When the Atkins and South Beach diets became popular in the early aughts, many of us kissed carbs goodbye in the name of slim waistlines. Sure, eating low-carb worked—at first. That's cause when you ditch bagls, muffins, and refined pasta, you're probably also cutting a significant amount of calories, which of course can help you drop pounds. But long-term, super strict low-carb or no-carb diets aren't necessarily the healthiest choice. In some cases, they may lead to hormonal imbalances and changes in metabolism and gut flora—all of which could make you gain more weight than ever before. The basic truth is this: Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy. They turn into glucose in the body, and this sugar powers your cells, organs, tissues, muscles, and brain. If you go crazy on simple carbs like donuts, pastries, and mac and cheese—dangerously easy since they only provide short bursts of energy before you're hungry again—the sugars that the body doesn't burn get stored as fat. Complex carbs like whole grains, veggies, and fruits, on the other hand, are rich in fiber, which slows digestion and provides an even release of energy while curbing the urge to binge eat. Not to mention, they're a diverse source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—can't live without those!
Seriously, all carbs are not the enemy they came to be known as back in those ultra-low-rise-jeans-wearing, TRL-watching days. Here are six of our fave good carbs that won't sabotage you in maintaining a healthy weight.
Oats are whole grains, meaning they haven't been processed and stripped of their nutritional content. Whole grain foods have the bran and germ intact, preserving the fiber, B vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and vitamin E. For a filling breakfast that won't weigh you down, try these pumpkin overnight oats or chocolate chip banana pancakes (yup, we said pancakes!).
Technically a seed, quinoa mimics the comforting quality of a bowl of starchy grain, but it packs 8 grams of protein per cooked cup—good for you, and your muscles, too. Whip up a bowl of quinoa salad or mix it into brown rice to add a protein punch.
Game changer alert! We love pasta as much as the next gal, but when we feel like lightening things up, we reach for spaghetti squash. Who knew a big squash could turn into a bowl full of noodles? It's lower in calories and carbs than traditional pasta—and it boasts fiber and a little bit of just about every vitamin and mineral on the spectrum. OK, so how do you prepare it? Easy! (Also try THIS delicious recipe)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- With a sharp knife, cut the squash in half, lengthwise (it may be easier to cut if you microwave it for five minutes and then let it cool).
- Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
- Pour about ½ cup water into a glass baking dish and place the squash halves cut side down.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
- Remove squash from the oven, flip the halves face up, and let cool.
- Scrape the flesh out with a fork—it'll come out just like thin noodles.
- Serve with any pasta recipe you wish!
Sweet potatoes are kind of perfect. They're rich with the antioxidant beta carotene, they're so filling, and they even have a hint of sweetness, which we're never mad about. Sweet potato tacos, anyone? Or, in a pinch, you can treat yourself to a quick and satisfying "baked" sweet potato: With a fork, just pierce some holes into the potato and throw it in the microwave for five to eight minutes. Slice it open and sprinkle in some sea salt. Bam!
Some low-carb diets, like the Paleo diet, are not about the legumes (mainly because some people experience digestive issues from eating them). But to be honest, we never met a lentil, chickpea, or bean we didn't like. Studies have shown that people who eat legumes every day can lose more weight than people who don't, even when they're not dieting to slim down. Scientists chalk it up to legumes' ability to keep you fuller, longer, making you less likely to overeat. And they're an amazing vegetarian- and vegan-friendly source of protein.
Think you gotta give up bread in order to maintain a healthy weight? Uh, think again! Barely Bread makes bagels, buns, and baguettes fair game. Instead of white flour, they're made with wholesome ingredients like almond flour, organic eggs, apples, and flaxseed. Everything is completely grain-free and rich in protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. So, forget the carb shaming and enjoy!