What is the difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates?
Simple carbohydrates are composed of 1 or 2 sugar units that are broken down and digested quickly, which can leave you feeling tired, hungry, and craving more sugar shortly after you’ve eaten. Recent research has shown that certain simple carbohydrate foods can cause extreme surges in blood sugar levels, which also increases insulin release. This can elevate appetite and the risk of excess fat storage.
Simple carbs are mainly added sugars, which have very little nutritional value. They are considered "empty" calories. Types of simple carbs are soda, many sweet breakfast cereals, candies, high fructose corn syrup, and more. Fruit is also considered a simple carb, but it is a naturally occurring sugar that is packed with many nutrients.
Complex carbohydrates (also referred to as starch) are made up of many sugar units and are found in both natural (brown rice) and refined (white rice) form. They are structurally more complex and take longer to be broken down and digested, which allows you to feel full longer and gives you lasting energy. Complex carbohydrate foods have been shown to enter the blood stream gradually and trigger only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which stabilizes appetite and results in fewer carbohydrates that are stored as fat.
Choosing the right foods isn't always as simple as choosing complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Case in point: White bread is highly processed but is a complex carbohydrate and many fruits, which are wholesome and natural, are simple carbohydrates. And certain foods that contain complex carbohydrates, like white potatoes, quickly raise blood sugar levels, while some foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as whole fruit, raise blood sugar levels more slowly.
So what should you choose? Instead of labeling carbohydrates as simple or complex, look at how whole or processed the food actually is. Unrefined or whole-grain carbohydrates found in products like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and bran cereals are digested slowly and contain vitamins, minerals and fiber which promote health. Fiber and nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits and beans, which also contain carbohydrates, also make excellent choices for health and weight loss. Try to limit your intake of highly processed, sweetened and sugary foods and choose the most wholesome and natural foods possible for your health and weight-loss goals.
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