Complex Carbs Made Simple
Let's talk about carbs, aka everyone's favorite macronutrient. We'll be learning specifically about complex and simple carbs, but let's explain carbohydrates first. For those who don't know carbs are a macronutrient that your body uses as its primary source of energy. They are a crucial part of a healthy diet.
Aside from that, carbs are delicious which causes many people to overeat them. And we all know too much of a good thing can be bad. Which is why we're here to help break down the two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. These names reference their microscopic structure. Many people also refer to them as good carbs vs bad carbs, but which ones good and which ones bad?
What are simple carbohydrates?
As the name implies, they are simple structures, not complex. Simple carbs are made from only a few different of building blocks of carbs (monomers). The small molecules consist of a single or of two monosaccharides linked together. When they are linked together they are called disaccharides. That's a lot of big words, but they're important!
We all know or have heard of glucose. Well glucose is a monosaccharide! So are fructose and galactose. Lactose, sucrose, and maltose are disaccharides. So simple carbs are essentially made up of these basic sugars!
Simple carbs are easily digested and most of the sugars are processed to be used as energy. The sugar that isn't used right away is converted into fat. They contribute to weight gain, which is why doctors always advice to eat minimal simple carbs... but not all are bad!
Simple carb sources
Simple carbs are usually seen as the kind of carbs that’ll wreck your diet (like that donut that seems to scream your name every time you start your diet). They are, but they're also good ones!
Fruits and some vegetables are considered simple carbs because of the naturally occurring sugar found in them. They are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients. Obviously, they are completely different from cakes and cookies that have a ton of added sugars. That is because fruits have a high fiber content which changes the way the body processes the sugar. The sugars found in fruit are digested slowly and have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels. Opposed to sucrose, and other added sugars, found in baked-goods.
Limit these simple carbs from your diet:
- Pastries/Desserts - cookies, cakes, ice cream etc
- Energy drinks
- Sweetened teas and fruit juices
- Table sugar
These types of simple carbs should be enjoyed on occasion, so try to limit them to avoid weight gain and health related diseases. Try to get most of your simple carbs from fruits and vegetables.
What are complex carbohydrates?
Simple carbs are made up of simple structures, whereas complex carbs are made up of long, complex chains of sugar molecules. This makes the digestion process longer than when digesting simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates don't have an immediate impact on blood sugar, it actually makes it rise slowly.
Complex carbs, opposed to simple, provide more nutrients and help keep you full longer. That is because they are filled with high grams of fiber and starch. Fiber promotes regular bowel movements, keeps blood sugar leveled, and helps regulate cholesterol level.
Complex carb sources
Complex carbs are usually accompanied with lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But in order to get the most of complex carbs, you need to be eating your green veggies!
Aside from non-starchy green vegetables, here are more nutrient dense complex carbs (not processed):
- Whole grains - Wild and brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain barley
- Starchy vegetables - Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn
- Legumes - Black beans, chickpeas, lentils
Complex carbs are great, but you should try to avoid or limit grains that have been refined or processed. So read the nutrition label to make sure there aren't any hidden sugars in breads or pastas. Or choose whole-grain bread and pasta over white flour.
Now although some of these are super yummy, you may not be a fan of some of the things listed, but you will be after you see what they can do.
Why are they so good?
We’ve talked a TON about how insulin is a fat-making hormone that can end any plans you have of a flat stomach. Well that’s the root of the benefits of consuming complex carbs. These complex carbs have lots of fiber and have a low glycemic index (they don’t skyrocket your insulin levels). This is because they release their energy over a longer period of time, which prevents you from having a sugar high and crashing (thank goodness). There are so many other benefits of complex carbs that I’m just going to list them out for you to save time:
- Less sugar highs and crashes
- Curbs sweet cravings
- Keeps you full longer
- Makes over eating a thing of the past
- Gives steady, long-lasting energy throughout the day
- Lowers blood cholesterol
- Helps you shed those extra pounds that you’ve been trying to sweat off in the gym
- Packed with vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system strong
If that doesn’t make you part of the complex carb fan-club, then I don’t know what will. Honestly, these carbs do so much for your health.
Frequently asked questions
What time of day is best to eat complex carbohydrates?
Really lunch and dinner are the prime time for these complex carbs, but having them for breakfast isn’t going to hurt by any means either. Some people just like to have simple carbs for breakfast because it gives them the whole day to burn them off.
Why are complex carbohydrates better?
Complex carbs are better for you than simple carbs because the food sources are more nutrient dense and they provide lasting energy more effectively. Carbs main purpose is to provide the body with lasting energy, complex carbs are able to do it more effectively than simple carbs because they raise blood glucose levels steadily and longer. They're also high in dietary fiber which helps stabilize blood sugar levels, helps cholesterol levels, and when paired with healthy eating habits it can decrease your risk of heart disease.
BUT not all complex carbs are good for you. They can be found in refined foods like white bread and white rice. So remember to stick to unrefined, unprocessed complex carbs.
Can I still eat simple carbohydrates?
Yes! Simple carbs aren't always bad for you, there are many nutritional food sources that are considered simple carbs. A few include: pomegranates, apples, strawberries, melons, milk.
It's okay to have other simple carbs in moderation, but always prioritize unrefined and unprocessed simple carbs.
In summary, just make sure you’re getting plenty of these complex carbs to help you drop your insulin levels, drop some pounds, and lift yourself closer to your goals. Just remember as great as complex carbs are they are still carbs which means you should watch how they’re prepared and how much of them you eat. Do this and you should be on your way to leaving behind cravings, mid-day crashes, and even that extra belly-fat that you’ve never been a fan of.