Rejoice: if you’re hoping to lose weight, certain carbohydrates can help you do it. Even though it may not seem like it, there is such a thing as healthy carbs. “The pendulum swings back and forth with diet fads, and people started to hear they’d lose a ton of weight by eating low-carb,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Nutrition Starring You
That’s not exactly false—when carbohydrates are stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen, or a form of energy, they bond with water. “There’s about a three to one ratio of grams of water to grams of carbs, so when you cut back on carbohydrates, you can lose a lot of water weight,” says Harris-Pincus. The thing is that it’s not sustainable weight loss, because as soon as you start eating carbs, that water weight comes right back.
Instead of completely slashing carbs in an effort to lose weight, why not see them as the potential helpers they are? Because of their more intricate molecular structure, complex carbohydrates fill you better than refined ones. Since they do a better job of keeping you satiated, incorporating them can help you avoid hunger-induced snacking on less healthy choices.
There’s also the fact that they’re just necessary for good health overall. “Your body needs carbohydrates to run, which is why they should be a prominent part of your diet,” says Harris-Pincus, who suggests keeping carbs to around 50 or 60 percent of your daily intake. The key is to seek out carbohydrates that are as nutrient-dense as possible instead of ones that are just vehicles for empty calories. Here, seven carbs can help you drop pounds without skimping on deliciousness.
Fiber is a super-filling nutrient that can help ward off cravings in addition to keeping your digestive system chugging along smoothly. It’s also one of the reasons complex carbohydrates win out over refined ones—foods rich in complex carbs are often full of fiber as well. Luckily, fruits tend to have fiber in spades.
Fiber falls into two categories: insoluble and soluble. “Insoluble fiber is hard to digest, so your body takes longer to break it down,” says Harris-Pincus. That delay helps you stay fuller longer, which in turn lets you make clear-headed decisions about food throughout the day. As for soluble fiber, it can lower your cholesterol and keep your blood sugar from dipping and spiking, making you less likely to look to sugar-laden food sources for energy. Harris recommends aiming for around 25 grams of fiber a day to get your fill.
Try it: Have the best of both worlds with a salad that combines fruits and vegetables, like this thai chopped chicken mason jar salad from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen. It features mango along with broccoli, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and more. Get the recipe here.
4. Air-Popped Popcorn
5. Spaghetti Squash
People also worry about potatoes’ high glycemic load, or how easily they spike blood sugar. The thing is that when you eat high glycemic load foods along with nutrients like fat and protein, those nutrients help slow how quickly your body processes sugar. Unless you’re going to town on a potato without anything else, its glycemic load isn’t as relevant, says Harris-Pincus. Since potatoes are a great source of fiber, especially with the skin on, it can be worth it to experiment with preparing them in a healthy way.