24 Best Healthy Carbs To Eat For Weight Loss

Imagine this: you can lose weight, get healthier and stronger, and feel better—all while still eating carbs. Yes, it’s true. You absolutely can slim down by eating carbs, but that’s only if you eat the right healthy carbs.

What makes carbs the healthiest carbs?

There are three main groups of carbs:

  • Simple carbohydrates are basically sugars. You’ll find these naturally in fruits and vegetables but also in refined grains and processed foods through “added sugar.” Because they are simple and refined, simple carbs burn up fast, spiking your blood sugar and causing it to crash. This can leave you with a craving for more carbs and can also lead to weight gain long term.
  • Complex carbohydrates are made up of long chains of sugar molecules. These carbohydrates keep you full for longer because they take more time for your body to digest and break down for energy.
  • Dietary fiber is a long chain of sugar molecules, just like complex carbs, but it’s indigestible—meaning, your body can’t break it down to use for energy. Instead, dietary fiber helps provide bulk to keep your digestion system running as well as help you to feel full. You’ll often find fiber in the same foods that contain complex carbs.

Healthy carbs—complex carbs and dietary fiber—will take longer for your body to break down compared to simple carbs. This means you’ll spend more energy to burn these than simple sugars, which results in weight loss rather than weight gain.

The best healthy carbs for weight loss.

We put together this list of complex carbohydrates that are high in dietary fiber and low in simple sugars. Add these essential Eat This, Not That! healthiest carbs into your daily diet and stay fueled and fat-burning all day long—without sacrifice.

1

Barley

It’s not only good for your health, but also a killer appetite suppressant that can help keep your six-pack diet on track all day. “Barley contains a whopping 6 grams of belly-filling, mostly soluble fiber that has been linked to lowered cholesterol, decreased blood sugars and increased satiety,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN. It also has tons of health benefits like decreased inflammation and stabilized blood sugar levels. And: you’ll immediately feel lighter. Barley acts as a bulking agent, which can help push waste through the digestive tract.

2

Whole-Wheat Pasta

You know brown is better, but do you know why? It’s because whole wheat contains three parts of the grain, all nutrient rich and fiber-filling. Besides for whole-grain pasta, try varieties with lentils, chickpeas, black beans or quinoa.

3

Acorn Squash

Besides serving up a third of the day’s fiber, a one-cup serving of this highly nutritious, naturally sweet veggie contains 30 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. The body uses the nutrient to form muscle and blood vessels, and it can even boost the fat-burning effects of exercise, according to Arizona State University researchers.

4

Legumes

Lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans — they’re all magic bullets for belly-fat loss. In one four-week Free Radical Research study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that includes four weekly servings of legumes aids weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet that doesn’t include them. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. To reap the benefits at home, work them into your diet throughout the week. Salad is an easy way.

5

Whole-Wheat Bread

If you’re going for abs, you’re already sending the restaurant bread basket back. But don’t shirk from whole-wheat bread completely. As with whole-wheat pasta, you’re getting all three parts of the grain, with fiber to increase satiety and prevent overeating. Just be careful—most breads in the sandwich aisle are filled with high fructose corn syrup or a blend of whole and enriched wheats. It’s worth splurging on the pricier stuff, often found in the freezer section.

6

Black Beans

The simple bean is actually an advanced fat-burning, muscle-building machine. “Beans are a great source of protein that includes fiber,” says Leah Kaufman, a New York City based registered dietitian. “That’s going to ensure your blood sugar doesn’t spike and will give you energy to build the muscle you want.” One cup of black beans has 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber; they’re also rich in folate, a B vitamin that stokes muscle growth, and copper, which strengthens tendons. On top of that, the Free Radical Research study showed that consuming four weekly servings of beans or legumes accelerates weight loss.

7

Oatmeal

Yes, oats are loaded with complex carbs, but the release of those sugars is slowed by fiber, and because oats also have 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving, they deliver steady, ab-muscle-friendly energy. And that fiber is soluble, which lowers the risk of heart disease. The éminence grise of health food, oats garnered the FDA’s first seal of approval.

