selection of foods high in complex carbs

Eat More High-Quality Carbs

April 11, 2024

Not all carbs are created equal. And some—referred to as high-quality—are in the healthiest foods you can eat.

“It’s time to end the misconception that all carbs are unhealthy,” says nutritionist Claudia Castaneda Tinoco, RD. “Carbohydrates should be embraced as part of a healthy diet.”

New research shows that healthy, high-quality carbohydrates (plus plant-based proteins and fats—minus added sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains) are linked to better weight control.

“We have so much scientific research that tells us our food choices have a direct impact on our health, and eating whole foods, with an emphasis on plants, is good for weight loss and also is an effective treatment for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension,” says Castaneda. “To promote good nutrition and health, we need high-quality carbohydrates in our regular diet.”

We asked Castaneda to tell us more about high-quality carbs and how they keep us healthy.

What are carbohydrates? 

Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are one of the major components in food. They are the primary source of energy for our bodies, especially for the brain and muscles.

What are high-quality carbohydrates? 

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple (sugar) and complex (starch and fiber). 

High-quality carbohydrates are complex. They provide more nutrients and fiber to your body. They are found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Why does quality matter when it comes to carbohydrates?

It is important to choose high-quality carbohydrates to promote good health. High-quality carbs come with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. They will not spike your sugar levels as simple sugars do. They help prevent your sugar levels from crashing and provide steady energy throughout your day.

Here are a few examples of complex carbs and their benefits

  • Whole grains: oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa.
    • Provide higher fiber content and greater nutrient density compared to processed white grains (including most white flour and white rice)
    • Because whole grains include all parts of the grain, they contain essential vitamins and minerals.
    • Contribute to slower digestion, which makes you feel full for longer after eating (in a good way)
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas
    • Excellent sources of complex carbohydrates that also provide protein and fiber
    • Low in fat, making them an ideal choice to incorporate into your meals for maintaining steady sugar levels
    • Affordable (and among my favorite foods)
  • Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, yams
    • Provide both types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—to keep you satisfied for longer and aid in bowel movements.
    • Excellent sources of antioxidants
    • Excellent sources of vitamins A, C, and B
    • Highly versatile for cooking

What does everyone want to know about carbs?

Can I include carbohydrates in my diet?

Yes. You only need to know which starches are better for your own body’s needs and how to incorporate them into your diet. 

What do you wish everyone knew about carbs? 

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not the enemy. Carbs should be embraced as an integral part of a well-balanced diet—even for people managing health conditions like diabetes.

Talk to a nutritionist to find out what’s best for you.


Claudia Castaneda Tinoco, RD, is a nutritionist on the Columbia Outpatient Nutrition team.