10 Tasty Carbs That Won’t Make You Fat

by | Mar 20, 2013

Photo by Denna Jones

We all know the story. Eating carbohydrates causes a spike in blood sugar, which results in a surge of insulin. Insulin shuttles all that extra sugar into your fat cells and you become obese. Over time, your poor helpless organs become resistant to insulin and you develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, thereby shortening your life by 7 years.

All of that is true.

The story is more complicated, however, because all carbs are not created equal.

I’m not here to tell you sugar and flour won’t make you fat, they will. But unrefined foods that just happen to be slightly higher in starch or sugar don’t, in reasonable quantities, elicit giant blood sugar spikes or abnormally high insulin levels.

Instead, unprocessed carbohydrates generate gentle, moderate rises in your blood glucose and insulin, giving you a small but long-lasting supply of energy your muscles can use for several hours. This is what is supposed to happen when you eat nourishing food, and normal healthy people have no reason to fear it.

(In my experience, eating intact grains can even curb sugar cravings and help you avoid those late night slip ups that undo all your progress and riddle you with guilt.)

So what are these magical carbs that don’t make you fat? Pretty much anything you can find in nature. If it comes in a box and has a prominent “whole grain” sticker on it, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a license to gorge yourself on grains or any food. Eat enough of something, or eat it quickly, and you’ll still end up with more sugar in your blood than your body knows what to do with. But in moderate quantities you can eat from the following list without risking your life or growing out of your favorite jeans.

10 Tasty Carbs That Won’t Make You Fat

1. Fruit

Some popular diets recommend limiting fruit because of its relatively high concentrations of sugar compared to other foods. However you can continue to lose weight even while eating fruit, so long as you don’t pig out on it. Fructose, the sugar in fruit, is bad for you not because it raises your blood sugar, but because it is converted to fat in the liver. However the relatively small amounts of fructose present in whole fruit is nothing to worry about.

2. Beans

Though beans are relatively rich in carbs, a substantial portion of it is fiber and the overall glycemic load is pretty low. Beans are also an excellent source of iron, protein and folate, as well as essential minerals.

3. Oats

Oatmeal is tricky because Quaker and other companies have somehow convinced us that cooking real oats is too hard and time consuming for any civilized human being. This conveniently allows them to mark up the prices on their instant, pre-sweetened varieties that are closer to dessert than they are to a healthy breakfast. But in reality real rolled oats are low calorie, high fiber, and not fattening in the least. They also cook up in minutes.

4. Dairy

Have you ever checked the label of plain yogurt and wondered how all that sugar got in there? No you’re not crazy, it’s just that the FDA nutrition labels don’t distinguish between added sugar (sucrose or fructose) and naturally occurring sugars like lactose, the sugar in milk. In reasonable quantities and without added sugars (read labels carefully), unsweetened dairy products will not usually contribute to fat accumulation.

5. Lentils

Like beans, lentils are full of fiber and digest slowly. If anything, adding lentils to your diet will likely help you lose weight, not make you gain it.

6. Farro

One of my favorite foods, farro is a dense and chewy grain with a thick husk and rich flavor. Although it is a grain, farro is very filling and a little goes a long way. No need to spike your blood sugar with this stuff.

7. Wine

Though people often cite wine and alcohol as having a lot of calories, your body digests alcohol calories different than sugar calories and they have virtually no impact on glycemic response. Though there are many reasons to keep your wine portions under control, sharing the occasional bottle won’t stop you from losing weight.

8. Quinoa

Technically a seed and not a grain, quinoa (keen-wah) is a good source of protein and fiber, and has a very low glycemic index. It’s also high in iron, has a complete amino acid profile (great for vegetarians) and cooks in almost no time.

9. Brown rice

A lot of people claim to dislike brown rice, but cooked properly it can be a beautiful addition to almost any meal. A small serving of brown rice can make your salads, stir fries and other vegetable dishes more satisfying, while not forcing that big blood sugar spike you’d get from eating bread.

