Carbohydrate superfoods you shouldn’t skip

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published March 7, 2019

Key Takeaways

Carbohydrates get a bad rap, especially with ketogenic diets in the spotlight lately. Keto diets tend to be high in fat and low in carbohydrates, along with about 20% protein. Many people laud the keto diet for its dramatic weight-loss effects. But remember that carbohydrates are part of a balanced diet, and cutting out healthy complex carbohydrates—such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—will do you a disservice. Of course, simple carbohydrates—like white bread, white rice, and refined pasta—should be minimized in any healthy diet.

Let’s take a look at five healthy carbohydrates.


The average-sized banana contains 27 grams of carbohydrates. Although the amount of carbohydrates in the average banana is high for people with diabetes, bananas are loaded with minerals and vitamins, including potassium, manganese, and vitamin B6, as well as fiber. Bananas lack cholesterol and are extremely low in fat and sodium.

Vitamin B6 promotes the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids; it also helps produce red blood cells. Vitamin C found in bananas helps absorb iron, produce collagen, and make serotonin. Manganese aids your body in making collagen, and protects against damage from free radicals. Potassium is a body salt that helps maintain blood pressure and heart health.

One medium-sized banana contains about 10% of the fiber you need in your daily diet, which helps with digestion, constipation, and other gastrointestinal issues. The sugars in bananas include sucrose, fructose, and glucose, which serve as ideal fuel before exercise.


These edible seeds from the legume family are high sources of plant protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Merely 1.5 cups of cooked lentils contain 60 grams of carbohydrates, or more than 25% of daily suggested intake, so don’t overdo it. Lentils are also packed full of other nutrients—such as potassium, folate, iron, and manganese—and are low in fat and calories.

People with diabetes can enjoy lentils because lentils have a low glycemic index. They make excellent meat alternative and are characterized by their color: yellow, red, green, black, or brown.

Lentils are rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, eating lentil may help lower blood pressure levels, boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, and boost weight loss.

Interestingly, 100 grams of lentils have about the same protein content as a little more than 100 grams of steak, with more than 10 times fewer fats. Like steak, lentils are rich in iron.


Many people are wary of cashews because of their high fat content. But the fats in cashews are unsaturated, which may promote heart health. Cashews might also reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Cashews are rich in copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iron, selenium, potassium, and calcium. Copper, for instance, helps produce hemoglobin, collagen, and elastin.

A quarter cup of cashews (18 cashews) contains about 5% of your daily need of carbohydrates, or nearly 10 grams. Cashews have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including decreasing diabetes risk by controlling blood sugar levels and decreasing cancer risk by antioxidant effects.

Sweet potatoes

One cup of sweet potatoes, with the skin intact, contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates, or about 25% of suggested daily intake. Sweet potatoes are great sources of fiber and protein. The fat content in sweet potatoes is low, and these root vegetables are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, and copper.

The orange and purple varieties of sweet potatoes are particularly high in antioxidants, which have anticancer effects. The antioxidant beta-carotene in sweet potatoes might promote immune system health. Beta-carotene may also boost eye health and ward off vision loss.


Oats could be healthier than any other whole grain out there. Oats consist of nearly 70% carbohydrate, with about 10% fiber. Oats are a good source of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and antioxidants.

The type of fiber found in oats is called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is hypothesized to lower cholesterol levels by forming a viscous layer in the small intestine upon ingestion. This viscous layer decreases the uptake of cholesterol, as well as bile, which the body turns into more cholesterol. Beta-glucan also promotes healthy gut bacteria and helps you feel fuller. It might also help with control of blood sugar levels and boost glucose sensitivity.

So, the next time you think “all carbohydrates are bad,” don’t forget that certain carbohydrates are good for you and integral to a healthy diet.

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