Carbohydrates or carbs play an essential role in a well-balanced, healthy diet. They provide your body with the energy it needs to keep up throughout the day.
But, not all carbohydrates are equally created, and it turns out some may even be harmful to your health.
Experts say eating complex carbohydrates is better than consuming simple carbs. But nutrition labels do not identify whether the carb content is simple or complex.
So, how can you tell if it's simple carb or complex carb? And why eat more complex carbohydrates?
This article will help you understand what these two carbohydrates are and why is eating more complex carbs better for your nutrition. We've also included some tips on how you can add them to your diet!
What are Carbohydrates?
There are three types of carbohydrates contained in food: starch, sugar, and fiber.
Carbohydrates are classified either as simple or complex, and this depends on the chemical structure of the food.
The sugar digestion and absorption are also factors in determining what type of carbs the food contains. Essentially, the kind of carbs that you eat can make a difference.
Foods that are high in simple sugars raise triglyceride, a type of fat (lipid) stored in your blood cells.
Eating sugar-rich foods may increase your triglyceride levels, which can lead to fatty liver, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease or heart attack.
So, how will you check your triglyceride level?
To do this as part of your cholesterol analysis, your physician will require you to undergo a lipid profile or lipid panel test.
Fasting is commonly required before the blood test to ensure that your triglyceride measurement is accurate.
What are Simple Carbohydrates?
Only one to two basic sugars make up simple carbohydrates. Since they can be broken down quickly, simple carbs can be an essential energy source.
They are naturally occurring in foods such as fruits and milk. They are also contained in processed and refined sugars like candies, sodas, and baked goods.
While simple carbs are not necessarily all harmful carbs, you still need to choose foods that have naturally occurring sugars like fruits and vegetables since they are also rich sources of other key nutrients.
These natural sugar sources are very different from other sugar-rich foods found in processed foods such as cookies and cakes, which contain added refined sugar.
Among the simple carbohydrates that you need to restrict from your diet include soft drinks, candies, cookies, desserts, pastries, energy drinks, and ice cream.
Experts say while you can occasionally savor these foods, they must not be your primary carbohydrate source.
What are Complex Carbohydrates?
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are known to be the “good” carb. Since they are made up of long chains of sugars, your body takes longer to digest them, resulting in a more stable release of low sugars.
Complex carbs also contain more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals compared with simple carbs. But it is essential to note that the best sources of complex carbs are whole grains instead of processed foods.
Whole grains like quinoa, barley, whole-wheat flour, oats, brown rice, and corn are some of the complex carb sources that supply more nutrients than processed grains.
Meantime, refined carbs include white rice, pasta, and bread.
Complex carbs are also rich in fiber, which makes them more filling. And since they can make you feel full for longer, they make a great option for weight loss efforts.
People suffering from type 2 diabetes may also find complex carbs beneficial since they help control blood sugar spikes after meals.
Why Should You Eat More Complex Carbs Than Simple Carbs?
Complex carbs are said to be better than simple carbs because they allow a slower and more sustained energy release. Whole grains, starchy vegetables, and beans are great sources of complex carbohydrates.
Aside from providing energy through calories, complex carbs also contain essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber.
But there are many other reasons why you should eat more complex carbohydrates. Below are some of them:
Complex carbs provide you with a more stable energy
Carbohydrates are known to supply the body with energy. Eating carb-filled foods are essential because they can immediately recharge your body!
Take note, though:
You need a more stable energy source when doing just that. Simple carbs allow you to feel a burst of energy upon consumption. This explains the energy rush that you feel when you eat sweets.
The problem is, this sudden burst of energy may quickly deplete as well, resulting in tiredness and exhaustion.
How do complex carbs help prevent this? Complex carbs avoid this crash of weakness from happening by supplying your body with more sustained and stable energy.
So, if you need an energy boost for the day, consume carbs from whole grains instead of caffeine or sugar. The whole grains’ carbohydrate content will keep you energized all day long without having to deal with an eventual slump.