8

Quinoa

Quinoa is higher in protein than any other grain, and it packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy, unsaturated fats. “Quinoa is also a great source of fiber and B vitamins,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. a professor of nutrition at the University of Louisville. Try quinoa in the morning. It has twice the protein of most cereals, and fewer carbs.

9

Kamut

Now quinoa, make some space at the table—there’s a new ancient grain on the block. Kamut is a grain native to the Middle East. Rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it’s also high in protein while low in calories. A half-cup serving has 30% more protein than regular wheat (six grams), with only 140 calories. Eating kamut reduces cholesterol, blood sugar and cytokines, which cause inflammation throughout the body, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found. Toss it into salads or eat it as a side dish on its own.

10

Chocolate Milk

Want to know the secret to staying slim? You need more muscle. That’s because muscle burns more calories than fat, so for every new muscle fiber you create, your resting metabolism receives another surge of fat-torching energy. And chocolate milk can help you do that with an optimal mix of good carbs and protein. Researchers have determined that the ideal protein load for building muscle is 10 to 20 grams, half before and half after your workout. How much protein will you find in low-fat chocolate milk? Eight grams per cup. (That means one serving before your workout and one serving after will give you a total of 16 grams of highly effective whey protein—a perfect serving.) Add that to the extra cup you drank first thing in the morning and you’re looking at a turbocharged metabolism that keeps you burning calories all day long.

11

Bananas

A bloated belly can make even the most toned stomach look a bit paunchy. Fight back against the gas and water retention with bananas. One Anaerobe journal study found that women who ate a banana twice daily as a pre-meal snack for 60 days reduced their belly-bloat by 50 percent! Not only does the fruit increase bloat-fighting bacteria in the stomach, it’s also a good source of potassium, which can help diminish water retention. Bananas are rich in glucose, a highly digestible sugar, which provides quick energy, and their high potassium content helps prevent muscle cramping during your workout. Each medium banana contains about 36 grams of good carbs: Their low glycemic index means carbs are slowly released into your body, preventing sugar crashes and spurring the process of muscle recovery.

12

Cherries

Cherries are a delicious, phytonutrient-rich snack. But the true cherry bomb is the tart cherry—not the sort you’re used to seeing each summer in bunches at the supermarket. In most of the country you’ll find them dried, frozen, or canned. But they’re worth seeking out because they are a true superpower fruit. A study at the University of Michigan found that rats fed tart cherries showed a 9 percent belly fat reduction over rats fed a standard diet. Moreover, researchers noted that the cherries alter the expression of fat genes!

13

Apples

Apples are one of the very best sources of fiber, which means you should eat them at every opportunity. A recent study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, belly fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years. And a study at the University of Western Australia found that the Pink Lady variety had the highest level of antioxidant flavonoids — a fat-burning compound — of any apple.

14

Sweet Potatoes

The king of slow carbs (meaning they’re digested slowly and keep you feeling fuller and energized longer), sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, nutrients and can help you burn fat. The magic ingredient here are carotenoids, antioxidants which stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. And their high vitamin profile (including A, C and B6) give you more energy to burn at the gym.

15

Broccoli

In addition to warding off prostate, breast, lung and skin cancers, this flowery vegetable can also help you whittle your middle. According to experts, broccoli contains a phytonutrient called sulforaphane that increase testosterone and fights off body fat storage. It’s also rich in vitamin C ( a mere cup of the stuff can help you hit your daily mark), a nutrient that can lower levels of cortisol during stressful situations, helping your abs take center stage. Its cousins in the cruciferous-vegetable family are also excellent carbs for your abs: Chinese cabbage, kale, cauliflower, arugula and more.

