Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains are all considered healthy carbohydrate foods. However, if you're following a high-carb diet plan, you should be aware that certain plant-based products are higher in fat than others.
A High-Carb Diet Plan
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the standard American diet is made up primarily of carbohydrates. The recommended daily value (DV) for carbohydrates, including fiber, is 300 grams per day (the equivalent of about 1,200 calories). Your remaining calories come from protein and fat. The DV for fat is 65 grams per day, while the DV for protein is 50 grams per day.
However, there are many alternative diets you can follow, such as high-protein, high-fat and high-carb diets. All of these diets work by modifying your macronutrient intake.
High-carb diet plans are based on consuming more carbohydrates than average. However, these diets typically ask you to reduce your fat and protein intake. Instead of consuming a standard diet made up of 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 12 to 20 percent protein and 30 percent fat, you'd consume 64 to 85 percent carbohydrates, 9 to 18 percent protein and 6 to 18 percent fat. The exact macronutrient ratio you consume would depend on your dietary needs and goals.
To consume macronutrients at this ratio, a high-carb diet plan typically encourages the consumption of plant-based products. You'd need to consume vegetables, seeds and legumes, but might restrict the consumption of fatty fruits, nuts, seafood and meat products. In fact, fatty meat products, like bacon and pork belly, are likely to be avoided entirely or consumed very sparingly.
High-Carb, Low-Fat Foods
There are a variety of high-carb, low-fat foods you can consume if you're following a high-carb diet. Most of these are plant-based, but you can also consume low-fat dairy products in moderation.
Vegetables are likely to be your primary source of high-carb, low-fat foods. According to an April 2014 study in the Mechanisms of Ageing and Development Journal, high-carb diets like the Okinawan diet focus on the consumption of root vegetables and leafy greens. Both of these types of foods are known to be rich in dietary fiber.
Legumes are also high-carb, low-fat foods. They are a good source of both fiber and protein. The Okinawan diet allows for the consumption of soybeans and other soy products, even though these beans are fairly fatty compared to other legumes. This means that virtually all legumes, like lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas, can be part of a healthy high-carb diet.
Grains are another important staple of high-carb diet plans. However, not all grains are equally good for you. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health considers whole grains to be far healthier than refined products. You should try to consume whole grains, like bulgur, quinoa, hulled barley and brown rice and avoid refined products, like white rice and pearl barley, when possible.
Many fruits are also healthy carbohydrate foods. However, be aware that certain fruits, like avocado and coconut, can contain large amounts of fat. Although the fats in fruits are often healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, you may still want to consume these products in moderation if you're on a strict high-carb diet.
Similarly, nuts and seeds are often high in fat and tend to also be high in protein. However, certain nuts and seeds are more carbohydrate-rich than others. For example, cashews and pistachios have three to four times the carbs of pecans, macadamias and Brazil nuts.
High-Carb Diet Benefits
Carbohydrates often get a bad reputation — many delicious, carbohydrate-rich foods contribute to weight gain, after all. However, these high-carb products are often sugary, fatty foods. Even unsweetened, low-fat carbs, like white rice, aren't that good for you. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, consuming white rice five or more times per week can increase your risk of diabetes.
However, a healthy, high-carb diet plan involves whole grains and other fiber-rich foods. When you do eat sugar or fat, it's likely to come from healthy sources like fruits or nuts. Consuming a diet with minimal amounts of added sugars, saturated fat and trans fats can only be good for your health.
According to a February 2017 study in the European Journal of Nutrition, high-carb diets can support weight loss, even when they aren't particularly strict. This study showed that an 18 percent protein, 18 percent fat and 64 percent carbohydrate macronutrient ratio could promote weight loss and lower levels of adiponectin (a hormone produced by fat cells that's been associated with inflammation).
High-carb diets are probably best known for promoting longer lifespans, like the Okinawan diet has shown. However, this diet is fairly strict compared to the one in the European Journal of Nutrition study.
Traditional Okinawan diets have a ratio of 85 percent carbohydrates, 9 percent protein and 6 percent fat (only 2 percent of which is saturated). A total of 58 percent of calories in this diet come from vegetables, 33 percent come from grains and 5 percent come from legumes. Just 2 percent of calories come from seafood, meat products, eggs and dairy.
According to a July 2016 study in the journal Age and Ageing and the study from the Mechanisms of Ageing and Development Journal, high-carb diets like the Okinawan diet can also help reduce the risk of age-related diseases. However, you should know that diets that have shown such benefits also involve the consumption of reduced amounts of calories alongside a fair amount of physical activity.
If you do choose to follow a high-carb diet, you should keep an eye on your macronutrient intake. The Age and Ageing study says that daily protein intake should not be less than 5 percent. Insufficient protein can cause loss of muscle mass and be detrimental to your overall health.
- Age and Ageing: "New Horizons: Dietary Protein, Ageing and the Okinawan Ratio"
- Mechanisms of Ageing and Development Journal: "Healthy Aging Diets Other Than the Mediterranean: A Focus on the Okinawan Diet"
- FDA: "Total Carbohydrate"
- FDA: "Total Fat"
- FDA: "Protein"
- Kaiser Permanente: "Balancing Carbs, Protein, and Fat"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "A Low-Fat High-Carbohydrate Diet Reduces Plasma Total Adiponectin Concentrations Compared to a Moderate-Fat Diet With No Impact on Biomarkers of Systemic Inflammation in a Randomized Controlled Feeding Study"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Comparison of Cooked Red Kidney Beans, Lentils (Cooked), Cooked Green Soybeans, and Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) (Cooked)"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Rice"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Replacing White Rice With Brown Rice or Other Whole Grains May Reduce Diabetes Risk"