How many carbs should I eat?
We need three macronutrients to maintain a healthy diet: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. When eaten in the right amounts for your body, these three building blocks create the solid structure of a proper diet and contribute to your overall health.
Most foods contain carbs in some form. But all carbs aren’t created equal. Some foods contain carbs that mainly come from sugar, while in others they come from whole grain sources that promote better health.
There are many conflicting messages when it comes to the food we eat. We see endless options in the media and in grocery stores like low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat foods. It can make you wonder what a healthy diet really is and how to maintain one with the right high-carb foods.
There are three types of carbs:
- Starch. Some examples of starchy carbs are potatoes, grains, and bread. They usually come from plant-based sources.
- Sugar. Carbs from sugar can be found in natural sources like fruit or refined foods like soda.
- Fiber. Your body doesn’t actually absorb fiber. Instead, it uses fiber primarily as a tool to help food move smoothly through your digestive system.
The amount of carbs you should eat varies based on your calorie needs and activity levels. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that about 45% to 65% of your daily calories should be made up of carbs.
For someone who eats the average amount of 2,000 calories per day, that means 900 to 1200 of your daily calories should come from carbs.
People who are pregnant/nursing, children, and those with higher activity levels may have different calorie and carbohydrate needs. Speak to a doctor or registered dietician to find out what your exact nutritional needs are.
You might find it helpful to follow a meal plan or guideline provided by a dietician to take the guesswork out of everyday nutrition.
Healthy high carb foods
Eating a diet high in quality carbs, protein, and fats will not only keep your waistline in check but also benefit you for years to come.
Taking care of your health can take effort in the beginning. Over time, though, it becomes easier, and you might find yourself changing your regular pattern of activities as you gain more energy from your healthy diet.
You might even find that you already enjoy some of these foods or are able to slightly modify the way they’re prepared to suit your taste.
Potatoes. This starchy root vegetable is one of the most versatile foods out there. Baked, mashed, or boiled are all healthy preparation options. If you love fried potatoes, try spraying a light coating of oil on sliced spuds and baking them for a similar effect. Just be mindful of any additions to your potatoes – extra dairy and fats can quickly add up. Eat with the peel for an extra nutrient and fiber boost.
Barley. Barley has been around for quite some time but is still making its debut as a widely eaten grain in North America. It can come in two forms: hulled and pearled. Hulling is the process of removing the rough outer shell of the grain. When pearled, the bran is removed, so it loses its status as a whole grain. Either way, though, it is a heart-healthy grain and is proven to lower cholesterol. Add it to salads or cook it on its own as a rice substitute.
Lentils. This ancient food is full of nutrients like protein, fiber, iron, and folate, so it can stand in as a meat substitute. There are several different kinds of lentil widely available. You can add them to sauces, create soups and curries, or bump up your salads with the extra carbs and flavors. They’ve been shown to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Beans. There are over 10 types of beans you can choose from. They’re full of fiber, folate, protein, and potassium, and they don’t contain any fat. Eating beans has been shown to reduce heart disease, risk of cancer, and improve diabetes. You can buy them canned or dry and cook them yourself. Prepare dips, soups, stews, chilis, salads, and pastas. Ease beans into your diet to avoid unnecessary bloating and gas.
Quinoa. This grain is actually a seed that originates from South America. It’s a complete protein and can replace virtually any type of grain from breakfast cereal to rice. It’s quick and easy to prepare and quite bland on its own, so it can easily carry your favorite seasoning.
Forbidden rice. Forbidden rice is black in color and has a chewy, nutty texture. It’s in the same family as red and purple rice. These rices pack an extra nutritional punch because they contain a natural chemical with antioxidants that are found in blackberries and blueberries. Regardless of what its name suggests, you can find black or forbidden rice at your local Asian grocer.
