During your initial weight loss phase, you may cut carbs entirely, but as you develop a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, you’ll include some healthy carbs.
Simple Versus Complex Carbs
The key to identifying a healthy carb is to figure out whether it is a simple carbohydrate, or a complex one. Most of the time, if a carb is complex and contains high fiber, you’re making a good choice. Healthy carbs are lower in sugar, higher in fiber, and slower to digest. These complex carbs don’t spike your blood sugar like simple carbs do.
The worst simple carbohydrates are found in pop, candy and baked goods. They spike your blood sugar and set you up for metabolic syndrome. Fruits also contain simple carbs, which is why it’s important to eat them whole (as their natural fiber helps offset the impact). This is why fruit juices are best avoided – the fiber has been removed.
Complex carbohydrates are starches found in vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Not all complex carbs are good for you, just as not all simple ones are bad. Some starches convert very quickly in your body into sugar, unless they contain enough fiber to slow digestion.
What Are The Healthiest Carbohydrate Choices?
These are some of the healthiest carbs you can choose to include in your life:
Slightly Unripe Bananas
Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, manganese and fiber. Choose slightly green ones, which contain resistant starch that will help you stay slim by feeding your “good” gut bacteria. If they become a bit riper than you prefer, add bananas to a green smoothie as a natural sweetener.
Berries are superfruits, relatively low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Blueberries and rasperries are excellent choices.
We’ve talked about Quinoa before, because it’s truly a superfood, containing all nine of the essential amino acids required by your body. It’s very high in fiber, naturally gluten-free, and has been shown to aid in weight loss.
Consuming probiotic yogurt can be helpful in reducing your body fat. The healthy fats and protein in yogurt, as well as the helpful bacteria, are quite beneficial, even though the carbs in yogurt are simple carbs.
Do avoid the sweetened yogurts, though, as they typically contain 24 to 28 grams of fiber in a small serving. Unsweetened yogurt is a better choice – and you can add some fresh fruit, or add it to a smoothie or smoothie bowl.
Aside from the good carbs, nuts also contain healthy fats and lots of minerals. They’re a concentrated food (and calorie) source, though, so small quantities are important.
Beans are slow carbs, which means they’re high in fiber and digest slowly. They also contain a healthy dose of protein. Depending upon how they’re cooked (not too much added sugar!), beans and other legumes such as lentils can be a very healthy part of your diet.
Squash has lots of fiber and is low in sugar, so it’s an excellent healthy carb choice for a side dish, a soup ingredient, or even a main course (spaghetti squash!). The bright yellows and oranges of some squash indicate the presence of carotenoids, an antioxidant that helps you fight disease.
Lots of fiber, lots of antioxidants, vitamin C, protein and potassium. Leave the skin on if possible. Even though they’re fairly high in carbs, sweet potatoes have been shown to increase levels of a hormone that regulates blood sugar, adiponectin.
Air-Popped (Organic) Popcorn
Choosing organic is important here, as the chemicals used in raising non-organic corn may have links to obesity. Also avoid microwave popcorn, as the packaging of some brands is a known obesogen. But with that in mind, air-popped organic popcorn is an excellent choice, with only 6 grams of carbs per cup (and one gram of that is fiber).
As long as you’re not sensitive to gluten, oatmeal can be a good carb choice. It’s also possible to purchase gluten-free oatmeal. It’s important here to clarify that we’re not talking about pre-sweetened ready-to-eat packets. Those aren’t a healthy carb choice because of the added sugar.
Try steel-cut oats or whole rolled oats (both use the whole grain) and cook from scratch, and don’t overdo it on sweetened toppings. Your best choice for a sweetener is probably stevia, but you may find that a chopped apple in your oatmeal is enough sweetness. You could also try a small amount of coconut sugar, since it has a much lower glycemic index than regular white sugar.
It’s important not to wreck the effectiveness of your healthy carbs by preparing them with lots of sugar – you’ll see it’s number one on the unhealthy carb list in the next section.
The 12 Most UNHEALTHY Carb Choices
- Sugars and Sweeteners
- Soda Pop
- Dried Fruit
- Snacks (chips, crackers, rice cakes, pretzels)
- Cookies and cakes
- Jams and Preserves
- Bread, Bagels, Toast, Pizza
- Potatoes (especially fried or chips)
What Percentage of Healthy Carbs Is Best?
That’s a tough question to answer, as it depends on your goals, current condition, metabolism and lifestyle. If you’re focused on weight loss, you’ll keep carb consumption low and focus on healthy carbs from non-starchy vegetables, with plenty of protein and some fat. Typically, a person who is in a maintenance phase consumes a slightly higher percentage of carbs.
At dietMD, our programs are personalized to you, so you’ll begin on a very low carb program for fast weight loss, and transition to a lifestyle eating program that involves healthy amounts of carbs for you, while maintaining your weight loss. If you’re in Hawaii and ready to learn more, book a complimentary in-person appointment with me.