Not the Enemy: The Four Carbs Nutritionists Think You Should Eat

"Carbs"—a word that incites many varying reactions for many different people. For me, it's along the lines of "yum, give me that." For others, carbs are the first thing they'll cut out of their diet if weight loss is the goal. In fact, Kim Kardashian West credits her over 60-pound weight loss to the Atkins diet post-pregnancy. But a new study shows those who cut fat rather than carbs are more likely to burn more body fat overall.

"It's detrimental to cut out carbs entirely because it can put the body in a constant state of ketosis," says Jessica Rosen, a certified holistic health coach and president of Raw Generation. "Ketosis is fine in the short term, but over an extended period of time, it causes the body to be overly acidic and can damage your health. Excess acidity in the body promotes inflammation, digestive problems, and chronic disease."

So what to do? Do we cater to less than 40 net carbs a day à la KKW or let the experts and studies guide us down a different path? I inquired about the carbs themselves. There has to be something that qualifies as a carb but still allows for a healthy, clean diet.

"The best carbohydrate foods are unprocessed whole foods, like fresh fruit, 100% juice, whole grains, foods made with whole grains, and many vegetables," says Jennifer Iserloh of the Skinny Chef. "These foods also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Foods made with refined grains have fewer of these nutrients. Foods loaded with added sugars have few nutrients and can add excess calories." To help, we rounded up the four healthiest carbs and why you should continue to incorporate them into your diet.

#4: Acorn Squash

Acorn squash salad
A Couple Cooks

"Acorn squash is a healthy carbohydrate that’s very rich in vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium," notes Rosen. "It's also a rich source of antioxidant beta-carotene which promotes healthy skin and good vision."

Not only is acorn squash high in antioxidants (to fight free radicals), but its vitamin C content also helps to boost your immune system, has anti-inflammatory properties, and spurs the production of collagen. In fact, it can even boost the burning of fat while you exercise, according to Arizona State University researchers.

#3: High-Protein Legumes

Bowl of vegetables and legumes
Oh She Glows

"Certain legumes—like black beans, lentils, and peanuts—are an excellent source of plant-based protein, as well as B vitamins like folate, which help you produce and maintain new healthy cells," explains Rosen. "Legumes are a great way to get iron, which helps soothe irritability, fights fatigue, and promotes healthy cognitive function. They're also are rich in fiber for healthy digestion and staying fuller longer."

Legumes are hearty and filling, but they leave you (and your body) feeling better than a bowl of pasta. According to new research, beans and peas are the ideal breakfast food for weight loss and maintenance. Scientists at the University of Copenhagen found those who ate high-protein legumes at breakfast consumed 12% fewer calories at lunchtime.

#2: Barley

Bowl of barley
Food & Wine

"Barley is most notable for its high fiber content," says Rosen. "It's a healthy vitamin- and mineral-rich whole grain that helps to fight inflammation and prevent disease. Barley's rich copper, phosphorous, and manganese content, making it excellent for bone health and osteoporosis prevention. It also offers protection against heart disease and diabetes."

"Barley contains a whopping 6 grams of belly-filling, mostly soluble fiber that has been linked to lowered cholesterol, decreased blood sugars, and increased satiety," says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN.

Celebrity nutritionist Elissa Goodman, agrees: "Barley is rich in antioxidants, essential amino acids, and beneficial enzymes. That means it can help strengthen your immune system, detoxify the body, maintain healthy skin, and more." Start by adding two teaspoons of barley extract to your morning smoothie or green juice, Goodman suggests.

#1: Quinoa

quinoa bowl
Madeleine Shaw Recipes

"One of the healthiest carbs out there is quinoa," says Jessica Rosen, a certified holistic health coach and president of Raw Generation. "It's gluten-free, high in fiber, packed with antioxidants, and full of nutrients like iron, zinc, and magnesium. Quinoa is a complete protein, offering nine essential amino acids while still remaining low in calories. Eating quinoa promotes health, weight loss, and improved health."

In fact, a Harvard Public School of Health study looked at what happened when 367,442 individuals ate a bowl of quinoa on a daily basis. They found it reduces the risk of premature death from cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes by 17%.

"Unlike most high-carbohydrate grains, quinoa sustains the appetite without skyrocketing blood glucose levels," explains Rosen. "It actually lowers blood glucose levels, which is significant for healthy weight loss because excess glucose gets stored as fat in the body. With its rich nutrient content, an abundance of antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties, eating quinoa helps reduce the risk of disease."

Article Sources
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  2. Johnston CS, Corte C, Swan PD. Marginal vitamin C status is associated with reduced fat oxidation during submaximal exercise in young adults. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006;3:35. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-35

  3. Kristensen MD, Bendsen NT, Christensen SM, Astrup A, Raben A. Meals based on vegetable protein sources (beans and peas) are more satiating than meals based on animal protein sources (veal and pork) - a randomized cross-over meal test study. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:32634. doi:10.3402/fnr.v60.32634 

  4. Surampudi P, Enkhmaa B, Anuurad E, Berglund L. Lipid Lowering with Soluble Dietary Fiber. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2016;18(12):75. doi:10.1007/s11883-016-0624-z

  5. Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Rimm EB, et al. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Med. 2016;13(6):e1002039. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039

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