5 healthy carbohydrate-rich foods and how to include them

Health and Fitness
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source of the body and important for long-term health, but carbohydrate-rich foods can vary greatly in healthiness. When it comes to choosing carbohydrate-rich foods, there are three key things you need to remember.
  • Choose foods that have been minimally processed between the farm and you.
  • Minimally processed foods don’t just offer carbohydrates. They offer fibre, vitamins, minerals and lots of other nutrients.
  • Portion control is just as important as choosing whole/minimally processed foods. Aim to add enough carbohydrate-rich food to fill a quarter of your dinner plate.


With that in mind, here are 5 healthy carbohydrate-rich foods and how to include them in your diet.


Lentils are a healthy carbohydrate-rich food due to their high fibre content and because they’re also a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals.

How to cook them:

Dried lentils can be boiled in a saucepan. For every 1 cup of lentils, use 3 cups of water. They are fully cooked after 20–25 minutes.

Canned lentils can be added to meals at the end of cooking to be heated through or microwaved in a bowl for 1–2 minutes.

How to eat them:

  • Dhal – a tasty Indian dish based on lentils with added garlic, herbs and spices.
  • Add to bolognese – add 1–2 tins of lentils instead of extra mince. This will make the recipe go a little further and boost the fibre content while being an economical way to feed the whole family.
  • Add to stews – with winter on its way, whip out the slow cooker and add a tin of lentils to your next stew or casserole.

Brown rice

A simple swap from white to brown rice is a great way to boost your fibre intake. Brown rice has great flavour and is a filling addition to a range of different meals.

How to cook it:

Add to already boiling water and boil for 20–25 minutes. You can also cook up large amounts at a time, divide it into portions and freeze in containers or snap lock bags for quick and easy additions to your meals.

How to eat it:

  • Curries – swap out white rice for this higher fibre option.
  • Rice salad – combine 1 cup cooked brown rice with ½ tbsp pine nuts, ½ tbsp pepitas, ¼ capsicum (cubed), 1 shallot (finely chopped) and ½ cup four bean mix in a bowl. Drizzle with 2 tsp sesame oil, 2 tsp soy sauce and add any other chopped vegetables of your choice for a delicious choice.
  • Brown rice sushi – if you make your own, try swapping to brown rice instead. You can also try looking for a local shop that offers this higher fibre option next time you’re eating out.

Potatoes (white and sweet)

Both are healthy carbohydrate options if you keep the skin on and eat them minimally processed. Potato with the skin on is a great source of fibre, and both types of potato are very versatile.

How to cook them:

The skin can be kept on in all these cooking methods:

  • Bake – wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 40–45 minutes or until cooked through.
  • Boil – cube and boil for about 12 minutes or until soft.
  • Mash – cube and boil for about 12 minutes or until soft, then using a food processor or potato masher, add a dash of milk, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of butter and mash until smooth.
  • BBQ – cut into thin slices and cook with a small amount of olive oil on a hot BBQ plate.
  • Roast – cube and boil for about 8 minutes. Drain well and toss in olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place into a roasting tray and roast in a hot oven for 30 minutes or until golden.


How to eat them:

  • Baked potato can be added to a roast dinner or topped with minced meat and vegetables.
  • Boiled potatoes can be cooled and form the base of a salad.
  • Mashed potato is delicious partnered with a hearty, vegetable-rich stew.
  • Barbecued potato slices are a great side to a steak and salad at your next BBQ.
  • Roasted potato can be a delicious side to some baked fish for a healthy fish ‘n’ chips.


Roasted potatoes make a delicious side.

Black beans

Like lentils, black beans are a fantastic source of high-fibre carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals.

How to cook them:

If you buy them canned, drain and rinse them well under cold water. Add to a small saucepan and cover with water to heat for 5–6 minutes, or microwave them in a bowl for 1–2 minutes.

How to eat them:

  • Make your own burrito bowl with black beans, brown rice, pulled pork and lots of vegetables: cubed tomato, shredded lettuce, corn kernels, coriander leaves and a fresh drizzle of lime juice.
  • Canned black beans are a great way to boost the fibre and protein content of your next salad.
  • Add them to your next winter casserole.


Quinoa is a nutty flavoured grain that not only offers carbohydrate and fibre but is also one of the only plant-based sources of complete protein. It’s rich in other nutrients and easy to cook well once you get the hang of it.

How to cook it:

  • Rinse the quinoa well under water. This will help remove its bitter taste.
  • Add 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water to a saucepan.
  • Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce to a simmer for 10–15 minutes or until tender and the liquid is absorbed.


How to eat it:

  • Add ½ – 1 cup cooked quinoa to salads.
  • Serve it with a curry or stew as an alternative to rice.
  • Use quinoa instead of oats for a twist on traditional porridge for breakfast.
Kate Freeman
Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist. She is a registered nutritionist from Canberra, Australia and the creator and managing director of the largest private nutrition practice in Canberra, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry.

Related news

Choosing the right exercise for you

Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your heart health and overall wellbeing, but choosing one to suit your goals and abilities can be daunting. Here are some comparisons of different types of exercise to help you make the best choice for you.
Read more

Managing blood pressure – not just about sodium

While salt reduction is a main way to help reduce blood pressure, there are other important nutritional factors to consider when trying to reduce blood pressure through dietary changes.
Read more

8 simple, practical ways to eat more veggies

Vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy eating pattern. You simply cannot eat well without them. So here are eight simple and practical ways you can include more in your diet - that aren’t steaming or salad!

Read more