16

Blueberries

A cup of blueberries has 21 grams of carbs, but they couldn’t be healthier for you. Not only are these healthy carbs loaded with polyphenols—chemical compounds that prevent fat from forming—they actively burn belly fat, spot-reducing it! A University of Michigan study found that rats that ate blueberry powder as part of their meals lost belly fat and had lower cholesterol, even when they ate a high-fat diet. It’s theorized that the catechins in blueberries activate the fat-burning gene in belly-fat cells. Additionally, blueberries may be muscle builders. Their skins are rich in ursolic acid, a chemical which researchers at the University of Iowa found prevents muscle breakdown in lab animals.

17

Buckwheat

Like quinoa, buckwheat is gluten-free and a complete source of protein, meaning it supplies all nine essential muscle-building amino acids the body cannot produce on its own, says registered dietitian Isabel Smith. But what makes this relative of the rhubarb such a nutritional rock star is its magnesium and fiber content. “Fiber slows digestion, which wards off blood sugar spikes and hunger and helps maintain blood sugar control—all important keys to weight loss and management,” explains Smith. Studies have also shown that buckwheat may improve circulation and lower cholesterol.

18

Sprouted Bread

This nutrient-dense bread is loaded with folate-filled lentils and good-for-you sprouted grains and seeds like barley and millet. Like quinoa, sprouted bread has been shown to increase the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals. It has this effect on important nutrients like vitamin C, a nutrient that counteracts stress hormones that trigger abdominal fat storage, essential amino acids that aid muscle growth and belly-filling fiber. Translation: Abs for you.

19

Cold Potato Salad

If you typically eat your potatoes warm out of the oven, you’re missing out on the spud’s belly-fat-fighting superpowers. When you throw potatoes in the refrigerator and eat them cold, their digestible starches turn into resistant starches through a process called retrogradation. As the name implies, resistant starch, well, resists digestion, which promotes fat oxidation and reduces abdominal fat. Since eating cold baked potatoes doesn’t sound too appetizing, use the cooled spuds to make a potato salad instead.

20

Teff

This mild, nutty whole grain is a complete protein that’s rich in vitamins and fiber, just like quinoa, says Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, a Pennsylvania-based corporate dietitian. What makes it nutritionally superior is its calcium and ab-building iron content. “Teff provides nearly four times as much calcium and two times as much iron as quinoa,” says Miller. Don’t underestimate these nutrients; their impact on your body is bigger than you would expect. “Diets rich in calcium have been associated with lower body weight and reduced weight gain over time. Calcium also helps keep our bones and teeth strong and may reduce the risk of colon cancer,” she explains. Teff can be cooked and added to vegetables, salads, soups, and casseroles, or you can enjoy a bowl of it for breakfast.

21

Amaranth

Quinoa and amaranth are the ab-carving Wonder Twins of grains. Both are gluten-free sources of complete proteins and have nearly the same amount of fiber and protein. But amaranth has superpowers of its own: It has more anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats than quinoa, four times the calcium (an electrolyte that promotes satiety) and 20 percent more magnesium, a nutrient that may aid weight loss thanks to its ability to control blood sugar and ward off hunger,” says registered dietitian Isabel Smith. Amaranth makes a perfect substitute for your morning oatmeal. Alternatively, it can be used like quinoa in salads and side dishes.

22

Spinach

It looks unassuming, but Popeye’s favorite veggie can help take your calorie-burning potential to the next level. The green is overflowing with protein (just one cup of the steamed variety has as much protein as a medium hard-boiled egg), a nutrient that aids post-pump muscle recovery and growth. And remember: The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest! What’s more, the leafy green is also rich in thylakoids, a compound that’s been shown to significantly reduce cravings and promote weight loss.

23

Wheat Bran

Packed with bloat-banishing fiber, low in calories, high in muscle-building protein, wheat bran is definitely a nutritional champion. Made from the dense, outer hull of wheat grains, it adds a sweet, nutty flavor to homemade muffins, waffles, pancakes and breads. It also makes a good addition to hot and cold cereals. If you’re really trying to boost your dietary fiber, consume it solo, porridge-style, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.

