You may have heard that you should limit the amount of carbs in your diet, but not all carbs are created equal. There is definitely one type you should incorporate more of into your diet: complex carbohydrates.
ICYMI, they refer to starches made up of long, complex chains of sugar molecules. Complex carbs are considered "good carbs" because they take longer to digest, thus they don't spike blood sugars as quickly as simple carbs do, says Ha Nguyen, RDN, the founder of Yummy Body Nutrition. And they provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are important to your health, according to the National Library of Medicine.
While you can eat simple carbs (think: processed or refined sugars) like juice, ice cream, candy, and white bread in moderation, the majority of your carb intake should consist of complex carbs like whole grains, legumes, and starchy veggies. To make it super easy to add more to your plate, keep this complex carbs list on hand for your next trip to the grocery store.
Meet the expert: Ha Nguyen, RDN, is the founder of Yummy Body Nutrition. She has been featured as a nutrition expert in various national media outlets, including Prevention and Fox.
Meet millet, which is a great go-to if your stomach is sensitive to gluten or you have celiac disease. This gluten-free grain is a rich source of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, not to mention protein.
Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 207 calories, 1.74 g fat (0.3 g saturated), 41.19 g carbs, 0.23 g sugar, 3 mg sodium, 2.3 g fiber, 6.11 g protein
One cup of chickpeas packs an impressive 11 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber (one-third of the minimum recommended daily fiber intake, which is about 30 grams). They’re also rich in calcium and phosphate, both of which are important for bone health.
Per serving (1 cup, cooked or canned): 270 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated), 45 g carbs, 8 g sugar, 11 mg sodium, 13 g fiber, 15 g protein
Old-fashioned oats (also called rolled oats) are packed with magnesium, iron, folate, B vitamins, and other important nutrients. Regular intake of the soluble fiber in oats has also been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol (a.k.a. the bad kind).
Per serving (1/2 cup, dry): 150 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 5 g protein
Don’t dismiss this chewy, slightly nutty grain. It’s a great substitute for rice and pasta. One cup of cooked barley packs six grams of fiber, which is essential for good gut health and may help lower cholesterol levels too, boosting cardiovascular health.
Per serving (1 cup, cooked pearled): 193 calories, 0.69 g fat (0.15 g saturated), 44.3 g carbs, 0.44 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 3.55 g protein
If you’re looking to switch up your oatmeal routine without straying completely, try a multigrain hot cereal made with oats, plus other grains like barley, rye, triticale, millet, and more. More grains means a bigger variety of nutrients, which is key to an overall healthy diet.
Per serving (1/2 cup, dry): 160 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 30 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 80 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 6 g protein.
Although they’re as sweet as their name suggests, the sugar in sweet potatoes is released slowly into your bloodstream, thanks to the fiber that comes along with it. The starchy root vegetable is also high in vitamin C, which helps boost immunity, and beta carotene, which is linked to reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Per serving (1 small sweet potato, 130 g, raw): 112 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 26 g carbs, 5 g sugar, 72 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 2 g protein.
If you’re looking for another grain to stock in your pantry, don’t overlook spelt. Spelt is an ancient grain that delivers more than just a healthy serving of complex carbs. One cup of cooked spelt has 7.6 grams of fiber and 10.67 grams of protein, making it a well-balanced choice. Plus, it has higher amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper compared to wheat flour and provides roughly one-third of your recommended daily value of phosphorus, a key bone-building mineral.
Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 246 calories, 1.65 g fat, 51.29 g carbs, 10 mg sodium, 7.6 g fiber, 10.67 g protein
Because butternut squash is starchy but relatively low in calories, it can be a great swap for more calorie-dense potatoes and sweet potatoes. It’s also high in vitamin E, which promotes healthy skin.
Per serving (1 cup, cubed, raw): 63 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 16 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 6 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 1 g protein.
Regular old white potatoes are really good for you too! One medium potato has more potassium than a banana, which makes them great for managing blood pressure. Plus, they offer resistant starch, which is great for your gut health.
Per serving (1 small potato, 148 g, raw): 110 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 26 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 g sodium, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein.
While you may associate kamut, or khorasan wheat, with hippy, crunchy cereal, this ancient grain is worthy of attention. It offers up more nutrients than regular wheat and is a good source of iron, zinc, folate, and niacin, not to mention it contains nearly 10 grams of protein.
Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 227 calories, 1.43 g fat (0.13 g saturated), 47.47 g carbs, 14 mg sodium, 7.4 g fiber, 9.82 g protein
“Beans are a good source of protein and fiber, the two key nutrients that promote satiety,” says Nguyen. “They help you feel full longer. Beans are also a cheap and easy substitute for animal protein.” For all you plant-based folks out there!
Per serving (1 cup, cooked or canned): 227 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 41 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 15 g fiber, 15 g protein.
There’s no reason to give up sandwiches in favor of lettuce wraps, but it’s worth double-checking labels to make sure you’re buying bread made with 100 percent whole grains (and not a mix of wheats and additives). Not only can the fiber in whole grains help you maintain a healthy weight, whole grains have also been shown to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Per serving (1 slice): 81 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 14 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 146 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein.
Sprouted grains are whole grains—it’s the germ of the grain that sprouts, so processed grains stripped of their germ and bran are a nonstarter. Sprouted-grain bread will have all the benefits of regular whole-grain bread, while potentially being easier to digest.
Per serving (1 slice): 71 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 13 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 180 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 5 g protein.
Again, the key here is to make sure you’re scanning the grocery store aisles for pasta that’s made with 100 percent whole grains. The fiber in whole-wheat pasta will help you stay full and satisfied, and a cup of cooked pasta is a great vehicle for other healthy foods like vegetables, olive oil, herb-packed pesto, and lean protein.
Per serving (1.2 cup, dry): 200 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 43 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 6 g protein.
While it’s technically a seed, not a grain (making it naturally gluten-free), quinoa comes with the same heart-healthy benefits as other whole grains, and works the same way in recipes like stir-fries, salads, and grain bowls.
Per serving (1/4 cup, dry): 156 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 6 g protein.
Brown rice contains the germ, bran, and endosperm of the grain, which means it’s got more fiber, protein, and nutrients than white rice (which is just the endosperm, with the germ and bran removed). Its high fiber content makes it great for satiety and weight maintenance, and it’s got a slew of other important nutrients, such as, iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins.
Per serving (1/4 cup, dry): 150 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 32 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein.
Like quinoa and brown rice, this nutty grain has loads of heart-healthy benefits, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It’s also slightly higher in protein and fiber than most other whole grains (making it another great food for weight loss). One thing to note: Farro is a type of wheat, so it’s not gluten-free.
Per serving (1/4 cup, dry): 160 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated) 33 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 10 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 5 g protein.
Low in fat and high in protein and healthy carbs, lentils make for a cheap, filling alternative to meat in simple meals. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber, so these inexpensive legumes are guaranteed to fill you up and keep you satisfied.
Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 230 calories, 1 g fat, 40 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 4 mg sodium, 16 g fiber, 18 g protein.
They’re high in fiber, plus they contain a good amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.
Per serving (100 g) : 81 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 14 g carbs, 6 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 5 g protein.