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12 Healthy High-Carb Foods That Are Lower in Calories

Christie Borders, MS, CNS

Published in Nutrition

8 min read

January 31, 2024
a plate of carb-rich foods
a plate of carb-rich foods

Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are essential macronutrients that are responsible for providing energy for the body and fuel for physical activity. While carbs often get a bad rap when it comes to weight loss or overall health, many individuals may opt for a high-carbohydrate diet for various reasons. 

For example, athletes and those with active lifestyles often choose a high-carb diet to optimize their performance and endurance. High-carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, meaning they offer a host of health benefits.

So, if you’re someone looking to increase your overall carb intake and wondering where to start, look no further! Read on to discover 12 of the healthiest high-carb foods to add to your diet.

What Foods Have the Highest Carbs?

While the following foods are all sources of carbs, it’s important to note that all of these foods can easily become a lower or moderate-carb option if you adjust portion sizes accordingly. Foods that are generally highest in carbohydrates include:

  • Grains: Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and whole wheat products, as well as refined grains such as white bread.
  • Legumes/Beans: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and other legumes.
  • Starchy Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas.
  • Fruits: Bananas, grapes, apples, pineapples, mangoes, and dried fruits.
  • Foods with Added Sugars: Ultra-processed foods such as sweets, sugary beverages, candies, cookies, cakes, and sweet desserts.

Now that you’re familiar with carbohydrate-rich foods, let’s explore 12 of the healthiest high-carb foods and reasons why you may want to consider adding them to your plate!

1) Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in essential vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C, B6, and potassium. They are also rich in dietary fiber, which supports gut health and healthy blood sugar levels.

Sweet potatoes are also a beneficial source of antioxidants, which help combat oxidative stress in the body. One medium sweet potato (114 grams) contains:

  • 24 grams of carbohydrates
  • 103 calories

2) Black Beans

black bean carb info

These nutritious legumes are an excellent source of dietary fiber and plant-based protein, which is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue. Diets rich in legumes, including black beans, are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and improved cardiovascular health. A half cup serving (86 grams) of cooked black beans contains: 

  • 21 grams of carbs
  • 114 calories

3) Quinoa

Quinoa is a nutrient-dense, gluten-free grain that is packed with minerals like iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. It's also one of the few plant-based foods considered to be a nearly complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, although it’s low in certain amino acids, like lysine. 

A half cup (93 grams) serving of cooked quinoa (93 grams) contains:

  • 20 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 111 calories

4) Chickpeas

chickpea carbs and calories

In addition to being a source of carbs, chickpeas are a good source of plant-based protein and fiber, helping you stay fuller for longer. Chickpeas are rich in several essential vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium. A half cup (82 grams) serving of cooked chickpeas contains:

  • 22.5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 134.5 calories

5) Oats

Oats are a whole grain known for being an excellent source of soluble fiber, particularly beta-glucans. Numerous studies have demonstrated the cholesterol-lowering effects of beta-glucans found in oats, and regular consumption has been linked to lower LDL cholesterol levels. 

Oats also contain multiple B vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5). A half cup (40 grams) of dry old-fashioned oats contains:  

  • 27 grams of carbohydrates
  • 150 calories

6) Blueberries

blueberries carbs and calories

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, which supports the immune system, promotes healthy skin, and aids collagen formation. Studies suggest that the antioxidants in blueberries may have a positive impact on age-related cognitive decline. A one cup serving (100 grams) of fresh blueberries contains:

  • 14.2 grams of carbohydrates
  •  55.4 calories

7) Apples

Apples are an excellent source of dietary fiber, at four grams of fiber per medium-sized apple. Due to the fiber, antioxidant, and polyphenol content in apples, studies suggest that regular apple consumption may be linked with lower LDL cholesterol and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. One medium apple (182 grams) contains:

  • 25 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 95 calories

8) Buckwheat

buckwheat carbs and calories

Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain, making it suitable for people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. It's also high in dietary fiber and contains all nine essential amino acids. Some studies suggest that its antioxidant content, particularly rutin, may have potential heart health benefits such as reducing the risk of hypertension.

