By now, you have probably heard that carbs aren’t the enemy when you are focused on managing your weight, keeping your blood sugar stable or trying to support a generally healthy lifestyle. Gone are the days where we have to swap out lettuce for the bread on our sandwiches or skip that delicious bowl of pasta. Instead, choosing the right carbs is the ticket to reaching your health goals and meeting your body’s needs.
Pictured Recipe: Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl
Why Do We Need Carbs?
Before we dig into which carbs we should be filling our plates with, it’s important to understand why we need carbs in the first place. Carbohydrates, aka carbs, are the body’s preferred source of fuel. Not enough carbs in your diet can make you feel sluggish, experience having digestive issues and even have bad breath. Additionally, avoiding carbs may leave you with specific nutrition gaps, as data shows that people who follow certain lower-carb diets may not consume enough thiamine, vitamin C, folate and other key nutrients.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is touted for its health benefits, and that’s partially because it’s not fully digestible. Instead, fiber passes through the digestive system, and helps keep bowel movements regular, promotes satiety and supports a healthy gut microbiome and heart.
How Do You Pick the Best Carbs?
When people think of carbohydrate sources, images of extra-large pizzas, supersized scoops of ice cream and gigantic bags of potato chips may come to mind. And while a reasonable portion of these carb choices can certainly be a part of an overall healthy and balanced diet, they should not be making up the bulk of the carbs in your day.
In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) recommends that most Americans have 45% to 65% of their total daily calories come from carbs. So, if you are eating about 2,000 calories a day, that would suggest an intake of 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates daily.
Carbohydrates like whole grains, enriched grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy, beans and legumes are higher in fiber and nutrients than more-refined carb sources or highly processed foods. But the occasional treat that is made from refined carbs and added sugars can still be part of your pattern, just consider how it fits into the rest of your day.
It’s recommended that whole grains make up at least half of total grain consumption, as they’re a great source of fiber, protein, antioxidants and B vitamins.
10 Carbs You Should Eat Every Week
Among the wide variety of carb choices out there, here are 10 that should find their way onto your plate every week to help support your health, meet nutritional needs and maintain your energy levels.
1. Sweet Potatoes
The naturally sweet spuds that many of us love to see on our Thanksgiving table are a nutritional powerhouse. Just one medium sweet potato provides over 150% of your daily needs of vitamin A, a nutrient that plays an important role in our skin, immune and eye health. Eating the skin on your sweet potato can help increase your fiber intake as well.
Sweet make for a nutritious and delicious side dish, but these potatoes spuds don’t need to be confined to dinnertime. Try topping a sweet potato with nut butter, cinnamon and granola for a filling breakfast. Or use it as an ingredient in Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese or Sweet Potato Quesadillas for a filling and flavorful lunch.
2. Dairy Milk
Having an ice-cold glass of milk may sound like an old-school recommendation, but there is something to be said about including this popular beverage in your diet. Not only does milk contain healthy carbs, but it also contains protein, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients that are important for supporting our bone health.
If your stomach is sensitive to the natural milk sugar called lactose, lactose-free milk options can help fill that void.
Try milk in something sweet like our Kale & Banana Smoothie or in something savory like our Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup with Rotisserie Chicken.
3. Black Beans
Black beans, or any beans for that matter, have an impressive nutrition profile. As a source of plant-based protein, fiber and antioxidants, these economical and delicious legumes can be a fantastic carbohydrate to add to your plate. Try them in recipes like our No-Cook Black Bean Salad and Black Bean-Quinoa Bowls.
Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that cannot be digested by humans, but instead acts as fuel for the friendly bacteria that live in our gut. Oats are a natural source of prebiotic fibers, making them a carb source for those who want to support a healthy gut microbiome.
The soluble fiber found in oats, called beta-glucan, has also been shown to help reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which can lower heart disease risk.
Cinnamon-Roll Overnight Oats and Banana-Oat Muffins are simple recipes that can help you include more oats into your diet.
You may think of prunes as an old-school laxative home remedy or a staple for people who have difficulty going to the bathroom. And while it is true that eating prunes can help promote healthy bowel movements, this natural carb source is so much more than a constipation cure.
Eating prunes every day may also help people improve their bone health. According to data published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritiona 50-gram daily dose of prunes (about 5 prunes) can prevent loss of bone mineral density in postmenopausal females.
Try some Sokolatakia (Chocolate-Dipped Walnut-Stuffed Prunes) or Braised Brisket with Carrots & Prunes to up your intake.
Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world, thanks to their convenience, price and delicious taste. Like most fruits, bananas are a healthy source of carbohydrates, and eating them can help keep your energy up throughout the day.
Opting for a slightly underripe banana may give you an edge in the gut-health department. Choosing bananas that have a peel that is slightly green means they’ll have more resistant starch, which is a type of prebiotic fiber that helps support a healthy gut microbiome. But fully ripened bananas are also a great source of fiber and nutrition.
Bananas can be enjoyed on their own as an easy and filling snack. But if you want to get creative, try making our Banana Energy Bites or 2-Ingredient Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream.
Apples can be one of the best carbs to include in your diet, especially if you eat the skin. They are a great source of fiber, vitamin C and copper. These popular fruits also contain heart-healthy soluble fiber and prebiotic fiber that can help support gut health. Apples also contain quercetin, an antioxidant that may support brain health.
Try our Chopped Salad with Shrimp, Apples & Pecans or Air-Fryer Apples for a unique way to use the scrumptious fruit.
Farro is an ancient whole grain that pairs nicely with many dishes. Packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, farro offers a complex and nutty taste and is simple to prepare.
To enjoy farro in your diet, try our 3-Ingredient Farro Bowl with Rotisserie Chicken or Cherry-Almond Farro Salad.
If you are a hummus lover, then this will be music to your ears. Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, are a source of healthy carbs that fuel your body with fibre, antioxidants and plant-based protein. Regardless of whether they’re canned or dried and home-prepared, these tiny morsels are a filling and satisfying add to help you meet your carb quota.
Try them in our quick and easy Spinach and Garbanzo Beans recipe or in our super-savory Roasted Beet Hummus.
10. Brown Rice
Rice has gotten a bad rap over the years, but all rice varieties can provide some seriously impressive nutrients. Rice has satiating protein, fiber and numerous vitamins and minerals. One half-cup of cooked brown rice has around 120 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 25 grams of healthy carbs.To enjoy more brown rice, make an Easy Brown Rice & Veggie Wrap or a Roasted Veggie & Tofu Brown Rice Bowl for something simple, filling and nutritious.