Carbs are evil. We get it, Captain Paleo. And while you’re not entirely wrong, you’re not entirely right, either. (You’re only talking about the wrong carbs—you know, white bread, semolina pasta, that sort of thing.) The truth is that there are a ton of healthy carbs that you can wolf down without sacrificing your washboard abs. Combine these delicious foods with a workout to match—perhaps the ab workout routine that will give you a six-pack in six weeks—and you’ll be shredded as a statue in no time.
It’s not only good for your health, but also a killer appetite suppressant that can help keep your six-pack diet on track all day. “Barley contains a whopping 6 grams of belly-filling, mostly soluble fiber that has been linked to lowered cholesterol, decreased blood sugars, and increased satiety,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN. It also has tons of health benefits, like decreased inflammation and stabilized blood sugar levels. And: you’ll immediately feel lighter. As one of the best healthy carbs, barley acts as a bulking agent, which can help push waste through the digestive tract.
2. Whole wheat pasta
You know brown is better, but do you know why? It’s because whole wheat contains three parts of the grain, all nutrient rich and fiber-filling. Also try varieties with lentils, chickpeas, black beans, or quinoa, which are all healthy carbs.
3. Acorn squash
Besides serving up a third of the day’s fiber, a one-cup serving of this highly nutritious, naturally sweet veggie contains 30 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. The body uses the nutrient to form muscle and blood vessels, and it can even boost the fat-burning effects of exercise, according to Arizona State University researchers. Vitamin C, as it so happens, is one of the best foods for supercharging your libido.
Lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans — they’re all magic bullets for belly-fat loss. In one four-week Spanish study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that includes four weekly servings of legumes aids weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet that doesn’t include them. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. To reap the benefits at home, work them into your diet throughout the week.
5. Whole grain bread
If you’re going for abs, you’re already sending the restaurant bread basket back. But don’t shrink from whole-wheat bread completely. As with whole-wheat pasta, you’re getting all three parts of the grain, with fiber to increase satiety and prevent overeating. Just be careful—most breads in the sandwich aisle are filled with high fructose corn syrup or a blend of whole and enriched wheats. It’s worth splurging on the pricier stuff, often found in the freezer section.
Yes, oats are loaded with carbs, but the release of those sugars is slowed by fiber, and because oats also have 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving, they deliver steady, ab-muscle-friendly energy. And that fiber is soluble, which lowers the risk of heart disease. The éminence grise of health food, oats garnered the FDA’s first seal of approval.
Quinoa is higher in protein than any other grain, and it packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy, unsaturated fats. “Quinoa is also a great source of fiber and B vitamins,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. a professor of nutrition at the University of Louisville. Try quinoa in the morning. It has twice the protein of most cereals, and fewer carbs.
8. Chocolate milk
Want to know the secret to staying slim? You need more muscle. That’s because muscle burns more calories than fat, so for every new muscle fiber you create, your resting metabolism receives another surge of fat-torching energy. And chocolate milk can help you do that. Researchers have determined that the ideal protein load for building muscle is 10 to 20 grams, half before and half after your workout. How much protein will you find in low-fat chocolate milk? Eight grams per cup. (That means one serving before your workout and one serving after will give you a total of 16 grams of highly effective whey protein—a perfect serving.) Add that to the extra cup you drank first thing in the morning and you’re looking at a turbocharged metabolism that keeps you burning calories all day long.
Not only does the yellow increase bloat-fighting bacteria in the stomach, it also a good source of potassium, which can help diminish water retention. Bananas are rich in glucose, a highly digestible sugar, which provides quick energy, and their high potassium content helps prevent muscle cramping during your workout. Each medium banana contains about 36 grams of healthy carbs: Their low glycemic index means carbs are slowly released into your body, preventing sugar crashes and spurring the process of muscle recovery. Adding bananas to your diet, by the way, is one of the 100 ways to be a healthier man right now.
10. Sweet potatoes
The king of slow healthy carbs (meaning they’re digested slowly and keep you feeling fuller and energized longer), sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, nutrients and can help you burn fat. The magic ingredient here are carotenoids, antioxidants which stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. And their high vitamin profile (including A, C, and B6) give you more energy to burn at the gym. Now, all you need is the motivation to get there.