PSA: You should probably be eating more of these carbs

complex carbohydrates
19 complex carbs you should be eating more ofRaul Ortin - Getty Images

If you’re thinking about cutting carbs out of your diet for health reasons, stop right there — carbs, despite what you may think, are not the enemy, and ditching them completely means you might miss out on some serious benefits.

Of course, not all carbs are created equally. There are two main categories: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. While simple carbohydrates are found in sugary items like fizzy drinks, cakes, and some fruit juices and cereals.

Made up of long, complex chains of sugar molecules, complex carbs are considered ‘good carbs’ (even though we don’t typically like to label food ‘good’ or ‘bad’) because they take longer to digest, avoiding the blood sugar spike you'd probably get with simple carbs, says Ha Nguyen, registered dietician and founder of Yummy Body Nutrition. Plus, according to the National Library of Medicine, they provide vitamins, minerals, and fibre that are important to your health.

Simple carbs (think: processed or refined sugars) like juice, ice cream, chocolate and white bread are delicious in moderation, but most of your carb intake should consist of complex carbs like whole grains, beans, and starchy veggies. To make it super easy to add more carbs to your plate, keep this complex carbs list on hand for your next trip to the supermarket.

19 complex carbs you should probably be eating more of


The post-5K mainstay is made up of mostly complex carbohydrates, plus a healthy kick of vitamins and potassium. Yes, it contains natural sugar, but your body won't absorb it as quickly as it would, say, a chocolate bar, because of the fruit's high fibre count.

Per serving (1 medium): 105 calories, 0.4 g fat (0.1 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 14 g sugar, 1 mg sodium, 3.1 g fibre, 1.3 g protein

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Meet millet, which is a great go-to if your stomach is sensitive to gluten or you have celiac disease. This gluten-free grain is a rich source of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, not to mention protein.

Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 207 calories, 1.74 g fat (0.3 g saturated), 41.19 g carbs, 0.23 g sugar, 3 mg sodium, 2.3 g fibre, 6.11 g protein

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You know these green guys are good for you, but did you know they're actually an ace source of complex carbs? The carbs primarily come from fibre, which is key for digestive health and regulating blood sugar levels.

Per serving (1 cup, chopped): 31 calories, 0.3 g fat (0 g saturated), 6 g carbs, 1.5 g sugar, 30 mg sodium, 2.4 g fibre, 2.6 g protein

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One cup of chickpeas packs an impressive 11 grams of protein and 10 grams of fibre (one-third of the minimum recommended daily fibre intake, which is about 30 grams). They’re also rich in calcium and phosphate, both of which are important for bone health.

Per serving (1 cup, cooked or canned): 270 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated), 45 g carbs, 8 g sugar, 11 mg sodium, 13 g fibre, 15 g protein

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Craving something crunchy? Get your fix with this colourful root veggie, which is a particularly good source of beta-carotene, potassium, and antioxidants. We love 'em tucked into a veggie sandwich.

Per serving (1 medium): 25 calories, 0.2 g fat (0.02 g saturated), 5.8 g carbs, 2.9 g sugar, 42.1 mg sodium, 1.7 g fibre, 0.57 g protein

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Old-fashioned oats (also called rolled oats) are packed with magnesium, iron, folate, B vitamins, and other important nutrients. Regular intake of the soluble fibre in oats has also been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol (aka the bad kind).

Per serving (1/2 cup, dry): 150 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 4 g fibre, 5 g protein

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Don’t dismiss this chewy, slightly nutty grain. One cup of cooked barley packs six grams of fibre, which is essential for good gut health and may help lower cholesterol levels too, boosting cardiovascular health.

Per serving (1 cup, cooked pearled): 193 calories, 0.69 g fat (0.15 g saturated), 44.3 g carbs, 0.44 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 6 g fibre, 3.55 g protein

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Sweet potatoes

Although they’re as sweet as their name suggests, the sugar in sweet potatoes is released slowly into your bloodstream, thanks to the fibre that comes along with it. The starchy root vegetable is also high in vitamin C, which helps boost immunity, and beta carotene, which is linked to reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

Per serving (1 small sweet potato, 130 g, raw): 112 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 26 g carbs, 5 g sugar, 72 mg sodium, 4 g fibre, 2 g protein.

