Carbohydrates often seem to be in “hot water“ in the diet world, with some nutrition experts suggesting that low-carb diets may help support weight loss and decrease the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
However, the research on low-carb, high-fat diets is mixed, and while it is true that refined carbohydrates are not healthy, the term “carbohydrates“ is quite vast and encompasses different types of foods.
Fibrous carbs are carbohydrates that are high in fiber, a subtype of carbohydrate that provides many health benefits.
But what are fibrous carbs? What are the best high-fiber carbohydrates? What is the difference between fibrous carbs and starchy carbs or refined carbs?
In this article, we will discuss the various types of carbohydrates, the benefits of high-fiber carbohydrates, and the best fibrous carbs to add to your diet.
We will cover the following:
- What Are Carbs?
- Types of Carbohydrates
- How Many Fibrous Carbs Should I Eat?
- What Are the Best Fibrous Carbs?
Let’s dive in!
What Are Carbs?
Carbs, which are short for carbohydrates, are one of the three macronutrients alongside fats and proteins.
Carbohydrates are formed from sugar molecules linked together. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
When two monosaccharides are linked together, they form a disaccharide such as sucrose, which is table sugar, and lactose, which is a disaccharide found in milk products formed by glucose and galactose.
Multiple sugar molecules that are strung together form polysaccharides, which are considered starches.
Carbohydrates provide energy for the body, with four calories per gram of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the muscles, brain, and certain tissues and cells in the body.
Excess carbohydrates that are consumed are converted to glycogen, which is the storage form of carbohydrates, which is housed in the liver and skeletal muscles for future use.
The body can store about 1500 to 2000 calories worth of glycogen. Once glycogen storage is saturated, excess carbohydrates will be converted and stored as body fat.
Types of Carbohydrates
There isn’t an exact science for defining different types of carbohydrates, but most foods that are high-carbohydrate foods can either be categorized as simple sugars, refined carbs, starchy carbs, and fibrous carbs.
Simple sugars can be thought of as the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to the nutritional benefit of carbohydrates.
These are foods that contain simple sugars that hit the bloodstream almost immediately and cause a rapid increase in blood sugar and a resultant surge in insulin to stimulate the cells to take up the available blood sugar.
Examples of simple sugars or simple carbs include fruit juice, soda pop, candy, fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups, popsicles, ice cream, and sweets.
Refined carbs fall somewhere in the middle of simple sugars and starchy carbs.
These are typically grains that have been stripped of the bran and then processed and milled.
This processing removes almost all of the fiber and a lot of the vitamins in minerals. It also increases the glycemic index of the food.
Examples of refined carbs include white bread, white pasta, white rice, muffins, bagels, most breakfast cereals, quick oats, toaster pastries, snack crackers that are not whole-grain, applesauce, yogurt-covered raisins, rice cakes, ramen noodles, applesauce, hamburger buns, pizza dough, English muffins, pancakes, and granola bars.
Starchy carbs are carbohydrates that are high in starch, which means that they contain long polysaccharide molecules.
These foods provide a lot of energy because they are high in carbohydrates, but they are also high in calories.
Therefore, while starchy carbs can definitely be part of a healthy diet in moderation and can even be beneficial for fueling before and after high-intensity or endurance exercise, eating too many starchy carbs can increase the risk of weight gain due to the high caloric content.
Examples of starchy carbs include whole grains like whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, freekeh, teff, brown rice, whole-grain crackers, bulger, couscous, steel-cut oatmeal, overnight oats, whole-grain breakfast cereals, cream of wheat, and certain vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn.
So, what are fibrous carbs, and what are the benefits of eating fibrous carbs?
Fibrous carbs are high-carb foods that are also particularly high in dietary fiber.
There are several benefits of fibrous carbs, one being that dietary fiber provides numerous health benefits for the body, including:
- Providing a sense of satiety to control appetite and reduce hunger
- Supporting healthy bowel movements and decreasing the risk of constipation
- Supporting the beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome
- Decreasing the risk of diseases of the digestive system, such as inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer
Moreover, in terms of choosing fibrous carbs vs starchy carbs, fibrous carbs are more filling because fiber helps slow digestion and the release of blood sugar into the bloodstream.
This results in preventing blood sugar spikes, balancing energy levels, and helping control appetite so that you are not ravenous shortly after eating.
Ultimately, fibrous carbs are low-glycemic foods because the fiber (such as cellulose and inulin), which are plant-based compounds that the body cannot readily absorb or digest, take longer to break down, causing a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream.
This, in turn, can help prevent blood sugar spikes and control total daily caloric intake, which is particularly helpful if you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight.
Additionally, fibrous carbs are less likely to be stored as excess body fat.
Insoluble fiber, which is one of the two types of fiber, is not readily converted into energy. This means that eating high-fiber carbs will not lead to as much circulating glucose that can otherwise be converted and stored as fat.
High-fiber carbs also tend to be high in other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, so choosing fibrous carbs vs starchy carbs can help improve overall diet quality.
For example, most vegetables and fruits are fibrous carbs. These are nutrient-dense foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
The high fiber and high water content of fibrous carbs also makes these foods filling, a one-two punch that will help improve your overall nutrient intake without causing overeating with your calorie goals.
How Many Fibrous Carbs Should I Eat?
There is no one size fits all approach to any nutritional advice. The number of grams of carbs you should eat per day depends on your body size, activity level, weight goals, overall diet, metabolic needs, and other factors.
Therefore, it is not possible to say exactly how many fibrous carbs you should eat per day.
However, if you are following a generally balanced macronutrient diet with about 50% of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 25% from fat, you might split up your dinner plate as such:
- 50% of your plate should constitute fibrous carbs
- 25% of your plate should be lean protein
- No more than 20% of your plate should be starchy carbs
The other 5% can be healthy fats and/or more protein or green vegetables.
Try to eat a good mix of soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance, helping increase satiety and prevent spikes in blood sugar. Insoluble fiber increases the bulk of your stool, improving digestion.
What Are the Best Fibrous Carbs?
There isn’t a specific cut-off that determines whether a carbohydrate is a fibrous carb or a starchy carb in terms of the number of grams of dietary fiber it must contain or the overall fiber-to-carb ratio.
With that said, a fibrous carb typically should contain at least 10% of your daily fiber needs, and it’s great if at least 15-20% of the grams of carbohydrates in the food come from dietary fiber.
The higher the total fiber content and the lower the total calories and grams of carbohydrates, the better. Similarly, the more fiber relative to sugar, the more squarely the food will fall in the “fibrous carb“ category rather than the “starchy carb“ or “refined carb“ categories.
Here are some examples of the best high-fiber carbs:
If you are trying to limit your carbohydrate intake, check out our guide to low-carb, high-protein breakfast ideas here.