Carbohydrates have become very controversial. Modern diets tend to heavily rely on carbs, particularly ultra-processed carbs, while keeping fat intake to a minimum. Yet, many people feel that carbs are causing many serious health problems and that we should entirely avoid carbohydrate rich foods.
While some carb-containing foods are problematic, there are some healthy high carb foods too, including quinoa and oats. Some of these contain a compelling balance of nutrients and may offer other advantages for your health too.
This means that the carb content of a type of food shouldn’t be the only factor in your decision. Think about the other nutrients that are present as well, along with how the food fits into your overall diet.
To aid in your decisions, we’ve broken this list down into two parts – foods that are healthy and foods are much less so. There is, of course, plenty of debate about where some of these foods fall. Pasta, rice, and bread are all examples of foods that some people call healthy and others don’t.
Even so, the lists in this post should give you all the information that you need to make your own decisions. After all, the quality of your diet overall is what impacts your health, rather than whether you have a donut once in a blue moon.
Table of Contents
- Healthy Carbohydrate Rich Foods
- Less Healthy Carbohydrate Foods
Healthy Carbohydrate Rich Foods
- Most Fruit
- Sweet Potatoes
- Kidney Beans
- Whole Grain Bread
- Black Beans
- Pinto Beans
Quinoa is often called a superfood. It is actually a seed, but most of the time it is prepared like a grain.
The superfood label comes from how nutritionally dense the little seed is. It contains a considerable number of different healthy nutrients, minerals, and other plant-based compounds.
Quinoa also happens to contain a decent amount of protein and fiber. As such, it can help you to feel satisfied and is often used as a weight loss food.
Cooking quinoa simply involves boiling it in liquid for around 15 minutes. This makes it as easy to prepare as rice or pasta. In fact, quinoa is often used as an alternative side to rice.
Buckwheat is a little misleading, as this pseudocereal isn’t related to wheat at all. It doesn’t even contain gluten.
While buckwheat isn’t as popular as quinoa, it is another good source of nutrients. Once again, it offers protein and fiber, making this a satisfying addition to your diet.
Buckwheat is often used in the form of buckwheat flour, which is common in baking.
You’ll also find buckwheat groats in some places. These may sometimes be pre-roasted and can be added to many different meals.
Most types of fruit are sweet, making them a significant source of carbohydrates. However, the carb content varies dramatically depending on the kind of fruit.
Bananas, for example, tend to be very high in carbs, especially if you’re eating a fully ripe banana. Berries are often lower in carbs, to the point that some keto dieters enjoy small amounts of berries.
Fruit is healthy, as a general rule. It is a natural food and also contains a variety of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are plant-based compounds, many of which have been linked to health benefits.
There are countless different phytonutrients, and each type of fruit has its own balance of these compounds. This is why having a wide variety of fruit in your diet is so powerful.
However, fruit does tend to be high in sugar. Sugar from fruit is often considered healthier than the refined sugar that you find in processed food, but it is still sugar. As such, you still need to pay attention to the amount that you’re consuming.
Oats are often used when people want to lose weight, as they are filling and contain a decent amount of fiber too. While oats aren’t high in protein, they do provide more protein than many other grains.
There is also evidence that eating oats regularly may help to lower blood sugar and decrease heart disease risk. Besides this, oats offer plenty of antioxidants and nutrients to keep you healthy.
The bright color of sweet potatoes makes them immediately noticeable. The compounds responsible for this coloring have implications for health. Plus, sweet potatoes act as a good source of antioxidants.
The antioxidant advantages of sweet potatoes alone are a reason to enjoy the tuber regularly. Sweet potatoes also taste good and are versatile – two factors that make it easy to include sweet potatoes in your diet.
Potatoes are high in carbs and starch, which makes many people think that they’re unhealthy. Yet, potatoes are surprisingly nutritious too. They actually contain more potassium than a banana, while also providing vitamin C, iron and vitamin B6.
There is some protein and fiber present too, although the amount of protein isn’t especially high.
