When it comes to weight loss, if you think all carbs are not your friend, think again. Spoiler alert: You’re perfectly capable of getting lean without eradicating carbs from your diet—the trick is to choose just the right healthy carbs for weight loss. We spoke with the experts who share their two cents on the healthiest carbs that can actually help you slim down.
“Carbs are not only an essential macronutrient, but I call them ‘happy foods.’ Without enough, you are left unsatisfied and hangry, which eventually leads to binging on all things carbs later in the day,” Laura Burak MS, RD, founder of GetNaked® Nutrition and author of Slim Down with Smoothies, tells Eat This, Not That!
But there’s a fine line between carbs that contain added sugar, such as cookies, candy, and ice cream, and “quality carbs,” as Burak dubs them, that are naturally packed with fiber and nutrients. These types of good-for-you carbs “work FOR your body”—not against it—by helping you feel fuller for a longer period of time and keeping your blood sugar stable.
The three main groups of carbohydrates are as follows:
- Simple carbohydrates are essentially sugars. These types of carbs are naturally in fruits, veggies, and milk products, but you’ll also recognize them in unhealthy processed foods and refined grains via “added sugar.” (Think processed, refined sugars like soft drinks, candy, and syrups, per MedlinePlus.) Your body breaks down simple carbs fast to utilize them for fuel, leaving you craving even more carbs, which can result in weight gain.
- Complex carbohydrates are comprised of lengthy, complex chains of sugar molecules. These types of carbs help you stay fuller for a longer period of time because it’s a slower process to digest and utilize them for fuel.
- Dietary fiber is another lengthy chain of sugar molecules. But unlike complex carbs, dietary fiber is indigestible. That means it can’t be broken down by your body and used for fuel. But it’s certainly put to good use by ensuring your digestive system stays running smoothly and you remain full. Typically, you’ll find fiber in foods that also have complex carbs.
It’s a more gradual process for your body to break down healthy carbs, aka dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates. What exactly does that mean? Well, you’ll expend a greater amount of energy to burn them as opposed to simple sugars, which in turn, will help you lose weight.
Experts share their top-recommended healthy carbs for weight loss that are jam-packed with nutrients and fiber. Start working them into your meals ASAP if you want to lose weight.
We can’t stress this enough: Fiber is a must in your diet if you’re looking to lose weight. It keeps you fuller for longer, which will curb hunger cravings and help you consume fewer calories. So consider fiber your newest best friend when selecting healthy carbs for weight loss.
Burak specifically recommends high-fiber crackers to enjoy as a tasty snack. “Choose high-fiber bread and crackers like Mary’s Gone Crackers or ELLA’S FLATS made with whole grains and seeds, or wraps made with chickpea or almond flour like Siete brand,” she suggests.
If you’re a spaghetti lover, you may find it extremely difficult to give up your pasta nights. But don’t fret, because you can still work pasta into your weight loss routine—just not the classic refined flour type. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are pastas you can whip up that contain a greater amount of nutrients, such as chickpea or black bean pasta. These healthy alternatives contain more iron and fiber when compared to traditional pasta.
Burak recommends choosing bean pasta such as Banza chickpea pasta and Explore Cuisine’s organic black bean and edamame pasta.
Lisa Young, Ph.D., RDN, the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, a nutritionist in private practice, and a member of our Medical Expert Board, recommends adding legumes such as chickpeas to your weight loss diet. According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, eating chickpeas is incredibly beneficial in that it helps you manage a healthy body weight through energy intake and acts as an appetite suppressant.
Having a canister of oats in your home is always a good idea. Burak gives this delicious breakfast staple her seal of approval—and for good reason. According to Trifecta Nutrition, oats will fill you up because they contain a high amount of fiber and can boost feelings of satiety. These healthy traits can help you avoid overeating and manage your hunger levels.
The Nutrition Twins®, Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RD, CDN, CFT, who are members of our Medical Expert Board, dub sweet potatoes the “ultimate carb” for weight loss. This is due to their high ranking on the satiety index, which ranks various foods and how effective they are at keeping you full. The highest-ranking foods will keep you satiated for longer.
“Sweet potatoes have also been found to increase adiponectin, a fat hormone that increases insulin sensitivity and boosts metabolism,” The Nutrition Twins explain. “Instead of topping it with artery-clogging butter, sprinkle it with cinnamon for a sweet potato pie-like treat that helps to moderate blood sugar. For a satisfying weight loss meal, try these stuffed sweet potato tacos and this vegetarian-loaded sweet potato.”
Black beans are another high-fiber food item that’ll give you a healthy carbohydrate fix. The Nutrition Twins explain that black beans offer the ultimate weight loss combo of fiber (six grams) and protein (eight grams) with every half cup to keep you feeling full for hours. In addition, research shows that adding beans to your diet can help you shed weight and achieve a smaller waistline.
The Nutrition Twins recommend preparing lettuce wrap burritos that are filled with black beans. Or, consider adding beans to your next pot of soup, a freshly tossed salad, or a tasty casserole, like this one-pot black bean quinoa chili with avocado.
If you want to lose weight, don’t wait for your bananas to totally ripen before eating them!
“[Underripe bananas are] rich in gut-healthy resistant starch, a prebiotic fiber that has been shown to slow digestion, reduce belly fat, and assist in weight loss,” The Nutrition Twins explain. Resistant starch also acts as an appetite suppressant.
