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Chances are you’ve been told by someone that carbs (or at least the starchy ones) are a no-no when it comes to what you can eat to net any fat-loss results you’re looking for.

And if you’ve worked with a Life Time coach, they may have recommended to prioritize non-starchy vegetables and some fruit as your main sources of carbohydrates at meal time. This recommendation is a good one: We live in world that prioritizes highly-processed foods for their convenience and tasty flavor profile, so it’s often easy to overeat certain carbohydrates and neglect our fat, protein, and necessary carbohydrate needs, such as vegetables.

But, for most people, there is a little wiggle room in being able to have starchy carbohydrates be part of your eating plan and still stay on track toward your weight-loss goal. It just takes a little focus on portion size and timing to make them fit into your meals appropriately.

First Things First

There are a few considerations to keep in mind when it comes to carbohydrates and fat loss:

  • Carbohydrate recommendations need to be individualized. What one person can consume and use as fuel (versus store as fat) is dependent on their genetics, activity level (throughout their day and at the gym), and whether or not their metabolism is utilizing them well.
  • Knowing that most processed or simple carbohydrates (such as added sugar, cereals, chips, and other junk foods) don’t promote nourishment or health, they’re likely never going to be recommended on any quality weight-loss meal plan.
  • Portion size, even for our recommendations, is key (measure if you’ve never measured them before). Try to incorporate carbs post activity, such as part of your breakfast after a morning workout.

Our Top 7 Carbohydrate Recommendations

These carbohydrates come from whole-food sources and offer various nutrient benefits and power, which is why we suggest including them in a healthy eating plan. Plus, many can help balance your blood sugar and increase satiety, making them beneficial for fat-loss efforts.

1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a superfood. Not only are they an amazing source of fiber (hello blood-sugar regulation and feeling fuller longer!), but they’re also packed with other nutrients, including fatty acids and certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This type of nutrient profile supports energy, digestion, and can serve as a natural appetite suppressant.

If you’ve never used chia seeds before, try adding them to your morning protein shake or smoothie bowl, or on top of a salad. My favorite way to consume them is as a pudding for breakfast. To make, add 1/4 cup chia seeds to 1 cup of coconut milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let the mixture sit overnight in your refrigerator (the seeds will gelatinize and turn into a pudding-like texture) and enjoy in the morning topped with some fresh berries.

Nutritional breakdown: 2 tablespoons of chia seeds = 120 calories, 10 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of fiber

2. Steel-Cut Oats

Most people have tried quick oats or rolled oats before. Instant oatmeal is a common breakfast in many American households, but most is loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. If oatmeal or cereal is your jam, I would steer you toward trying steel-cut oats instead. It can be a great option for breakfast or as an addition to a protein shake or protein energy balls.

Steel-cut oats (also called Irish or Scotch oats) are naturally gluten-free, a less processed form of oat, and are higher in fiber than other types of oats. Because of this, the glycemic index, or impact to blood sugar, is lower while also keeping your body fuller for longer and your energy up.

Steel-cut oats do take a little longer to prepare (remember, they have minimal processing), but they are super simple to use for make-ahead oatmeal in the morning — a go-to breakfast in my house. They have a chewier texture, so they fill you up faster, often leaving you consuming less than you normally would. I like to top mine with some fresh fruit, cinnamon, and a little almond or vanilla extract.

Nutritional breakdown: 1/4 cup uncooked steel-cut oats = 150 calories, 27 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of fiber

3. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in many vitamins and minerals, and provide excellent levels of beta-carotene (an antioxidant), vitamin C, and potassium. Known for their bright orange color, they can also be found with a purple tone. They are often deemed healthier than regular potatoes due to their lower glycemic index, as well as because they are higher in fiber and have high levels of vitamin A. These nutrients can help support blood sugar and help reduce oxidative damage and cancer risk.

