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posted: 7/8/2013 5:00 AM

Let's count the benefits of natural carbs

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  • Berries are packed with antioxidants and add some color to a diet.

    Berries are packed with antioxidants and add some color to a diet.


Chances are, you're somewhat familiar with the term "carbs." If you've tried to lose weight before, you've probably come across low-carb options or may have heard someone telling you to cut out carbs. But what is a carb? A carbohydrate is one of three macronutrients -- the other two being protein and fat. Without getting too technical, you can think of a carb as a sugar.

Too much sugar in the diet, recently in the form of added sugar or high fructose corn syrup, has been a major contributor in the onset of obesity and diabetes in many Americans. In addition, carbs take the blame for issues such as weight gain, fatigue, mood swings and poor sleep.

It's true that many people eat too many carbs. Many processed foods, which make up a majority of American's diets, are high in carbs and low in nutrients. But this doesn't mean that all carbs are bad. Many of them, in fact, are not only healthy, but necessary for optimal health.

The following list contains five natural carbohydrate options that will give you energy as well as a wide range of nutrients.

• Quinoa: This grain is naturally gluten free so it makes a great alternative to wheat products for people with gluten issues. It's also a great option for vegetarians as it has a significant amount of protein. Quinoa also contains substantial amounts of vitamin E, selenium and zinc. Try a half cup of quinoa with a 6-ounce salmon fillet and a few baked asparagus spears for a balanced meal.

• Sweet potatoes: The sweet potato packs a punch as far as nutrients and flavor. It has a lower glycemic index than a white or red potato so it doesn't disturb blood sugar levels nearly as much. You'll get good amounts of beta carotene, magnesium, potassium and vitamins B and C. Slice up a sweet potato into thin slices and sauté in a covered pan with a bit of coconut oil and season with rosemary for a great alternative to regular potatoes.

• Berries: Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries are packed with antioxidants and add some fun color to your diet. There are too many phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals to list but a good variety of these powerhouse fruits will help fight inflammation, disease and the signs of aging. Steer clear of sugary juices that contain these fruits and eat fresh organic as much as possible. Have a half cup of mixed berries with a hard-boiled egg as a snack or simply blend them into a nutritious smoothie.

• Spinach: Spinach is a wonderful green leafy carbohydrate that is very low in calories, but extremely high in nutrients. It's also naturally sweet tasting, so you can add it to smoothies or use it as base for salads for added flavor. Spinach contains many antioxidants and nutrients that protect the body from free radical damage and inflammation. The next time you make a smoothie, add a large handful of spinach and see how it tastes. You might be pleasantly surprised.

• Avocados: Although avocados are high in calories, they are loaded with healthy fats and phytonutrients. They also contain vitamins A, B6, C, E and K as well as potassium. The healthy fat content in avocados improves your body's ability to regulate blood sugar and adds wonderful flavor to your dishes. Add a slice of avocado to a burger or make a guacamole topping for a taco salad.

Limiting processed foods and consuming more of these healthy carbohydrates will greatly improve your diet and your outlook on carbs.

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• Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition.

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