You may be surprised to hear that boiled potatoes actually are the highest-ranking food on the satiety index. Needless to say, they’re incredibly filling!
“After eating a baked potato, you’ll be satisfied for a long time, which will help to stave off other cravings. Plus, since a 3.5-ounce potato is only 92 calories, you get your carb fix without a lot of calories,” The Nutrition Twins tell us.
Consider adding some lemon and pepper to your boiled potatoes for a boost of flavor without extra calories, salt, or fat. To complete a well-balanced meal that supports your weight loss goals, The Nutrition Twins suggest pairing your potatoes with chicken breast or salmon for protein, along with steamed veggies for fiber.
“Apples are a good source of polyphenols, which have been found to fight against obesity,” The Nutrition Twins explain. Plus, apples are chock-full of soluble fiber, and research shows that for every additional 10 grams of soluble fiber consumed daily, belly fat can be decreased by 3.7% over a five-year timespan.
The carbs you get from low-sugar fruit like blueberries can help support your weight loss efforts, Danielle McAvoy, RD, senior manager of nutrition for Territory Foods, official prepared meals partner of Pure Barre and Row House, tells us. A recent 2023 study published in Nutrients reveals that this superfruit can help your body torch fat and may boost your workout performance.
Spaghetti squash is a delicious, seamless alternative to pasta when you’re looking to lose weight.
According to The Nutrition Twins, “You’ll get only 42 calories per cup and 10 grams of carbs, compared to pasta which is 221 calories per cup and contains 43 carbs. So you’ll [eliminate] nearly 180 calories per cup making this swap.” They suggest whipping up something like weight loss spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Yum!
Barley is another excellent healthy carb addition to your diet if you want to shed weight. According to Young, “Barley contains a large amount of soluble fiber which has been linked to lowering cholesterol, decreasing blood sugars and increasing satiety. Barely also has been said to act as a bulking agent which promotes bowel health.”
“Quinoa is high in protein and a good source of fiber making it satisfying and a weight-loss friendly starch,” Young tells us. If you’re eating quinoa for weight loss, rest assured you’ll get your fill of nutrients such as antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just one cooked cup of quinoa offers five grams of fiber, eight grams of protein, four grams of total fat, and 39 grams of carbs. It will only set you back 222 calories.
Whole grains like brown rice are bursting with fiber and fuel your body with energy so you don’t feel hungry all the time when dieting, McAvoy explains. “Fiber slows down digestion and keeps you feeling full for longer. It also has a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome, which can impact body weight over time,” she adds. “Ultimately, eating a moderate amount of whole grains can help you stick to a weight loss plan.”
“Regular consumption of legumes may promote weight loss. This is due to the fact that legumes are high in fiber and protein,” Young tells us. “Protein helps feel you full and encourages fat loss instead of muscle loss in a calorie deficit,” adds McAvoy.
According to Medical News Today, consuming legumes will do your body good. Health benefits include a decreased risk of becoming obese, healthy weight management, reduced blood pressure, and immune support. So be sure to work lentils and peas into your meals pronto.
“Berries contain the phytochemical, cyanidin 3-glucoside (C3G) which increases adiponectin, which may enhance fat metabolism, as well as leptin, which suppresses appetite,” The Nutrition Twins explain. “They also are the perfect replacement for a calorie-laden dessert since they quench a sweet tooth with very few calories.”
So the next time you’re craving something for snack, opt for berries such as strawberries! They pair perfectly with a drizzle of manuka honey, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Fruits are top-tier items on Burak’s “healthy carbs for weight loss” list, due to the fact that they’re plants that contain fiber, nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that other foods don’t offer naturally. “They’re the best bang for your nutritional buck because they provide the most nutrients for the least calories. They add volume and nutrition to meals,” she explains.
Watermelon, specifically, boasts a high water content, so it helps you stay hydrated while keeping your sweet tooth satisfied, McAvoy says. Plus, this fruit is jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and it provides 4% of your daily value of fiber in two cups, Watermelon.org points out.
Cantaloupe is another low-sugar fruit that can aid in weight loss, McAvoy explains. Like watermelon, this fruit is mostly comprised of water, it offers fiber, keeps you hydrated, and can help you kick hunger cravings to the curb, HealthCanal explains. In addition, it’s a low-calorie choice for when you need a sweet fix.
This leafy green may seem pretty unassuming and bland on its own, but spinach is chock-full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. One bunch of raw spinach has almost 10 grams of protein and nearly eight grams of fiber. One cup of cooked spinach offers over five grams of protein and four grams of fiber. Protein is key if you’re looking to shed weight, as it helps with muscle growth. The more you build up your muscle mass, the greater amount of calories your body will torch when resting, WebMD explains.
The next time you’re heading down the bread aisle, add some whole wheat or whole-grain bread to your shopping cart. According to research published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, individuals who ate whole-grain wheat bread shed more belly fat than individuals who consumed refined wheat bread. The study concluded that following a whole-grain wheat bread diet could positively impact individuals dealing with excess belly fat.
“Whole-grain bread contains all parts of the grain, which is filled with nutrient-rich vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber helping you feel full for longer,” Young explains.