In a recent post, I had to type up a brief healthy carbs list, giving a few examples of those “good” carbs we should include with our regular eats.
I got a few down and then got stuck. I didn’t want to keep listing whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat crackers, etc.
While whole-wheat foods are less processed and better for you (more fiber, more nutrients, less of a blood sugar boost, and longer-lasting energy), they still are processed. Dough is mixed with additives and preservatives before being baked.
This got me curious about the carbs that are actually unprocessed. Or at the very least, not so processed as breads, crackers, and the like.
Why care about carbs so much?
Well, the image of carbs is changing – and for the better.
People all around the world are starting to realize that we need carbs to live. We shouldn’t be afraid of them. And thank goodness for that!
What we now need to grasp, is what kinds of carbs to have. Hence the natural, unprocessed, whole grain, fiber containing ones. These are absorbed by our bodies slower and thus provide a gradual release of sugars into our bloodstreams – rather than a quick, dangerous spike.
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This slower glucose absorption means longer lasting energy, less afternoon crashes, less cravings, and less overeating. It means more fiber for GI regularity and satiation. It means more vitamins and minerals. It means better overall health.
If only there was a list of the healthy carbs that have all these magical properties…
Collected from textbooks, research, and registered dietitians who’ve studied nutrition a lot longer than I have, I now have a nice healthy carbs list to present to you!
Healthy Carbs List
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap due to all the delicious things they can turn into: fries, chips, hashbrowns, tater tots – the list goes on. The bottom line is that these processed versions of potatoes often contain loads of oil, salt, and other unhealthy additives.
Potatoes in their unprocessed form are actually a great carb choice. The skin of the potato has fiber and nutrients, so make sure you eat this part!
Try baking a potato in the oven and throwing on a protein and some veggies. Or make your own fries by cutting a potato into slices, adding a dash of olive oil, salt, and rosemary, and roasting in the oven at 400°F for around 30-40 minutes!
Check out this Roasted Fingerling Potato recipe by Angela from Marathons and Motivation!
2. Sweet potatoes
I had heard awhile ago that sweet potatoes are healthier than regular potatoes. But guess what? Recently I realized I had no idea why! That’s when I did some digging.
The idea that sweet potatoes are better than regular potatoes is pretty much a load of bologna.
Sweet potatoes actually have about the same amount of calories as regular potatoes (maybe slightly less, but we’re talking legit just a few calories). They’re pretty similar in nutrients as well.
The main difference is that sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A – but really that’s the only difference.
Just like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes in their most natural form (and cooked, that is) are a great source of healthy carbs.
Looking for a new tasty recipe? Try this Curry Lime Sweet Potato recipe from Kelly at Tasting Page.
Oatmeal is also an exceptional option for carbs. Jammed with fiber for long-lasting energy and GI regularity (woo!), they’re also a great blank canvas for adding other foods that’ll keep you full.
Oatmeal comes in many forms. When given the choice, opt for your oats from left to right:
|Steel-cut||Rolled Oats||Old-fashioned||Instant||Instant, flavored|
It’s best to make plain oats and add your own flavors and toppings. Try adding banana, walnuts, dried cranberries, fresh berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon, or a Tbsp of peanut butter. SO GOOD.
Better yet, try out this healthy Berry-licious Oatmeal Breakfast Bake from Deborah at Confessions of a Mother Runner.
4. Brown Rice
Brown rice is a pantry staple. It’s very accessible and super cheap. If I ever feel like a meal won’t be filling enough, I’ll throw a pot of brown rice on the stove for some low maintenance cooking.
Brown rice wins out against white rice for its high fiber content. It’s an exceptional option to add to your healthy carbs list.
Mix up your meals with this Cilantro Lime Brown Rice recipe from Lo at Zestful Kitchen!
Now we’re getting into the slightly more obscure types of carbs. I think I’ve mostly had barley in soups, and it’s honestly a great way to have this nutritional powerhouse carb.
The main thing to look for in your barley is that it’s simply hulled, meaning it’s had the inedible outer shell removed. It’s still considered a whole grain in this form. What you want to avoid is pearled barley – that’s when they’ve removed the entire fiber-containing part of the barley, along with most of its benefits. Pearl barley is way more commonly found.
Try out soups with hulled barley or try mixing it into salads for a healthy carb boost! This hulled barley vegetable soup from Dr. Oz looks amazing!
