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16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer with more than 10 years of experience as a nutritionist. Her work is featured in the Huffington Post, DAME Magazine, The Good Men Project and more. She specializes in eating disorders and loves connecting with readers and writers via her blog and social media.

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16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs
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If boosted energy, mental sharpness, workout efficiency and/or weight control make your wellness wish list, adding healthful carbohydrates to your diet (in moderation) could help you achieve these goals. These nutritious carbs contain fiber and therefore take longer for your body to process because they make your system work to break them down before they can be absorbed. As a result, healthful carbs help keep your energy, blood sugar, moods and appetite levels in check between meals. About 50 to 60 percent of your total daily calories should consist of carbohydrates, according to the National Library of Medicine. Read on to see a list of 16 healthful carbs that you may want to include in your diet.

1. Whole Grain Rice (Brown, Black, or Wild Rice)
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What if I told you that lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes may be as simple as swapping out white rice for brown? In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in June 2010, researchers analyzed the diets, lifestyle habits and overall health of nearly 200,000 adults. Participants who ate 2 or more servings of brown rice per week were less likely to hold diabetes risk factors compared to white rice eaters. Unlike white rice, which is stripped of valuable nutrient content during processing, brown rice is a whole grain. As a rule, whole grains provide more nutrients, satiation and wellness benefits than refined grains. When given a choice, select brown, black or wild rice, instead of white rice or instant brown rice.

Related: White Rice, Brown Rice, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

2. Popcorn
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Eating healthfully doesn’t require you to always give up crunchy snacks, particularly if you enjoy popcorn. In a study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal in 2011, 111 adults ate their typical diets for three months, with or without 100 calories of 94 percent fat-free popcorn per day. At the study’s end, participants who ate popcorn showed significant reductions in overall dietary fat and saturated fat intake and marked increases in fiber intake. Popcorn provides a nutritious whole grain alternative to low-nutrient processed foods, such as potato chips and pretzels. So the next time you are itching for something crunchy, go ahead and grab some air popped popcorn with a dash of salt.

Related: Daily Popcorn Snack Study

3. Squash
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Squash is probably not the first food that comes to mind when you think about fiber, but eating more squash provides a simple way to amp up your fiber intake all year long, says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer. Fiber has a wide range of health benefits, from helping you maintain a healthy digestive system to aiding in the prevention of heart disease. Palmer recommends turning squash into soups, stews, casseroles and side dishes, or grilling squash, brushed with olive oil, to pair with grilled meats. One cup of cooked acorn squash provides 9 grams of fiber, which puts a dent in the recommended daily intake of 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams of fiber for men. Other varieties high in fiber are hubbard squash and summer scallop or patty pan squash.

Related: The Top Fiber-Rich Foods List

4. Quinoa
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Quinoa is a pseudo-grain, meaning that while it’s consumed as a grain, it is actually a seed with a unique nutritional profile. “Pseudo-grains like quinoa are higher in protein, offer higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals like iron and B vitamins, and are a naturally gluten-free grain alternative,” says Colleen Hurley, a registered dietitian in the California Bay Area. Gluten-free foods are important if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. A 2/3-cup serving of cooked quinoa provides about 5.5 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber. Quinoa only requires about 20 minutes of cooking time, far less than the hour-plus needed for other whole grains, and can be used in place of rice or couscous in most any dish.

Related: Quinoa: How to Pronounce It and Why You Should Eat It

5. Berries
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“Fruit not only offers nature’s finest carbohydrates complete with a good source fiber, but also thousands of potent, health protective antioxidants and phytonutrients,” says registered dietitian Colleen Hurley. Berries are particularly high in these nutrients, and have been coined “brain food.” According to a Harvard study, blueberries and strawberries help preserve brain function in women and delay memory decline by two and a half years! Enjoy berries solo or as a healthy add-in to your smoothies, whole-grain pancakes and even salads. When buying frozen berries, select varieties without added sweetener. Berries are sweet enough on their own, and excessive sugar intake can lead to undesirable weight gain and blood sugar imbalances.

Related: Berries Keep Your Brain Sharp

6. Sweet Potatoes


The orange hue of sweet potatoes brings some color to your plate. The compound that provides the starchy vegetable’s pigment also provides the antioxidant beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A may help reduce the risk for certain cancers, according to the Mayo Clinic and also may help slow the aging process. Sweet potatoes also provide rich amounts of vitamin C, which plays an important role in immune function, and valuable amounts of heart-healthy fiber. Half of a large sweet potato contains a mere 81 calories, which is markedly less than most sugary sweets. Enjoy sweet potatoes baked and topped with olive oil and spices. They also make great additions to soups, stews and curries.

Related: Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe

7. Beans
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Beans really are a magical legume, but not for the reasons you might imagine. “These tiny dynamos are good for your heart,” says registered dietitian Colleen Hurley. “The slow-digesting insoluble fiber abundant in beans can help lower cholesterol, keep blood sugars stable, and help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.” One cup of cooked white, navy or adzuki beans provides a whopping 19 grams of fiber. Lima, pinto and kidney beans each provide 16 grams of fiber per cooked cup. They’re also rich in protein and antioxidants, and extremely low in fat. If you are concerned about bloating and gassiness, try to gradually incorporate beans into an otherwise low-fiber diet. Soaking them in water overnight also helps.