Complex carbs aid digestion
The fiber contained in carbs helps in regular digestion. You will feel this when you eat some of the best complex foods such as whole grains, legumes, beans, fruits, and vegetables instead of processed foods.
Complex carbs improve your metabolism
The energy provided by carbohydrates is essential for optimum metabolism. If you don’t have energetic calories, which in essence are carbs, you risk letting your metabolism suffer.
Many people think a low-carb diet is the best solution to lose weight, but it’s actually the other way around.
There are three factors that contribute to metabolism: exercise, non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis, and your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs to burn to properly perform bodily functions. It holds the biggest role in your metabolism, accounting for about 70 percent!
Therefore, boosting your metabolism doesn't require intense workouts. It simply means increasing the number of calories you burn daily.
This may not sound new but really, one of the best ways to boost your BMR is by eating a well-balanced diet that contains protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates!
Certain complex carbs help you sleep better
Certain foods that contain carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, bananas, and pumpkin are rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps promote sleep.
Additionally, oatmeal helps in the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in sleep.
So, if you’re trying to doze off easily, you can snack on some carb-rich foods before bed to help you fall asleep faster and sleep better through the night.
Complex carbs keep you feeling full for longer
Whole food sources of carbs are high in fiber too, and fiber doesn’t simply help in regulating your digestion, it also keeps you full for longer.
The daily recommended amount of fiber is only 25 to 30 grams. But, many plant-based meals offer so much more, keeping you fuller and more satiated for longer.
Aside from helping you feel full, fiber also weakens your blood sugar and allows your glycemic levels to remain at a steady level. As a result, you don’t feel hungry quickly.
If you want a super-filling meal, look for foods that contain 10 to 15 grams of fiber. Refrain from eating foods that have less than five grams of fiber to keep you more satisfied.
Complex carbs help improve your mood and brain function
Your body also needs carbohydrates to optimize brain function. Carb-rich foods like oats, beans, nuts, quinoa, legumes, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are rich in carbs that help improve your focus and mood.
Taking carbs off your diet may leave you feeling light or foggy-headed, weaken your concentration or make you feel depressed. Without carbohydrates, you also risk having a poor memory.
So, load up on complex carbs because your brain needs them, too!
Complex carbs help reduce anxiety and nervousness
Complex carbohydrates can also help reduce your anxiety and nervousness. This explains why you feel better after eating a delicious bowl of oatmeal with fruits or even a piece of banana!
Complex carbs supply your body with what it needs all the way down to your nervous system.
Whole food sources rich in complex carbs also help in the production of enzymatic reactions and promote balance in every possible way.
How Can You Add Complex Carbs to Your Diet?
Now that you know what complex carbs are good for, it’s time to include them in your diet! But how? Below are some tips on how you can add complex carbs to your diet.
Begin your day with some whole grains
Since carbs supply you with the energy that you need for the entire day, it’s essential to begin your day with some of it! Think old-fashioned oatmeal or a bowl of hot cereal.
Just make sure you’ll pick a cereal that contains at least four grams of fiber and less sugar.
Choose whole-wheat or whole-grain bread
If you can’t skip bread in your diet, make sure it’s whole-wheat or whole-grain. Look at the product label to know what the bread is made of.
Eat whole fruits
Fruit juices are good, but eating the whole fruit is so much better. You’ll get twice as much fiber and half as much sugar from eating a whole fruit than drinking a 12-ounce glass of its juice.
Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not bad for your health. You just need to find the right carbs to take. Now that you know simple carbs vs complex carbs, it’s time to rethink your food choices.
And while you can consume both, it’s best to consume simple carbs (especially those that are found in processed foods) moderately; occasionally if possible.
It’s also best if you load up on foods rich in complex carbs since they contain more nutrients and vitamins. You can search for complex carbohydrates list to know which foods have complex carbs.