Healthy Carbs: Long before paleo and juicing, there was Atkins. Introduced in 1998, the diet sought to help individuals lose weight by slashing carbohydrate consumption while loading up on foods high in protein and fat. People went nuts. It was the rare diet that encouraged eating massive amounts of animal protein, and people actually started shedding pounds. The results often proved to be short-lived, though. A 2003 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found those who stuck to the low-carb program lost more weight than those who followed a more traditional low-calorie diet only for the first six months. After a year, both groups ended up losing the same amount of weight.
Though attitudes toward the food group have relaxed in recent years, carbohydrates are still among the first foods to go when people are looking to drop pounds. Eliminating carbs completely isn’t a good way to go, though. They’re the body’s main source of energy, and their role is even more critical for athletes. Men’s Health explained these foods help give you the necessary endurance for a grueling effort. They’re also one of the best sources of fiber, which you need to keep your digestive system working properly.
People tend to label carbohydrates as good or bad. Sweet potatoes: good. Rice: bad. While it can be a decent strategy to help clarify the confusing world of nutrition, it’s not quite that simple. Foods like whole grains are considered complex carbohydrates. They take a long time to break down, supplying your body with a steady supply of energy. Simple carbs — think white bread and sugars — digest much faster to give you a more immediate boost. These foods are good for before and during a workout.
We’ve picked seven types of carbohydrates every guy should include in his diet. You might be surprised to find out some of the foods you thought were unhealthy are actually pretty good for you. You might even discover a few new ones. One way or the other, it’s time to bring carbs back to the table.
7 Healthy Carbs You Should Be Eating
This grain is a lot less obscure than you might think. Anyone who enjoys Middle Eastern food has likely loaded their plate with bulgar, as it’s the key ingredient in tabbouleh. According to Rodale’s Organic Life, it isn’t technically a whole grain thanks to the processing that removes part of the bran. Still, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of the cooked grain provides 8 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. It’s also high in iron, zinc, and niacin.
As for cooking the grain, you have plenty of options. Try your hand at Eating Well’s take on tabbouleh. You can also use it in some more creative applications. We like this risotto from Cooking light and this comforting casserole from The New York Times.
2. Taro root
Though it’s common in Asian cultures and the star ingredient in a traditional Hawaiian dish, taro root has yet to catch on in America. You’d be wise to start stocking up. According to NutritionData.com, 1 cup of cooked taro root contains 187 calories and 7 grams of fiber. It’ll even give you a decent dose of vitamin C.
The most important thing to note about this vegetable is the need to thoroughly cook it. If eaten raw, the root can lead to kidney stones and gout. As long as you’re not whipping up a taro crudo, you’ll be fine. Though making chips is a popular use for taro root, it can be used in a lot of different dishes. Try roasting it as you would potatoes, or steam it with pork and a rich black bean sauce.
3. Winter squash
Butternut, kabocha, spaghetti, pumpkin, and more. Winter squash comes in a ton of different varieties, yet most people think of it as a throwaway fruit that’s only good for a few holiday dishes. They may not be as flashy as spinach, but these gourds can do the body good. Men’s Fitness likes squash for its fiber, vitamin C, and carotenoids, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They’re also widely available from fall until spring, so load up.
The hard part about cooking squash is narrowing down your options, because they’re remarkably versatile. Acorn squash is perfect for baking, and we like this version from Allrecipes.com. You could also try Epicurious’satisfying salad with lentils or whip up a classic soup from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.
Its status as a movie theater treat usually keeps us from eating popcorn very often, but it’s actually a pretty smart snack. With 30 calories and 1 gram of fiber per popped cup, this food is a much better way to satisfy your need for something crunchy than resorting to potato chips or crackers. And according to Eating Well, 3 cups of the popped kernels fulfills one of your daily recommended servings of whole grains.
While popcorn is perfectly healthy on its own, the toppings can lead to trouble. Go light on the butter or oil and use other seasonings to boost the flavor. You can sprinkle the fluffy grains with everything from chipotle powder to cinnamon. Fresh herbs also make a nice addition. You don’t even need an air popper. With a large pot and a slick of oil, popcorn is easy to make right on the stove. With a little bit of careful folding, you can also make your own microwavable bags.
It’s hard to browse recipes or menus online without running into sweet potatoes. They’ve been touted as a health food for a number of years, leaving white spuds in the dust. Regular old potatoes deserve a little more love. Despite their unhealthy reputation, potatoes themselves are actually quite nutritious. It’s all the butter, sour cream, and other calorie-laden toppings that lead to problems. According to Men’s Fitness, one baked spud with the skin contains 15% of your daily fiber needs and 25% of your recommended doses for vitamins C and B6. Potatoes also contain more potassium than bananas.
Though making a baked potato seems pretty basic, it’s a method many people get wrong. Follow this guide from BBC Good Food for great results every time, then top your tuber with just about anything you can dream up. Goat cheese, yogurt, roasted veggies, and chili are all great choices. You can also turn potatoes into Cajun-spiced fries or toss them into a stew.
6. Sourdough bread
Most people go for whole-wheat bread these days, leaving a huge part of the bakery section untouched. Those 12-grain varieties might seem like the clear winners of the healthiest loaf competition, but you could be missing out on some equally good bread. While most white breads are high on the glycemic index, which will cause your blood sugar to spike, sourdough is an exception. The Guardian explained this is due to the bread’s acidity, which slows the release of sugars into your bloodstream. It also provides good doses of selenium, folate, thiamine, and manganese. Sourdough doesn’t have the fiber power you’ll find in whole-wheat loaves, though, so keep them in your diet as well.
As for applications, sourdough can be used to make sandwiches, appetizers, or parked alongside a bowl of soup. For a flavorful but simple side, toast a slice of the bread, rub it with a cut clove of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and top with a sprinkle of salt and fresh herbs.
Americans have a serious sugar addiction. Unfortunately, all that sweet stuff can lead to a host of health complications. In an effort to cut back, many people stay away from fruit. The problem with avoiding the sweet produce is it cuts down on a lot of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you would otherwise consume. Just about any fruit will do, but The Huffington Post particularly likes bananas for fiber and vitamin B6, as well as blueberries for antioxidants. Instead of digging into a bowl of ice cream to end your meal, try eating some fruit. You’ll satisfy your sweet tooth without adding a bunch of unnecessary calories or fillers.