It’s no secret that carbohydrates take the cake for the most-feared food group in today’s diet culture, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, experts say carbs are your friend—they can not only make a meal more satiating, but they can also provide you with some much-needed energy to power through your day. Still, not all high-carbohydrate foods are created equal—so, what are the best carbs for women? We talked to several dietitians to find out.
“Carbs give your body energy so that it doesn’t have to burn protein or dietary fat—which have other, more important roles in your body,” says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living. “Getting enough carbs fights off fatigue and gives you energy to live a healthier lifestyle full of activity and exercise.”
Not to state the obvious here, but there’s a big difference between chowing down on a farro bowl and a frosted donut.
“The best sources of carbs to include in your diet are whole grains and other unrefined options,” says Vive Nutrition founder Andres Ayesta, MS, RD, LD, CSCS, CSSD. “These kinds of carbs are more nutrient-dense and high in fiber—which is key for keeping you full and feeding the good bacteria in your gut. Additionally, unrefined carbs are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than refined carbs (eg. white flour, white rice, candy, and sugary drinks). This helps to avoid a spike in blood sugar that can cause you to feel lethargic and get hungry again soon after you’ve eaten.”
With all of that in mind, here are a handful of carb-rich foods that you should add to your shopping cart pronto—trust us, your body will thank you. And for more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Whether you use it to make a classic PB&J or some avocado toast, experts agree that whole-grain bread is one of the best carbs you can eat.
“Whole-wheat bread is a good source of magnesium, which is key in keeping your parathyroid gland working,” says Gina Keatley, CDN of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City. “That means maintaining your metabolism and bone density. There is also some zinc in the germ of the wheat which can help maintain a good immune system.”
To make sure that your bread is 100% whole grain, just be sure to check the nutrition label first or look for the Whole Grain Stamp on the packaging. Or look for one of these Best Store-Bought Breads, According to Experts.
There’s a good reason why this ancient grain has become super trendy in recent years.
“Quinoa is a powerhouse carb source and also contains 8 grams of protein per cup, while also providing all nine essential amino acids (rare in plant-based foods),” says Ayesta. “It’s very high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. It also contains high levels of two plant compounds—quercetin and kaempferol—which have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-depressant effects.”
Miller suggests using it in place of Use it in place of rice for an extra boost of satiating fiber and protein.
“Even though brown rice and whole grain pasta are also nutritious, quinoa contains even more valuable nutrition than these options,” she says.
Quinoa can be tossed into salads, used as a side dish, or even made into oatmeal-like breakfast porridges—the possibilities are endless. Or try one of these 34 Quinoa Recipes for Weight Loss.
Don’t overlook this mildly sweet tropical fruit on your next grocery shopping trip—according to Keatley, it’s another excellent source of beta-carotene, which can keep your hair, skin, and nails looking good. It can also aid in the digestion of proteins.
By the way, 1 cup of papaya contains 88 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 98% of your recommended daily allowance. So, this is a smart choice for staving off colds and keeping your immune system in tip-top condition.
Try it in a smoothie or a salad with shrimp—and when you’ve got a sweet tooth, dried unsweetened papaya serves as the perfect healthy snack.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating two servings of fruit per day, and fortunately, one medium or large banana counts as two servings.
“So, you’re getting more bang for your buck,” says Miller.
Ayesta adds that bananas are a stellar source of potassium, which is essential for fluid balance, muscle function, and nerve signals. Bananas also contain vitamin B6, which is involved in the production of serotonin and therefore plays a role in stabilizing your mood.
Ayesta recommends tossing a banana in your smoothie for some added sweetness without any refined sugar—but you can also add it to oatmeal, cereal, and toast with peanut butter. You can even make a healthy homemade vegan “ice cream” by freezing and then pureeing it.
If you’re looking for a high-fiber food that’ll keep you full for hours, look no further than kidney beans. They’re a great source of plant-based protein as well and can moderate your blood sugar levels while also promoting colon health.
“Kidney beans have a ton of folate which is very important if you’re a woman who could get pregnant as it reduces the risk of spina bifida,” says Keatley.
As for how to eat them, consider using them in a three-bean chili or minestrone soup.