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Simple and complex carbs – which is better?

Maxine du Plessis

Carbohydrates are a major macro-nutrient and one of your body’s primary sources of energy. Some weight loss programs discourage eating them, but the key is finding the right carbs — not avoiding them completely. You may have heard that eating complex carbs is better than simple carbs. But nutrition labels don’t always tell you if the carbohydrate content is simple or complex. Understanding how these foods are classified and how they work in your body can help you choose the right carbs.

Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for the body. Complex carbohydrates provide a more lasting source of energy than simple carbohydrates because they take longer to digest and are a more stable source of energy than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are present in foods such as bread and pasta. Simple carbohydrates are in foods such as table sugar and syrups.

Complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of sugar molecules than simple carbohydrates. The body converts these sugar molecules into glucose, which it uses for energy. As complex carbohydrates have longer chains, they take longer to break down and provide more lasting energy in the body than simple carbohydrates.

Both types of carbohydrate are often present in many foods. In addition to providing energy via glucose, these foods have many other properties that are important for health.

However, this does not mean that all complex carbohydrates are healthier choices. Simple carbohydrates are present in many healthful foods, such as fruits and milk. Complex carbohydrates may also be a constituent of refined foods, such as white bread or white rice. For these reasons, it is essential to consider the whole food rather than just the type of carbohydrate it contains.

Complex carbohydrates found in whole foods tend to be highly nutritious.  They may also reduce the risk of several chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer. There are many cases of foods that contain simple carbohydrates that are suitable for a healthful diet.

Simple carbohydrates to avoid are typically in processed foods or those with added sugar. Adding sugar to food increases its calorie content, without providing any additional nutrition.

Carbohydrates provide most of the body’s energy. As a source of energy, complex carbohydrates are the better choice. However, for overall nutrition, it is more difficult to say.

Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, are quicker to digest than complex carbohydrates.  This fact means that simple carbohydrates produce a spike in blood glucose, providing the body with a short-lasting source of energy.

Complex carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels for longer and produce 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. Considering the type of food containing the carbohydrate is important, however.

While complex carbohydrates are a better source of energy than simple ones, they are not necessarily healthier. Some forms of simple carbohydrates are healthier than some complex carbohydrates. Therefore, it is more useful for people to consider the overall nutritional profile of each food they may want to eat instead of focusing on a single nutrient, such as the type of carbohydrate it contains.

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