Cutting Carbs? Don’t Say ‘No’ to These Starchy Foods
You hope to lose weight, so you’re trying to eat healthy. Should you add a starch to the lean protein and veggies in your meals, or not? Our dietitians weigh in.
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So do starches — aka complex carbs — still have a place in a healthy diet? You bet.
“Simple carbs (other than fruits and milk) should be avoided in the diet. Complex carbs should prevail,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD.
The difference in the two is directly related to fiber. Because your body can’t digest fiber, it slows your digestion, which can help with weight loss.
“Complex carbs are almost always more nutrient-dense, and can help reduce your risk for heart disease and some cancers,” she notes.
But not all starches belong in your diet. Here are our dietitians’ favorite picks.
“The healthiest starchy foods are the ones bursting with protein and fiber, putting beans and legumes at the top of the list,” says Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE.
Here’s what beans and legumes will do for you:
Plus, legumes are a rich source of plant nutrients, including antioxidants that protect cells from the free-radical damage implicated in cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
One serving of beans — about 1/2 cup — provides 7 to 8 grams of protein, around 120 calories, roughly 20 grams of carbohydrate and around 8 grams of fiber. You also get trace minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and vitamins like folate and thiamin.
Adds Ms. Kirkpatrick, “Beans and legumes are also highly versatile — and cheap.”
Few legumes can beat the mighty chickpea when it comes to versatility.
“Chickpeas are a great way to add plant protein and fiber to your salads, soups, pastas and rice dishes,” says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.
“I love to make hummus from scratch using tahini (sesame seed paste) or extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, cumin and turmeric,” she says. “I serve it with fresh veggies, whole-grain or gluten-free crackers, or use it as a dressing for salads.”
Crave something crunchy to munch on? Toast chickpeas, tossed with olive oil and spices, in the oven. Or use them to replace croutons on your salads.
“I’ve even used pureed chickpeas in place of flour to make chocolate chip cookies — and my kids didn’t even notice!” says Ms. Zumpano.
Chickpeas are a good source of vitamins and minerals, she adds, providing manganese, folate, tryptophan, phosphorus and iron.
Brown rice doesn’t make the list because it has less fiber. And while buckwheat is very high in iron and protein, “it comes with a higher price tag in the form of calories and carbs,” she cautions.
But the quintessential whole grain has to be quinoa, says Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.
“This plant-based, complete source of protein contains all nine essential amino acids — like animal products do, but without any of the animal fat,” she says.
Quinoa is also rich in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. And with its combination of protein and fiber, it’s slowly digested.
“This makes quinoa a good choice for people with diabetes or for anyone trying to lose weight,” says Ms. Patton.
“It’s also great for vegans, who risk not eating enough protein or getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals, and for those with gluten sensitivity or allergy.”
(In other words, quinoa is a great choice for pretty much everyone.)
Love your morning toast? Maximize the nutrition and minimize weight gain by choosing sprouted grain bread.
“Sprouted grain is somewhat broken down, making it easier for the body to digest and absorb its nutrients,” explains Ms. Patton.
She adds that most brands of sprouted grain bread contain no added sugar (a common ingredient in most breads) and are lower in sodium.
To get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck at any meal, try replacing empty starches with legumes and whole grains. They’ll provide the protein and fiber you need to minimize cravings and maximize health.