When people are trying to lose weight, carbs are often the first thing they cut. But that plan can backfire.
"Losing weight is not about adding or taking away any nutrient, but about creating a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories and upping physical activity," says Elisa Zied, a register dietician and author of "Nutrition at Your Fingertips."
Carbohydrates fuel your brain and entire central nervous system and are essential for good health. Plus, there's some evidence that people who consume adequate carbohydrate - the amount recommended in current Dietary Guidelines for Americans - have a lower risk of being overweight or obese.
Although whole grains are a great source of dietary fuel, they aren't the only healthy way to add carbs to your diet - especially in the summer. Carbs can be found in fruits and starchy vegetables, too, says Tara Gidus, team dietitian for the Orlando Magic. "The key is balancing your source of carbs to get a variety of vitamins and minerals."
Here are some seasonal produce items that will help you do just that. They contribute carbs to your diet for a small amount of calories while also bringing a wealth of essential nutrients to the table.
Bananas: Bananas don't just provide instant portion control, they're also a good source of fiber - one medium serving provides 3 belly-filling grams.
Zucchini: If you love squash, summer is the time to eat it! You can have twice as much summer squash as winter squash for the same amount of calories. One large zucchini contains 52 calories, 4 grams of fiber, and nearly all the immune-boosting vitamin C you need for the day.
Watermelon: Besides being low in calories, this summer favorite can aid weight loss in two additional ways.
First, it will keep you hydrated. "A slice of watermelon supplies the equivalent of a glass of water," says Mitzi Dulan, co-author of "The All-Pro Diet." Second, watermelon is rich in the amino acid arginine, which increased fat oxidation in an animal study.
Corn: Nothing screams summer quite like corn on the cob. The 27 carbs in one large ear contribute 4 grams of fiber. Surprisingly, 5 grams of filling protein are also inside.
Grapefruit: There's a reason the "grapefruit diet" got so much attention: This super-low-calorie food (about 65 per serving) is also packed with vitamins A and C, Zied says. In a University of Arizona study, people who ate half a grapefruit before every meal dropped an inch from their waists.
Tomatoes: You could down an entire large tomato and it would set you back just 33 measly calories. However it does add 7 carbs, 2 grams of fiber, and lots of cancer-fighting lycopene. Tomatoes make a great addition to meatless Monday meals.
Papaya: One medium papaya packs 30 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, and a whopping 313 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. Papaya is also one of the best-known sources of papain, a compound that helps the body break down and use protein.
Green peas: Peas may be small, but they pack a dietary punch. One cup contains an incredible 7 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein - a combo that will be sure to keep your blood sugar steady. Best of all, a serving contains fewer than 120 calories.
Strawberries: Consider strawberries a dietary jewel. "One cup contains only 45 calories and 7 grams of sugar, which is one of the lowest for fruit," Dulan says. One cup also contains 3 grams of fiber and more vitamin C than an orange.
Grapes: Don't hesitate to add grapes to salads, sandwiches, smoothies or snacks. "A 3/4 cup serving contains just 90 calories, but no fat, no cholesterol, and virtually no sodium," Gidus says. For a sweet-and-salty snack duo that won't set you back, pair grapes with pecorino cheese.