Understanding Simple and Complex Carbs

In discussions about weight loss and well-being, a common thread is cutting carbohydrates from our diets. But it’s important to understand that not all carbs are created equal. Carbohydrates can either be simple or complex, and while too many simple carbs can derail your health goals, complex carbs are a key part of a healthy diet. Let’s explore the differences between these two families of carbs and how they affect your health.

What is a Carbohydrate? 

Before diving into simple vs. complex carbs, let’s take a moment to understand what a carb is. Carbs are one of three major macronutrients our bodies use for fuel, the other two being fats and proteins. Unlike fats and proteins, carbohydrates are sugar molecules that are metabolized quickly for more immediate energy. For this reason, carbs are very important for daily activity. All carbs have three main components: sugars, starches, and fibers. Sugars are broken down quickly and easily by the body, starches take longer to digest, and fiber cannot be digested at all. 

What are Simple Carbs? 

Simple carbs generally come from refined foods like white bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals. As their name suggests, simple carbs have short, basic chemical structures that the body quickly digests and turns into sugars for energy. That’s why sugary foods like candy can provide a quick “sugar rush” of energy. The issue is that many simple carbs break down into more sugar than you’ll burn during your day, so the body stores that extra sugar as fat, leading to weight gain. 

Another problem with simple carbs is that many of them don’t contain a lot of nutritional value, leading to “empty calories.” Simple carbs can present a huge challenge with weight loss goals because the high levels of sugar make them tasty and addictive. 

Examples of Simple Carbs

Some common simple carbs are white bread, white flour, pasta, candy, cereals, corn syrup, sodas, fruit juice concentrate, cookies, ice cream frozen potato products, and anything with lots of added sugar.  

What are Complex Carbs? 

Typically, complex carbs come from more natural, unrefined sources like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Unlike simple carbs, complex carbs are made of longer, more complicated chemical chains, and are higher in starch and fiber. The body will spend more time and energy to break down complex carbs, providing more sustained energy that you can better burn off. Your body cannot digest fiber, but fiber going through your system helps the good bacteria in your gut and promotes general health. 

Because complex carbs come from more wholesome sources, they’re also rich in nutrients such as iron, protein, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. Given their strong nutritional profile, eating complex carbs is a good way to help your body is get the vitamins and minerals it needs. 

Examples of Complex Carbs

Common complex carbs include whole potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds, whole wheat breads and pastas, and whole fruits and vegetables. 

Choosing the Right Carbs Depending on your diet, you may be cutting carbs in general. But if and when you do eat carbs, it’s critical to pick the right ones. Do your best to avoid simple carbs and processed foods while incorporating more complex carbs. When in doubt, look for the most natural, least refined carbs you can find. For example, eating a whole apple is much better for you than drinking a bottle of apple juice. Check out the menu meals.zerodoubtclub.com to see a variety of healthy, delicious complex carbs in action!

-Jared Kent, Chef Zero Doubt Club

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