The rule of thumb when it comes to consuming carbohydrates is that the more complex the design of the carb, the better it is for you. Complex carbohydrates “pack in more nutrients than simple carbs,” plus they’re also “higher in fiber and digest more slowly.” This means that they’re not only more nutritious for our bodies, but they’re also generally lower on the glycemic index (causes less flux in your blood sugar) and are more satiating. Complex carbohydrates are great for managing type 2 diabetes, promote bowel regularity, and are known to help control cholesterol.
In contrast, simple carbohydrates are plain old sugars lacking a foundation of nutrients, which are found in raw and brown sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, and sucrose (found in a variety of foods including dairy and fruit), and fruit juice concentrate.
Complex carbs are strong in the plant-based food world and can be found in fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, whole grains, whole wheat bread, oats, peas, and rice, to name just a few. Narrowing down the best complex carb options focuses on whole grains, — quinoa, buckwheat, and whole-wheat pasta — fiber-rich fruits, — apples, berries, and bananas — fiber-rich veggies, — broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, and pretty much any veggie you enjoy — and pretty much any bean you fancy!
Boost your complex carb and nutrient diversity intake by mixing and matching between these sources. Here are 15 recipes to get you started!
We also highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 20,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help you get healthy! And, don’t forget to check out our Whole Foods Archives!
Source: Apple Quinoa Salad
This Apple Quinoa Salad recipe by Desiree Rodriguez combines two of the best complex carbohydrates — quinoa and apples! Great for the digestive system, this salad also offers a great source of protein, healthy fat, vitamin, and minerals from a mixture of fruit, herbs, and aromatics.
Source: Hydrating Super Green Smoothie
Apples are a great complex carb option due to their naturally high content of a special gut-friendly fiber called pectin. This Hydrating Super Green Smoothie recipe by Caroline Doucet combines the complex carb energizing powers of apples with those from fiber and nutrient-dense kale. Plus, you’ll get a dose of healthy fat from hemp hearts, extra hydration from water-rich cucumber, all of which have a higher absorption rate thanks to lemon juice!
Source: Broccoli Noodle Soup
This Broccoli Noodle Soup recipe by Kristina Humphreys is the perfect complex carbohydrate mashup sourcing high-nutrient carbs from broccoli and fiber and protein-packed carbs from brown rice noodles. Great for these last few months of cold semi-spring weather!
You might think of chili when you think of beans, but in the plant-based world, beans are one of the best ingredients to use in the creation of a burger! This Nourishing Black Bean Burger With Thousand Island Dressing recipe by Maria Koutsogiannis is an excellent, fun, family-friendly burger recipe to infuse your day with complex carbohydrates, specifically black beans and brown rice.
Just because it’s a healthy carbohydrate doesn’t mean it can’t be a decadent dessert! This Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes with Spiced Sweet Potato Frosting recipe by Molly Patrick uses complex carbohydrate favorite buckwheat — the groat version — along with gluten-free millet to create those chocolatey-dense cupcakes, all topped off with complex carb veggie champion sweet potato frosting!
This Jerk Lentils With Coconut Rice and Fried Banana recipe by Jenny Connelly is a great example of diversifying your complex carbohydrates. Along with lentils, this recipe calls for complex carb-rich bananas and kidney beans. To make it truly and exclusively complex carb friendly, swap out the white rice for some brown rice.
This Thai Kale Salad With Peanut Sauce recipe by Natalie Martin MS, RD, and Lexie Staten MS RD is a great example of a grain-free, complex carbohydrate-rich meal option. Sourcing complex carbs from kale, carrots, onion, and peanuts, this recipe is also rich in natural and healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals found in peanut butter, lime juice, garlic, and fresh ginger.
Source: Chickpea Turnip Meatballs
Make a big batch of these complex carb-friendly Chickpea Turnip Meatballs by Ashley Madden at the beginning of the month, freeze half, and enjoy the other half on a variety of dishes! These are not only rich in those wonderful complex carbohydrates, but they’re also a great source of plant-based protein and a slew of vitamins and minerals.
Source: Whole Wheat Radicchio Ravioli
This Whole Wheat Radicchio Ravioli recipe by Valentina Chiappa is a great way to infuse your day with veggie and grain-sourced complex carbs, specifically whole wheat and radicchio. These healthy ravioli are filled with protein and nutrient-rich tofu and leek, all topped off with a variety of anti-inflammatory spices, such as turmeric, cinnamon, oranges, and healthy fat-filled ingredients, such as pistachios and olive oil.
Source: Blueberry Molasses Smoothie
This Blueberry Molasses Smoothie recipe by Kennedy Kitchings offers a super sweet treat that’s also nutrient-rich — thanks to blackstrap molasses! — and a great source of complex carbs — from those blueberries and bananas!
This Baked Potatoes with Mushroom and Spinach recipe by Hannah Sunderani packs a powerful complex carbohydrate punch with baked potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and almond butter. A super healthy, wonderfully satiating, simple dinner recipe!
Source: Oil-Free White Bean Chili
This Oil-Free White Bean Chili recipe by Larice Feuerstein is yet another great complex carb-rich meal to make in a big batch! Chili recipes are one of the best freezable foods meaning you can still get a healthy dose of nutrients even on those nights that you just don’t want to cook.
Source: Quinoa Plantain Pancakes
Start the day right with super tasty complex carbohydrates! This Quinoa Plantain Pancakes recipe by Mitra Shirmohammadi dumps simple carb white flour for superfood quinoa and complex carb fruit favorite plantain or large banana. This is also one of the healthiest pancake recipes you’ll find sourcing the natural fiber-packed sugar from the banana with the optional use of maple syrup.
Source: Quinoa Pear Salad
Combine, combine, combine! This Quinoa Pear Salad recipe by Medha Swaminathan uses multiple complex carbs such as quinoa, pear, and avocado. Nutrient-dense, naturally sweet, and super light, this is the perfect mid-day meal or side dish at the dinner table.
This Hearty 15-Bean and Vegetable Stew recipe by Nutritious Delicious is the ultimate complex carb recipe! Almost every ingredient offers a source of those brain and body-boosting carbs including 15 different types of beans, onion, carrot, swiss chard, two different types of mushrooms, and even tomatoes!
Source: Beluga Lentil Broccoli Salad
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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