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Simple carbs versus complex carbs

What’s in a Carb?

  • Carbs are made up of fibre, starch, and sugars.

  • For a ‘normal’ balanced diet it is recommended to consume 25-35 grams of fibre per day.

Carbohydrates (carbs for short) are an important macronutrient and one of our body’s primary sources of energy. But for many, carbs are associated with getting fat. This is not strictly correct.  The key is consuming the right carbs — not entirely avoiding them because balanced nutrition is the key.

You may have heard that eating complex carbs rather than simple carbs is a better option.  The problem is that food labels don’t reveal if the carbohydrate content is simple or complex. Nonetheless, understanding the classification of these foods and how they work in our bodies can help in making the right choices when it comes to carbs.  Not to complicate things, there’re also 2 sub-categories, which are low-cars and slow-carbs.

Understanding Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an important nutrient which are found in many types of food. Most of us equate carbs with bread and pasta, but they are also contained in:

  1. nuts

  2. dairy products

  3. fruits

  4. vegetables

  5. grains

  6. legumes

  7. seeds

  8. sugary foods and sweets

Carbs are composed from: fibre, starch, and sugar. Fibre and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is, that’s right you’ve guessed it, a simple carb. The nutrient quality of each food depends on how much of each of these components is found in it. 

Simple Carbs = Simplistic Nutrition

Simple carbs are sugars. While some of these occur naturally, for example lactose in milk, most of the simple carbs in the Modern Western diet are added to foods. These common simple carbs which are regularly added to foods include:

  1. corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup (as far as I’m concerned, is the worse type)

  2. glucose, fructose, and sucrose

  3. fruit juice concentrate

  4. raw sugar

  5. brown sugar

Simple Carbs Found In Foods to Avoid

My advice to you is to try to avoid some of the most common refined sources of simple carbs and look for alternatives to satisfy those sweet cravings that most of us experience from time to time:

  1. Breakfast Cereal: Although often advertised as a healthy option, breakfast cereals tend to be loaded with simple carbs. If you can’t kick the habit, better check out this comparison list of breakfast cereals.

  2. Sugary soft drinks:  Choose water flavoured with lemon instead.

  3. Baked Treats: Substitute with fresh fruit.

  4. Packaged Cookies: Bake your own goods using substitutes like applesauce or natural sweeteners, or search for other ready-made mixes that contain more complex carbs.

  5. Fruit Juice Concentrate: An easy way to avoid fruit concentrate is to look closely at the labels. Always choose 100 percent fruit juice, or, even better yet, make your own at home

The More Complex, the Better Nutritional Value

Complex carbs tend to contain more nutrients than simple carbs, simply due to the fact that they are higher in fibre and digest slower. This also makes them more filling, effectively keeping the hunger at bay for longer, which means they’re a good solution for weight control. They are also ideal for people with type 2 diabetes because they help manage post-meal blood sugar spikes.

Fibre and starch are the two types of complex carbohydrates. Fibre is especially important because it promotes bowel regularity and helps to control cholesterol. The main sources of dietary fibre include:

  1. fruits

  2. vegetables

  3. nuts

  4. beans

  5. whole grains


Starch is also found in some of the same foods as fibre. And Resistant Starch is very similar to fibre. The difference is certain foods are considered more starchy than fibrous, such as potatoes. Other high-starch foods are:

  1. whole wheat bread

  2. cereal

  3. corn

  4. oats

  5. peas

  6. rice


Complex carbohydrates are key to long-term health. They make it easier to maintain correct weight, and can help prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems from occurring in the future.

Complex Carbs You Should Eat More Of

Ensure to include the following complex carbs as a staple of your diet:

  1. Grains: Grains are great sources of fibre, as well as potassium, magnesium, and selenium. A better choice would be less processed, whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and whole-wheat pasta.

  2. Fibre-Rich Fruits: Including apples, berries, and bananas (avoid canned fruit, as they usually contain added sugary syrup, colourants, conservatives and other things you better off staying away from).

  3. Fibre-Rich Vegetables: The more the better, including broccoli, leafy greens, and carrots.

  4. Beans:  In addition to fibre, these are wonderful sources of folate, iron, and potassium. 

Choosing the right carbs can take time and practice. You can make healthier choices by keeping a keen eye on food labels and by doing some research and of course just trying different foods.  The benefit will be noticeable, make you feel more energised and you will be less likely to fall ill.

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