28 Best Carb Foods for Optimal Energy & Weight Loss

Carbohydrates have been getting a bad reputation for several years now as the culprit behind weight gain, fatigue, and other adverse health conditions. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth, and most health professionals will ask you to think twice before eliminating an entire food group from your diet. The key is to know which carbohydrates to eat and which to stay far, far away from.

Plant-based foods help you lose weight and gain energy because they are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. They naturally detox the body, improve the efficiency of the digestive process, and give the immune system a boost. On the other hand, highly processed carbohydrate foods, such as refined sugar and sweet treats, will give you brain fog and increase your waistline. Here’s a list of the 27 best carbohydrate foods for optimal energy and weight loss.

1. Blueberries

One cup of blueberries contains 21 grams of carbohydrates, and they’re worth every gram of it. As one of the world’s healthiest foods, blueberries have been shown to alter genes that regulate fat-burning and storage. They have also been shown to enhance energy levels by reducing abdominal fat, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, and improving insulin sensitivity. This is possibly due to their unique polyphenol content. Anthocyanins are a special type of antioxidant with promising results. According to Doctor Steven Bolling, heart surgeon and head of the cardioprotection laboratory at the University of Michigan, blueberries, and anthocyanins show promising results in regards to these health conditions that regulate energy levels.

2. Bananas

Bananas are a great food to eat if you suffer from a bloated belly because they are high in prebiotic indigestible carbohydrates. This means that they help fill you up and provide “fuel” to the good bacteria in your gut so that it can remove toxins and keep things moving. One study found that women who consumed a banana twice a day as a pre-workout snack improve their gastrointestinal symptoms and reduced stomach bloat. The authors of the study concluded that bananas could be a useful food for women who have weight problems. Add them to smoothies or eat them plain with a handful of nuts for a protein boost.

3. Apples

Apples are an excellent source of fiber, which has been shown to help you lose weight and improve your energy levels. Because they’re high in easily digestible carbs, eating an apple a half hour or so before you workout is a great way to increase your energy levels without feeling bloated or weighed down from a high-carb energy bar. A 2003 study showed that women who ate three apples a day lost 1.22 kg after 12 weeks. They also had a more significant reduction in blood glucose. Because they are naturally sweet, apples make an excellent replacement for sugar in smoothies, baked goods, and on top of oatmeal.

4. Broccoli

Eating your greens is a great way to lose weight and increase your energy levels because they’re packed full of fiber and antioxidants that naturally detox the body and improve digestion to help get rid of excess weight. Broccoli contains a phytochemical called sulforaphane that has been shown to fight obesity. One study found that mice who were fed sulforaphane reduce their visceral fat by 20 percent, which was 15 percent lower than the control group. The study also found that sulforaphane had positive effects on gut bacteria to remove toxins and promote weight loss, which can help you feel more energized.

5. Raw Cacao

You don’t need to stop eating chocolate if you want to lose weight. You just have to eat the right kind. Raw cacao powder is one of the best sources of bioflavonoids on the planet, which might be the key to losing weight and keeping it off, according to one study. Flavonoids are naturally occurring bioactive compounds that have been shown to increase energy expenditure and decrease fat absorption. Unlike cocoa, raw cacao is unprocessed and hasn’t been stripped of its nutrients. Loko for it at your local health food store and add it to smoothies for a treat.

6. Kamut

Kamut is an ancient grain packed full of protein and omega three fatty acids. It’s also relatively low in calories. One half-cup serving contains 140 calories and has 30 percent more protein than wheat. It’s also gluten-free, which makes it a great replacement if you’re sensitive to gluten. Research shows that eating kamut helps lower cholesterol, balance hormones, improve cognitive function, fight the common cold, assist with bone structure support, and detox the body. Its high fiber content helps push food through the digestive tract to aid in weight loss. Enjoy kamut as a side dish at dinner and prepare for a great morning workout the next day.

7. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries are the king of anti-inflammatory foods. Chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and fatigue. One study found that tart cherries alter abdominal adiposity (belly fat), adipose gene transcription, and inflammation to promote weight loss and reduce the risk of metabolic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. One cup of cherries contains 22 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 16 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C. True tart cherries are hard to find, but they’re worth seeking out at your local health store for their amazing health benefits.

8. Sweet Potatoes

Along with berries, sweet potatoes are high in the polyphenol antioxidant anthocyanins to fight free-radical accumulation, detox fat from the body and keep your immune system working at its best. They’re also full of slowly digested carbohydrates, which is the best kind as they do not spike your blood sugar levels as refined sugars do. By improving your insulin sensitivity, you’ll reduce the number of calories that are converted into fat. Additionally, sweet potatoes are high in vitamins including A, C, and B6 to give you lots of energy through your day. Enjoy a baked sweet potato with a salad for lunch or turn them into sweet potatoes fries when you’re craving the fast-food kind.