24

Triticale

This wheat-rye hybrid is one of the most underrated healthy carbs. An able stand-in for rice or quinoa, triticale packs twice as much protein as an egg in one 1/2 cup serving! It’s also rich in brain-boosting iron, muscle-mending potassium and magnesium, and heart-healthy fiber. Use triticale in place of rice and mix it with soy sauce, fresh ginger, cloves, shiitake mushrooms and edamame to make a healthy, Asian-inspired dish. You can also use triticale flour in place of traditional flour in your baking.

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The Best Carbs for Weight Loss

Carbs are public enemy No. 1 for many women on a diet. As much as we love pasta, bread, and every sweet you can think of, too many of us have been brainwashed into thinking carbs will make us fat.

Newsflash: They won’t.

You need carbs for energy, and of course deprivation will only end in you diving face-first into a gallon of moose tracks-and that certainly won’t help you lose weight. What will is eating the right carbs, says Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., one half of the Nutrition Twins with her sister Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D. She recommends consuming nutrient-dense carbs with at least two to three grams of fiber per 100 calories since your body breaks down fiber more slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer .

No need to read every nutrition panel, though. Incorporate these nine tasty foods into your meals, and you’ll flatten your stomach and stay fueled all day.

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1/2 cup cooked pearl barley: 97 calories, 22g carbs, 3g fiber

Swedish research suggests barley can fight hunger by raising blood sugar levels more slowly than, say, a donut, helping you bypass the sugar spike-and crash-that leaves you famished. Pearled barley is popular, but barley groats or whole hull-less barley contain even more healthy nutrients, including 20 to 25 percent of your daily fiber in just one serving.

Green Peas

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1/2 cup cooked: 67 calories, 12.5g carbs, 4.5g fiber

A half-cup of peas provides 12 percent of your recommended daily intake of zinc. More known for its cold-fighting powers, this mineral may also help reduce hunger by boosting levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts your brain when your stomach has had enough.

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2 ounces dry: 198 calories, 43g carbs, 5g fiber

A British study showed that a higher intake of whole grains- around three servings daily-was associated with a lower BMI and less abdominal fat, supporting other research that links a diet high in whole grains with tinier waists. It’s key, however, to keep noodle portions between 100 and 200 calories (about 1/2 to 1 cup cooked), says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet, adding that nutrient-rich carbohydrates are part of a balanced meal, not the entire meal.

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1 cup cubed and baked: 115 calories, 30g carbs, 9g fiber

When it comes to winter squash, acorn squash just about knocks out the others for the “most fiber” award. Only hubbard has 1 more gram per cup-and good luck finding that in most supermarkets.

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2 slices Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread: 160 calories, 30g carbs, 8g fiber

You don’t have to bid adieu to sandwiches, French toast, and stuffing to whittle down-as long as you read bread labels since packages touting “whole grain” or “whole wheat” may only be 51 percent whole grains. Only buy loaves with “100 percent whole wheat” on the package, Lakatos says, and with 80 to 90 calories, at least 2 grams of fiber, and less than 1 gram of sugars per slice.

Beans

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1/2 cup canned low-sodium black beans: 109 calories, 20g carbs, 8g fiber

Bean eaters have a 23 percent lower risk of an expanding waistline and a 22 percent reduced risk of being obese, says research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. While each type of bean has slightly different amounts of fiber, all good choices since they also pack protein and iron. Just remember to rinse any canned beans to reduce the sodium content, Lakatos Shames says.

Air-Popped Popcorn

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3 cups air-popped popcorn: 93 calories, 19g carbs, 3.5g fiber

When you’re craving a salty snack, reach for popcorn instead of chips. According to a study in Nutrition Journal, popcorn not only provides more short-term satiety compared to the fried taters, it also reduces feelings of hunger for those looking to manage body weight and watch their calories. Plus you can nosh 3 cups of air-popped kernels-which counts as a serving of whole grains-for the same amount of calories you’d get from about 9 plain potato chips.