More importantly, potatoes are versatile and easy to prepare. This feature makes them easy to include in countless dishes. Potatoes also work well as a side for meals. After all, a dinner of meat, veggies, and potatoes has remained a staple option for a long time.
The bright red color of beetroots is an immediate indication that this vegetable is healthy. Color compounds in plants are often powerful antioxidants and may promote health in a variety of ways.
Beetroots also happen to be high in nitrates. Nitrates are interesting compounds that convert to nitric oxide, which may then help to decrease blood pressure and provide other health benefits.
Plus, the carb content of beetroots isn’t as high as many of the other items on this list, containing between 8% and 10% carbs. Some of those carbs come from fiber, which is processed differently by the body.
Legumes tend to be carb-heavy and kidney beans are no exception. However, the beans also manage to be a good source of protein and fiber, which make them filling. Once again, there are various other useful compounds in kidney beans, including plant-based compounds like anthocyanins.
With kidney beans, correct preparation is essential. The beans are toxic when they are eaten raw or improperly cooked, so make sure that you cook them thoroughly.
Chickpeas are another type of legume and have a carb content of more than 25%. Chickpeas need to be cooked, which generally involves boiling them, although pressure cooking and sous vide are viable approaches too.
Many people use chickpeas to make hummus or falafel, but chickpeas can be used in meals too. For example, they’re common in curries, stews, and as part of a salad.
Chickpeas are nutritionally dense too, with a 100-gram serving offering more than 20% of the recommended daily value for various nutrients, including fiber, iron, and folate. They are also an important source of crucial amino acids.
Whole Grain Bread
Whole grains the best type of carb to consume, as you’re getting fiber, vitamins, and minerals, rather than just the energy from the carbs. Diets rich in whole grains have been linked to health advantages, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Because of this, whole grain bread offers more nutrients and may be better for you.
However, the type of bread that you choose matters. For example, whole wheat bread may not be any better than white bread. Both types of bread tend to be heavily processed. While wheat bread does contain more nutrients, there is also an antinutrient effect that may reduce the amount of nutrients that you absorb.
On the other hand, whole grain breads that are less processed may be more beneficial.
Sprouted bread is a perfect example of this pattern. Sprouted bread includes many whole seeds and which aren’t broken up in processing. The sprouting process adds to the nutritional balance too, making the bread better for you than many other types.
Lentils have long been popular in soups and they’re now starting to pop up in many other types of meals as well. You can even sometimes find chips and pasta made from lentils.
This isn’t so surprising, as lentils have some clear nutritional advantages.
For one thing, lentils have more polyphenols than many other legumes, especially if you focus on strongly colored legumes, like red, yellow, and even black.
Lentils also offer a considerable amount of protein. A full cup of cooked lentils gives you an impressive 18 grams of protein. That’s more than you get with many other foods. Plus, legumes offer a decent amount of iron, fiber, magnesium, and folic acid.
While lentils are generally healthy, they do contain lectins, which is true for other legumes and nightshades as well. Lectins can sometimes lead to an upset stomach and potentially inflammation. Many people can consume lectins without much of a problem, but if you get an upset stomach from lentils, you may need to cut down your intake.
Corn isn’t just delicious, it is also good for you. The carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein that it contains are particularly important, as both have been linked to improved eye health. There are, of course, various other nutrients present too.
This does mean that you can get benefits from eating popcorn too, as popcorn does still offer many of the same nutrients. You’ll still need to be careful with toppings. After all, popcorn covered in lashings of butter and salt isn’t going to offer the same benefits as popcorn on its own.
Rice is a staple food in many parts of the world and people who eat it regularly are often healthy. While the advantages of rice are partly linked to its versatility, ease of storage, and low price, there are some nutritional advantages as well.
One is simply that rice can be eaten by most people, even those with food sensitivities. Rice is also a significant source of fiber, along with some other nutrients, especially if you’re not relying on white rice.
This brings us to the age-old discussion of white rice versus brown rice. White rice is more processed, where the germ and bran from the grain have been removed. This does mean that there are fewer nutrients, although many companies add nutrients back into white rice to account for this issue.
