Could these surprisingly-starchy foods be sabotaging your diet?
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No doubt about it, figs are a superfood. Full of fiber, they are also a great source of copper, potassium, manganese, and pantothenic acid. But when you take the water out of a fig, you’re left with a tiny, toothsome nugget dense in nutrients, fiber—and carbs. Mindlessly pop half a dozen dried figs and you’ve just consumed more than 30 grams of carbohydrates! Still, according to Lori Zanini, R.D., with HealthCare Partners and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dried figs have plenty of pros. “They are fat- and cholesterol-free and a great whole food snack option on the go because they don’t require refrigeration. Just be mindful of portion sizes.” (Hungry for more good-for-your superfoods? Try the 8 Healthy Foods You Should Eat Every Day.)
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It's not often (if ever) that we wake up craving a glass of prune juice. But it is healthy—packed with fiber and sorbitol, it’s also a good source of vitamins C, K, B6, riboflavin, niacin. All that and nearly 45 grams of carbs per eight ounce serving. The good news is, Zanini says that the naturally occurring sugar in prune juice is preferable to the stuff you find in sugar-sweetened beverages. But if you're jonesing for some juice and watching you’re watching carb intake, opt for a glass of OJ (26 grams of carbs) or grapefruit juice (23 grams).
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Whether they’re eaten raw or roasted over an open fire, few foods are more associated with winter than the chestnut. You may think that all nuts are both calorie and protein dense, but the chestnut is the exception to the rule. This little carb capsule is a starchy oddball amongst its nutty brethren. A single ounce serving has about 15 grams of carbs and less than a gram of protein; the same serving of peanuts or almonds have around six grams of carbs, while walnuts have less than four. On the flip side, chestnuts only pack about one-third the calories as the same amount of other popular nuts.
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Consider the saltine: Bleached white flower, shortening, baking soda, and some salt—simple carby deliciousness, agreed? Now take the austere, sophisticated rye crispbread, its more earnest Scandinavian cousin. Surely it contains fewer carbs, right? Wrong! An ounce of rye crispbread has a little more than 23 grams of carbs; an ounce of saltines contains just over 20. And there’s more to the story, says Zanini. “Many popular brands of saltines actually contain trans fat while cripsbreads do not. This is a great example of why I recommend individuals don’t solely look at how many carbohydrates a food contains, but where those carbs come from. In this example, the whole grains used in crispbread versus the refined grains in saltines make a difference in nutritional density.”
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Beans: The more you eat, the more you… load up on carbs? Sure, if they're premade baked beans. In their natural state, beans are naturally high in carbs, but much of those are complex carbs and beneficial fiber. Plus, they are high in protein. But many popular varieties of canned baked beans have a lot of added sugar—according to Zanini, about 12 grams per half-cup serving. “The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 24 grams a day of sugar.” So that’s half a day’s sugar in one side dish. Don't write off beans altogether, though: The food makes our all-star list as one of The Best Carbs for Weight Loss.
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If you think sugar-free cookies are a carb-free pass, think again. Many actually pack almost as many carbs as those baked with sugar. “Three sugar-free commercially prepared chocolate chip cookies will average around 20 grams of carbohydrates while three regular commercially prepared chocolate chip cookies will average around 28 grams of carbohydrates,” according to Zanini.
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This non-fat condiment is no innocent. Zanini found that most bottled sauces contain four to 10 grams of sugar per serving. Portion control is key here, especially when it's easy to understimate. For example, a saucy brisket or pulled pork sandwich wasn’t made with a single two-tablespoon serving. (Trying to fight your craving for sweet-saucy barbecue? Beat it with one of our 8 Clean-Eating-Recipes to Satisfy Any Craving.)