A List of Carbohydrate Foods for a Tight Budget

This list of carbohydrate foods will help shrink your waistline - not your wallet.

Read on to understand the controversy that surrounds carbohydrates - a very misunderstood macronutrient.

How many times have you heard “I am limiting carbs.”

Or…. “I am going low carb.”

Or worse yet….. “I am going NO carb.”

Short Story:

Mary decides to use a low/no carb approach to lose some weight so she could be lean and defined.  She looks at a list of carbohydrates and swears off bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweets, corn, cereal, etc. Her typical meals look like either eggs and bacon or grilled chicken and veggies, fish and veggies and occasionally a handful of nuts.  Almost immediately she sees the scale going down – at the rate of almost a pound a day!! She thinks she hit the jackpot!!! Finally she is getting the results she has been after (so she thinks).

After a few days of low – no carb she is struggling when she is working out at her gym.  She feels weak and fatigued but pushes on.  She is finding the workouts difficult and long even though they are the same workouts she used to do.  But…..she keeps reminding herself that the scale is going down so she must be doing something right. 

A week or so later she is finding it hard to focus at work.  She feels mentally foggy and just scattered.  Even walking up the stairs is a challenge.  But the scale dropped about 10 lbs. so far – so she decides a press on.

Soon Mary starts to see that the scale is slowing down for her – she’s not losing so much anymore so she thinks to herself that she has to try harder so she adds in more cardio to get the scale to move again. 

One day Mary at the park with her kids but Mary was sitting on the bench slouched over and looking very depressed. She just felt awful. She was tired all the time and what was worse was that she wasn’t losing a pound – no matter what she did or how much she exercised. She said she was bloated all the time and felt her mid-section was gaining weight. In fact, she was exercising up to 3 hours a day and her total calorie intake was about 800 calories a day. 

Clearly, this was not working for Mary.

I have seen this scenario more times than I care to count.  This is all too common and it happens accidentally – rarely does someone intend to be in this situation.  But there is more to this scenario which I will go into more depth later on – but for now let’s get back to the carbohydrate issue.




By the way, even though Mary lost pounds on the scale – she lost little body fat. Her body fat pretty much stayed the same.

What are Complex Carbohydrates?

A good way to understand the importance of carbs is like this…….would you go on a long a trip with a minimal amount of fuel in your car?  No!!! Of course not – you would fill up your tank so you could go a long distance without having to stop for gas or worse…..running out of gas.

And you would use a good quality fuel – not one that is watered down which would cause harm to your engine.

This is the same for carbohydrates …… if you don’t put “fuel” in your body you won’t be able to go very far.

If you put cheap fuel in your body – then you won’t be able to function in an optimal way.

So what’s cheap fuel?

This is the most important thing to understand about carbohydrates……natural (the good twin) vs. refined/highly processed (the evil twin).

Refined/processed = cheap fuel

Natural = premium fuel (See list below for a list of PREMIUM carbs).

Refined/processed carbs are usually “hidden” in things like nonfat salad dressings, ketchup, marinades, whole wheat bread, pasta sauce, candy, ice cream, table sugar, etc. 

Refined sugars can be high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, rice syrup, brown sugar, sucrose, etc.

We want to stick with PREMIUM FUEL or NATURAL CARBS.  

Natural Carbs are broken down into different types:


Think of it this way…..these types of carbs find it very “simple” to digest but they can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar (which is not helpful for fat loss).  But there are simple carbs that are nutrient dense but they should also be used sparingly.

Dairy contains lactose which is a simple carb but when on a fat loss program dairy may want to be limited.

Fruit is also a simple carb which is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, phytochemicals and fiber but when on a fat loss program fruit should be limited.


There are 2 types of complex carbs – starchy and fibrous.

Starchy Carbs are:

  • More calorie dense
  • Examples are potatoes, yams, brown rice, whole grain pasta

Fibrous Carbs are:

  • Lower in calories
  • Fat loss programs should include lots of fibrous carbs
  • Fibrous carbohydrates help elimination which helps aid fat loss
  • Examples are broccoli, zucchini, spinach, asparagus, cauliflower

You get the idea??  Remember, it’s the quality of carbs that is important.  Always focus on quality.

swiss chard and cannellini beans

Swiss Chard is like a "gentle kale".  Use beans to add additional flavor, texture, color and it becomes a nutritional powerhouse for less than $3.00!!

