16 Healthy Carb Sources When Dieting

16 Healthy Carb Sources When Dieting

Woman eating pasta.
A woman eating pasta in 1950. Image credit: Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

A low-carb diet has tremendous benefits – if done right.

It suppresses your appetite. It’s the simplest and one of the most effective ways to lose weight. Plus, the fat you lose will mostly come from your tummy.[i]

A properly-implemented low-carb diet reduces blood sugar and insulin levels and helps with Type 2 diabetes.  It also lowers blood pressure among other benefits.

However, it can be easy to make mistakes when trying a low-carb diet. As Ben Greenfield[ii] puts it:

“Unfortunately, whether due to a misinterpretation of what low carbohydrate dieting actually is or an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to restricting carbohydrates or perhaps the influence of low-carbohydrate-done-wrong diets like Atkins, many people (and especially athletes) try or attempt to try a low carbohydrate diet and end up messing the whole thing up, experiencing the hidden dangers of a low carbohydrate diet and hurting their bodies.”

Bottom line is: it’s not a good idea to totally eliminate carbs from your diet.

That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 16 healthy carbohydrate sources that you can eat without compromising your diet and your fitness:

  1. Whole-Wheat Pasta

Vapiano Whole Wheat Fusilli. Image credit: Flickr.
Vapiano Whole Wheat Fusilli. Image credit: Flickr.

Whole-wheat or whole-grain pastas contain double and even triple the amount of fiber that can be taken from refined pasta, without compromising flavor and versatility when it comes to cooking. Increasing your daily intake of whole grains to three servings can give you a lower body mass index in the long run, as well as reduce your abdominal fat. This is supported by studies that link high consumption levels of whole grains with smaller waistlines and increased weight loss. Just make sure to keep each serving between 100 to 200 calories, which equates to about half a cup to one cup of noodles when cooked.[iii]

  1. Quinoa

Quinoa. Image credit: Wikimedia
Quinoa. Image credit: Wikimedia

Quinoa is a type of whole grain that is similar to couscous. It is a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids that your body needs to build lean muscles and burn calories. These amino acids cannot be synthesized naturally by your body, and thus must be sourced from food. Quinoa is great because it is a plant protein source, which means that it can provide amino acids without the added saturated fats that are normally also contained in animal protein sources. Because it is a protein, it can also minimize your hunger pangs, helping you feel fuller for a longer period of time.

Quinoa also contains up to 5 grams of fiber in every cup, and can lower your blood pressure significantly. 80 grams of this whole grain can cause up to a 19% drop in hypertension while providing nearly half of your recommended daily allowance for magnesium, which relaxes your blood vessels. Just make sure to rinse it before cooking to remove excess saponin, which is the protective coating surrounding the grains.[iv]

  1. Barley

Barley. Image credit: Wikimedia

Barley can help prevent constant hunger pangs, because it raises your blood sugar levels at a slower pace. This reduces the chances that you will experience a rapid sugar spike that suddenly crashes, which is often what causes you to crave for more food. Barley is commercially available in its pearled form—which already has the bran removed—and also has quick-cooking parboiled variants. In general, barley groats and whole hull-less barley are packed the most with nutrients and can offer up to 25 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake in just a single serving.

  1. Bulgur

Bulgur. Image credit: Wikimedia
Bulgur. Image credit: Wikimedia

Bulgur is an excellent source of fiber, with up to 5 grams in just half a cup. The perfect quick-cook, low-maintenance grain, bulgur is really just parboiled cracked wheat, which means that all you have to do is soak it in hot water. To cook, just pour a cup and a half of boiling broth or water over a cup of bulgur. Cover and let this stand until the bulgur turns light and fluffy, which will take about 30 minutes. If the liquid is not completely absorbed at this time, simply let the bulgur stand longer, or run it through a strainer to get rid of the excess water.

  1. Whole Wheat Bread

Whole wheat bread. Image credit: Flickr.
Whole wheat bread. Image credit: Flickr.

