingredients labels, and stay away from anything with white sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate or other names for added sugar among the first few ingredients.
Now more than ever, whole-grain versions of your favorite packaged foods exist on just about every grocery store shelf. But there are also some overlooked sources of carbs in their whole and natural states that you can easily add to your diet stat. Here are eight of our favorites.
Kidney, pinto, black, garbanzo — just about any type of bean provides a hearty dose of fiber and little sugar. An ounce of black beans, for example, contains 7 total grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber.
Of course, beans have the additional benefit of providing protein, and one study found that bean eaters weighed less (but ate more!) than people who avoided beans, WebMD reported.
Squash, like butternut here, is another low-sugar, high-fiber source of carbs. A cup of cooked butternut cubes contains nearly 22 grams of carbohydrates, more than 6 of which are fiber.
The bright hue of butternut and other squashes signifies the presence of carotenoids, a type of disease-fighting antioxidant.
The particular type of fiber in oats has been linked to improved heart health and weight management, as well as lower cholesterol. Just don’t overdo it on the sugar-sweetened toppings!
In some of the greatest news: Popcorn is a whole grain. Stick to the air-popped variety so you don’t overdo it on fat and sodium — one cup has 6 grams of carbs, 1 of which is fiber, and has only 31 calories.
5. Quinoa with Chickpeas, Curry, and Lime
Not only does one cup contain 5 grams of fiber, but quinoa is also a complete protein. That means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food.
6. Sweet Potatoes
Any potato (with the skin on!) is a great source of fiber-rich carbs, but sweet potatoes are loaded with those same colorful carotenoids as squash. Sweet taters boast some vitamin C, protein and potassium, to boot.
“Nature’s power bar” rivals sports drinks when it comes to providing athletes with energy (i.e. carbs) thanks to those natural sugars. But a medium banana also contains 3 grams of fiber and a hearty dose of vitamin B6, crucial for more than 100 different functions in the body.
Just about any variety will deliver some fiber and a whole host of vitamins and antioxidants. Blueberries are one of our favorite picks, since an entire cup will only set you back 84 calories. Plus, eating just one serving of the tiny superfruit a week has been linked with warding off cognitive decline as we age.