Like most people, we have a love-hate relationship with carbs (though it's a totally different story for those with gluten sensitivity). Don't get us wrong; we love a good bowl of pasta. But we're also conscious about our health, and carbs don't exactly have the best reputation. They're not all bad though. In fact, they can even help balance your hormones. As nutritionist Stephanie Taibe told us, "Carbs are important because they translate as energy." In short, we need them.
So which carbs should we be eating then, exactly? From everything we've ever wanted to know about the Keto diet to foods that will make your hair grow faster, nutritionists always give us the insider info. This time, we asked a few of them for their carb recommendations. Read on to find out which carbs you should be eating more of and which you need to ditch stat.
What to Eat
1. Whole-Wheat Bread & Pasta
Not everyone needs to eat gluten-free, according to Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition NYC. "Whole-wheat products contain fiber and undergo less processing, and therefore a smaller amount of the product fills you up so you stay full for longer periods of time," she explains. This also means that the energy from the carbs will burn slower, so you'll stay energized longer. "Whole-wheat products also contain B vitamins, which are important to maintain metabolism and energy levels," Shapiro notes.
2. Beans & Legumes
Wendy Leonard, a registered dietitian and the founder of RI Nutrition Therapy, recommends eating black beans, chickpeas, and lentils because of their folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. "They can reduce blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels, and help maintain a healthy gut," she adds.
Bottom line? Feel free to eat all the hummus you want (within reason of course).
While it may not be your first thought when you hear the word "carbs," fruit falls into this category because of its sugar. According to Shapiro, "When eating carbs, we want to max out our nutrients. So fruit does this by being loaded with vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants." Just be careful about the kinds of fruit that you're buying. Leonard suggests avoiding non-organic peaches, strawberries, grapes, apples, blueberries, and cherries because they tend to be higher in pesticides.
4. Winter Squash
Butternut squash, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash all fall under this seasonal category. "Winter squash are loaded with fiber and nutrients like beta-carotene to help eyesight and vitamin A for lung health," explains Shapiro. An added bonus? "They have vitamin C, which enhances immunity and also helps our skin fight off wrinkles," she adds.
To work more squash into your diet, swap out your pasta for spaghetti squash, or cut some butternut squash into fry shapes, toss them in oil, then bake them as a side for your lunch or dinner.
5. Whole & Sprouted Grains
According to Leonard, in order to be a whole-grain product, the grains must be intact or in a few large pieces. Examples include brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, and wild rice. These are a healthier carb because "whole grains digest slowly, reducing frequency of spikes in blood sugar that promote inflammation," she notes.
Sprouted grains are another source of healthy carbs. "I always recommend sprouted grains to my clients since they are more easily digestible and we can absorb more nutrients from them than those which are not sprouted," explains Shapiro. Try Ezekiel bread or Angelic Bakehouse Sprouted 7-Grain bread to reap these benefits.
What to Avoid
1. White Bread
When white bread is processed, the majority of its fiber, vitamins, and minerals are removed. Leonard warns that since white bread is now low in fiber, it is digested quickly, which raises blood glucose and insulin levels. If you eat white bread on a regular basis, "these repeated insulin responses can result in insulin resistance, which is linked to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease," she adds. So basically, stay away.
2. White Rice
Shapiro refers to white rice as the "cheap filler" on your plate. She backs this up, stating, "it is fairly devoid of nutrients, stripped of its bran (the fiber), and quickly breaks down into sugar in the body. Leonard points out that white rice raises the same concern as white bread. It causes your blood glucose and insulin levels to rise quickly.
While they may not seem all that unhealthy, chips can have the same impact as white bread and white rice because they raise blood glucose levels. Additionally, Leonard cautions, "Because they are broken down so easily, we can eat large amounts of them without getting full. And because they taste so good, salty and crunchy, the pleasure center of our brain gets stimulated, which is a recipe for disaster."
If you're really in the mood for some, try putting a couple of handfuls in a bowl rather than eating straight from the bag. Doing so will help reduce your chances of overeating.
This seemingly harmless breakfast option isn't the best choice, according to Shapiro. "Most cereals are not very filling, are void of fiber, and are filled with sugar," she warns. "I also notice that my clients who eat cereal generally pour quite a large serving, often double or more than what the box recommends," she continues.
Instead, Shapiro recommends starting your day with a protein like eggs, which will keep you full longer.
5. Fat-Free Baked Goods & Snacks
Many people are enticed by the fat-free claim, but Shapiro says these foods should be avoided at all costs. "Fat-free doesn't mean it's healthy; it usually just means you'll eat more because it will take more of the item to fill you up," she cautions. "Fat helps you to feel full and satisfied. By taking it out of foods, you either add more sugar or you eat more because you think it's 'good for you,'" Shapiro continues.
Steer clear of pretzels, veggie straws, chips, and other snacks that are marketed as "fat-free," and opt for less processed, more filling options.
Want to learn more? Check out the only 10 foods that all nutritionists recommend.