A half cup (84 gram) serving of buckwheat contains:

  • 16.5 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 77.5 calories

9) Bananas

Bananas are a good source of potassium, which is crucial for maintaining proper heart and muscle function, as well as regulating fluid balance in the body. They also contain natural sugars, including glucose,  making bananas a convenient and healthy snack for athletes or those with active lifestyles.

One medium, seven inch long banana (118 grams) contains: 

  • 27 grams of carbohydrates
  • 105 calories

10) Kidney Beans

kidney beans carbs and calories

Kidney beans are a good source of dietary fiber, which can contribute to improved blood sugar regulation. Kidney beans are rich in essential vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. 

They also contain antioxidants, particularly flavonoids and polyphenols, that help reduce inflammation and neutralize free radicals in the body. A half cup (88.5 grams) serving of cooked kidney beans contains:

  • 20 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 112.5 calories

11) Lentils

Like the other legumes we've listed, research has suggested that lentils may contribute to better glycemic control due to their high fiber content and low glycemic index. A half cup serving (99 grams) of cooked lentils contains:

  •  20 grams of carbohydrates
  • 115 calories

12) Brown Rice

brown rice carbs and calories

Brown rice is a whole grain that contains various vitamins, including B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), folate, dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Brown rice may contribute to heart health by helping lower cholesterol levels, regulate blood pressure, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

A half cup serving (98 grams) of cooked brown rice contains:

  • 23 grams of carbohydrates
  • 109 calories 

What is the Healthiest Type of Carb?

high carb meals
Source: Unsplash

Minimally processed foods such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, are considered the healthiest source of carbs because they provide a steady release of energy due to their slower digestion and absorption. 

Whole food sources of complex carbs can also offer health benefits such as:

  • Supporting gut health and digestion
  • Helping maintain stable blood sugar levels
  • Improving satiety
  • Supporting heart health

Can You Lose Weight on a High-Carb Diet?

a man chopping veggies

Yes, weight loss is possible on a high-carb diet, though individual responses can vary based on a number of other factors. Generally, a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, high-carb diet with whole foods can be effective for those with active lifestyles.

Low-carb diets like the keto diet have gained popularity for their initial rapid weight loss results and other benefits, leading some people to believe that carbs are inherently unhealthy. However, for most people, the recommended approach is a moderate-carb diet, (around 45 to 55 percent of daily calorie intake), ensuring a fully balanced intake of macronutrients.

As always, it's crucial to consider your unique circumstances including your current diet, activity level, individual needs, goals, and preferences. Speaking with a nutritionist can help you gain a better understanding of how to reach your goals with personalized plans and advice.

Try These Low-Calorie, High-Carb Recipes

low calorie high carb meal recipes
Source: Eating Well, Feel Good Foodie

If you’re looking to incorporate more carbohydrates into your diet but are concerned about the calorie count, here are some lower-calorie, yet filling and delicious recipes to try.

Remember that the calorie and carb content for each of these dishes may depend on serving size. While these meals may be good carbohydrate sources, portions can be adjusted based on preference in order to make them low, moderate, or high-carb meals.

Chicken and Quinoa Burrito Bowl

This chicken and quinoa burrito bowl is a nutritious and easily customizable dish that includes carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • ¼ cup prepared pico de gallo or other salsa
  • ¼ cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • Lime wedges for serving

Leek, Potato, and Spinach Stew

If you’re looking for a warm and comforting dish that’s still healthy and nutritious, this leek, potato, and spinach stew is for you. Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 links hot Italian turkey sausage 
  • 2 cups chopped leeks
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound new or small potatoes,
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 8 ounces spinach
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
  • ½ cup chopped fresh herbs

Lemon Herb Shrimp Rice Bowl

Another nutritious and customizable dish is this lemon herb shrimp rice bowl, which can easily be made in one singular pan, making this a perfect quick and healthy weeknight meal. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 4 garlic cloves minced divided
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt divided
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 pound large shrimp 
  • 1 large yellow onion 
  • 1 ½ cup long-grain brown rice
  • 2 ¼ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
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Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Reviewed by: Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Victoria began her career in the functional medicine space in 2015. She has extensive experience interpreting labs and supporting weight loss, gut imbalances, and chronic migraines. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics from Missouri State University.

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