Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates: What You Need To Know

Related: Your Guide To Carbohydrates: The Good And The Bad

Carbohydrates are one of the macronutrients that we eat on a daily basis. However, it is important to note that not all carbohydrates are created equal.

There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Whilst complex carbohydrates are considered to be healthier, you can include both types in a healthy diet. You just need to know what to look for and how these foods function in the body.

What are carbohydrates?

In the most simple terms carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, that is found in all food. When our body processes carbohydrates they are broken down into glucose (sugar) which is our bodies preferred source of energy.

Related: Macro Nutrients - Your Ultimate Guide

What are Simple Carbohydrates?

As the name suggests, simple carbohydrates have a simple structure since they contain only one or two sugar molecules linked together. Because of their simple structure, they are more quickly digested and absorbed by the body given they require less time to be broken down.

Simple carbohydrates are most commonly found in processed foods such as lollies, baked foods, syrup, sugary drinks and any form of processed sugar.

However, what many people don't realise is simple carbohydrates are also found in some fruit and vegetables. The difference is though that fruits and vegetables are rich in micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals and they also contain fibre. On the other hand processed foods usually don't provide much additional nutritional value at all.

What are Complex Carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates as there name once again suggests have a more complex structure. They have multiple sugar molecules strung together in long complex, chains.

Because of their more complex structure and the fact they are made up on digestible, partly digestible and indigestible starches means they take longer for our bodies to break down and digest. This, in turn, allows for am ore gradual release of energy.

Examples of complex carbohydrates are whole grains, beans, lentils and vegetables. These complex carbohydrates also contain a larger amount of fibre.

The way in which we consume complex carbohydrates can greatly influence where they remain an ideal choice or not. For example, whole grains are a form of complex carbohydrates. But when they are milled some of the nutritional properties are removed making it a form of simple carbohydrates. Which is also often referred to as refined carbohydrates. Think of items such as cereals, bagels, muffins and cookies, these are all forms of refined carbohydrates.

Simple vs Complex: Which is Better?

Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred source of energy. And as a source of energy, complex carbohydrates are the better choice. However, for overall health, it is more difficult to say.

Both simple and complex carbohydrates are present in healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes, that also contain a variety of necessary vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

However, they are also both present in low nutritional and processed foods such as sugary drinks, muffins and cookies. Which I am sure we can all agree, aren't the healthiest foods around.

For these reasons, it is essential to consider the whole food rather than just the type of carbohydrate it contains. This way we are getting both types of carbohydrates but in the healthiest way and with the added bonus of other vitamins and minerals.

Related: 5 Reasons Why You Should Be Drinking A Smoothie Every Day

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