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1/2 cup dry: 153 calories, 27g carbs, 4g fiber

Half of the fiber in oatmeal is soluble fiber, the kind that dissolves into a gel-like substance that delays stomach emptying, upping the satiety factor. Plus a study in the journal Obesity found that adding more soluble fiber to your diet may help reduce visceral fat, the deep belly kind that surrounds vital organs and has been associated with metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

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1/2 cup cooked: 111 calories, 20g carbs, 2.5g fiber

A complete protein, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids-which your body needs to build lean, calorie-burning muscle-sans the saturated fats often found in animal protein. The four grams per half-cup serving may also help your lunch or dinner stay with you longer.

  • By Vanessa Voltolina

Just as we’ve been hearing more and more about good and bad fats, diet gurus are starting to talk more about good and bad carbohydrates. And word is getting around.

On her television show, Oprah Winfrey claimed to have lost weight by switching from bad carbs to good. Likewise, many diet programs, such as Body-for-Life, tout the health benefits of good carbs. But are there really such things as good and bad carbohydrates?

“Some carbs are better than others, but it’s not really a question of one carb being ‘good’ and one being ‘bad,'” says Jack Alhadeff, PhD, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

“If you’re eating to get energy for physical activity right away, simple carbs — pasta, white bread, processed cereals, and the like — work well. If someone is heavy or wants to manage weight, it is smart to chose high-fiber carbohydrates.”

Why? Because all carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, or glucose, which is the body’s fuel. Carbohydrates with little fiber break down quickly. Those foods with carbohydrates trapped in fiber take longer to break down. The rate at which this happens can be represented on what nutritionists call the glycemic index.

Foods high on the glycemic index turn to glucose fast. But that speed can cause a spike in levels of the hormone insulin, which the body needs to process glucose into physical energy. Foods low on the index — sweet potatoes, brown rice, leafy greens, fat-free milk — break down slowly and result in lower insulin levels.

“Unless you’re a diabetic, glycemic index may not be all that important,” says Alhadeff, who adds that since most of us eat a variety of foods in a meal, the accuracy of the index can be questionable.

But what about the notion that glucose from high-index foods is more likely to be stored as fat?

“The scientific literature is very clear that eating carbohydrates that are embedded in plant cellulose — complex carbohydrates — is always better,” says Nagi Kumar, PhD, director of clinical nutrition at the Moffitt Cancer Center and professor of human nutrition at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “But the reasons it is better are not because it somehow lessens or alters fat storage.”

If You Want to Lose Weight, You Have to Start Eating!

One of the most common comments or concerns of those starting to count macros or flexible dieting is about the amount of calories or macros they are expected to eat.

Here’s one such comment:

I’m 24, 175 cm (5″10), 224 lbs. I am fairly active (I workout 4-5 times a week) and your calculator puts me at 2033 calories a day, 154c, 227p, and 56f. I just think 2033 calories is fairly excessive and I’ve been on diets all my life and have never passed the 1300 calorie range as I am considered overweight.

It can seem really strange to eat so many calories when you’ve been told all your life that the only way to lose weight is to follow a low-calorie diet.

But, for many, eating more is actually the key to losing more. Here’s why.

Why You Must Eat More to Lose More

In the above example, this woman was accustomed to eating 1300 calories. She would probably burn about 400 calories at the gym, which would only leave her 900 calories to fuel her bodily processes and general movement on exercise days.

According to our calculator, her sedentary calories are 2218 just to maintain her current weight. Therefore on exercise days, she is putting her body in a 1318 calorie deficit.

Our basic understanding of weight loss principles would say, “wow, she should be at her target weight in no time!” but, the body doesn’t quite work that way, unfortunately.

Your body is a very complex machine and its goal is survival, even at the cellular level.

So what’s the body to do when it needs 2218 calories, but you are only giving it 900?

Starvation Mode

A few days of drastic calorie deficit are fine and cause no changes, but for those that consistently eat at dangerously low calorie amounts the body switches into a conservation state or what some people call starvation mode.1

Our bodies are very clever and we still don’t yet fully understand all of the ways it can survive when placed in stressful situations.

