Pictured Recipe: Farro, Kale & Squash Salad
Call it the Battle of the Carbs. On one side are good carbohydrates—found in fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains—that your brain and body need. Then there are bad carbs—the ones in doughnuts, white bread, soda and other sugary, processed foods. Over time, filling up on bad carbs raises your risk of heart disease and diabetes, not to mention a bigger waistline.
So here's a winning strategy. Replace refined carbohydrates with whole, unprocessed carbs, and you'll boost your heart health and lower your risk of diabetes. And because good carbs are typically rich in feel-full fiber, they can help you lose weight. A 2018 JAMA study shows that eating unrefined, high-quality foods, including good carbs, counts more toward weight loss than counting calories.
Here are 6 healthy, whole-grain carbs—plus tasty recipes and helpful cooking tips—worth adding to your meals.
Pictured Recipe: Quinoa Power Salad
Consider it amped-up couscous. A 1/2-cup serving of this delicately flavored whole grain provides 2 grams of fiber, which can help you feel full longer. It also has 4 grams of protein, which can help tame your appetite.
To cook: Bring 2 cups water or broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; add 1 cup quinoa. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Note: Rinsing the grains first removes any residue of saponin, its naturally bitter protective coating. Try toasting quinoa before cooking to enhance its flavor.
Recipes to Try: Healthy Quinoa Recipes
2. Black Rice
Pictured Recipe: Kung Pao Broccoli
Black is the new brown when it comes to rice, say some nutritionists. While both black and brown rice are similar in nutrients, black rice—an ancient grain sometimes called "forbidden" rice—is higher in vitamin E and anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants. And it's higher in fiber and lower in calories, so it can help you shed pounds.
To cook: Combine 1 cup rice and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until all the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Pictured Recipe: Bean & Barley Soup
Barley is available "pearled" (with the bran removed) or "quick-cooking" (parboiled). While both contain soluble fiber, pearl barley has a little more. A good source of potassium and other heart-healthy nutrients, barley can help you slim down. In one small Japanese study, eating barley helped people reduce their cholesterol, shrink their waistlines and lose dangerous visceral fat.
To cook: For pearl barley: Combine 1 cup barley and 2 1/2 cups water or broth in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, covered, until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
For quick-cooking barley: Bring 1 3/4 cups water or broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; add 1 cup barley. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, covered, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Recipes to Try: Hearty Barley Recipes
Pictured Recipe: Flower-Power Oatmeal Bowl
Eating oatmeal regularly not only lowers your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and colon cancer, but its high fiber also helps keep you feeling full and satisfied. And oats are kind to your waistline: research shows they can help reduce belly fat and overall body fat.
To cook: Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add a pinch of salt. Add 1/2 cup old-fashioned or "rolled" oats. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Pictured Recipe: Lemon-Parm Popcorn
A review of 15 studies found that eating three servings of whole grains a day is linked to lower body fat and BMI. You can get one of those daily servings—and kill a snack attack—with 3 cups of popcorn (what you get by popping 1 heaping tablespoon of kernels).
To cook: Toss 1 heaping tablespoon popcorn kernels into an air popper.
Pictured Recipe: Bacon, Tomato & Farro Salad
Known for its nutty flavor and chewy texture, this ancient wheat grain is packed with protein, and has more fiber than many other whole grains. Farro is most often available semi-pearled, with part of the bran removed. Whole farro has more nutrients, but you'll need to soak it overnight and cook it longer.
To cook: Combine 3 cups water or broth and 1 cup farro in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the farro is tender, 15 to 25 minutes. Drain.
Related: Whole Grain Cooking Guide
Some original reporting by Nicci Micco, M.S.