Whole wheat or whole meal bread is great for weight loss, because it does not get stored in the body as fat. Instead, it is slowly broken down and gradually causes a rise in your blood sugar without adding to your weight. Whole wheat bread also contains lots of fiber, which suppresses your appetite and aids in digestion. Just be sure to buy only bread labelled “100% whole wheat” on the package, because lots of packages that claim to be “whole wheat” or “whole grain” really only contain 51% whole grains.

  1. Sourdough Bread

You don’t always have to stick to just whole grain bread. Sourdough is traditionally made through fermentation, which means that it contains lots of beneficial bacteria called probiotics. These good bacteria help break down gluten, making it safer and healthier especially for patients who are gluten-intolerant. Another benefit of sourdough bread is its ability to lower insulin response. It also has properties that ease the digestion of nutrients in your stomach.[v]

  1. Green Peas

Green peas. Image credits: Flickr.
Green peas. Image credits: Flickr.

Green peas contain lots of phytonutrients, which have very strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One of these phytonutrients is coumestrol, which has been proven to lower risks of developing stomach cancer.

In addition, a single cup of cooked green peas contains no less than seven grams of fiber, which helps you feel fuller on less food. Half a cup of peas also provides you with more or less 12 per cent of your recommended daily allowance of zinc, which helps combat common colds and also lessens the occurrence of hunger pangs by increasing the production of leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is responsible for signalling your brain that your stomach has had enough food.

  1. Squash

Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata) Berkeley Farmers' Market Berkeley, CA. Image credit: Flickr
Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata)
Berkeley Farmers’ Market
Berkeley, CA. Image credit: Flickr

Squash is a carbohydrate that boasts low sugar content and very high fiber content. A single cup of cooked squash can offer up to 6 grams of fiber and 16 grams of other types of carbohydrates. Squash gets its bright color, because it is rich in carotenoids—an antioxidant that helps combat the onset of diseases.[vi]

  1. Popcorn

Popcorn may seem like an unhealthy movie snack, but it is actually made of whole grains, which means that it can actually give you lots of health benefits. A single cup of uncooked popcorn kernels—which equates to three cups of popped popcorn—can give you a third of your recommended daily servings of whole grains. It contains 3 grams of fiber, 18 grams of total carbohydrates, and only 93 calories – the equivalent of just 9 plain potato chips. Popcorn is great not only because it tastes good, but it also prevents you from experiencing hunger pangs and cravings, making it an ideal snack for you if you want to watch your calorie intake and reduce your body weight. Just make sure to stick to the air-popped variety and not the flavored, sugar-laden ones so you don’t end up eating too much fat and sodium.[vii]

  1. Beans

There are many different types of beans – pinto, garbanzo, black, red, kidney – but all of them contain a little natural sugar, as well as a significant amount of fiber, though these amounts may vary from bean to bean. Aside from that, beans also contain significant amounts of iron and protein. Research shows that in spite of eating more food over-all, bean eaters are more likely to weigh less than people who avoid eating beans. It has been suggested that individuals who regularly consume beans have a 23 percent lower risk of having an expanded waistline, as well as a 22 percent decrease in their chances of developing obesity. The only downside to beans might be their excessive sodium content, especially in the canned variety, but this can easily be fixed by giving them a quick rinse before cooking.[viii]

  1. Oatmeal

Half of the total fiber content of oatmeal is soluble fiber, which dissolves into a kind of gel that can delay stomach emptying. This makes oatmeal a great snack that helps you feel fuller for longer without experiencing cravings or hunger pangs. Soluble fiber also helps reduce the amount of visceral fat in your body, which is usually found deep in the belly surrounding the vital organs and has been linked to an increased risk for contracting cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. The fiber in oats has also been associated with over-all improvement in heart health, as well as in cholesterol and weight management. Just make sure not to add too many toppings, which usually contain too much sugar.[ix]

  1. Bananas

Bananas are a great snack, especially after an intense work out session. Dubbed as “nature’s power bar,” bananas can rival commercially available sports drinks when it comes to giving you that energy boost you need after taxing physical activity. This is because of the carbohydrates and natural sugars they contain. One banana has about 36 grams of carbohydrates, which is just about what you need after doing exercise for more than an hour.