This explains why some people who have been stranded at sea can survive for months on practically nothing. The body begins to slow down the metabolism in an effort to maintain homeostasis in light of a drastic calorie deficit.

A similar thing happens for extreme dieters. The body slows things down, slows the burning of fat, and actually begins to breakdown muscle tissue for energy especially if the dieter is also engaged in weight training.

Muscle Catabolism

Muscle Catabolism is simply when your muscles are broken down by the body and used as fuel for other parts of your body.

Drastic calorie deficits can cause this as well as not eating enough protein. Your body can break down one muscle group to build and repair the group you just worked out and then vice-versa later in the week when you work out the other muscle group.

One study showed that instead of fat loss occurring and then muscle loss during starvation, they both can happen in parallel to each other.2,3

To prevent this from happening a dieter must eat enough calories and enough protein to prevent this from occurring.4 Dieters want extra energy to come from their fat reserves, not their muscles or they’re defeating the purpose.

The Solution is To Eat!

Unless a dieter is morbidly obese and under the direct care of a physician, he/she should never have a calorie deficit of more than 400-500 calories or 20% less than their TDEE calories with the calories burned during exercise factored in.5

For those that are already pretty lean, but just have 5 pounds to lose, calorie deficits can be even smaller.

So, make sure you are eating enough to support your bodily processes and the growth and activity of your muscles, but not too much that your body won’t burn a small amount of its fat reserves each day to make up for the slight deficit you are in.

It can be really challenging for some dieters to eat more, especially if they have been doing low-calorie diets for a large portion of their lives. It can also be challenging for people to eat the amount of carbs recommended with flexible dieting especially for those that have had “carbs are bad” drilled into their heads for so long.

It’s time to start eating again and come into a better relationship with food. Slow and steady weight loss is the goal with flexible dieting and this, unlike other diets, is sustainable over the long-term because you are able to eat and not feel deprived.

Here’s a comment from someone who started to eat again.

Thank You so much! I’ve been on it for a week. I meet my macros, but having a hard time getting all the calories in, I’m not eating under 1300 anymore but always end up around 1500 at most – it’s not much difference but my body feels great; I recover much better and I am eating more carbs than before but not yet the 205 recommended. I’m still at 60% this week but next week I’ll amp up to a 70%, my body has already started to change.

Manage Expectations

I also want to express the importance of managing expectations when doing the flexible diet or any diet.

There are many different body types and most people may never be able to achieve the body that has been Photoshopped on the cover of our fashion or fitness magazines.

For women, nature is actually working against the quest for a low body fat percentage. A woman’s hormones are constantly preparing the woman’s body for childbearing and this means a healthy layer of body fat.6 Just look at the body fat percentage differences among men and women.

So, focus on getting healthier by eating nutritious food, eating enough food, and being more physically fit because usually only those that get paid to look like ultra-ripped athletes actually have the time and resources it takes to look that way.

In closing, I can’t express the importance of working to change your low calorie and low carb mindset and begin eating again. If you want to break free from a slow metabolism and break the weight loss plateau then you have to give your body enough fuel to leave the launch pad.

You’ll Love My Macro Solution Program

Step-by-step ebooks, or fully customized personal macros coaching. Now with complete vegan edition.

Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, a Certified Fitness Trainer, and is Healthy Eater’s author and nutitional coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see his personal macros coaching options. Last Updated: November 5, 2019

If nutrition is so important for weight loss, the more help you get, the better you’ll do. Try these tips:

  • Keep a food journal. It’s hard to know how much you’re eating unless you’re keeping track of what you put into your mouth. Write down what you eat — and be truthful.
  • Choose whole foods over processed foods. Whole foods tend to be healthier.
  • Load up your plate with plants. At least half your plate should be non-starchy vegetables. The more you eat, the better you’ll do. It’s pretty hard to fit in too many vegetables.
  • Plan ahead. Make a meal plan. Prepare foods and snacks ahead of time. Bring food with you when you’re commuting or traveling so you won’t end up in the drive-through.
  • Skip fad diets in favor of long-term success and health. Choose a healthy lifestyle you can maintain long-term. It might take a little longer to see the kind of success you want, but your success will be lasting.
  • Get help from a registered dietitian. A dietitian is a provider who can work with you to plan meals, get ideas for healthy eating habits, and provide accountability to help you stay on track. Many insurance plans now cover some appointments with a registered dietitian. Check with your insurance provider for details.

