Cutting Carbs? Don’t Say ‘No’ to These Starchy Foods

Carbohydrates tend to get a bad rap, especially in this era of the ketogenic, paleo and Atkins diets.

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.

Beans and legumes: Nutrient powerhouses

Black beans, lentils, kidney beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, fava beans … yum.

“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:

  • Their protein supports lean body mass.
  • Their fiber supports healthy blood sugars and cholesterol levels.
  • Their fiber lowers risk for colorectal disease like diverticulitis and certain cancers.
  • The killer protein-fiber combo keeps you full longer, encourages portion control and limits mindless snacking.

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.”

Shoutout to chickpeas

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.

Whole grains: Unprocessed goodness

“Whole grains are very high in fiber and nutrients,” says Dana Bander, MPH, RD, LD, CDE. “My favorites include wild rice and buckwheat, which boast high levels of magnesium, riboflavin and niacin.”

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.)

Kudos for sprouted grain bread

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.

This article was written by Digestive Health Team from Cleveland Clinic and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

How to Help Your Diet Become a Way of Life

Many weight-loss attempts start out with grand intentions — “I’m going to lose weight and eat better (this time will be different, I swear!)” — only to revert back to old eating habits within a week or two. So how can you give your desire to eat healthy and lose weight some sticking power? Try these five tips to help turn your weight-loss plan into a strategy for healthy eating for the long haul.
1. Don’t give up your favorite foods.

You shouldn’t have to say goodbye to your favorite foods. In fact, having a small treat may help you stick with your diet. The key to fitting your favorite foods into your eating plan is to find clever ways to incorporate them. One way to do this is to make lower-calorie versions of foods like French fries and brownies. Another trick is to be mindful of your serving sizes when it comes to more indulgent foods. Love pasta? Try adding vegetables to bulk up your serving instead of doubling up on pasta. Of course, your diet should be full of mostly healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains—but make room for some of your favorite, more- indulgent foods too.

2. Eat foods that keep you satisfied.

If you feel hungry all the time, it’s going to be hard to stick with a healthy-eating plan. Research shows that when you’re hungrier, you’re more likely to eat too fast at your next meal. Eating too quickly can lead to consuming extra calories because your body doesn’t have time to register feeling full. While portion control is super-important for losing weight (and keeping it off), you shouldn’t hear your tummy grumbling all day long. Two nutrients that can help keep you full are protein and fiber. Good protein sources include plain Greek yogurt, chicken breast, tuna, tofu and almonds. And to get more fiber, munch on whole fruits and vegetables. Not only is produce high in fiber, but it’s also generally low in calories. That makes it filling and diet-friendly—just what you’re looking for when you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off.

3. Start with small changes.

There’s no need for dramatic shake-ups, like eliminating whole food groups. Instead, start with tiny diet tweaks that over time can become permanent changes. Think of doable things, like packing a wholesome afternoon snack, such as carrots and hummus or an apple, instead of hitting the vending machine. Small changes add up and can help you make healthier eating a way of life, rather than relying on short-term crash dieting.

4. Don’t try to be perfect.

We often have grand ideas about implementing a new diet—like the promises you make about eliminating sugar, never taking from the breadbasket or always having vegetables at dinner. Instead of trying to be perfect, be realistic.  Make your eating plan one that you can actually stick to. You don’t have to eat perfectly to lose weight; you just have to eat well. Set a goal for the week, like adding a serving of vegetables to dinner, or packing a healthy lunch one or two days—and go easy on yourself if you slip up. Eating indulgences are bound to happen. And when they do…

5. Get right back on track.

If you have a diet slip-up and go overboard on chocolate or pizza, don’t beat yourself up! Just get back on track again as quickly as possible. Remember that one meal doesn’t undo all of your healthy efforts—but when you give up your diet entirely because of one slip-up, that’s when the weight can start to creep back on. If you have a minor setback, understand that it’s one small blip on the radar. Get right back to your healthy eating habits and right back on track for long-term success.