“Eat your carbs.”
I bet you don’t hear that very often. But somebody needs to say it. Carbohydrates contain not only some of the most delicious flavors on earth, but some of the most beneficial health-enhancing nutrients that our bodies need. And they’re here to stay.
Indeed, the United States Dietary Guidelines (USDA) 2015-2020 recommends getting 45 to 65 percent of your energy needs from carbohydrates.
But why do carbs get such a bad rap? Well, that’s because there are two types of carbs — complex and simple — and our bodies require different amounts of each.
According to the USDA, most of the carbs you should be getting from your diet should be complex carbohydrates: the unprocessed, fiber-laden, long chain complex carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Less than 10 percent should be coming from simple carbohydrates, like table sugar, refined or processed.
What do carbs do for us?
Bottom line, our brain prefers glucose as fuel. When the concentration of glucose in your bloodstream falls short, your brain lets you know quickly — you may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or lethargic, for example. Complex carbohydrates give us high-quality fuel for the brain, central nervous system function, and our gut bacteria.
So let’s fuel up on the right kinds of carbs. Here are some of the most beneficial carbs for our bodies:
Now that I have your attention — yes, you can eat pizza! If you make it right, that is. Make it with a thin crust (preferably whole grain or gluten-free) and load it up with tomato sauce or pesto sauce, plus lots of flavorful vegetables. This vegan pizza from Minimalist Baker literally makes my mouth water.
This powerhouse seed acts and tastes like a nutty grain, but it’s actually a gluten-free seed. It’s higher in nutrients and protein than most grains, meaning that you can forego the cholesterol, saturated fat, and cancer-causing compounds found in animal proteins.
Yum! Lentils are quick and easy to prepare in comparison to other types of beans. They’re high in protein and a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, which can be helpful for people with diabetes, as fiber prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal. Lentils contain many important minerals including iron, magnesium, and folate.
Dates can help fend off everything from night blindness to anemia, and constipation to seasonal allergies. The significant amounts of minerals found in dates like iron, calcium, and potassium can help with healthy bone development and maintaining a healthy gut. I’m a big fan of incorporating dates into my snacks and desserts, like these no-bake pumpkin bites.
Oats play a vital role in improving our feeling of fullness, and can be a boon to our digestive, cardiovascular, and overall metabolic health. Oats are rich in a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan known to help lower levels of bad cholesterol.
6. Whole wheat pastas
7. Black beans
Black beans are classified as legumes. They’re easy to make, and chock full of protein, fiber, and iron. They also contain many minerals important in building and maintaining bone structure and strength, and contain selenium, which plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps to detoxify cancer causing compounds in the body.
Apples are one of the best sources of carbs you can eat, since they contain large amounts of pectin, which helps keep you feeling full, as well as vitamin C and potassium. They’re also rich in natural sugars, which digest more slowly than those found in processed foods.
Chickpeas are particularly high in fiber and are loaded with health-building and bone-building minerals, including vitamin K, phosphate, and calcium. These orange chickpeas from Plant Based Jane are a special favorite of mine.
Pears offer a large dose of potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber. They’re decadently sweet and aid in cleansing the digestive tract. Try adding them to a smoothie, like in this recipe:
- 1 cup kale leaves, ribs removed (about 3.5 oz.)
- 1/2 medium pear
- 1/2 medium banana
- 1 tbsp. almond butter
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- Combine all ingredients and blend in a high-speed blender until smooth.
Bananas are versatile as well as portable. They can also help relieve inflammation, nausea, stomach ulcers, depression, and even anxiety.
12. Sweet potatoes
A member of the squash family, sweet potatoes are a crowd favorite and an excellent source of vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin B-6, and fiber. They’re low on the glycemic index and can work wonderfully as either a side or a main dish, like in this recipe from One Green Planet for a sweet potato stuffed with roasted chickpeas.
So, the next time someone tells you that carbs are the enemy, drop some knowledge on them!
Angie Stewart, MPH, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She’s a former Division I collegiate athlete from Georgia and is now a celebrity trainer in Los Angeles. As a mom, Angie created an online fitness plan called the Road to Awesome to help women access fitness and nutrition plans from the convenience of their own home.