complex and simple carbohydrates are an important important of our diet, what do we need to know about both?
Cannot read right now? It is ok, we read it for you!
  • Carbohydrates contain components such as starch, sugar and fiber that are needed for the body’s growth and development.
  • There are two main forms of carbohydrates 1) Simple carbohydrates 2) Complex carbohydrates.
  • Complex carbohydrates provide a more lasting source of energy in the body than simple carbohydrates.
  • The National Health Service (NHS) advices the public to only consume less than 70 grams of sugar a day for men and under 50 grams of sugar a day for women.
  • It is suggested that between 45 and 65 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are known to fuel us as they serve as a primary source of energy to our bodies.

They can be found in various food types that we consume on a daily basis – bread, spaghetti, corn, rice, cookies, potatoes, whole grains, legumes and the list goes endless.

Carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet as they contain starch, sugar. Those are needed for the growth and development of our bodies. 

There are (2) two main forms of carbohydrates

1) Simple Carbohydrate

2) Complex Carbohydrate.

Let’s explore them together. 

Did you know that carbohydrates can impact your mood? To learn more read our article: Carbs Can Be Bad to Your Health, What About Your Mood?

Simple Carbohydrates Lead to a Rapid Increase in Blood Glucose Levels

Simple carbohydrates are known in common terms as simple sugars.

These types of sugars are commonly found in natural food sources such as fruits, vegetables and in milk. They give a sweet taste.

However, they can also increase your blood glucose levels rapidly.

With sugar levels of consumers being regulated, National Health Service (NHS) advices the public to only consume less than 70 gram of sugars a day for men and under 50 grams of sugar a day for women.

People with existing diabetes would need to limit their sugar intake to levels lower than those indicated on the left/above to keep their sugar levels at a safe range.

Complex Carbohydrates – More Needs to Be Consumed 

Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and are a more stable source of energy than simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of sugar molecules than simple carbohydrates. The body converts these sugar molecules into glucose, which it uses for energy.

Given that complex carbohydrates have longer chains compared to simple carbs, they take longer to break down; therefore, providing a more lasting source of energy in the body.

Classification of Carbohydrates

Chemically, carbohydrates have the following general formula: Cx (H2O) y.

Subtypes are called monosaccharides, disaccharides, trisaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharide.

Subtypes of Carbohydrates

  • Monosaccharides

Monosaccharides, also called simple sugars, serve primarily as the building block of carbohydrates.

Monosaccharides come from the Greek prefix mono- which means one.

They have the general formula Cn(H20)n, and this group cannot be further hydrolyzed/broken down.

Monosaccharides have three types namely: Glucose, Fructose, and Galactose.

  • Disaccharide

A disaccharide is commonly called a double sugar, coming from the greek prefix di- which means two.

This sugar is formed when two monosaccharides (or simple sugars) are joined together by a chemical bond.

Disaccharides have three types namely: Sucrose, Lactose and Maltose.

  • Trisaccharide

Trisaccharides is an oligosaccharides composed of three monosaccharides (which are simple sugars) with two glycosidic bonds connecting them.

  • Oligosaccharides

Oligosaccharides came from the Greek prefix oligo- which means few.

This type of sugar only have 2-10 monosaccharides on its chain which are liberated on hydrolysis (chemically breaking them down).

  • Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides came from the greek prefix poly- which means many.

These are long chains or groups of monosaccharide units with high molecular weight (up to a million).

Known to be tasteless (non-sugars) as they form colloids with water.

Does Your Body Need Both Simple and Complex Carbohydrates?

It is suggested that between 45 and 65 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates provide most of the body’s energy.

As a source of energy, complex carbohydrates are the better choice.

Complex carbohydrates lead to an increase in blood glucose levels for longer periods and also induce a more lasting elevation in energy.

The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide the body with energy, and complex carbohydrates do this more effectively.

Simple carbohydrates produce a spike in blood glucose levels, providing the body with a short-lasting source of energy. They can be found in products such as chocolate bars or in sugary drinks.

Simple carbohydrates can also be present in healthy food items such as milk.

However, the majority of simple carbohydrates are present in food items that typically have lower nutritional values such as sugary drinks.

On the other hand, Complex carbohydrates can also be found in processed food products.

Such items are typically characterized by having a lower nutritional value, an example of these is refined white flour.

However, most nutritious items include the complex type as their primary source of carbohydrates.

Fiber is a complex Carbohydrate

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate typically found in plant-based food items. 

Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrates and a constituent of plant-based foods.

Fiber is necessary for keeping the digestive system healthy.

It is useful for people to consider the overall nutrient when judging for how healthy it is.

Things to look for when judging the nutritional quality of a product rich in carbohydrates is the ratio of complex to simple sugars and the amount of fiber they contain.

What is The Ideal ratio for Both Simple & Complex Carbs in a Product?

Look for food items that have high fiber content. If there is high fiber, you are most likely getting complex carbohydrates with it.

It is best to get an item with the ratio of carbohydrates to fiber of 5:1 or less.

What are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates have always been controversial for whether it is healthy or not.

It is best to learn about both the advantages and disadvantages in order to understand not just the nutritional value of carbohydrates but also the potential risks and how to make sure we only get the best out of it.

Advantages

  • Energy

Carbohydrates are usually our main source of energy.

Energy helps us to stay in focus at work and when performing other tasks as our brain needs glucose to function properly.

Energy is also necessary for the normal functioning of the overall body. 

  • Heart Wellness & Sources of Vitamins

Whole grains reduce the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke caused by cholesterol accumulating in the arteries.

Avoid simple carbohydrates and aim to consumer more organic food items such as fruits, vegetables and dietary fibers.

Carbohydrates are also good sources of vitamins that are essential for one’s nutrition.

They help the body fight invaders by boosting immune responses.

  • Good Digestion

Fiber is known to help prevent digestive system related health problems.

Food rich in fiber speeds up of this process, making it easier to digest and to avoid constipation.

Disadvantages

  • Weight Gain

We usually hear it from fitness experts blaming weight gain on eating so much carbs.

If taken in excessive amounts, carbs can give you an added number on the scale. 

  • Carbohydrates May Thicken Blood Arteries  

It is important to take whole grain or dietary fiber-containing carbohydrates and to avoid simple carbohydrates that are processed and high in sugar.

Consuming food items high in carbohydrates can mean a high fat conversion rate.

Therefore, when this happens it may constrict blood flow in the arteries. 

  • Risk of Type II Diabetes

People with diabetes should monitor their carbohydrates intake.

Consuming too much will definitely affect insulin- production.

What Carbohydrate-Containing Food Should We Eat More of?

Organic sources of carbohydrates are recommended. 

Vegetables and fruits are affordable and accessible sources.

Legumes, nuts, seeds and tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes are also recommended.

They can be taken as snacks in order to reach daily recommended values.

Whole grains contain dietary fibers which are good in aiding the digestion process.

They can be found in pure oats, quinoa, brown rice and whole grain bread.

The Bottom Line

Eating too much added sugar can have many negative health effects.

An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart diseases, among other dangerous conditions.

Therefore, added sugar should be kept to a minimum whenever possible, which is easy when you follow a healthy diet based on whole foods.

Not all carbs are not bad. Complex carbs such as dietary fibers protect us from many diseases. 

However, we need to identify what our body needs and make sure to eat the right type of carbohydrates to meet those needs.