Sweet potatoes taste amazing — and there are a plethora of ways to consume them. You can bake, roast, broil, or even slow cook them. Most of my clients consume them with just a little bit of butter, but you can also add in yummy spices such as nutmeg, ginger, or cumin to help improve their flavor profile even further. Try serving some cubed sweet potato alongside your breakfast omelet or your other protein and vegetables at meal time, as a fun take on toast, or eat it mashed with some cinnamon and butter for dessert.

Nutritional breakdown: 1 medium sweet potato (3.9 oz) = 100 calories, 27 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of fiber

4. Black Beans

One serving of black beans provides almost a third of your daily fiber needs along with numerous vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, protein, and diseasing-fighting antioxidants. Their nutrient profile has them linked to helping protect against inflammation, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes, as well as improving digestion. Not only are they extremely affordable and versatile, but their fiber content makes them a great energy source while also helping to keep you full.

Because cooking dried beans can take a long time, most people opt for precooked canned options. Choose organic, low-sodium beans from a BPA-free can and consider adding them to your morning eggs, as a side paired with a chicken breast, or to your favorite chili recipe.

Nutritional breakdown: 1/2 cup canned low-sodium black beans = 109 calories, 20 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of fiber

5. Quinoa

Quinoa has become a popular whole grain over the last few years. Often boasted for its protein content (it contains all nine of the essential amino acids), it’s also naturally gluten-free and a great source of fiber. It’s often described as a superfood for the impact it can have on disease prevention due to its antioxidant and nutrient profile, including containing high levels of magnesium.

On its own, quinoa can taste sort of plain. But if you add the right spices, it can make for a nice side dish at dinner, or be used (similar to chia or steel-cut oats) as an oatmeal-like option in the mornings. I like adding some butter, pecans, and cinnamon to mine, but you could also consider using it as a base to your salads, in stuffed peppers, or instead of rice with your stir fry.

Nutritional breakdown: 1/2 cup cooked quinoa = 111 calories, 20 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fiber

6. Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is a favorite in my house. It’s one of those suggestions that’s often offered in lieu of box pasta (it helps cut the carbs and adds nutritional value), yet if you’ve never prepared this vegetable before, you might be hesitant to try. But don’t be!

Spaghetti squash is part of a winter squash family that are all great sources B vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and potassium. Spaghetti squash is the lowest in calories and carbohydrates of all the other winter squashes and is 35 grams lower in carbohydrates when compared to one cup of pasta noodles.

There several ways to cook spaghetti squash, including baking, boiling, microwaving (cut it in half first) or slow cooking it. Once it’s tender, simply take a fork to the inner flesh and, like magic, it comes out like spaghetti. Serve it with some homemade tomato sauce and ground beef or turkey and you’ve got a perfect comfort-food dinner.

Nutritional breakdown: 1 cup of cooked squash = 40 calories, 10 grams of carbs, 2.2 grams of fiber

7. Pumpkin

Did you know that one cup of pumpkin can provide a day’s worth of your vitamin A needs? Pumpkin is loaded with other nutrients too, including vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and manganese, all of which can help your body fight infection and protect your cells from oxidative damage. These essential nutrients can also boost the immune system, decrease inflammation, and potentially regulate blood sugar.

Pumpkin can be cubed and roasted in the oven and then served over a salad or with other vegetables at dinner. You can also puree pumpkin and add it to shakes and smoothies or your favorite soup or chili recipe. If you don’t want to prepare the actual squash, purchase canned pumpkin (made with 100 percent pumpkin) to add instead. You could also try some of our favorite pumpkin recipes, including these pumpkin muffins, these pumpkin pie energy bites, or this turkey pumpkin chili.

Nutritional breakdown: 1 cup mashed pumpkin = 49 calories, 12 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fiber

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

Anika Christ, RD, CPT

Anika Christ is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, and the senior director of nutrition and weight loss at Life Time. She’s known to many as “Coach Anika,” and is one of the original virtual coaches who continues to lead a number of digital programs each year. She started at Life Time in 2008 and has spent her entire career helping build Life Time’s nutrition and fat-loss programs. When she’s not at work, she enjoys reading, lifting weights with her husband, and playing with her two daughters.

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