6 Carbohydrates Dietitians Wish People Eat More

For many people trying to lose weight, carbohydrate-rich foods are often the first to be eliminated from their diet. The burgers are eaten without the bun, a side of roast potatoes is replaced with broccoli, the bread basket remains intact.

While it can be beneficial to keep carb intake in mind when trying to lose weight, dietitians say it’s a major myth that carbs are “bad” or should be cut out altogether. “Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and provide fuel for muscles and various organs,” says registered dietitian Jamie Lee McIntyre, RDN. The key is to know which carbohydrates contain the most nutritional benefits; not all carbs are created equal. And while it’s always best to eat a variety of foods to get a wide range of vitamins and nutrients, some carbohydrate-rich foods in particular can be particularly beneficial.

Related: If you want to shed a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight, add these complex carbs to your diet as soon as possible.

How carbohydrates fit into a healthy diet

According to dietitian Anne Danahy, RD, The reason carbohydrates often get a bad rap is that most people equate carbohydrates with refined, high-sugar foods with little nutritional value, such as pastries and French fries.

“Refined carbohydrate foods like desserts, pastries, sugary sodas, or sugary cereals can give you a quick energy boost because your body breaks them down and releases the glucose quickly. The problem with these foods is that ‘after the burst of energy, you tend to crash,” says Danahy. “Most people crave more refined carbs for another energy boost, so they get caught in a vicious circle and end up eating too many calories, often from low nutrient foods.”

Danahy explains that this is completely different from how complex carbs affect the body. She says complex carbs take longer to digest, so they provide long-lasting energy. “Complex carbs tend to have more vitamins, minerals and fiber, so they’re healthier,” she says.

While complex carbs are more nutrient-dense, McIntryre says all types of carbs can be beneficial to include in your diet. She recommends aiming for between 45 and 65 percent of calories from carbs. “Ideally, you should aim to eat small amounts of complex carbohydrates every few hours, with every meal and snack, to maintain your energy throughout the day,” Danahy adds. Remember that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. For this reason, Danahy says that not eating enough can lead to feeling tired, having trouble concentrating, and even shaking.

Related: Feeling sluggish? Experts Say These 58 Natural Foods Will Give You an Energy Boost

Dietitians want everyone to eat more

One of the main reasons the two dietitians say cutting out carbs altogether is wrong is that many carb-based foods contain other beneficial nutrients that you would be deprived of. There are six types of carbs in particular that they believe are particularly nutrient-dense, listed below:

1. Beans and legumes

Danahy and McIntyre both say that beans and legumes are a powerhouse of nutrient density. In addition to carbohydrates, they are an excellent source of protein and fiber. “They’re also super versatile,” Danahy says. In his opinion, there are so many different types of beans and legumes and endless ways to incorporate them into meals. Plus, they’re affordable and can be stored in your pantry for months.

Related: Why Beans Are Great For Longevity – Plus 9 Other Foods Linked To Extending Lifespan

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2. Oats

If you want to eat more foods that support gut and heart health, oats are a good priority. “Oats are a carbohydrate that contain beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that may help lower cholesterol levels, manage blood sugar control, and support immune health,” McIntyre says. Like beans, oats also contain fiber, which helps support the digestive system.

3. Barley

“Barley is high in soluble fiber, which helps balance blood sugar and lower cholesterol,” says Danahy, explaining why it’s one of her favorite sources of carbs. She adds that barley is low on the glycemic index, so it breaks down slowly and won’t raise blood sugar levels. Don’t know how to eat it? Enjoy it as a side dish or in soups and stews.

4. Starchy vegetables

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beets, peas, squash… Both dietitians say starches like these are packed with important nutrients in addition to carbohydrates such as fiber and antioxidants. Need more conviction to keep them in your diet? Consider this: Sweet potatoes are a staple food for people in Okinawa, Japan, a “blue zone,” where people regularly live well over 100 years.

Fruit Options That Are Healthy Carbs

5. Fruit

Cutting carbs out of your life would mean missing out on the abundant benefits found in fruit. McIntyre says fruit is full of fiber and antioxidants, which are especially good for brain and heart health. “The vitamins found in fruit are also needed for digestion and immune function,” she adds.

6. Dairy products

“Dairy products, like yogurt and milk, are an important source of protein, calcium and vitamin D which support bone density, growth, development and overall health,” says McIntyre. She adds that lactose – the carbohydrate naturally found in milk and yogurt – is combined with protein and fluids, making it a perfect post-workout drink as it replenishes energy stores while providing amino acids for muscle repair and recovery, with fluid and electrolytes for hydration.

Danahy also recommends dairy and beverages and is a particular fan of kefir, which is rich in probiotics that promote gut health. “Kefir also provides protein along with carbs, so it’s well balanced,” she says.

Carbohydrates are an important nutrient that the body depends on for energy. In addition to being essential for overall health, foods containing carbohydrates are delicious! Why give up foods like oatmeal topped with blackberries, white bean chili, and roasted garlic potatoes if you don’t have to? Simply put, life is better and healthier with carbs.

Next, check out a list of 20 dietitian-approved heart-healthy snacks.


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