The great carbohydrate debates are still happening in the health and wellness world. Are carbs good for weight loss? Bad? How much should we consume? Which kinds?
These questions, and more, are being discussed constantly. Some will go as far as to say all carbohydrates are bad or unnecessary for weight loss and proper nutrition.
But, that simply isn’t the case. Carbohydrates are one of the three essential macronutrients, alongside protein and fat. They are actually an important part of a well-balanced diet.
The question is not whether we need carbohydrates, but rather, which carbohydrates should we be eating to promote weight loss? Quality is what matters most.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates (carbs) are an important member of the macronutrient triad — proteins, fats, and carbs. These three are the cornerstones of our diets and are consumed in the largest amounts.
Carbs are essential nutrients we get from food and drinks
What do carbs do in the body?
In the body, carbs act as one of the main sources of energy. They fuel all the different systems in the body, from your nervous system to your muscular system.
In short, carbs are broken down into glucose within the body. This glucose moves into the bloodstream and into the cells (with the help of insulin) to provide an energy source for the cells.
They come in three forms: Fiber, starches, and sugars. These three forms are generally put into two categories; complex carbs and simple carbs.
Complex carbs are a more stable form of energy as they take much longer for the body to digest; plus, they help promote satiety (feeling full).
Most plant-based foods contain fiber. Most of it passes through your body; stimulating and aiding in digestion. Fiber also supports satiety, helps lower cholesterol, and helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
Starches, like fiber, are also a complex carb and contribute to some of the same benefits. These usually contain larger amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Simple carbs, still used for energy, are broken down much quicker in the body. They are sometimes referred to as simple sugars.
Simple sugars are also used for energy, but they often cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. Many simple sugars are naturally occurring and are found in some vegetables, many fruits, and milk (lactose).
Processed, refined, and added sugars — like those found in white flour, juices, sodas, syrups, and a whole host of sweet-tooth delights — are considered to be the infamous “bad carbs.”
10 Healthy Carbs for Weight Loss
The most important thing about carbs for weight loss is the type and the quality of the carb. The amounts may vary depending on weight loss goals. The keto diet for example emphasizes low-carb consumption — usually less than 30g.
Let’s take a look at 10 healthy carbs that could help for weight loss.
1. Whole Wheat Pastas
To stay away from refined flour and carbs it's best to stick with whole wheat pastas. Whole wheat is nutrient-rich and hasn’t lost its dietary fiber through the refining process.
That means better nutrients and feeling fuller longer. Healthy carbs alternative pastas can also be made with lentils, brown rice, and chickpeas.
2. Black Beans
There are many legumes that could make the list, but black beans are at the top. Not only are they a good source of carbs. But these little legumes are packed with protein and fiber, boasting 12g and 9g in one cup, respectively.
In addition to their rich micronutrients, black beans are also a great source for antioxidants.
Oats are a fantastic source for complex carbs. Thanks to their high-fiber content the release of energy is slower and longer lasting. They make for a great morning meal before heading off to the gym.
Mixing in a good, clean protein powder source makes for an added macronutrient bonus to help conquer weight loss goals.
4. Whole Grain Breakfast Cereal
It may seem strange to list breakfast cereals on a list of healthy carbs. Aren’t most cereals full of added sugars? Yes, some are, but not all.
One of the benefits of whole grain breakfast cereals is that they pack in the fiber, promoting satiety and helping you slim down. Plus, most people like to throw in a splash of micronutrients, like berries, for added antioxidants.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a staple for healthy carb options. Filled with healthy starches and fiber, they can actually aid in regulating glucose levels as they are slowly digested; no sugar spikes.
Their micronutrient profile is an added bonus. Sweet potatoes are full of vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants. Plus, their recipe repertoire is endless.
Little blue orbs of antioxidant goodness. The benefits of these little berries are endless. One study found that they even contribute to lower cholesterol and fat-burning, thanks to their polyphenols; a powerful antioxidant.
Plus, blueberries pack 21g of healthy carbs into one cup. Throw them into a protein shake or mix them into your morning oatmeal and you’re on your way to conquering weight loss goals.
Another healthy carb grain to make the list is quinoa. These complex carbs are low in sugar and high in fiber; helping regulate blood sugar levels with their slow digestive release.
In addition to its high-fiber benefits, quinoa is also gluten-free and loaded with micronutrients like iron, zinc, and even magnesium; which also contributes to glucose management. But the best part: Quinoa is a complete protein source too, boasting all nine essential amino acids.
Barley is another mineral-rich healthy carb option. It also boasts a high-fiber content — 6g. This can have a big impact on energy and metabolism.
In fact, research has also suggested that barley may have a role in suppressing appetite. Its mineral and vitamin content — copper, phosphorus, and manganese — also have important implications for bone health.
Known as a fruit that is high in potassium, bananas can also serve as a healthy carb pre-meal snack option. Bananas contain simple sugars and are rich in glucose for fast metabolizing; giving you a shot of good carb energy — 36g.
They are great for post-workouts too as the potassium helps fight against the muscle cramping.
10. Plant Protein Powders
Plant-based protein powders, like Orgain’s Keto Plant Protein™ Organic Keto-genic protein powder also makes for a healthy carb option to support weight loss; especially among those on a low-carb, ketogenic diet.
It boasts 10g of clean, plant-based protein, 13g of organic fats (derived from coconut and avocado oils, and 16g of healthy carbs for a great macro ratio balance.
The shake and smoothie options and recipes are endless.
The Bottom Line on Healthy Carbs and Weight Loss
Carbs should be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. The “good” carbs would be the healthiest sources, like many complex carbs.
Bad carbs would include the highly processed or refined simple carbs and sugars, those that are often stored as fat and contribute to weight gain.
Hitting your weight loss goals doesn’t have to be complicated by macronutrient confusion — balance is key. Give these healthy carbs options and let them help you on your weight loss journey.
Black Beans, Fiber, and Antioxidant Capacity Pilot Study: Examination of Whole Foods vs. Functional Components on Postprandial Metabolic, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation in Adults with Metabolic Syndrome