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Spelt is an ancient grain that delivers more than just a healthy serving of complex carbs. One cup of cooked spelt has 7.6 grams of fibre and 10.67 grams of protein, making it a well-balanced choice. Plus, it has higher amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper compared to wheat flour and provides roughly one-third of your recommended daily value of phosphorus, a key bone-building mineral.

Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 246 calories, 1.65 g fat, 51.29 g carbs, 10 mg sodium, 7.6 g fibre, 10.67 g protein

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Butternut squash

Because butternut squash is starchy but relatively low in calories, it can be a great swap for more calorie-dense potatoes and sweet potatoes. It’s also high in vitamin E, which promotes healthy skin.

Per serving (1 cup, cubed, raw): 63 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 16 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 6 mg sodium, 3 g fibre, 1 g protein.

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Regular old white potatoes are really good for you, too! One medium potato has more potassium than a banana, which makes it great for managing blood pressure. Plus, they offer resistant starch, which is great for your gut health.

Per serving (1 small potato, 148 g, raw): 110 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 26 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 g sodium, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein.

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Black beans

‘Beans are a good source of protein and fibre, the two key nutrients that promote satiety,’ says Nguyen. ‘They help you feel full longer. Beans are also a cheap and easy substitute for animal protein.’ For all you plant-based folks out there!

Per serving (1 cup, cooked or canned): 227 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 41 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 15 g fibre, 15 g protein.

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Whole-wheat bread

There’s no reason to give up sandwiches in favour of lettuce wraps, but it’s worth double-checking labels to make sure you’re buying bread made with 100 per cent whole grains (and not a mix of wheat and additives). Not only can the fibre in whole grains help you maintain a healthy weight, whole grains have also been shown to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

Per serving (1 slice): 81 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 14 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 146 mg sodium, 2 g fibre, 4 g protein.

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Whole-wheat pasta

Again, the key here is to make sure you’re scanning the grocery store aisles for pasta that’s made with 100 per cent whole grains. The fibre in whole-wheat pasta will help you stay full and satisfied, and a cup of cooked pasta is a great vehicle for other healthy foods like vegetables, olive oil, herb-packed pesto, and lean protein.

Per serving (1.2 cup, dry): 200 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 43 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 6 g fibre, 6 g protein.

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While it’s technically a seed, not a grain (making it naturally gluten-free), quinoa comes with the same heart-healthy benefits as other whole grains and works the same way in recipes like stir-fries, salads, and grain bowls.

Per serving (1/4 cup, dry): 156 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 3 g fibre, 6 g protein.

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Brown rice

Brown rice contains the germ, bran, and endosperm of the grain, which means it has more fibre, protein, and nutrients than white rice (which is just the endosperm, with the germ and bran removed). Its high fibre content makes it great for satiety and weight maintenance, and it’s got a slew of other important nutrients, such as iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins.

Per serving (1/4 cup, dry): 150 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 32 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 2 g fibre, 3 g protein.

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Like quinoa and brown rice, this nutty grain has loads of heart-healthy benefits, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It’s also slightly higher in protein and fibre than most other whole grains (making it another great food for weight loss). One thing to note: Farro is a type of wheat, so it’s not gluten-free. Need inspo? Use it to bulk up a Greek chicken salad.

Per serving (1/4 cup, dry): 160 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated) 33 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 10 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 5 g protein.

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Low in fat and high in protein and healthy carbs, lentils make for a cheap, filling alternative to meat in simple meals. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fibre, so these inexpensive legumes are guaranteed to fill you up and keep you satisfied.

Per serving (1 cup, cooked): 230 calories, 1 g fat, 40 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 4 mg sodium, 16 g fibre, 18 g protein.

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Green peas

They’re high in fibre, plus they contain a good amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.

Per serving (100 g): 81 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 14 g carbs, 6 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 6 g fibre, 5 g protein.

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