What Are Healthy Carbs, Anyway? Plus, 7 Vegan Recipe Ideas

Carbohydrates are a key part of a healthy, balanced diet. They are a vital energy source, helping power us through busy routines all week long. Without them, it’s likely we would start to feel fatigued and irritable, so it’s definitely worth filling up the plate with plenty of them—despite what 2000s diet culture tried to teach some of us. But that said, not all sources of carbohydrates are created equal. Here’s what you need to know about the healthiest ones, plus tasty, healthy vegan recipe ideas.

Why do we need carbohydrates?

When carbohydrates enter the body, they break down into glucose, which is a type of sugar that the body relies on for energy. It’s very important: our brains are reliant on glucose to function properly. Even when it’s at rest, the brain uses around 20 to 25 percent of the body’s glucose. 

That said, it is possible for the body to use other nutrients for energy, like protein and fat, but it’s important to note that these have other important functions in the body, which is why a balanced diet is so essential. “As protein is vital for so many other essential functions, such as building and repairing tissues, the body prefers not to use it for energy,” notes Medical News Today.

What is a healthy carbohydrate?

There are a few different types of carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates, for example, contain one or two sugar molecules that are easy to digest. Fruits and fruit juices are an example of simple carbohydrate sources.

Then there are sources of complex carbohydrates. These are foods with a longer chain of sugars, and they also contain fiber and starch. Many vegetables, whole grains, and beans are sources of complex carbohydrates.

And finally, there are refined carbohydrates. These are foods that have been through a refining process, which results in the removal of most of their beneficial nutrients and fiber. White bread is one example of a refined carbohydrate.

While there’s nothing wrong with eating refined carbohydrates in moderation, the healthiest types of carbohydrates are complex, but simple carbohydrates can also be beneficial (if they’re from fruits, for example). “The Healthy Eating Plate recommends filling most of your plate with healthy carbohydrates—with vegetables (except potatoes) and fruits taking up about half of your plate, and whole grains filling up about one-fourth of your plate,” Harvard Health notes

7 vegan recipes with healthy carbs

Eating healthy foods doesn’t always have to mean a pile of steamed vegetables on the side of the plate. You can make many creative, delicious dishes with nutritious carbohydrate sources, like quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, and more. Find some of our favorite vegan recipe ideas below.

VegNews.ChickpeaBurgersNadine Horn and Jörg Mayer

1 Quinoa and Chickpea Burgers

Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate source, but it’s also a source of protein and vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and calcium. There are many ways you can serve this ultra-nutritious ingredient, but arguably, these burgers are one of the best. They’re delicious on the barbecue, but if the weather isn’t great, they’ll cook well on the grill pan, too.
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VegNews.SweetPotatoTaco.KikiNelson

2 Sweet Potato Tacos

Sweet potatoes are another nutritious complex carbohydrate source. Not only do they contain dietary fiber, but they’re also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, and antioxidants. Sweet potatoes are an incredibly versatile ingredient, but when you want something quick and tasty, you can’t go wrong with this smoky, taco recipe.
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VegNews.LemonQuinoaBitesJackie Sobon

3 Lemon Quinoa Bites

For on-the-go energy, bake up a batch of these nutritious, zesty lemon bites, which contain two sources of complex carbohydrates: oats and quinoa. They also contain dates for added sweetness and nutrition, as well as raw almonds for an added protein boost.
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VegNews.5IngredientBread

4 5-Ingredient Banana Bread

Bananas are a good carbohydrate source—they’re rich in fiber, and they contain important vitamins and minerals, like potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. While they’re a tasty snack on their own, you can also make a tasty sweet treat by baking them into banana bread. This simple, five-ingredient recipe is easy to make, tasty, and gluten-free.
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VegNews.BeefyVeganBeetBurger.TheNewNourishingThe New Nourishing

6 Beefy Beet Burger

Arguably, one of the best, tastiest ways to eat nutritious foods is in burger form, that’s why we have another barbecue-friendly recipe on this list (but you can also cook it up on the grill in the winter!). This patty contains several healthy ingredients, including flaxseeds, red onions, black beans, and beets, a complex carbohydrate.
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VegNews.Butterm_lkBuckwheatPancakeswithAlmondButterCaramelAshley Madden

7 Buttermilk Buckwheat Pancakes

If you’re searching for Sunday brunch inspiration, look no further. This is the one. Made with whole-grain buckwheat, a complex carbohydrate, as well as bananas, chia seeds, and brown rice flour, this recipe is packed with nutrition. Plus it’s so delicious, you’ll be asking for seconds every time.
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For more on vegan nutrition, read: