I get asked a lot of questions relating to carbohydrates…. “Are carbs bad for me?”, “Should I cut carbs out of my diet?”, and “Will they make me fat?” Well, the truth is, it depends… It depends on the type of carbohydrate you are talking about. While carbohydrates is a broad term for a macronutrient, there are two main types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. The key to finding the carbs that are good for you, the carbs you should include in your diet and the ones less likely to result in weight gain is finding the right type of carbohydrates. So in this article, you’ll learn the difference between simple vs complex carbs and what you should include in your diet.
Firstly, a good understanding of simple vs complex carbs will help you differentiate which kinds of carbs you will want to incorporate in your diet. The first step is learning what makes up different types of carbs to help you understand the difference between them. In essence, carbohydrates are made up of three components: starch, fibre and sugar and are classified as simple (sugar) or complex (starch and fibre).
Simple carbs contain sugar, whilst complex carbs contain starch and fibre.
Put simply, simple carbohydrates are sugars. Although some of these sugars occur naturally in dairy products and fruit, the majority of simple carbs are added to foods as sweeteners. Common simple carbs that are added to foods include:
- raw sugar
- brown sugar
- corn syrup
- glucose, sucrose, fructose
- fruit juice concentrate
These simple carbs are commonly found as additives in soft drinks, baked goods (cakes, biscuits, slices), some breakfast cereals, non 100% fruit juices, milk and white chocolate, lollies/confectionary and sports drinks. Therefore, these foods should be limited and classed as “treat foods”. So eat them in moderation, and avoid if possible!
Complex carbs contain more nutrients than simple carbs. They are also higher in fibre which means are a good option for weight control. Foods high in fibre digest slower than foods low in fibre, and they make you feel fuller for longer. Furthermore, complex carbs are also ideal for people with type 2 diabetes because they help manage post-meal blood sugar spikes. The two types of complex carbs are fibre and starch.
It is especially important to incorporate enough fibre in your diet because it promotes bowel regularity and maintains healthy cholesterol levels. Also, as mentioned before they keep you feeling fuller for longer, digest slower and therefore help control your blood glucose levels.
Main sources of dietary fibre include:
- whole grains
Starch is also found in foods where fibre is present, the main difference is certain foods are more starchy than fibrous, such as potatoes. Other high starch foods include:
- whole wheat bread and pasta
To conclude, be sure to include the following complex carbohydrates in your daily diet:
- Grains: choose less processed whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and whole wheat.
- Fibre-Rich Fruits: apples, berries, bananas (avoid tinned fruit as they usually contain added syrup).
- Fibre-Rich Vegetables: eat more of all veggies, especially broccoli, dark green leafy veg and carrots.
- Beans: a bonus as they are also high in protein!
Simple vs complex carbs.
As you can see, carbohydrates can either be a good addition to your diet or a not so good one. Therefore it is really up to you and the choices you make. As part of a healthy balanced diet (containing protein, good fats as well as carbohydrates), complex carbs are key to long-term health. They are not something scary that need to be avoided at all costs. Further, simple carbs are okay to eat in moderation. So you should become familiar with food labels to understand the types of carbohydrates you are consuming. Finally, understanding the difference between simple vs complex carbs is the first step to making healthier eating choices.
At Rebalance Pilates & Yoga we regularly launch challenges and programs that incorporate specialised nutrition programs. So if you’d like to learn more or find out when the next dates are, please contact us to speak to one of our studio managers.
Written by Kelly Mortensen – Head Trainer – Rebalance Pilates and Yoga, Diploma in Sports Nutrition