Simple and Complex Carbohydrates
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of three essential macronutrients (protein and fats being the other two). They are primary source of energy to our body, especially the brain and the nervous system. Carbohydrates are called carbohydrates because the carbon, oxygen and hydrogen they contain are generally in proportion to form water. Many people are very confused about the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates. The main difference between these carbs is the time it takes for the body to convert them into glucose. Complex carbohydrates are more complex in their chemical structure and so take longer for our digestive system to break them down. The body converts both simple and complex carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar). The glucose is then either used directly to provide energy for the body, or stored in the liver for future use.
Remember that excess carbohydrates can also be converted to fat. Most medical experts say that 60 percent of the calories you eat every day should come from carbohydrates. Rice, pasta, potatoes, beans, bran, bread and cereals are carbohydrate-rich foods. Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is a must if you want to follow a healthy diet plan.
What are Complex Carbohydrates?
These carbohydrates have more complex chemical structures, with three or more sugars linked together. Complex carbohydrates consist of two types, starch and dietary fiber. Starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, cereals, rice and pasta should make up about a third of the food you eat. Dietary fiber helps in digestion, boosts absorption of useful nutrients and prevents constipation. Dietary fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods. Foods high in complex carbohydrates are usually low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.
Whole grain foods are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. These foods provide a slow and steady release of energy as their break-down is slower and prolonged. Complex carbohydrates are "good carbs" because they are still in their natural state with all the fiber included. Eating good carbs can help provide you with energy, protect you from disease and keep your weight under control. Not all complex carbohydrates are particularly healthy. For example, white potatoes, rice, corn, and white bread all have a high glycemic index and can cause a spike and an ultimate drop in blood sugar.
Complex Carbohydrates Foods
- Whole-grains: Whole-grain Bread, Oats, Barley, Oat Bran, Brown rice, Oatmeal, Quinoa, Whole-grain Corn
- Vegetables: Carrots, Cucumbers, Radishes, Tomatoes, Onions, Broccoli
- Beans: Soybeans, Pinto beans, Kidney beans, Green beans
- Other: Lentils, Peas, Soymilk, nuts
What are Simple Carbohydrates?
Simple carbohydrates are also called simple sugars and are chemically made of one or two sugars. These carbohydrates primarily consist of sugars such as glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose. These sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables milk, and milk products. They are also found in processed and refined sugars such as candy, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks. Refined and processed sugars provide calories, but lack minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Simple carbohydrates are digested more quickly and raise blood glucose levels faster, leading to sugar spikes in the blood. Bad carbs are highly processed carbohydrates (refined breads, cereals and pastries) that raise blood sugar too high and too quickly. Just like complex carbohydrates, not all simple carbohydrates are created equal. Not all simple carbohydrates are "bad carbs". But if you eat too much of simple carbohydrates, or foods with a high glycemic index, you increase your risk of weight gain, lower your energy levels, and run the risk of health problems.
Simple Carbohydrates Foods
Processed and Refined Foods:
- Table sugar
- Brown sugar
- Soft drinks
- Wheat flour
- Products made with white flour (white bread, cakes, white pasta, cookies and many baked goods)
Simple Carbs with Vitamins and Minerals:
- Fruit drinks
- Fruits: Lemon, Kiwi, Grapefruit, Bananas, Oranges, Peach
- Berries: Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry
- Milk and milk products
What is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index ranks foods based on how quickly they're digested and get into the bloodstream. The glycemic index (GI) was originally created to help people with diabetes control their blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates enter the bloodstream as glucose at different rates. High glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates enter the bloodstream fast, while low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates enter slowly because they take longer to digest and break down.
Foods with high GI ratings are absorbed rapidly by the body, causing blood sugar levels to rise then fall again quickly. Lower GI foods are digested more slowly, so they don't increase blood glucose and insulin as much. Your body performs best when your blood sugar is kept relatively constant. The insulin stores as fat all the excesses of food, especially carbohydrates with high GI, the consequence of which is to make us fat. A high glycemic index is 70 and higher, a moderate glycemic index is 56 through 69 and a low glycemic index is 55 and under. Not all complex carbohydrates have low GI, and not all simple carbohydrates have high GI. Pay attention to the glycemic index of food that you eat.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
- Eat more whole grain foods.
- Make sure that you are getting between 18-25 grams of fiber per day.
- Try to limit simple carbs intake.
- Avoid processed and refined sugars.
- Make sure that carbs in your diet provide 60% of the total calories every day.
- Look for food with low or moderate glycemic index.
- Read food labels to avoid processed and refined foods.