Quick: Close your eyes and think of carbohydrates. Odds are, you’re envisioning a glorious mound of bagels, a gleaming tower of cupcakes, or a giant bowl of pasta. Then picture healthy carbs, and you’re probably seeing a dish of something choke-on-it-bland like cracked spelt oatmeal. The truth is, lots of delicious food fall into the category of “good carbs” but we often assume the opposite.
We all know that “bad carbs” include health scourges like white flour, refined sugar, and high fructose corn syrup—things that don’t offer much in the way of nutritional value and tend to be digested so quickly that they can cause blood sugar to spike, leading to weight gain and other pretty serious problems. We might not know, however, that healthy carbs are more than just quinoa and whole grains.
So, if you’re following a fairly balanced diet (as opposed to one that limits carb intake entirely), there are some healthy carbohydrates you should be eating that are also pretty delicious!
Baked sweet potatoes
Packed with beta carotene, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are exactly the type of healthy carb you want to be enjoying. One medium baked version has about 24 grams of carbs, but it also has fiber—about 6 grams in a one-ounce serving—which is something bad carbs don’t have. Not to mention, a 2008 study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that sweet potatoes may reduce cholesterol levels, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.
One thing to note: Though they’re often grouped together, sweet potatoes are actually different from yams, which are starchier and have less nutritional value.
Beans (yes, even the ones from Chipotle)
Beans are a killer source of carbs, that also comes with high fiber (about eight grams for every half-cup), low-fat, and lots of antioxidants and minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and folate. Go ahead, toss those kidney, lima, pinto or black beans into dishes!
Fruit is a tricky one. Despite its healthy reputation health halo, fruit does tend to be fairly high in carbohydrates, primarily simple sugars like glucose and fructose. Of course, eating fruit is still preferable to eating a blueberry muffin, or a pack of Swedish Fish, but low-carbers might want to stick to a cup of strawberries which clock in at 8 grams, as opposed to, say, a cup of grapes which has 26 grams.
Popcorn is actually a whole grain, and a 2.5-cup serving has 70 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and three grams of fiber. Sorry, but movie popcorn doesn’t count. To get the benefits, it has to be air-popped, and plain. If you think it’s too bland, sprinkle on some garlic pepper, cumin, or any other spice you love. Just stay away from oil and butter.
Wine is pretty low-carb by nature, but that certainly doesn’t mean you’re free to guzzle the stuff with abandon, especially because our bodies metabolize alcohol differently than other foods. That said, a 5-ounce glass of wine has anywhere between zero and four carbs, according to WineFolly.com. So, if you regularly stick to a healthy, balanced diet, a glass of wine won’t push you over the edge, carb-wise.