Carbohydrates are a very important macronutrient that help you get through your day, but most importantly carbohydrates helps your body to stay healthy. The variety of carbohydrate sources out there is overwhelming and it is hard to pick the right ones. This list will help you sort some of the carbohydrates out and give you a fairly simple overview of what healthy carbs you should incorporate in your diet to stay healthy, fit, and functional!
However, before talking about the carbohydrate sources, it is important to understand the glycemic index of foods.
The Glycemic Index
Glycemic index (GI) is the measurement of the rate at which foods enter the bloodstream, compared to pure glucose. Foods with lower GI enter the bloodstream slower compared to pure glucose, resulting in lower insulin spikes and delivery of energy over a longer period of time. However, consumption of high GI foods results in spikes of insulin and blood sugar, which causes a quicker release of energy than low GI foods. Knowing the GI of foods is highly beneficial, as you can determine and predict which foods are beneficial to consume pre-workout, late at night, or for breakfast in the morning.
Let’s go over some healthy carb choices you can incorporate into your diet which will give you the nutrients you need and move you closer to your fitness goals!
The signature item of a healthy and easy-to-make breakfast is oatmeal. The average GI for oatmeal is 55, making it a great option for a healthy pre-workout snack or when you feel in need of an energy boost. Besides the abundance of uses in the kitchen, ½ cup of rolled oats packs 28g of carbs, 4 of which are fiber, 5g of protein, and only 150 calories! Oats are also low in saturated fat and with some cinnamon and frozen berries sprinkled on top, you have one great tasting healthy breakfast or mid-afternoon snack.
2. Sweet Potatoes
The list of healthy carbohydrates would not be complete without sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have an amazing taste and slightly orange color due to the abundance of vitamin A. They are great when baked, which doesn’t require much preparation. High in fiber and fairly low in calories, the sweet potato is a great addition to steak or as a side for some baked fish to create a healthy, light, and tasty dish!
One cooked medium size sweet potato (approximately 4oz.) contains 24g of carbs, 4 of which are fiber, 0 fat, 2g of sugars, and only 105 calories! The GI for an average sweet potato is 70, due to its higher sugar content. Nevertheless, sweet potatoes are definitely a healthy choice when choosing the right types of carbohydrates for a well balanced and nutritious lifestyle! Whenever I feel like mixing things up, I top off a baked potato with some cinnamon and a tablespoon of brown sugar and enjoy its sweet taste with grilled chicken or salmon!
3. Brown Rice
Rice is one of the most convenient carb sources to incorporate into your nutrition plan. If you invest a few bucks in buying a rice cooker, you can have an abundance of rice with your meals always ready! At the press of a button, you can cook loads of rice in advance and just simply serve it as needed! Whenever I go to classes I set the rice to cook and when I come back later in the afternoon, the rice for multiple days is ready to go!
One cup of brown rice has 44g of carbs, 1 g of fat, 6g of protein and approximately 215 calories. A great way to add loads of taste is by adding fresh herbs and spices during the cooking process! One of my favorite ways to incorporate this healthy carb source into the dishes is in a burrito or a stir fry!
Beans are one of those foods that are almost too good to be true. They are packed with protein, fiber, complex carbs, vitamins, and minerals. Beans also come in a very broad variety of types, each slightly different in flavor. On average the GI of beans is approximately 30, which makes this healthy carb ideal for long lasting energy and the feeling of being full. Take pinto beans for example; half a cup of cooked pinto beans in water contains only 120 calories, 22g of carbs, 8 of which are fiber, below 1g of fat, and an amazing 8g of protein!
I have always used beans as a cheap alternative to meat since they are just an overall great food packed with nutrients. Cooking up a bunch of beans in advance and having it ready in a Tupperware is a very easy and delicious way to increase your protein intake whenever you need. Give them a try and explore some recipes from Latin American cuisine, you will not regret it!
5. Whole Wheat Pasta
Anyone should be able to enjoy a healthy and tasty Italian dish every once in a while. Whole wheat pasta is great for a light Italian dinner recipe! One cup of cooked whole wheat spaghetti contains 37g of carbs, 6 of which are fiber, 7.5g of protein, and 174 calories. Unlike its refined pasta counterpart, whole wheat is a little higher in fiber, has a lower amount of calories, and provides more minerals and vitamin B. The best part about whole wheat pasta is that the price is almost identical to that of normally refined pasta products.
I usually pick up a couple of boxes of whole wheat spaghetti and some penne when I am looking for an easy to prepare healthy carbohydrate source for a great price!
Couscous may very well be my personal favorite carb! You do not need to be a world-class chef to find uses for this healthy carb in your diet! Couscous is incredibly easy and quick to prepare and you only need a drop of olive oil and pinch of salt to make it taste delicious! The GI of couscous is 65, which makes it a perfect fit for a healthy lunch which will get you going again.
One cup has 36g of carbs, 6g of protein and nearly 0g of fat, for 170 calories! Try to mix couscous with some lentils and vegetables, in salads, or as a side with some meat from the grill on the weekend afternoon!
Take Home Message
Regardless of your fitness goals, incorporating healthy carbohydrates into your diet is essential to success. One of the best ways to ensure you always have a healthy carb source in your kitchen is to make a grocery list early on and buy a variety of carb sources to keep around! I tend to keep around three or four of these healthy carb choices within reach at all times. This prevents me from running out of options and using highly processed foods or going to eat out unnecessarily.
You should definitely consider buying some of these items on your next grocery store run to ensure you have plenty of healthy carbs in your diet! I hope you found this list beneficial and I would love to hear from you about which carb sources you like to cook with and how are they working for you?