Some of you may have never heard of farro – I know I wasn’t very familiar with it until recently. Farro is an ancient grain that’s most often found included in soup and salad recipes. Many have fallen in love with the grain for it’s nutty flavor. While some encounter frustration when cooking farro, it all comes down to the type you buy.
Whole grain farro means that it’s in its most natural form – which also means it takes a long time to cook. This type of farro needs to be soaked overnight, but you’ll be greatly compensated for your preparation pains: a half cup of the stuff boasts a whopping 6 grams of fiber, as compared to 2 grams for a half cup of brown rice.
You can also get semi-pearled farro, where part of the bran has been removed to allow for quicker cooking. You’ll still be getting a decent amount of fiber this way – about half the amount of whole grain farro.
Fiber aside, farro also has tons of nutrients in this natural form. Definitely add this one to your healthy carbs list!
Need a farro recipe? Check out this Caprese Farro Salad recipe from Lorie at lemons + zest.
Millet is another nutrition-packed grain. To be completely transparent, I had to look up what millet looked like while writing this because I couldn’t recall if I’d ever had it before.
Millet is a round ancient grain, clocking in at about 10 grams of protein for 1/2 cup of the stuff – according to the back of a Bob’s Red Mill package. It’s got a bit less fiber than some of the other options on this list (depending on the type you buy as well) but it still packs in other nutrients such as iron. Plus it has a nice, fluffy texture and is a good gluten-free alternative.
I will definitely be looking out for it in the grocery store during my next trip.
Wondering about a good millet recipe? Try out this Morning Millet Porridge from Kelly at Tasting Page.
Well I freakin’ love the name of freekeh…but what is it?
Similar to bulgur, freekeh is a grain popular in Mediterranean dishes and is derived from wheat – although in this case, wheat when it is young and still green. Then the outer casing is fire-roasted and rubbed off, leaving us with the nutty, smoky, ancient grain.
Freekeh is high in fiber and protein, as well as iron and calcium – great news for vegetarians and vegans alike! Some say it’s going to overtake quinoa in popularlity; I say we should enjoy it as a part of a high-variety diet, regardless!
A good first recipe to try is this Freekeh Roasted Carrot Salad with Dill by Kevin at Kevin is Cooking.
I know bulgur best from tabbouleh, a Mediterranean recipe that typically has parsley and tomatoes. It’s a refreshing recipe often served during the warm, summer months.
Bulgur is an ancient grain that’s been cracked and parboiled, which means it will have a shorter cooking time when it reaches you (of course depending on the type you get). And unlike quinoa and millet (which are technically seeds), bulgur is a type of wheat and is therefore higher in fiber. It’s often recommended as a great first whole grain to experiment with cooking.
Try it out in this Tabbouleh recipe from Kate at Cookie and Kate!
Contrary to what the name may imply, buckwheat is actually a seed and is gluten-free. It’s a great source of fiber, protein, and beneficial plant compounds such as rutin.
Buckwheat is available in several different forms: flour, noodles, or groats (which are the hulled buckwheat seeds). Groats can be used in place of oatmeal and many think they look and taste a lot like steel-cut oats.
Try making these Fluffy Vegan Buckwheat Pancakes by Emilie from Emilie Eats.
Whoa whoa whoa, isn’t corn one of those starchy vegetables we’re supposed to stay away from?
Once again, it’s great for us in its nice, au natural form. Corn is a healthy carbohydrate option because of its low glycemic index and low amount of calories (less than 100 cal in a medium ear). It has fiber and a good dose of volume, making it filling and satisfying. Corn is also on the clean 15 list, meaning that it is considered one of the cleaner crops to buy non-organic. And along with the other grains, it’s also high in antioxidants.
So go ahead! Reach for that corn on the cob at your next cookout – just make sure it’s not slathered in butter first!
Oh and try out this Corn Avocado Salad recipe by Olena at ifoodreal!
And finally, our beloved quinoa. After talking about how many of the other carbohydrates beat out quinoa for protein and fiber, why include it on this list?
Well, since it’s technically a seed, quinoa does still beat out some of these other healthy carbohydrates for protein content. Also because of its seed classification, quinoa is gluten-free – which makes it ideal for anyone with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
Overall, quinoa is still a wonderful option you should keep on your healthy carbohydrate list.
Need a recipe? Angela from Marathons and Motivation has got you covered again with her Sauteed Squash Quinoa Salad.
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