Brown rice. All white rice starts off as brown rice. Brown rice means the grains are still in their original state and have a layer of fibrous bran on top of the grain. Brown rice is chewier and nuttier in taste than white. You can eat it on its own or throw a handful in a salad or soup for an extra boost.
Bulgur. Bulgur is a wheat product. It’s used mostly in Mediterranean cooking and can go in soups or used as a binder, like a less refined flour. It starts with the wheat grain or berry being hulled and partially cooked. It’s then ground into several different textures that range from rough to fine. Bulgur is parboiled and usually cooks in under 10 minutes, so it’s a great grain to prepare when you’re short on time.
Oats. Don’t forget about this heart-healthy champion. Oats have long been known for their ability to help lower cholesterol and as a great breakfast cereal. Old-fashioned oats are less processed and contain more nutrients than minute oats. Substitute a handful of oats for flour in your next baking project to amp up the nutrients.
Whole grain bread. Go for a whole grain bread instead of white next time you’re in the bakery aisle. Refined grains like the ones used in white bread don’t have as many valuable nutrients as whole grains. Whole grains can keep you fuller for longer, too, which can reduce the amount of calories you eat in a day.
Bananas. This high-carb fruit has gotten a bad reputation in the past for its sugar content, but bananas offer vitamin B, vitamin C, fiber, and minerals. A banana makes a quick and satisfying snack between meals.
Chickpeas. Chickpeas are a legume in the same family as beans and lentils. They’re a source of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and magnesium to name a few. They’re quite a versatile food and can be thrown into just about any savory dish for a little extra protein and nutrients. Chickpeas are also the base of hummus, a popular middle eastern dip and sandwich spread.
Buckwheat. Buckwheat is a large seed that resembles a grain. It’s eaten cooked as-is or made into flour to create noodles and baked goods. Buckwheat doesn't contain wheat, and it is gluten-free. It’s high in fiber and contains a compound called rutin that can help strengthen your blood vessels.
Introducing new foods into your diet can be a learning curve. Learning how to prepare and season them to your liking could take a few tries, but having variety can prevent boredom and make you less likely to stray into junk food territory. Check with your doctor before starting any new diet.
3 types of foods to avoid
What you eat largely determines your future. Eating a majority of healthy, unprocessed foods is the best way to ensure you live a long and healthy life.
Foods that contain processed sugar and grains are extremely common. From grocery stores to the media, these foods and drinks are everywhere. Chances are good that, every once in a while, you’ll indulge in some of them.
Limit these three types of foods or make them an indulgence rather than a habit as you maintain your healthy diet:
Sugary drinks. Soda contains 7 to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz. glass. Soda is a large reason why the obesity rate in the U.S. is so high. It promotes diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and poor bone health.
Syrups and candy. High-fructose corn syrup is one of the main ingredients in most candy, syrups, and sugary drinks. In addition to promoting poor health and obesity, candy can contain loads of artificial colors and can easily stick to your teeth. That can cause cavities and poor dental health.
Refined starches. Refined starches are starches that have been stripped of most of their nutritional value. White pasta, white bread, and most processed starches qualify as refined. Eating them can lead to spikes in your blood sugar that promote diabetes. It can also lead to high blood pressure and mood changes.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cleveland Clinic: "What Are Chickpeas and Are They Healthy?"
Harvard Health Publishing: "Grain of the month: Barley," "Grain of the month: Buckwheat."
Harvard T.H. Chan, The Nutrition Source: "Bananas" "Lentils," "Oats," "Rice," "Sugary Drinks," "Quinoa," "Whole Grains."
Help Guide: "Refined Carbs and Sugar: The Diet Saboteurs."
Mayo Clinic, Nutrition and healthy eating: "What is high-fructose corn syrup? What are the health concerns?"
NHS: "Starchy food and carbohydrates."
NHS GO: "The truth about carbs."
North Dakota State University: "All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus."
University of Illinois, Illinois Extension: "Bulgur is a convenient whole grain source."
USDA: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans."
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