List of Carbohydrate Foods

Use this list of carbohydrate foods to choose the best carbohydrates for fat loss.

Breads, Cereals, Pasta and Grains

For breads try to stick with:

  • Bagels: Multi-grain, whole wheat and high fiber
  • Bread: Whole wheat, multi-grain, rye and sprouted grain
  • Pita: Whole wheat
  • Wraps, Tortillas: Corn, multi-grain, whole-wheat, sprouted whole grain and spelt
  • English Muffin: whole wheat

Suggested Cereals:

  • Hot multi-grain (rye, barley, oats, flax and wheat)
  • Cream of rice, rye, wheat
  • Fiber One
  • Granola: low fat (no sugar added) or honey sweetened (no sugar added)
  • Grits
  • Muesli (oats, grains, nuts and fruit)
  • Oat bran
  • Quinoa flakes for a hot cereal
  • Shredded Wheat – no sugar added
  • Oatmeal and Steel Cut Oats

Suggested Pasta:

  • Whole wheat
  • Spelt
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Sprouted Grain

Suggested Grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat also known as KASHA
  • Bulgur
  • Kamut
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice – brown, brown basmati, wild rice


Suggested Beans and Legumes:

  • Black
  • Adzuki
  • Kidney
  • Garbanzo
  • Navy
  • Pinto
  • Chickpeas
  • Black eye peas
  • Lentils
  • Lima Beans
  • Split Peas

Suggested Starchy Vegetables:

  • Sweet Potato
  • Yucca root
  • Pumpkin
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • White Potato
  • Corn
  • Plantains
  • Squash – acorn or butternut


  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Arugula
  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli Rabe or Rapini
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Swiss Chard
  • Collard Greens
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green Beans (string or snap peas)
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuces
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini and Yellow Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Don’t forget frozen veggies!!!

FRUITS (simple carbs)

  • Apples
  • Applesauce – unsweetened
  • Apricots
  • Banana
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cherries
  • Clementine
  • Cranberries
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Guava
  • Honey – raw
  • Jelly (all fruit no refined sugar)
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Mango
  • Nectarine
  • Orange
  • Papaya
  • Passion Fruit
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Persimmon
  • Pineapple
  • Pomegranate
  • Plum
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Watermelon

DAIRY PRODUCTS (considered a lean protein, natural simple carb and fat)

Try to choose:

  • Milk – low fat, 1% or 2%, soy, almond, coconut, hemp, or rice
  • Cheese – american, feta, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, swiss, cream cheese

** choose no fat or low fat versions

  • Sour cream – low fat or no fat
  • Yogurt – 1% or non-fat

Personally, I keep dairy to a minimum.  It just doesn’t agree with me so I choose almond and coconut milk and milk products.

With this list of carbohydrate foods you will have a good start on healthy foods to choose when trying to lose weight and for optimal functioning.

But how many carbs should I eat??

Ahhhhh, yes.  Of course.  First off, complex carbs should make up the majority of your carbohydrate calories.  Another words……don’t have a bowl of ice cream, a Kit Kat, a banana and apple (simple carbs) and 1 serving of green veggies during the course of the whole day.  You can see how lopsided this is.

A general rule:

Complex carbs should amount to 2/3 of your carbohydrate intake and simple carbs should be 1/3 of your intake…….both should be the most nutrient dense, NON-PROCESSED OR REFINED choices.  

Another words…..if it didn’t show up on the earth in that form (ex: Rice Krispies Treats vs. Brown Rice) then limit or don’t eat it.

The American Dietetic Association, the National Research Council and basically every health, medical and nutrition organization recommends a baseline of at least 55% total calories from carbs.

This is a good starting point – but then everyone is unique and may need to tweak this.

  • Endurance and aggressive trainers may need 60-75% total intake
  • If you are carb sensitive you may require less – maybe 30-40% total intake

**Keep in mind these estimations are for fat loss – not maintenance or weight gain

What are complex carbohydrates benefits?

  • Complex carbohydrates keep blood sugar levels stable.
  • Complex carbs keep you fuller longer
  • Complex carbs from natural sources (ex: brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, millet, quinoa, beans etc.)  are the most nutrient dense carbohydrate
  • Eating more calories from complex carbs that your body can handle will cause fat gain so be aware of calorie density

Now you should have a good handle on the very important basics of carbohydrates.  You know the difference between the carbs that help and the carbs that harm.  Now all you have to do is apply it this list of carbohydrate foods!!!

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