10. Potatoes

This may surprise you, but moderate amounts of potatoes cooked in healthy oils (not processed vegetable oils) won’t make you fat. Potatoes are actually fairly high in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and minerals, making them a healthy alternative to other starches so long as you don’t go nuts.

What are your favorite healthy carbs?

Originally published March 21, 2011.

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118 Responses to “10 Tasty Carbs That Won’t Make You Fat”

  1. Tracy says:

    Sweet potatoes and oatmeal are my favorite healthy carbs. I’ve tried, over and over, to like quinoa because it’s such a powerhouse of nutrients. But there’s something about it — bitterness? — I can’t get past. If anyone has advice, I’d appreciate it.

    • Kelly says:

      Have you tried rinsing the quinoa before you cook it? I find that helps with the bitterness. You can sometimes find pre-rinsed quinoa as well. I think it is also important not to overcook it. I find with most recipes I cut the time and lower the heat and it comes out a lot less bitter.

    • Belle says:

      If you have a rice cooker… you can rinse the quinoa and then add it, along with brown rice, to your cooker and set it as you normally would for the brown rice. It all comes out moist and just tastes like brown rice. I like to add garlic and a bit if salt and pepper before I start the cooker. I enjoy eating it with crispy, roasted seaweed paper squares. It’s delicious.

  2. Ben Menton says:

    awesome blog. thanks for sharing!

  3. Brita says:

    Hej Brita,
    The food list is quite confusing. Its hard to oats, dairy and the like should have positive tags without any distinction of their disturbing components. I find dairy sugar and proteins quite problematic, as well as the gluten in oats. French fries should be bad??? and potatoes is on the list? I remember pototoes and tobacco sharing some adicting components in common.

    I think there are devastating issues than just being fat. In that light, coupled with our metabolic individualistic nature, this article can be misleading/comforting to a lay person.

    I love most of your posts and respect your opinions, nevertheless.

  4. Paulina P. says:

    I know this is an old post, but I think it’s pretty irresponsible to claim a certain food will “make you fat”. This is the kind of rhetoric that leads to food demonizing, which inadvertently leads to overeating for many. I will use the perhaps now overused example of the French – or perhaps Western Europeans who don’t hold these kinds of beliefs about “good carbs vs. bad carbs” and generally don’t have a weight problem, breads and pastas included. Sure there may be more ideal sources for your body, but just because you indulge in the odd sourdough loaf for instance, doesn’t mean you’re on the fast track to obesity..May want to re-think the language here!

  5. Great resource Darya. I really love oats. They are very simple to make and a healthy option for someone who wanted to lose weight. Though, my sister consumes oats with full cream as she wanted to gain weight. I believe oats works well for both. It all depends how you are consuming them.

    Rest I love the list. I agree to you that potatoes are healthy stuff but it should be eaten in moderation. Though, I sometimes skip my diet plan and eat mashed potatoes with cheese because I just can’t resist the temptation. My bad I know!

    But can you please mention which oil you are talking about that will be healthy to use with potatoes?

  6. Paola says:

    What a great list of healthy carbs! I know when I eat certain carbs, it definitely gives me more energy! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Michelle says:

    I think it really depends on the person. I ate the way you are suggesting for many years and kept gaining weight. I was basically on on a low-medium calorie Mediterranean type diet and it just wasn’t working. I had to give up almost everything on your list (aside from some types of fruit) and go full paleo to lose weight. Essentially I can only seem to do in ketosis. I have PCOS though so I might not be completely average.

  8. Ken says:

    It has been scientifically proven TIME AND TIME AGAIN that carbs DO NOT make you fat! Carbs are either stored as glycogen (energy) or burned. The ONLY possible way for carbs to be stored as fat is if you were taking in an absolutely absurd amount of carbs and were not active at all. Get your facts straight PLEASE!! People read an article like this and actually believe the b.s. in it.

  9. Mike Russo says:

    LOL Rape Oil

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