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Carbohydrates are not your enemy – 5 healthy carbs your body needs

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jun 23, 2020

Healthy sources of carbohydrates are a mainstay of your diet – you can’t live without them 


If you’re confused over carbohydrates, join the club.  It’s either you’re for carbs or against them with little room for somewhere in the middle.  Some people associate carbohydrates with sugar. Yes, sugar is a carbohydrate but so are health-friendly and health-promoting foods such as broccoli, tomatoes, and berries.

So what is the truth – are carbohydrates to be avoided or embraced? The truth is….carbohydrates are not your enemy. They are a friend to you when chosen carefully. Your body requires foods containing carbohydrates in order to provide energy, fiber, antioxidants, and many other nutrients. To avoid carbohydrates is not necessary or advised.  If you’re eliminating healthy carbohydrates foods from your diet, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies with a corresponding lack of energy keeping your body functioning properly.

The smart approach is to fill your plate with more of the “good” carbohydrates and less of the “not so healthy” carbohydrates, e.g. sugary beverages, sweets, sugary cereals, etc. Not-so-healthy carbohydrates lack fiber, protein, and other important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Eaten occasionally they can fit into a healthy diet.  But if eaten frequently, they replace more healthier foods and your body, in time, may begin to show the effects of poor food choices with increases of certain diseases and other health conditions.

To get you started, here are five healthy sources of carbohydrates and why you should be including them everyday:

  1. Whole grains, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice

Nutritious, fiber-filled whole grains are one of the best sources of healthy carbs you can feed your body. Whole grains include foods such as barley, quinoa, farro, buckwheat, wheat berries, and oatmeal. Rich in protein, the B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, include whole grains into your daily diet for an easy, quick, and satisfying source of nutrition keeping you fueled all day long.

  1. Vegetables

Everyone should eat their veggies!  Vegetables should take center stage on your dinner plate by filling half of your plate with them, especially of dark leafy greens in a salad or cooked veggies such as carrots, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, or mushrooms. Besides adding bulk to your meals for fewer calories, vegetables are packed with health-promoting compounds such as potassium helping lower blood pressure along with vitamins A and C for immune health. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, contain glucosinolates, compounds possibly helping prevent certain cancers.

You can also enjoy “starchy” vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas – they’re not off limits. When eaten in moderation, they offer various vitamins and minerals along with fiber, all part of a healthy dietary pattern.

  1. Fruit

You may have mistakenly been told to avoid fruit as it’s “full of sugar.” However, fruit is not a forbidden food. There is natural occurring sugar found in fruit but fruit is also packed with disease-fighting vitamins and minerals and antioxidants important for good health. Fruit, such as watermelon and cantaloupe, are good sources of water in addition to their other nutrients they supply. Aim to have 2 servings of fruit each day.

  1. Beans and lentils

One of the most overlooked and underappreciated foods are beans and lentils. Don’t’ let their unassuming appearance fool you.  Beans and lentils are a powerhouse when it comes to nutritional value. Packed with protein, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and other key nutrients, these high-fiber foods should be included several times a week. One reason why they are so healthy is due to their fiber content. It’s recommended that women and men get 25 and 38 grams of fiber, respectively, each day. Beans are a great way to reach that goal. As an example, in a ½ cup of black beans there are 8 grams of fiber – an excellent start to increasing fiber intake for the day.

  1. Dairy

Some people are surprised to learn that milk and yogurt contain carbohydrates, in the form of a naturally occurring sugar called lactose. Both milk and yogurt can be enjoyed in a healthy diet contributing important nutrients your body requires.  Each offers protein helping you feel fuller longer after a meal and is necessary for building muscle and metabolic health, along with calcium, a critical mineral for heart, muscle, and bone health.

Ideally choose low-fat dairy which is labeled as 1 or 2 percent milk fat. Whole milk contains higher levels of not-as-healthy saturated fat which may increase risk for heart disease and inflammation. Aim to have 2-3 one-cup servings of either milk, Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese each day.

Want the latest on food science?

Click here to download a sample chapter of Cheryl’s book, The Nourished Brain, and get a free printable meal-planning guide so you can start eating your way to a healthier brain today.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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