Eating for Health

Published on April 7th, 2014 | by Ginny Messina


Healthy Carbs: 5 Ways to Include Them in Your Vegan Diet

Healthy Carbs: 5 Ways to Include Them in Your Vegan Diet

Are you worried about carbohydrates in your vegan diet? Unless you eat like the average non-vegan American, you don’t need to be. Here are tips on how to choose healthy carbs.

American diets are packed with sugars from cereals and soft drinks and with super-refined grains that have been stripped of all their benefits. Food manufacturers peel away the fiber-rich bran from cereal grains along with the nutrient-rich germ, leaving behind nothing but starch. And yes, these foods are associated with higher risk for chronic disease and maybe for obesity. As a result, carbs are seen by many as the enemy. But there is a world of difference between a bowl of cooked steel cut oats and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs breakfast cereal.

In contrast to refined carbs, healthy carbs that come packaged in whole plant foods like grains, beans, and potatoes, are good for you. Your intestines love carbohydrates. Or at least the bacteria living there do. Carbohydrate-rich foods are associated with increased growth of the bacteria that may protect us against intestinal cancers and heart disease. And shunning carbohydrate-rich foods makes it difficult to get enough fiber.

The key to including healthy carbs in your diet is to choose ones that are more slowly digested. These slow carbs—which have a low glycemic index—cause gentle, gradual elevations in blood glucose and insulin. Slow and steady release of glucose into the blood is better for you overall and it might help to lower risk for chronic disease. So include carbs in your diet, but make the best choices. Here are five tips for eating carbohydrates healthfully.

5 Ways to Include Healthy Carbs in Your Vegan Diet

1. Go for healthy comfort. Most often, the carb-rich foods we reach for when we feel stressed or sad are cookies and cake. Look instead for comfort in a healthier package. Pasta, a mainstay of Mediterranean diets, is made from durum wheat which is slowly digested. Or try a slice of warm, whole grain sour dough bread spread with a little nut butter. The sour dough slows glucose release. And if you really have to have that cookie, choose one that incorporates healthy ingredients like rolled oats and chopped nuts.

2. Pair up carbohydrates with protein. Packed with protein, healthy carbs, and fiber, beans offer the best of all worlds. Both the protein and resistant starch in beans slow glucose release into the blood. It’s a combination that may also help you feel full longer.

3. Eat big. Generally, products made with finely ground flours are digested more quickly than whole unground grains. It’s okay to have bread and other foods made with flours but choose grains in their whole form most often. Look for breads made without flour and enjoy dishes made with cooked wheat berries, pearled barley and oat groats.

4. Cook plant foods gently. Beans cooked from scratch tend to be digested more slowly because they are often not as thoroughly cooked as canned beans. Likewise, eating fruits and vegetables closer to their raw state slows the digestion of their carbohydrates.

5. Add acid. Acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemon juice and vinegar can lower the glycemic index of a food. So top your pasta with marinara sauce and turn whole grains into main dish salads with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.

Image Credit: wheatberry salad photo via Shutterstock

Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign up!

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

Ginny is a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist. She writes and speaks about vegetarian and vegan diets for both the public and health professionals. She is co-author of Vegan for Life, Vegan for Her and Never Too Late to Go Vegan as well as a textbook on vegetarian diets for health professionals. When she’s not researching and writing about vegan nutrition, she volunteers for her local animal shelter and feral cat group, practices piano, gardens, and is learning to knit with vegan fibers. Website:

Comments are closed.

Back to Top ↑
  • Support our Site!

  • Let’s Connect!

  • Popular Posts & Pages

    Whether you are looking to completely give up animal products or just want to try eating vegan some of the time, we want to support you! Below, you’ll find articles answering some common questions about vegan cooking and nutrition. If you don’t see your question answered below, please get in touch with us! We are happy to investigate for you!

    Find out what's in season now, plus get plenty of recipe inspiration to help you make the most of every season's beautiful, local fare.

    I love infographics. When I came across this one about what, how, and when to plant vegetables, I thought I’d share. Keep reading after the pic for a few of my own lessons learned.

    Top Sustainable Food Jobs of the Week.

    Looking for an all vegan grocery store? Even if you’re not lucky enough to have one in your town, there are lots of online options for vegan grocery shopping.

  • Search the IM Network

  • The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.