There are also other colors of rice, which each have their own nutritional profile. Black rice is often thought to be particularly good for health, as it contains some interesting polyphenols. Red rice has some desirable plant-based compounds too.
But, even white rice can be good for you. It works well as a side for many meals and does still offer fiber and some other nutrients. The best approach for health is to include a variety of rice types in your diet.
We’ve mentioned a few legumes on this list already and black beans are another beneficial type. They’re an important source of fiber and protein, as is the case for most legumes.
The black coloring is the most notable thing to mention about the beans. Vibrant coloring like this comes from plant-based pigment molecules, which often have important implications for human health.
Pinto beans are another type to consider. These are one of the most popular types of beans in the United States and have an unusual flecked color pattern. This patterning disappears after cooking, to leave beans that are either light pink or brown.
The beans are popular for how easy they are to prepare, along with their flavor, which has nutty and earthy tones. Once again, there is no shortage of nutrients to be found, with thiamine, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus all strongly featuring in the nutritional breakdown.
Milk has a long history of being considered an essential part of a healthy diet. The nutrients in milk are thought to be vital for promoting healthy bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Milk ends up being relatively high in carbs, especially if you’re having a cup or more at a time. Even so, the potential health benefits from milk mean that it remains a common part of our modern diets.
You’re not limited to cow’s milk either. Milk from other animals, like sheep and goats, have similar health benefits, although there are differences in the nutritional profile.
That being said, calling milk healthy is a controversial idea. Some people are concerned about the potential for dairy products to promote inflammation. Thankfully, if you do have negative reactions to dairy products, there are many other sources of the nutrients.
Peas are another staple part of the diet for many people. You might enjoy them fresh, from frozen, or canned, but regardless the nutritional profile is similar.
Sugars are responsible for a decent amount of carbs in peas, but the fiber is significant too. Fiber has many vital impacts, including the ability to help with digestion.
There are other beneficial aspects of peas too too, including natural antioxidants and various oligosaccharides that may help to improve your health and reduce the risk of disease.
Bananas are right on the edge of the healthy versus unhealthy discussion. They do contain many essential nutrients and act as a good source of potassium and fiber.
Bananas are also practical. They’re nicely portioned and are easy to take and eat on the go, which isn’t true for every type of fruit. Frozen bananas are perfect in smoothies, giving you an amazing texture that you won’t get with anything else.
The problem is their sugar content. Bananas contain more sugar than most other types of fruit. Their nutrients aren’t amazing either. You won’t find some of the powerful polyphenols and antioxidants that are present in berries and other richly colored fruit.
This balance of advantages to disadvantages means that many people steer away from bananas entirely. While you don’t need to go to that extreme, it’s useful to keep an eye on your banana intake and make sure you don’t have them too often.
Less Healthy Carbohydrate Foods
- Dried Fruit
- White Bread
- Baked Goods
- Heavily Processed Foods
- Fruit Juice
- Many Smoothies
- Breakfast Cereals
- Candy And Many Chocolate Bars
- Potato Chips And Fries
- Ice Cream
- Other Sweeteners
Dried fruit tends to be a natural product and can even be a concentrated source of some plant-based nutrients. For example, prunes and dried apricots are both very good sources of potassium.
But, dried fruit is also a concentrated source of sugar. A single piece of dried fruit gives you the same sugar as a piece of the regular fruit, except that dried fruit is much easier to eat. Because of this, it’s many of us eat more dried fruit than we intend to in at a time.
The lower sugar content of dried fruit compared to regular fruit is a limitation too. This makes the dried fruit less filling than regular fruit.
White bread is often considered unhealthy, as it is highly processed and quickly breaks down in the body, which can lead to glucose spikes. Indeed, one of the most common health recommendations is to switch from white bread to whole wheat bread instead.
As we mentioned earlier in this list, moving to whole grain bread instead is generally a healthier switch, especially if you’re relying on sprouted bread. Plus, sprouted bread tends to contain fewer additives and is less processed. Both of those outcomes are helpful too.