Good carbs are a fundamental part of the Pritikin Program of diet and exercise. The program has been documented in more than 100 peer-reviewed studies over the past three decades to reap multiple health benefits, including lowering of LDL (bad) cholesterol, normalizing of blood pressure, reducing blood sugar, and eliminating the need for major surgeries like coronary bypass surgery.

By following the 3 key traits of good carbs and making them the foundation of your daily diet, “you’ll naturally shed excess weight. You’ll also give yourself optimal protection again chronic conditions like heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure,” says Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

Good carbs look as if they actually came out of the ground.
What Are Good Carbs? | #1

If you can pick a food from a garden, it is a good carbohydrate. For example, you can pick an apple, but you cannot pick apple juice.

You can find brown rice in a garden, but not rice crackers.

Whole foods like potatoes are good carbs. But if they’re processed, stripped of their water and fiber, and deep fried, they’re bad carbs, no doubt about it.

The one exception to this rule is whole-wheat pasta. Even though whole-wheat pasta is a processed food that cannot be found in a garden, it contains fiber, and it also absorbs water when cooked. So it contains the other 2 key characteristics of a good carb. (Keep reading.)

When you eat foods that came from the soil, you’re generally eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Whole foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and other nutrients.

In fact, scientists now estimate there are more than 8,000 bioactive compounds in fruits and vegetables. And they are only now starting to understand how these compounds benefit us, both individually and in concert with each other.

Good carbs are naturally rich in fiber.
What Are Good Carbs? | #2

The word “naturally” is italicized because nowadays there are many foods on supermarket shelves that sound healthy, like “high-fiber” cereals and “high-fiber” energy bars. But what’s in many of these foods is not naturally occurring fiber. Through processing, any natural fiber has often been stripped out, and manufacturers have injected these foods with supplemental fiber.

Good carbs, like those served at the Pritikin Center, are naturally rich in both fiber and water.

The problem is: We don’t know if supplemental, or isolated, fiber has health benefits because the research we have on the health benefits of fiber-filled foods is based on foods naturally rich in fiber, not foods that have had fibers added to them.

Foods naturally brimming with fiber include:

  • Whole Fruits
  • Whole Vegetables
  • Legumes (beans such as pinto beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans)
  • Starchy Vegetables like potatoes, yams, and corn
  • Cooked Whole Grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, spelt, bulgar, and quinoa

Foods high in naturally occurring fiber, like all the above, help reduce blood sugar and LDL cholesterol. They also help you fill up on fewer calories, so it’s easier to shed excess weight. You’re getting up from the table feeling full rather than hankering for more. A high-fiber diet also helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and certain cancers.

Avoiding diabetes

In research on nearly 27,000 Europeans tracked for 11 years, those with the highest amount of fiber in their diet (26-plus grams a day) were nearly 20% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest fiber intake (fewer than 19 grams a day).

The one thing that spurred weight loss and better health

And in another study on 240 U.S. men and women with a pre-diabetic condition called metabolic syndrome, researchers found that changing just one thing, the amount of fiber in their diet, helped the subjects lose weight and get significantly healthier.

They were directed to simply eat more whole foods naturally rich in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with the goal of reaching 30 grams of naturally-occurring fiber daily. That’s it. There was no calorie counting. No portion control. No pills or other diet aids. Nothing.

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After one year, these high-fiber eaters not only lost weight, they lowered their cholesterol levels, blood sugar, blood pressure, and levels of inflammation.