Related: The Top Fiber-Rich Foods List

8. Dark, Leafy Greens
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There are more than 1,000 types of plants with edible leaves, according to “Today’s Dietitian,” but you won’t need to eat many types to reap plentiful wellness benefits. Dark, leafy greens are prime sources of beta-carotene and valuable sources of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin K and iron. Cooking greens allows you to get more fiber per serving. One cup of cooked turnip greens, mustard greens or collard greens provides 5 grams of fiber. Cooked spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard each provide 4 grams of fiber per cup. Fresh greens also make simple additions to salads, curries and casseroles. If you don’t enjoy the flavor or texture when eating dark, leafy greens, try blending them into a smoothie along with sweet fruits like berries or banana.

Related: The Top Fiber-Rich Foods List

9. Oats
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Oats will forever have a place in the health food hall of fame, as they were the first food to have a label showing and FDA health claim. In January 1997, the FDA claims on the labels said that oatmeal may reduce the risk of heart disease, when combined with a low-fat diet. Oats have been linked with improved cholesterol levels, body weight and blood pressure. And as a fiber-rich food, oats have the added benefit of being quite filling. A bowl of steel cut oats for breakfast is sure to keep you full all the way until lunch. Consume oats as hot cereal or incorporated into other foods, such as whole grain breads and natural granola and even cookies. To make oatmeal even healthier, use low-fat milk or water instead of whole milk, and top it with fresh fruit.

Related: Oats of Steel

10. Flaxseed
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Flaxseed has been used since ancient times in Egypt, and for good reason. Flaxseed contains rich amounts of fiber and a gummy material called mucilage -- which help in the digestive process --, and are the top plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s play an important role in heart health and brain function, and may help reduce menopausal symptoms, such as mood swings and hot flashes. To reap these benefits, add ground flaxseeds to smoothies, yogurt, cereals and baked goods. You can find flaxseed in most health food stores in various forms, such as oil and capsules. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends keeping flaxseed oil refrigerated and using whole flaxseeds within 24 hours of grinding them; ingredients lose their activity after that.

11. Mangos
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At about 135 calories per fruit, mangos are high in fiber (containing nearly 4 grams of fiber per average-size fruit) and antioxidants (including vitamin C and beta-carotene). And if that isn’t enough to convince you to add them to your diet, mangos are a mighty cancer fighting fruit. In a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2010, researchers observed the effects of mango extracts on noncancerous cells and cells associated with colon, prostate and breast cancer. They found that the extracts helped the healthy cells stay cancer free and reduced the growth of cancer cells. The Haden and Ataulfo varieties showed particularly strong benefits.

12. Barley
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Barley is an overlooked grain with profound health benefits, according to Dr. Nicholas Perricone, a board certified dermatologist and nutritionist. The low-glycemic whole grain that looks like tiny rice is quite filling and contains rich amounts of vitamin E, the B-vitamin niacin and soluble fiber. Soluble fiber improves digestion and helps the body better metabolize carbohydrates, cholesterol and fats. To prepare barley, rinse it and boil it in water until it has softened. Once drained, add barley to soups, casseroles and salads. Or enjoy it as a hot breakfast cereal. A little know fact about barely is that in 1324 Edward II of England used barley as the reference of measurement to standardize today’s inch: “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise."

13. Whole Grain Pasta
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Did you know that the average American consumes 20 pounds of pasta noodles each year? This isn’t problematic, unless you choose the “refined white stuff,” says Joy Bauer, a registered dietitian in New York City. Whole-grain pasta contains all nutritious parts of the original grain, making it a valuable source of B-vitamins, iron, protein and fiber. These perks make it a heart-healthy food that promotes lasting energy and appetite control between meals. One cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti provides 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. To make sure that you get truly whole-wheat pasta, choose pastas labeled 100 percent whole grain, or choose pastas that list whole grains, such as whole wheat, spelt or brown rice, as the top ingredient.

Related: How Healthy Is Your Pasta?

14.Tomato Sauce
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Tomato sauce may not be what springs to mind when you think about healthful carbs, but it’s a highly nutritious source, providing more fiber, vitamin C and lycopene per serving than fresh tomatoes. Lycopene, a potent antioxidant, is linked with a reduced risk for prostate and breast cancer. Red fruits and vegetables are also prime sources of flavonoids, which reduce inflammation, according to registered dietitian Susan Bowerman. Tomato sauce ups the nutritional power of many healthy dishes, including whole-wheat pasta dishes and veggie pizza prepared with a whole-grain crust. To keep your sodium intake in check, look for “no salt added” or “reduced sodium” labels on tomato sauce packaging.

Related: Color Me Healthy -- Eating for a Rainbow of Benefits

15. Artichokes
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Artichokes are more than just unusually-shaped, fun-to-eat foods. One medium-size artichoke provides over 10 grams of fiber, rich amounts of potassium and smaller amounts of folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Because sweating and dehydration lower potassium levels, potassium-rich foods are particularly important in hot weather and following heavy exercise. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends buying heavy artichokes that have tight leaves and a dark green color, then storing them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to three days and making sure you wash them before cooking them. If preparing fresh artichokes seems a bit intimidating or time consuming, add frozen or water-packed canned artichokes to your salads and pasta dishes.

Related: How to Shop for Artichokes

16. Bananas
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Bananas are so nutritious that registered dietitian Tara Gidus considers them a superfood. They’re naturally devoid of fat and cholesterol and a valuable source of vitamins B6 and C, manganese, potassium and fiber. The electrolytes in bananas, including potassium, guard against dehydration. The 3 grams of fiber contained per serving promotes fullness, making it a useful between meal snack. “In my opinion, everyone should eat at least one banana every day, especially athletes or active people, and anyone with high blood pressure,” says Gidus. For a treat, she suggests grilling bananas, peel on, for 5 minutes per side. The peel will blacken, but the insides turn into caramelized tastiness.

Related: 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas

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