What Are the Healthiest Carbs to Eat?

Medically Reviewed on 9/9/2021
healthy carbs
Carbohydrates are an important nutrient that supplies the body energy. Eating healthy carbs includes those rich in dietary fiber, such as quinoa, brown rice and legumes.

Carbohydrates are a nutrient that supplies energy and other nutritional health benefits. Carbs can be found in all fruits and vegetables, bread, cereals, as well as sugar and sugary foods. Choosing carbohydrate-rich foods that are healthy and high in dietary fiber is important.

When the body goes too long without carbs, it causes many metabolic imbalances that can result in intense cravings, fatigue, anxiety and other symptoms. Although, that doesn't mean a person should eat a lot of bread and processed carbs. Healthy eating means including more fruits and vegetables in the diet to significantly improve the mind and body.

Foods rich with healthy carbs include:

  • Vegetables
    • Carbohydrates can be found in a variety of vegetables, ranging from Brussels sprouts to beets.
    • Eating a variety of vegetables benefits overall health by providing several naturally occurring plant compounds, called phytonutrients. These are good sources of many vitamins and minerals and help prevent heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
  • Whole fruits
    • Fruit fibers slow down the release of simple sugars, making them a healthy option for those with sweet tooth.
    • Some people are concerned that the naturally occurring simple sugars in fruits will cause them to gain weight. However, a study that followed men and women in the United States for 24 years revealed that the more fruit (and vegetables) people ate, the less weight they gained over time.
    • Nonetheless, moderation is the key with fruits as well.
  • Pulse
    • Bean, pea and lentil seeds contain a unique combination of starch, fiber and protein, which helps satisfy the appetite and keep post-meal munchies at bay. 
    • People who ate pulses regularly had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, possibly due to their beneficial effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other factors.
  • Whole grains
    • Whole grains are high in magnesium, antioxidants and vitamin E, as well as provide complex carbs and fiber.
    • According to research, eating a diet high in whole grains can help reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes and heart disease.
  • Tubers
    • A tuber may be a good source of potassium, vitamins C and B6 and other nutrients depending on its type.

Further examples of healthy carbs

  • Whole-grain, wild and brown rice in their natural state include the minerals and fiber necessary for healthy digestion.
  • Products made from whole wheat grains, including bread, pasta and flour, are rich in fiber and minerals.
  • Fermentable grains, such as oats, oatmeal, barley and quinoa, are high in potassium, magnesium and selenium.
  • Vegetables, such as beans and peas, are abundant in fiber, folate and iron.
  • Micronutrient-rich vegetables include carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and pumpkin. Besides these, leafy greens are a good source of micronutrients.
  • Almonds, walnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, hemp and pumpkin seeds contain healthy carbs and omega-3 fatty acids.

What are the different types of carbohydrates?

As one of the three macronutrients (the other two being protein and fats) in nutrition, carbohydrates are an important source of energy.

Three forms of carbohydrates

  1. Monosaccharides are the most basic type of carbohydrate, and they include glucose and fructose.
  2. Disaccharides are formed when two monosaccharide molecules join. They include lactose and sucrose.
  3. Polysaccharide chains are made up of more than two monosaccharide molecules that are bonded together, such as fiber and starch.

Carbohydrates can be further classified into

  • Simple carbohydrates are composed of monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are also called sugars. They are a popular choice because they are an instant source of energy.
  • Complex carbohydrates include polysaccharides, such as fiber and starch (or "good" carbs). Fiber does not provide energy directly but feeds the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria aid digestion and help maintain gut health.

What are the benefits and risks of a low-carb diet?

Low-carbohydrate diets vary in intensity and impact people differently. Before embarking on a low-carb diet (or making any radical change to the diet), it is best to consult with the doctor to learn more about eating healthy.

Potential side effects of a low-carb diet

Potential benefits of a low-carb diet

The amount of carbohydrates a person should consume varies according to their age, gender, general health and activity level, so it is unique to everyone. In general, aim to fill half of the plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with whole grains and protein. If a person follows this, carbohydrates in the form of fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy will account for roughly half of their total calories for the day.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/9/2021
Harvard T.H. Chan. Carbohydrates. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/

WebMD. Slideshow: You’re Guide to Eating Healthy Carbs. https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-your-guide-to-eating-healthy-carbs

Physicians Committee. The Carbohydrate Advantage. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/the-carbohydrate-advantage