That being said, white bread isn’t as bad as it sounds, especially if you find bread that doesn’t have added sugar. After all, bread is often a vehicle for healthy ingredients, like lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes.
In the end, if white bread helps you eat more healthy ingredients, then it might not be a bad thing at all. Just don’t think of your bread as a source of many nutrients.
The issue with pasta is similar to white bread. It relies on processed white flour and doesn’t offer all that many nutrients. As odd as this may seem, some types of pasta even have added sugar.
To make matters worse, pasta dishes are often rich and creamy. Some might not include many vegetables, so relying too heavily on pasta-based meals can lead to an unhealthy diet overall.
As with bread, you don’t need to cut pasta out of your diet entirely. It’s simply important to be aware of the meals that you make with pasta and how often you have it.
The pasta that you choose can make a difference too. For example, whole wheat pasta may have more benefits than white pasta (although this is somewhat debatable, as is the case for bread). Homemade or artisan pasta may be better than regular store-bought pasta, as store-bought pasta is more likely to contain extra sugar and additives.
Most conventional baked goods, like bread, muffins, cookies and similar items, tend to be high in carbs. This is partly because baking heavily relies on wheat flour, which is high in carbs.
Baked goods also tend to be an unhealthy source of carbs, as the food is often loaded with fat and sugar too. Having a muffin or a cookie every so often mightn’t be a big deal, but it’s best not to have too much of this food in your diet.
We say conventional baked goods because there are many low carb recipes out there. These tend to avoid wheat flour and use low carb flour alternatives, like coconut flour or almond flour.
Similarly, you can make healthy baked goods with wheat flour. It’s merely a matter of finding a good recipe. There are countless cookbooks and food blogs out there, so you should be able to find recipes that work with a little bit of diffing.
Heavily Processed Foods
Grocery store shelves are lined with heavily processed food, in countless styles. Some of these products barely resemble natural foods at all, while many have had various artificial ingredients added in.
Heavily processed foods tend to rely on refined carbs. The term generally refers to carbs that have had their natural fiber removed. As a result, refined carbs are processed faster by the body and are more strongly linked to health problems.
Refined carbs lead to rapid increases and decreases in blood sugar levels too. This pattern can lead to energy crashes and hunger.
In the end, heavily processed foods are rarely good for you. While they may be convenient and offer some nutrients, you’ll generally find that whole foods are healthier and more nutritious.
While fruit is healthy, fruit juice doesn’t tend to be. The problem is that you’re getting all the sugar from the fruit, while missing out on critical nutrients, particularly fiber.
Eating regular fruit takes time, as you need to chew the fruit. The combination of fiber and liquid means that eating a piece of fruit takes time and is often satisfying. The same isn’t true for fruit juice. Instead, it’s far top easy to drink a large amount of fruit juice in a single sitting.
Even though you’re getting some nutrients in the process, drinking fruit juice mostly equates to just drinking sugar.
Regular soda tends to be sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which makes it a fairly high carb choice. The problem here is similar to fruit juice – you’re getting a considerable amount of sugar per serving, and it’s easy to drink too much.
Soda is worse than fruit juice in many ways, as soda tends to be more processed and may contain additives and artificial flavorings. You’re getting fewer nutrients too.
Diet soda may seem like a better choice, as this tends to use alternative sweeteners and may be lower in carbs. However, alternative sweeteners come with their own challenges. It’s generally best to stick to water most of the time and limit your consumption of sugary drinks.
Smoothies can be good for you, giving you many nutrients in a fairly small serving. Smoothies are especially popular for people who want to lose weight by skipping a meal or two.
But, while smoothies can be healthy, many of them aren’t. Recipes often heavily rely on bananas, berries, and other fruits. Some even add in a sweetener like honey as well or use fruit juice as a source of liquid. Combinations like this create a high sugar drink that doesn’t provide as many nutrients as you might hope for.
To get around the problem, you need to be careful with the ingredients that you use. Rely more heavily on vegetables and limit the amount of fruit that is included. Make sure that you skip out the fruit juice entirely.