9. Buckwheat

Despite having “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is a gluten-free grain, which makes it easier to digest then other grains if you’re sensitive to gluten. Buckwheat is a true superfood because it’s full of fiber to prevent glucose from being dumped into your bloodstream too quickly. Fiber also helps send a steady supply of fuel to your brain so you’ll be thinking clearly all day long. Research shows that buckwheat has health-promoting benefits equal to or better than that of fruits and vegetables. Put buckwheat in the rotation along with your other favorite ancient grains when looking for a delicious side dish at dinner.

10. Lentils

Lentils punch a robust nutritional punch that includes 116 calories, 9 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber, and 1.8 grams of naturally occurring sugar per a 100-gram serving. The same amount also contains 127 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B6 to take care of all of your energy needs. Additionally, one serving has an impressive 45 percent of folate, 70 percent of manganese, and 58 percent of thiamine. The most satisfying way to enjoy lentils is to create a delicious soup. Be sure to add other delicious vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, tomatoes, and onions.

11. Oats

Don’t think twice about starting your day with a big bowl of oatmeal. Oats contain complex carbohydrates, which are slowly digested to provide you with long-term, sustainable energy. Oats are also high in soluble fiber, which has been shown to protect against heart disease. Plus, one-half cup serving of oats contains up to 10 grams of protein to build lean muscle. Eating a bowl of oats topped with blueberries and flaxseeds gives you the protein, fat, and energy you need to make it through whatever the day throws at you. Soak the oats overnight for better digestion if you’re sensitive to starchy grains.

12. Chickpeas

Dipping your vegetable sticks (cucumber, carrots, and tomatoes) into hummus is the ultimate snack. It has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber to keep you naturally energized without crashing. Chickpeas are also really good for your heart. They lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease. One study found that eating a serving of legumes each day helps you lose more weight than a diet that doesn’t include them. Lentils are also low-glycemic, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar levels and leave you craving more sugar an hour later. Finally, chickpeas are gluten-free and easy to digest for most people.

13. Sprouted Brown Rice

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sprouted brown rice is soaked in water for several hours, which makes the nutrients in the grain more bioavailable. It has four times the amount of fiber and vitamin E than regular rice and three times more magnesium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6 for optimal energy. Sprouted brown rice has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, prevent cancer cells, and boost the immune system. Plus, it’s super filling and tasty. One quarter-cup serving contains 170 calories. Use it in place of regular rice whenever you need a delicious plant-based dish.

14. Dates

You can tell that dates have a ton of sugar (the good kind) by taking one bite of them. The good news is that sugar from whole food sources like fruit doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels the same way a candy bar would, so they’re safe to eat. Dates can have a laxative-like effect on the body, so a little bit goes a long way. But they’re a delicious way to keep your diet on track even if you have a sweet tooth. Plus, they’re full of zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A and K, potassium, and folate. Add one or two Medjool dates to sweeten up your homemade almond milk or roll them in walnut pieces for a delicious treat.

15. Teff

Looking for a plant-based dish with a complete protein profile? Teff contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which is a unique quality that not many plant sourced foods can claim. It tastes similar to quinoa with a mild, nutty flavor that goes great with sauteed onions, broccoli, and mushrooms. Plus, it’s gluten-free. One cup of teff contains 255 calories, 50 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of protein, and 360 percent of your daily recommended intake of manganese. It also has 7 grams of fiber. One study found that eating teff reduces the risk of metabolic diseases.

16. Amaranth

Amaranth is yet another gluten-free grain that’s packed with fiber and protein. One cup contains 251 calories, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of protein. Studies show that amaranth can help reduce inflammation, aid in your fitness goals due to its high protein content, support bone health, lower cholesterol, improve digestion, and fight diabetes. Additionally, amaranth is high in an amino acid called lysine, which helps produce carnitine that converts fatty acids into energy. Use amaranth in place of oatmeal for a tasty breakfast along with your favorite fruits.

17. Mango

Mangos have about 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving, and they’re wonderfully nutritious with a long list of health benefits. They provide you with 100 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C, which has antioxidants abilities in the body to get rid of excess toxins that may hang out and disrupt critical metabolic processes. They have been shown to reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even premature death. Eating mangos by themselves is a delicious way to enjoy a mid-morning snack, but you can also get creative and add mango chunks to salads or smoothies. If you buy them frozen, make sure there is no sugar added to them.

18. Pineapple

Pineapple contains a potent anti-inflammatory enzyme called bromelain, which has been shown to support weight loss, decrease joint pain (to make it easier to exercise!), treat and prevent sinus infections, fight allergies and asthma, prevent cancer, and treat digestive disorders. One study found that bromelain can be used as an anti-obesity medication because it downregulates fatty acid synthase, adipocyte fatty acid-binding protein, and lipoprotein lipase. It may also inhibit a process that contributes to the formation of fat cells called adipogenesis and reduce overall triglyceride levels. Add pineapple chunks to yogurt, smoothies, salads, or even on top of your favorite burger.

