Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Carbohydrates are one of the major macronutrients your body needs on a day-to-day basis to function optimally. Carbohydrates are the body's major source of energy and having the right carbs will help you remain in good health. Many types of weight loss programs discourage the consumption of carbohydrates, but when you consume healthy carbs, it helps your body in many ways. This is why experts promote the intake of complex carbs over simple carbs. However, when you read the nutrition labels on most foods, these do not always mention which type of carbohydrate is contained in the food. This is why it is important that you understand the difference between complex carbs and simple carbs and how they work inside the body. Today we take a look at the major differences and similarities between complex carbs versus simple carbs.

What are Carbohydrates?

To begin with, understanding carbohydrates is important to understand the differences between simple carbs and complex carbs.

Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient that is found in many types of foods. Most people often equate carbohydrates with pasta, bread, and potatoes, but they are also found in the following items.

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Sugary foods and sweets
  • Seeds

Carbohydrates are composed of three main components. These are.

  • Sugar
  • Fiber
  • Starch

Out of these three components, fiber and starch are known as the complex carbs, while sugar is referred to as simple carb. The final nutrient quality of any food is determined by how much simple carbs and complex carbs are present.

Complex Carbs Vs Simple Carbs. Understanding What They Are?

What are Complex Carbs?

Complex carbohydrates are made up of long chains of sugar moles and are starches. Since they are composed of longer chains of sugar molecules, it takes the body longer to digest these carbs and as they are digested more slowly, sources of complex carbohydrates do not cause a spike in blood sugar levels as rapidly as simple carbs.

Some foods that are complex carbohydrates include.

  • Grains
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Dietary fiber, found in whole grains and non-starchy vegetables, is also considered to be a type of starch.

Similar to simple carbs, some sources of complex carbohydrates are healthier options than others. The least processed or refined options of complex carbs are said to be the healthiest options for consumption. These include starchy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, amongst others, and examples of these foods may include.

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Other whole grains

Options such as legumes, starchy vegetables, and whole grains, are all good sources of complex carbohydrates and also provide a substantial amount of fiber, which is an important part of your daily diet. Intake of fiber is important to keep your blood sugar levels from fluctuating, regulating your cholesterol levels and is also important for maintaining intestinal health.

On the other hand, refined starches such as refined grains, are low in fiber content. If they have been enriched, then they may contain certain vitamins and minerals. However, whole grains are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals because they do not go through the processing process and therefore have not been stripped off their natural vitamins and minerals.

What are Simple Carbs?

Simple carbohydrates are known as simple carbs because they are composed of only one or two sugar molecules. This is why it does not take much effort by your body to break them down and absorb them into your bloodstream as glucose. This is the reason consumption of simple carbs raises the body's blood sugar levels at a much faster rate as compared to complex carbs.

Some of the simple carbohydrates that are made up of just a single sugar molecule include.

  • Fructose - this sugar is found naturally in fruits and is also added to certain types of processed foods to act as a sweetener
  • Galactose - this sugar is primarily found in dairy products

Some of the simple carbohydrates that are made up of two sugar molecules include.

  • Maltose - this is found in certain types of vegetables and some grains
  • Lactose - this is typically found in milk and other dairy products

Simple carbohydrates are generally found in processed foods like candy, syrups, table sugar, and even sweetened drinks like soda. Simple carbs do not have any additional compounds, for example, fiber, that can be used to slow down the digestion of these compounds, and this is why they lack any nutritional value. It is recommended that if you must have simple carbohydrates, then you opt for some natural sources of simple carbs that can also be included in a diabetes diet plan. These would include milk and fruits.

Complex Carbs Vs Simple Carbs. Nutrition Content

Complex Carbs Pack in Much More Nutrients

As compared to simple carbs, complex carbohydrates pack in a significantly higher amount of nutrients. They are not only higher in fiber, but they get digested also at a much slower pace. Complex carbohydrates are more filling, which makes these carbs a good option for those looking to lose weight or control their weight.

Complex carbs are also the ideal option for people having type 2 diabetes since they prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking immediately after meals.

As mentioned above, fiber is particularly important as it helps control the levels of cholesterol and also promotes regular bowel movements. Some of the major sources of dietary fiber are.

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Whole grains

Some of the foods that contain fiber may also contain starch. However, the difference is that some foods are considered to be more starchy rather than fibrous.

Some examples of high-starch foods include.

  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Peas
  • Cereal
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Corn
  • Oats

Consuming complex carbohydrates is essential to your overall health in the long run. They not only make it easy to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but they also help protect against cardiovascular problems, type 2 diabetes, and many other types of chronic diseases.

No Real Nutrition in Simple Carbs

Simple carbs are simply sugar. While some types of simple carbs occur naturally in milk, most types of simple carbs are added to foods. Some of the commonly found simple carbs that are added to foods include.

  • Raw sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Sucrose
  • Fructose
  • Corn Syrup
  • High Fructose corn syrup

It is recommended that you try and avoid some of the most commonly found refined sources of simple carbs as they are considered to be unhealthy for the body.

Complex Carbs Vs Simple Carbs. Foods to Have and Foods to Avoid

Complex Carbs to Include in your Diet

  • It is recommended that you include some of the below-mentioned complex carbohydrates regularly in your diet.
  • Whole grains. Whole grains are an excellent source of not just fiber, but also of magnesium, selenium, and potassium. You should try to choose less processed whole grains that include.
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Fibrous fruits. Fiber-rich fruits such as bananas, apples, and berries are recommended. Avoid having canned fruit as they usually contain added syrup, which increases your risk for obesity and lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.
  • Fibrous vegetables. Eating vegetables such as leafy greens, carrots, and broccoli will add the right kind of fiber into your daily diet.
  • Beans. Beans are not only rich in fiber, but are also high in iron, potassium, and folate.

Simple Carbs to Avoid

Simple carbs that you should avoid include.

Sugary sodas. Sugary sodas are extremely bad for your health. Sugary sodas are closely linked with obesity and weight gain, as well as increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease. Instead of having sugary sodas, you can try having flavored water or fresh fruit juices even.

Baked goods. Many times we crave something sugary. However, rather than satisfying your sweet tooth with baked goods, opt for having fruits instead. Baked treats are extremely rich in simple carbs and also contain a lot of added sugar, making it very unhealthy for your health.

Breakfast cereal. Breakfast cereals are loaded with simple carbohydrates and can be quite bad for your health. If you are unable to leave breakfast cereals, then you can opt for having some type of muesli instead, which is a healthier option.

Packaged cookies. Rather than buying packaged cookies from the store, it is better to bake your own cookies at home using healthier substitutes such as artificial sweeteners or applesauce instead of sugar. You can also look for certain other cookie mixes that contain more complex carbs rather than simple carbs.

Fruit juice concentrate. One way to avoid fruit juice concentrate is to read the nutrition labels. You should either make fruit juices at home or you can always opt for buying 100 percent pure fruit juice.

Conclusion

Knowing the difference between complex carbs and simple carbs will help you choose the right carbohydrate that will be beneficial for your health. While it takes time and practice to choose the right carb, with a bit of research and reading the nutrition labels, you can start choosing healthier food that will not only protect your body from diseases but also provide you with energy that lasts the entire day.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 6, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

We'll help you live each day to the healthiest