Simple Versus Complex Carbohydrates: What is better?

Mar 2016

3 mins read


If you are looking for advice on what you should be eating, and what you should not be eating, most of us go to the internet to help us out. But the numerous options available online can leave most confused. Searches will throw up lots of different ideas on what is healthy, and what is not. Most information found online can be unreliable. If you feel clueless about where to begin, start to educate yourself on food groups, rather than looking at individual foods. Today we will look at carbohydrates.

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What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates is the main source of fuel for our bodies. It helps to fuel both our muscles and our brain. Carbohydrates can help to maintain our blood sugar levels. All carbohydrates eventually are broken down to glucose, which provides us with fuel for the body. Therefore, carbohydrates are essential in the body. There are different types of carbohydrates also and this is where most people seem to get confused. Some carbohydrates are digested easier than others. This depends on the amount of sugar molecules in a carbohydrate chain. The longer the sugar molecule is, the longer it will take to break the carbohydrate down.

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What are the different types of carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates can be categorized into simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are also known as sugars. These are carbohydrates which are broken down quickly and cause our blood sugars to rise quickly. This gives us a quick peak in energy, but we also get a quick decline in energy after the sugar spike, leaving us lethargic and low in energy. Simple carbohydrates include foods like milk, some fruit, honey, chocolate, cakes, jam. Complex carbohydrates are also known as starches. These types of carbohydrates take longer to break down. This results in a slow, steady release of energy. These types of carbohydrates keep our blood sugar levels more balanced than simple carbohydrates. Sources of complex carbohydrates include root vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrain.


How much carbohydrates should we consume?

Many people believe carbohydrates are the result of weight gain. Carbohydrates and protein both contain 4 kcal per gram. While fats contain 9 kcal per gram. Carbohydrates are no more “fattening” than protein. What people fail to realise is that if they overconsume on calories, this is the result of weight gain. If you cut carbohydrates out of your diet, this of course will lead to weight loss. You have automatically cut calories out, therefore putting yourself in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit will equal weight loss. We know carbohydrates provide us for fuel for any activity we do, such as walking, sitting, sleeping, etc. We do need them in the diet. It is not advised to cut them out. For the general population, 55-65% of total calories should come from carbohydrates. This of course will vary for each individual depending on activity level.


Should we consume simple or complex carbohydrates?

Our diet should mainly consist of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates keep our blood sugar levels stable, and provide us with a slow, steady release of energy. These types of carbohydrates also contain dietary fibre which is very important for healthy bowel movement. Fibre also keeps you feeling fuller for longer so is advised if looking to cut calories. Simple carbohydrates do not necessarily need to be avoided. Some simple carbohydrates contain a lot of important nutrient such as milk and fruit. We, however, can pair these simple carbohydrates with protein or a complex carbohydrate, to prevent a dramatic change in blood sugar levels. Pairing simple carbohydrates with a complex carbohydrate or protein rich food will slow down the overall digestion of the meal. This in turn will provide us with energy for a longer period of time and keep us feeling fuller for longer.


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