Berries are a good fruit to use in a healthy smoothie, as these are relatively low in carbs. They also contain a decent amount of fiber, which is perfect for a smoothie. Fruits like banana, on the other hand, need to be used with caution.
Some breakfast cereals are healthy, giving you an appealing balance of nutrients and plenty of fiber. Most, unfortunately, aren’t.
Instead, many cereal companies pack their products full of sugar and artificial ingredients. The cereal will often give you a burst of energy, followed by an energy crash not long afterward.
Candy And Many Chocolate Bars
Not surprisingly, candy and chocolate bars tend to be packed with carbs. Most of those carbs come from sugar, making these treats a particularly bad choice.
Now, we’re not saying that you should avoid sweets entirely. You can still enjoy the odd treat on a healthy diet. The trick is to pay attention to how often you have sweets and your portion sizes.
Look at the ingredients labels too. Focus on brands that use few additives and those that focus on quality. You might find that a few squares of high-quality milk chocolate tastes better and is more satisfying than anything you can get from a budget brand.
There are various exceptions, including low sugar candy and chocolate bars.
Perhaps the healthiest approach is to focus on dark chocolate bars, especially those with at least 75% cocoa. High cocoa chocolate is rich and often doesn’t have much added sugar. Most people only need a little to satisfy them, making dark chocolate a cost-effective treat.
Potato Chips And Fries
Potatoes are healthy sources of carbs, but this doesn’t mean that everything made from potatoes is healthy too. Potato chips and fries are two examples of this pattern.
Both types of food tend to be processed and contain various additives. Potato chips are often high in salt too, which can be a problem for anyone watching their weight.
While yogurt tends to be healthy and is an excellent source of probiotics, flavored yogurt is another story entirely. Many brands rely on artificial ingredients for flavoring, while often adding a ton of sugar into the yogurt as well.
The extra sugar increases the carb content of the snack and doesn’t do you any favors.
Besides, you don’t need much sweetener to make yogurt taste appealing. Try buying plain yogurt instead and adding your own flavoring. Fruit is a good approach, as this adds a little sweetness, while giving you full control. Cocoa powder is a useful choice too, if you like the flavor of chocolate.
Most types of ice cream are high in carbohydrates. Some of these carbohydrates come from the milk used, while the rest is added in, often through sweeteners.
Dairy free ice cream will sometimes be low in carbs, but there is no guarantee of this. Some brands add just as many sweeteners as dairy ice cream companies, so you don’t end up any better off.
If you want low carb ice cream, you’ll need to make your own or do some digging around. There are examples on the market. Some of them are marketed towards keto dieters, so if you see anything called keto ice cream, you know that you’re on the right track.
Just be aware that low carb ice cream isn’t going to taste the same as regular ice cream. This is the same for low carb versions of many foods. Reducing the carbs requires changing some ingredients, which invariably alters the flavor and texture of the finished product.
Sugar adds sweetness to food, making it taste more delicious. There’s nothing wrong with this effect. The problem is that we often consume far too much sugar.
This partly happens because sugar is addictive. Companies also add more sugar than is needed into some products. In contrast, products like bread and ketchup have sugar that seems almost entirely pointless.
In the end, if you’re going to cut down your carb intake, decreasing the amount of sugar you eat is the easiest place to begin. Pay close attention to foods that contain sugar and think about alternatives. The best solution is products with less sugar, rather than ones that simply replace sugar with a different sweetener.
Honey is often touted as a healthy sugar alternative. It does have some advantages, including the potential for trace nutrients from bee pollen.
Still, in the end, honey is just another form of sugar. It has most of the same disadvantages and isn’t going to help your health much.
This doesn’t mean that you need to avoid honey entirely. Just don’t think of it as a health food. Viewing honey as something to enjoy occasionally may make it much easier to balance your intake.
Some other sweeteners are high in carbs too, such as agave syrup. These are often promoted as being healthier, perhaps because they are less refined or come from an unusual source.
But, as is the case with honey, you still basically end up with sugar.