People often talk about which carbohydrates are good, and which are bad. But if you're trying to eat a healthy diet, how do you know what is actually good for you, and what is hype or trend? Generally speaking, healthy carbohydrates are low in sugars and high in fiber and long-chain glucose molecules. That means that even though the compounds in these carbs eventually convert to sugars, they release much more slowly and steadily in your bloodstream than carbohydrates with just sugars. The result is long-lasting energy rather than a quick high, followed by a crash.
All vegetables contain healthy carbohydrates, especially starchy ones like corn or squash. You can eat your favorite vegetables and know that you're getting vitamins, minerals, and healthy carbohydrates with every serving. Vegetables veer into bad carbohydrate territory when they're breaded or floured and fried. Certain cooking methods, such as boiling, can also reduce the nutritional benefits of veggies.
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Potatoes have gotten a bad rap for a long time, but whole baked potatoes do have fiber and long-chain glucose molecules. Of course, adding butter, salt, sour cream, bacon, and cheese adversely affects this healthy root vegetable. Naturally, deep-fried French fries and potato chips lose their nutritional benefit; once potatoes are processed, they become just as bad as other unhealthy carbohydrates.
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Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. Yams, related to sweet potatoes, are healthy as well. Though this root vegetable has a delicious sweetness, be wary of some candied options that add a not-so-nutritious aspect and can deplete some of the existing benefits.
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[Fruit] Fruit contains a lot of sugars, which are bad in excess, but whole, unprocessed fruit offers a lot of fiber as well, to keep those sugars in check. Plus, fruit has a lot of vitamins essential to whole body health. Forms of fruit without the benefits: fruit juices and fruit "beverages" (which often don't contain much, if any, actual fruit). The process of juicing fruits removes the fiber -- the pulp and skin -- and essentially turns this healthy snack into a high-calorie, sugary drink.
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Everyone loves fresh bread. Unfortunately, the white bread to which many people default is chock full of sugars and stripped-down carbs with little nutritional benefit. Instead, choose bread and other baked goods made with whole grains and minimal added sugars. Most baked goods made with white flour fall into the less-than-ideal category, including many donuts, scones, and muffins.
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Brown rice is a healthier alternative to white rice because it's considered a whole grain. It still has the bran, which provides vitamins and fiber that make it a nutritious meal. Less nutritious rice choices include white rice and white rice products, such as noodles made from white rice and foods made from white rice flour.
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Like whole grain flours and rice, whole grains are much better for you than refined versions. Opt for oatmeal, quinoa, and buckwheat, and skip or go easy on the sweeteners. Keep in mind that despite claiming "whole grains," many breakfast cereals and other pre-packaged options have lots of sugar.
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Legumes such as lentils, beans, and peas have healthy carbohydrates and plenty of fiber to boot. They are also a good source of protein and vitamins. Eating beans and lentils has the bonus of lowering cholesterol. They also help keep you full, which is useful for people seeking to lose weight.
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Nuts are great for protein, but they are also packed with good carbohydrates. That makes hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamias, and other nuts suitable go-to snack foods. Practice moderation, though: nuts are high in fat and calories, too. Those to avoid: any with sugar coatings or glaze. Unsalted is also ideal.
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Like nuts, seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds have a lot of good carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and healthy fats. Seeds are often found in trail mixes and other combinations, so be sure to check the ingredients; ideally, you'll look for a mix that contains more of the healthy nuts, seeds, and other good carb options than sweet extras like chocolate or yogurt-covered raisins.
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Yogurt makes a healthy snack, but for people counting carbs, some types are better than others. Typically, low-fat and non-fat yogurts have more carbs than others, while Greek yogurt made from whole milk has the least. Research shows many beneficial properties of eating yogurt, including improved gut health, are thanks to the live bacterial cultures.
Beets are a healthy food high in simple carbs. Foods with simple carbs, like veggies, beans, and beets, are unprocessed and contain naturally sourced fiber — and don't have the added sugar of complex carbohydrates. Dietary guidelines suggest half of a person's daily calories come from carbohydrates, and a beet gets 89% of its calories from carbs. Eating a beet salad is an excellent way to reap the benefits of this healthy food.
People often associate pumpkin with squash, and many winter squashes are high-carb. However, pumpkin itself is on the low end of the carb scale, with only 8 grams per cup. The trick is to avoid pumpkin treats or flavored snacks high in sugar. Meanwhile, research shows pumpkin seeds have the least carbohydrates, while the flesh has the most. Try snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds to enjoy a healthy, low-carb snack.
A whopping 90% of calories in bananas come from carbs, but that's okay because they have plenty of other essential nutrients. Unripe bananas have more starch than ripe ones, whose natural sugars have further developed, but they're both low in fat. Bananas also contain a fair amount of fiber and are a safe choice for people eating a low-protein diet.
Prunes have 18 grams of carbohydrates per ounce and 11 grams of sugar. Despite considerable carbs, they're still a healthy fruit with many nutrients. They contain magnesium, iron, potassium, and vitamin B6. The original fruit, the plum, has slightly fewer carbohydrates and are high in vitamins and minerals helpful for everyday health. Research shows prunes are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which helps maintain a healthy digestive tract.
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