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- Several new studies suggest that people who eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates live longer than people on either low-carb or high-carb diets.
- That doesn’t mean you should gorge on white bread and cake. Instead, researchers are discovering that people who eat more plant-based foods of all kinds, including carbs, have some of the best health outcomes.
- Some of the healthiest carbs for your body and brain are those high in fiber, including whole grains, starchy vegetables, peas, and squash.
Limiting carbs might be an effective short-term weight-loss strategy, but scientists are discovering it’s perhaps not the best meal plan for a long life.
That’s because not all carbs are created equal, and often people who forgo carbs replace them with more animal proteins. Too much of those can lead to kidney trouble and increase inflammation levels in the body.
Carbohydrates are our bodies’ preferred fuel source, and though eating one type of carb – sugar – can expand your waistline, that’s not true of other sources of carbohydrates like starches and fiber. Our bodies actually can’t absorb dietary fiber at all, so those carbohydrates help us better digest food, keeping bellies satisfied while protecting the body from disease.
Rigorous scientific studies are increasingly showing us that people who eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas and avoid processed foods are more likely to live longer, cancer-free lives. A diet rich in whole foods such as plants can never be low-carb, but it can be filled with good carbs.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important for our health than what we eat each and every day,” Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Business Insider. Seidelmann’s study of more than 447,000 people around the world found that people who ate a moderate amount of carbohydrates and stuck mainly to plant-based meals lived longer than others who fueled up on animal proteins or white bread and white rice.
If you’re wondering which carbohydrates are the best for your body, here are a few dietitian-approved choices:
Unlike processed grains, whole grains have outer shells of bran and germ that provide protein and fiber, which help keep you full.
Eating whole grains can also lower your chance of having a stroke, help regulate blood pressure, and reduce your risk of developing diabetes, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
To incorporate more whole grains into your diet, look for breads and pastas that are “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” Remember, wheat flour is only about 25% whole wheat.
Pulses, including peas, lentils, and beans
“Pulses are excellent sources of healthy, slow-digesting carbs packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, and phytochemicals,” Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian who wrote the book “The Plant-Powered Diet,” told Business Insider in an email.
The phytochemicals in plants that give them color and flavor are great cancer fighters too, since they can decrease inflammation in the body and help repair our DNA.
Green peas, for example, are filled with bone-protecting potassium and belly-satisfying protein. They are also sweet and rich in folate, which is critical for cells to grow and function properly. Aside from the green kind, there are also chickpeas, which are used to make hummus.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins A, B6, and C. It’s best not to overdo it on the sweet orange roots because they have a high glycemic index, which can temporarily spike blood sugar. But a bit of cooked sweet potato mixed into a salad or roasted as a side dish is a good dinner choice.
Instead of baking or frying, boil potatoes with the skins on for about 20 minutes to retain the most nutrients, according to Harvard Health.
Squash, which can be added to soups, roasted, or blended into casseroles, is a rich superfood. Many types contain some natural sugar, but they’re also high in eye-protecting lutein.
Squash also packs enough protein and fiber to keep you full for a while, while providing magnesium and potassium for bone health.
Limited amounts of fruit
Fruits like bananas and apples are often banned on low-carb diets since they’re carb-heavy and contain natural sugars. But eating a bit of fruit isn’t bad for you, especially when you consume it whole instead of blending it into a smoothie or juice.
Eating an apple with its fibrous skin on rather than peeled off can deliver about double the fiber, 25% more potassium, and 40% more vitamin A, according to The Washington Post.