A Fab Five Of Smart Carbs
Pick a few new tasty carbs and get ready to experiment
Experimenting for variety.
There are many types of carbohydrates just waiting to nourish your body with vitamins, minerals, plant nutrients, and fiber.
Here are five seriously nutritious carbs to try as part of your “smart carbohydrate” practice. Try incorporating them into your diet.
Five fresh ideas:
- Beans and legumes
- Sweet potatoes
- Ancient grains
- Sprouted grains
- Steel-cut oats
Think about whether you could add any of these for variety . . . or, if you already enjoy them — whether you could try a new recipe.
Beans and legumes
This category includes things like:
- Green peas
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas)
- Navy beans
- Black-eyed peas or cowpeas
- Lima or fava beans
Try any kind that sounds interesting to you — and that you can tolerate without too much GI distress and gas.
(Note: The gas that some people feel from legumes typically eases after a week. And different people may be sensitive to different legumes. So, if one type of bean doesn’t work for you, try a different kind.)
Beans/legumes are high in fiber, a decent source of protein, and delicious.
For cooking at home, try:
- refried beans (choose varieties with fewer chemicals and processed ingredients) on chicken breast or with beef and salsa.
- boiled beans to a salad or lentils to a vegetable soup.
- hummus and baby veggies as a quick, quality snack.
- bean chili mixed with lean protein and vegetables.
Canned beans or lentils make it quick and easy to incorporate these nutritional gems into your repertoire.
You might know these as “yams”. True yams are another type of starchy root that’s common in South America, Africa and Asia, but harder to find in North America or Europe.
When stripped of crud like corn syrup and marshmallows (or maybe that’s just our Great-Aunt Bertha’s Southern cooking skills), sweet potatoes are actually a pretty awesome starchy carb source.
Both sweet and regular potatoes come in different colors.
Photo credit: Jodi Pudge
There are hundreds of varieties worldwide. The more vibrant orange and purple ones are very high in beneficial plant nutrients and vitamins.
You can tell from the vibrant color that sweet potatoes are nutrient powerhouses.
One handful contains about,
- one-third of your daily requirement for vitamin C,
- 3x your daily requirement for Vitamin A
- vitamin B6, potassium, manganese,
- a few bonus grams of protein. Score.
Although sweet potatoes are sweet-tasting, they’re also starchy, relatively high in fiber, and slow-digesting.
You can do all the things with sweet potatoes that you’d do with regular potatoes: roast them, purée them into soups or mashes, bake them into “fries”, spiralize them into “noodles”, substitute them for some flour in baking, shove them into a potato gun . . .
They’re versatile, nutrient-dense, and tasty.
Some people ask: What’s healthier, regular or sweet potatoes? Check out this infographic that compares both to learn more.
Short version: Enjoy both, in full abundance of varieties! Purple, red, gold, or the traditional baking potato — they’re all good.
Our ancestors around the world knew the nutritious potential of traditional grains, such as:
- Amaranth is native to Central and South America; it’s traditionally eaten straight, brewed into beer, or even popped like popcorn.
- Buckwheat is found in many world cuisines, such as soba noodles in Japan or kasha in eastern Europe.
- Quinoa comes in a variety of colors, including black and red. The Incas called it “mother of grains” and used it as one of their chief sources of nutrition.
- Sorghum is native to northern Africa and is still a traditional food there, as well as across southern Asia. Many North Americans and Europeans have never heard of it, and yet worldwide, it’s the fifth most important cereal crop after rice, wheat, corn and barley.
- Teff, one of the tiniest grains in the world, is used to make injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread.
- Wild rice — an aquatic plant — was (and still is) harvested by indigenous North Americans, who would shake the tall grass seeds into canoes to collect them.
All of these ancestral grains are packed full of fiber, nutrients, and delicious distinctive taste. They’re also higher in protein than modern grains.
You can turn them into side dishes, cook them up like porridge, or even grind them into flour (use a coffee grinder) for things like pancakes and muffins.
- Toasted buckwheat
- Oat groats (whole oats)
- Red quinoa
- Black quinoa
- Black quinoa
- Wild rice
Sprouted grains are grains that have been soaked for about 24 hours, and allowed to germinate for about one week.
This sprouting process is beneficial for:
- decreasing anti-nutrients (substances that can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients), gluten, and other allergens;
- making the grains more digestible;
- increasing vitamin and mineral content;
- improving the protein quality; and
- increasing the soluble fiber of grains.
That’s a pretty impressive list of benefits!
Interestingly, research is starting to investigate sprouted grains, and has found some promising health outcomes.
So far, sprouted grain consumption has been found to:
- decrease blood pressure;
- improve glucose control;
- decrease unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides;
- improve immune function; and
- protect against fatty liver.
Today, there are many sprouted grain products conveniently available, like breads.
A couple of notes:
- Many sprouted grain products are made without preservatives. That means they can spoil easier. Keep them in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to use them.
- Sprouted grain breads often taste best toasted, as the enzymatic browning brings out the best flavors and aroma. Delicious science!
Steel-cut oats are another great source of fiber and have more protein than any “popular” cereal.
Many folks have never seen steel-cut oats. Whole oat grains actually look much like brown rice. Steel-cutting chops them up a bit, so you still have most of a whole grain.
Rolled oats, in contrast, are slightly more processed.
They are steamed, rolled, steamed again, and toasted. They look like flattened ovals. A small portion of the fiber and nutrients can sometimes be lost in this refinement.
Here’s a comparison of 4 types of oats, from most to least processed.
- Instant oats
- Rolled oats
- Steel-cut oats
- Whole oat groats
As your leveling-up in the quality of grains you choose, consider steel-cut oats or whole oat grains as an less-processed and more nutritious options.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, try mixing some of the other cooked ancestral grains into your morning oats as well.