10 Healthy Carbs (Yes, Healthy Carbs!) You Need in Your Life

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

For the record: Yes, carbs are good for you, and no, you should not cut them out of your diet. Despite the bad rep they’ve gotten over the years, carbohydrates are a main source of fuel for your body and provide many of the essential nutrients you need to stay healthy. Plus, research has shown that eating foods high in fiber—like certain, healthy carbs—can help you lose weight.

Still not convinced? Here are six more reasons carbs are not the enemy.

Still, you do have to be smart about the carbs you choose. Whole grains, beans and starchy veggies are types of complex carbohydrates. This means they’re high in fiber so they take longer to digest, and their sugars break down more slowly, which keeps blood sugar and appetite steady. They also contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Refined carbohydrates (found in white bread and pasta, cookies and cake), on the other hand, have been stripped of their fiber during processing; the sugars in these foods are then quickly and easily absorbed by the body. As a result, your blood sugar levels spike, then plunge. When blood sugar drops, so does your energy level. Plus, this signals a need for more fuel, so you’re starving soon after. Read more about the different types of carbs here.

At Nutrisystem, we call healthy carbs “SmartCarbs” for a reason. Confused about what constitutes a SmartCarb? Find out everything you need to know in this article.

Now keep reading to learn more about the 10 healthy carbs that are good for your health and your waistline!

1. Sweet Potatoes

Sliced and diced sweet potatoes on a cutting board a

½ cooked sweet potato = 1 SmartCarb

Many note that these orange spuds are packed with vitamin A—which is great for your eyes. However, they also provide more fiber, more immune-boosting vitamin C and fewer calories than their white cousins. Meanwhile, the minerals in these potatoes can also help keep blood pressure steady and support bone health. Best part of all: They are absolutely delicious!

Try these sweet potato recipes:

2. Berries

Berries in glass jar, over wooden background.

1 cup of berries = 1 SmartCarb

Think of these as nutritional powerhouses in little packages. Blueberries contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins, which not only give the berries their distinctive color, but may also help your body fight off a cold and keep your heart healthy. And, for dieters, they are the perfect low calorie sweet. One cup of fresh blueberries contains 85 calories, while whole strawberries weigh in at 46 calories per cup. Both of these are good sources of filling fiber and vitamin C.

Try these berry recipes:

3. Whole Grain Bread

sliced whole grain bread rich in fiber

1 slice of bread = 1 SmartCarb

Studies have shown that opting for whole grains instead of their refined counterparts can help lower the risk of many chronic conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Just be selective when choosing your sliced loaf; some brands will put “natural” or “7 grain” on the package, even if they bread is still mostly made of refined grains. To make sure your bread is the real deal, check the ingredients: The first should be “whole grain flour” or “100% whole wheat flour.”

Try these whole grain bread recipes:

4. Beans

uncooked black beans in a bowl

½ cup cooked beans = 1 SmartCarb

Whether you choose from black, pinto beans, kidney, cannellini or black-eyed, chick-or split peas, beans are among the most versatile and nutritious foods. They are an excellent source of protein and fiber. Beans are low in fat and contain potassium, iron and magnesium. Eating beans as part of a healthy diet may even help lower cholesterol. Add them to your meals to feel fuller, longer.

Try these recipes:

5. Oatmeal

Oatmeal with fresh berries in a bowl

½ cup oatmeal, prepared with water = 1 SmartCarb

Start your day with a healthy dose of fiber and protein from a bowl of steel cut or rolled oats. Oatmeal is typically more satisfying than cereal and provides a steady supply of energy. Not to mention, research has shown that eating oatmeal can help improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. For an extra pop of nutrition, top your oatmeal with healthy mix-ins. Nuts and seeds give oatmeal a satisfying, crunchy texture, while spices like cinnamon can contribute sugar-free flavor.

Try these oatmeal recipes:

6. Hummus

Hummus with pita bread.

¼ cup of hummus = 1 SmartCarb

With each dunk of this creamy dip, you’ll get a satisfying combination of fiber, protein, cell-protecting folate, bone-strengthening magnesium and healthy fats—all courtesy of the chickpeas and olive oil it’s made with. Enjoy it with sliced veggies like peppers and carrots, atop pieces of pita, or spread on a sandwich as an alternative to mayo. It’s like heavenly wholesomeness in a bowl. Just be sure to watch your portions: hummus is calorie-dense, weighing in at about 100 calories per quarter cup.

Try these hummus recipes:

7. Apples

fresh apples

1 medium apple = 1 SmartCarb

You get about four grams of fiber for only 95 calories in one medium apple, making this fruit a filling sweet snack. Apples are also a good source of vitamin C. Eat them skin-on to get the most nutrients and fiber, but be sure to wash them well, and buy organic when possible.

Try these apple recipes:

8. Citrus Fruits

sliced oranges on a cutting board

1 medium fruit = 1 SmartCarb

One medium orange contains nearly all the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. While loading up on vitamin C and citrus fruits won’t prevent a cold altogether, high doses before symptoms start may shorten how long it lasts.

Try these citrus fruit recipes:

9. Quinoa


½ cup cooked quinoa = 1 SmartCarb

Known for its high protein content, quinoa contains eight grams per cup. It is also considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs. Quinoa also packs iron to keep red blood cells healthy and is easily zested up in a number of delicious dishes to reap the benefits.

Try these quinoa recipes:

10. Brown Rice

Brown rice in bowl

½ cup cooked brown rice = 1 SmartCarb

This grain supplies most of the cell-protecting manganese you need for the day and is high in selenium, something your body uses to make antioxidants. Of course brown rice is also extremely versatile and a staple in any number of recipes. Looking to add healthy carbs? This one is definitely an easy option.

Try these brown rice recipes: