Some of the greatest foods known to man are made up of carbohydrates and we never want to live in a world without pizza, pasta, and bread. But what these delicious foods offer in taste and satiety, they can lack in nutritional value. Refined and processed carbohydrates like those found in white bread and pasta, especially when consumed with abandon, may contribute to overeating and weight gain.
That said, not all carbohydrates are bad. "People often say that carbs are fattening. But complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, are not fattening’ foods,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD in a blog post for the Mayo Clinic. Carbohydrates are one of our most important energy sources and make up one of three macronutrients our bodies need to function properly (the other two being protein and fat.)
When you're craving carbs, consider filling, fiber-rich complex options that give your body sustained energy. Try these six carb-forward foods now.
Whole Wheat and Alternative Pasta
We like this first suggestion because it's actually realistic and attempting to satiate your pasta craving with a fiber-rich apple just isn't going to cut it. Whole wheat pasta, on the other hand, tastes similar enough to white pasta but includes all three parts of the grain, making it slower to digest and higher in fiber—just be sure to check the ingredient label to ensure the first ingredient is indeed whole wheat flour.
The same goes for other pasta alternatives like chickpea pasta (which contains more protein and less carbs than whole wheat pasta), or quinoa pasta, which makes a good pasta alternative for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. Quinoa pasta is also a good source of iron and magnesium.
Whole Grain Bread
When you're craving bread, whole grain bread or 100 percent whole wheat bread offers far more health benefits than white bread. As a complex carbohydrate, it also contains all three fiber and nutrient parts of the grain, making it slower to digest and more filling. Make sure to read the nutrition labels (the ingredient list on your loaf should include the word "whole.") Look out for ingredients like fructose and "enriched" flours, which may dilute the nutrition value of your loaf, and may spike your blood sugar quicker than true whole grains. When it comes to carbs in general, opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, oats, brown rice, and lentils.
Black Beans and Legumes
These two also get points for actually filling you up. Both beans and legumes are a great source of protein, fiber, and a host of necessary nutrients. "They help you feel full longer. Beans are also a cheap and easy substitute for animal protein,” says Ha Nguyen, RDN, in an interview with Women's Health. One cup of chickpeas, for example, boasts 11 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber—one-third the recommended daily fiber intake, according to Women's Health. Bone boosting calcium and phosphate bumps up chickpeas' nutritional value, too.
Gluten free quinoa, an indigenous plant to the Andean region of South America, is one of the most nutrient-rich whole grains (though technically, quinoa is a seed) and is packed with protein. One cup of cooked quinoa includes 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, as well as a great dose of heart-healthy unsaturated fats and B vitamins. It's a great alternative to rice in just about any meal, like the above quinoa bowl from The Modern Proper. Plus, quinoa is considered a complete protein, or in other words, it contains all nine amino acids our bodies can't produce on its own and is essential to daily life.
They may be sweet, but thanks to its fiber content, sugar in sweet potatoes won't spike your blood sugar, according to Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian, tells Health. Sweet potatoes are also chockfull of Vitamin A and C, which also work as antioxidants to strengthen cells against aging and disease. To inspire your next meal, try sweet potato, corn, and feta fritters with spicy red pepper sauce.
With six grams of stomach-filling fiber, Barley is a high-grade appetite suppressant that has been linked to lowered cholesterol, decreased blood sugars, and improved satiety. It can also help to regulate your digestive system. Try adding it to a summer salad from Modern Proper or use it as a soup base instead of noodles.