Simple vs. Complex Carbs

Written by: Elsie Velazquez cert. personal trainer at Prescription Fitness (Cleveland, Ohio)

There are three main types of carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber.   Furthermore, Carbohydrates are sugars that come in 2 main forms – simple and complex.  They are also referred to as “good” and “bad” carbs. The difference between a simple and complex carb is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed – as well as it’s chemical structure.

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet, but they are not created equally.   I know, I know, that is not what you wanted to hear!  The good news is that there are good foods in both the simply and complex carb categories.  I am hoping to give you some information that will help you when choosing your carbs.

First, it is important to know that carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy and are crucial in having a well-balanced diet.  Because many foods contain one or more types of carbs, it is pretty difficult at times to know what is healthy for you and what is not.

Simple Carbs:

Simple carbs are composed of easy-to-digest, basic sugars, which can be an important source of energy. Foods that tend to have naturally occurring simple carbs are fruits and milk.   Refined and processed sugars are usually found in candies, baked goods, juices and soft drinks.

When reading nutrition labels, simple sugars can be referred to as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, maltose, malt syrup, trehalose, sucrose, and honey.   There are the carbs you want to limit in your daily diet.  They are usually found in cookies, candy, cake, soft drinks, fruit juice, and ice cream.

Simple carbs are not all “bad” as they are generally referenced – it simply depends on the foods.  An example of a good source of simple carbs would be those found in fruits and vegetables.  These foods are good sources of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for good health even though they contain simple carbs.  The fiber in fruits and veggies completely change how the body processes the sugar by slowing down their digestion.  In a way, they become more like complex carbs.

Complex Carbs:

Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, contain longer chains of sugar molecules.  These carbs – generally referred to as “good” usually take more time for the body to break down and use. This in turn provides you with a more consistent amount of energy.

Foods with complex carbs also tend to have more vitamins, fiber, and minerals than foods containing more simple carbohydrates.  I should point out that this is only the case as long as you’re choosing whole grains over processed ones.  A few examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and steel cut oats.  Processed grains include white rice, white bread, pasta, and baked goods made with white flour.

Final Thought:

A good rule to remember when trying to figure out if a source of carbs is good or bad, is this:  the higher in sugar it is, and the lower in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, the worse the food is for you. Please comment on our facebook page with questions or comments!