Aside from just carbohydrates, however, bananas contain lots of potassium, manganese, fiber, and vitamin B6, which is essential for over a hundred different bodily functions. Slightly unripe bananas can also give you a hearty dose of slimming resistant starch.[x]

  1. Fresh Corn

Because it is commonly found in processed packaged food, corn is often thought to have little to no nutrients. However, fresh corn is actually a whole grain, making it a good source of vitamin D and, of course, fiber. It also contains zeaxanthin and lutein, which are antioxidants that are good for eye health and can help improve your vision.

  1. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes. Image credit. Wikimedia.
Sweet potatoes. Image credit. Wikimedia.

Sweet potatoes, along with all other types of potatoes, are rich in fiber and carbohydrates, especially when their skin is not peeled off. However, sweet potatoes have the added benefit of providing you with the same antioxidant carotenoids that can be found in squash. They also contain potassium, vitamin C, and protein, as well.

  1. Breakfast Cereal

Many brands of breakfast cereal are looked down upon because they are said to contain excessive amounts of sugar. However, there are also many variants that are made out of whole grains, which provide you with lots of healthy fiber. Just be sure to pick a box that has minimal ingredients, with no more than 10 grams of sugar and no less than 3 grams of fiber per single serving.

  1. White Potatoes

White potatoes are often grouped with refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice, landing them a spot on the list of carbohydrates that are bad for you. However, white potatoes can actually give you lots of health benefits, as they contain lots of vitamin C and potassium. They also have up to 4 grams of fiber each when their skin is left on – that already amounts to approximately 15 percent of your daily recommended allowance.

Julie Haugen Says

Julie HaugenPortions sizes, controlled intake, and moderation are key for successful weight loss and maintenance with food and carbs.

Weight loss can be a challenge if too much carb is part of the diet, especially if the meal is mostly carb with little protein.  For many it helps to restrict carbs for a few days to get the body to shift to ketosis, and then gradually add some back in in small quantity. This approach has been helpful for many if done right.

The problem with the popular Atkin’s Diet 10+ years ago is that most people ate poor food choices, when in fact after the ketosis period, a small amount of carbs were allowed back in, but healthy whole grains and fruits were recommended.  There is a plethora of good research to support a low carb diet if done right.

Many folks with weight issues can’t control themselves when eating carbs, especially refined carbs, so this is where they get into trouble.  I think one can lose weight and keep it off with a moderate amount of whole grains and fruit, but they have to be disciplined not to overeat most of the time.  Not every diet approach works for everyone either, so working with people with where they are at is important to me as a nutritionist.


[i] 10 Proven Health Benefits of Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diets, Kris Gunnars, Authority Nutrition, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[ii] The Hidden Dangers of a Low Carbohydrate Diet, Ben Greenfield, bengreenfieldfitness.com, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[iii] Whole-Grain Pasta vs. Regular Pasta, Meg Campbell, SFGate, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[iv] Alternatives to Grains? What about Quinoa?, Mark’s Daily Apple, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[v] The rise and rise of sourdough bread, The Guardian, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[vi] Facts on the Health Benefits of Squash, Livestrong, Updated May 11, 2015, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[vii] The Healthy Benefits of Popcorn, Kendra Wright, SFGate, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[viii] 9 Reasons You Should Eat More Beans, Rachel Swalin, Health.com, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[ix] Benefits of Oatmeal: Why You Should Add The Power Food To Your High-Fiber Diet, Lizette Borreli, Medical Daily, Published April 9, 2015, Retrieved July 23, 2015.

[x] What Are Bananas Good For?, mercola.com, Retrieved July 23, 2015.