“A simplified approach to weight reduction emphasizing only increased fiber intake may be a reasonable alternative for persons with difficulty adhering to more complicated diet regimens,” summed up the authors, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Fiber goals

Americans average just 12 to 15 grams of fiber a day. Nutrition experts say we ought to be getting 35 to 50 fiber grams daily.

To get an estimate of how much naturally-occurring fiber you’re eating, use the following simple guidelines:

Good carbs are naturally rich in water.
What Are Good Carbs? | #3

Carbohydrates that are naturally rich in both fiber and water tend to be foods that have a low calorie density, “which is very good for your weight-loss goals,” advises Pritikin nutritionist Kimberly Gomer.

Fresh fruit (very rich in water) is a good carb. It averages only 300 calories for every pound eaten. Dried fruit, by contrast, adds up to a waist-expanding 1,300 calories for every pound consumed.

Low-calorie-dense foods are large in size but low in calories, meaning, they take up a lot of space on your plate (and in your stomach), but what you’re eating is not packed with calories. The fiber and water displace the calories.

So you’re eating foods that are filling, but not fattening.

Here’s a good example. Fresh fruit (very rich in water) averages only 300 calories for every pound eaten. Dried fruit (which has very little water) adds up to a waist-expanding 1,300 calories for every pound consumed.

Pasta, full of water, has 500 calories for every pound eaten. Bread (a dry food) packs in 1,250 calories per pound.

Oatmeal (like pasta, it’s cooked in water) has 300 calories per pound. Dry cereal has a whopping 1,700 calories for every pound eaten.

Quite often, water-rich foods are also rich in fiber and low in fat.

What Are Good Carbs? | Bottom Line

When the bulk of your diet is good carbs like fruits, vegetables, beans, starchy vegetables, and cooked whole grains, it’s virtually impossible to eat too many calories.

But you are getting a wealth of health-enhancing nutrients – vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and, yes, plenty of good naturally-occurring fiber.

For long-lasting weight control and good health, fill your day with good carbs.

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Carbohydrates: quality matters

What’s most important is the type of carbohydrate you choose to eat because some sources are healthier than others. The amount of carbohydrate in the diet – high or low – is less important than the type of carbohydrate in the diet. For example, healthy, whole grains such as whole wheat bread, rye, barley and quinoa are better choices than highly refined white bread or French fries. (1)

Many people are confused about carbohydrates, but keep in mind that it’s more important to eat carbohydrates from healthy foods than to follow a strict diet limiting or counting the number of grams of carbohydrates consumed.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of both healthy and unhealthy foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.

Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. But carbohydrate quality is important; some types of carbohydrate-rich foods are better than others:

  • The healthiest sources of carbohydrates—unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans—promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.
  • Unhealthier sources of carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, sodas, and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.

The Healthy Eating Plate recommends filling most of your plate with healthy carbohydrates – with vegetables (except potatoes) and fruits taking up about half of your plate, and whole grains filling up about one fourth of your plate.

Try these tips for adding healthy carbohydrates to your diet:

1. Start the day with whole grains.
Try a hot cereal, like steel cut or old fashioned oats (not instant oatmeal), or a cold cereal that lists a whole grain first on the ingredient list and is low in sugar. A good rule of thumb: Choose a cereal that has at least 4 grams of fiber and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving.

2. Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks.
Confused about how to find a whole-grain bread? Look for bread that lists as the first ingredient whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain —and even better, one that is made with only whole grains, such as 100 percent whole wheat bread.

3. Also look beyond the bread aisle.
Whole wheat bread is often made with finely ground flour, and bread products are often high in sodium. Instead of bread, try a whole grain in salad form such as brown rice or quinoa.

4. Choose whole fruit instead of juice.
An orange has two times as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12-ounce glass of orange juice.

5. Pass on potatoes, and instead bring on the beans.
Rather than fill up on potatoes – which have been found to promote weight gain – choose beans for an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates. Beans and other legumes such as chickpeas also provide a healthy dose of protein.

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Carbs and weight loss

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