19. Black Beans

Black beans fill you up with their high fiber content and pump you full of protein to help aid lean muscle mass. When combined with brown rice, black beans make a complete protein, which means that it provides all nine essential amino acids. These are typically found in animal products. Plus, you get the added benefit of protective plant compounds, copper, folate, and B vitamins. One cup of black beans contains 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. They’re inexpensive if you buy them bagged. Soak them overnight, rinse, and boil the next day for a filling and satisfying meal.

20. Peas

Peas belong to the legume family, and they’re often used as a non-dairy source of protein to help build lean muscle. They have been shown to help you lose weight, support a healthy heart, and regulate blood sugar. They also have incredible antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis. One cup of cooked green peas contains 116 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. Add some peas to your favorite ancient grain for a fiber and protein rich dish, or incorporate some pea powder into your post-workout meals to help you recover.

21. Beets

Beets have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, so many low-carb dieters tend to stay away from them, but that’s a huge mistake given their high nutritional value. Beets have been shown to boost your stamina, reduce inflammation, lower your blood pressure, protect against cancer, and play an essential role in your body’s natural detoxification process. Specifically, they assist with Phase 2 detoxification where toxins are broken down and bind to other molecules where they can be eliminated from the body. This helps decrease fat storages and leave you feeling energized. Add them to smoothies, salads, or homemade juices.

22. Oranges

Citrus fruits are often shunned on low-carb diets because of their high sugar content, but doing so means you’ll miss out on a whole bunch of nutritional benefits. Oranges are regarded as one of the healthiest foods in the world for their vitamin C and antioxidant support. They have been shown to improve your immune system, reduce the risk of many diseases, give you great skin, and provide you with lots of energy. They’re also high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, which is the perfect recipe for weight loss. Research suggests that low glycemic foods are also easier to digest. Be sure to avoid processed orange juices and enjoy the whole fruit instead.

23. Parsnips

Parsnips are considered a starchy vegetable because of their high carbohydrate content, but they’re also full of vitamins, fiber and minerals to make them worthy as part of your weight loss diet. Research shows that parsnips may lower your risk of high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, digestive ailments, high blood pressure, and immunity problems. They are a good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, vitamins B, C, E, and K, and potassium. They make an excellent replacement for white potatoes if you’re looking for something a little more nutritious on your dinner plate.

24. Pistachios

Pistachios are well-known for being high in fats, but their carbohydrates content is one that shocks most people. A one-cup serving of these delicious nuts contains 691 calories, 56 grams of fat, 13 grams of fiber, and 34 grams of carbohydrates. As they are calorically dense, you won’t need to eat a lot of these nuts to feel full, which is what makes them ideal for weight loss. Plus, pistachios have been shown to lower cholesterol, protect your heart, stabilize blood sugar levels to fight diabetes, and even support sexual function. Keep your serving size to a one to two ounce minimum when snacking on them.

25. Grapes

Grapes contain an antioxidant called resveratrol, which has been shown to help you lose weight. One study found that subjects who supplemented with resveratrol burned more calories throughout the day due to an increase in their muscle metabolism. Another study resveratrol might help control insulin sensitivity, which could lead to type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Snacking on a handful of grapes and raw nuts is an excellent alternative to a sugary energy bar before a workout. You can also freeze some grapes and eat them as dessert in place of ice cream.

26. Quinoa

Rounding out the list of high-carb ancient grains that can help you lose weight is quinoa.  With its delicious flavor and high fiber profile, quinoa makes a great weight loss food. One cup provides you with 222 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein and 39 grams of carbs. It’s one of the rare plant-based sources of complete protein and has been shown to help you lose weight and gain more energy, according to one study.

27. Barley

Barley helps keep you full to prevent you from overeating by creating a bulking effect in the digestive system to push waste through. Keeping your digestive tract clean and adequately functioning is an integral part of losing weight. Barley is gluten-free and contains lots of vitamins and minerals, including folate, copper, B vitamins for energy, niacin, phosphorus, magnesium and more. One cup of cooked barley has 217 calories, a whopping 10 grams of fiber, 45 grams of carbs, and 7 grams of protein. Try soaking them or buying them sprouted to enhance the nutritional profile.

28. Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is not only a tasty addition to your favorite meals, but it also contains four times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and over half the recommended intake of vitamin C in just one serving. Vitamins A and C are antioxidants that assist with weight loss and energy production by combating free-radical damage that causes inflammation. One serving of butternut squash contains 82 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrates, and three different carotenoids. One study found that butternut squash may help decrease fatigue and increase exercise performance to give you a boost at the gym.

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