Simple Carbohydrates vs Complex Carbohydrates

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Nutrition Lesson


The word carbohydrate comes from the  carbon + hydrate, or carbon and water.   A carbohydrate is basically a chain of sugar molecules that are bound together. Foods are commonly labeled being sugar free  when they  consist of carbohydrates.  However, when the food is  consumed,  the carbohydrate breaks down into sugar, or glucose molecules.  There are two main types of carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates  are made of  short chains of sugar molecules  and are to be  compared to complex carbohydrates.   When eat, simple carbohydrates are more easily absorbed in the gut and as a result, raise the blood sugar levels more rapidly than a complex carbohydrate.

Since simple carbohydrates cause blood sugar to rise, they  also cause the pancreas to release more insulin when compared to ingestion of complex carbohydrates.  Excessive insulin release results weight gain as insulin promotes fat storage.  Consuming simple carbs, as listed below,  often leaves a person feeling hungry shortly after eating them. This results in the craving of more  and more simple carbohydrate foods (cookies, donuts, etc).   Overall, if one is trying to lose weight, it is best to limit the intake of simple carbohydrates.  Better yet, one should AVOID them altogether.

Examples of foods high in simple carbohydrates include:

  • White Breads
  • White Pastas
  • Donuts
  • Fruit Juices
  • Soft Drinks
  • Candy
  • Cereals
  • Cookies
  • White Rice
Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates differ from simple carbohydrates in that complex carbohydrates are made of “longer chains” of sugar molecules.  As a result, they take longer to digest and do not raise blood sugar levels as fast as simple carbohydrates.   That is, they have a lower glycemic index value.  In addition, when consumed,  complex carbohydrates leave a person feeling full longer than simple carbohydrates.

Examples of foods containing complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts / Seeds
  • High Fiber Oatmeal
  • Whole grain rice

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