The Skinny on Carbohydrates: Simple vs. Complex

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients in our diet and contain the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and dairy products. As one of the primary food groups, carbohydrates are essential to a healthy life as they provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. For many, the word “carbohydrate” is often associated with weight gain. But not all carbs are created equal.

Carbohydrates are divided into two categories: simple or complex. Scientifically, the difference between the two forms is the chemical structure and how quickly the sugar is absorbed and digested through the body. Simple carbs, which contain one or two sugars, are digested and absorbed more rapidly than complex carbohydrates, which include three or more sugars. Simple, or “bad” carbs, are high in calories, contain refined sugars such as corn syrup, white sugar, white flour, honey, and fruit juices, and are low in fiber and many nutrients. Examples include soda, baked goods, and some cereals.

Complex or “good” carbs are lower in calories, high in nutrients, and do not contain refined sugars or refined grains. They are also a good source of fiber, low in sodium, and low in saturated fat. Examples include fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

Both forms of carbohydrates function as comparatively quick energy sources, but simple carbs trigger bursts of energy faster than complex carbs because of the rapid rate they are digested and absorbed. Simple carbs can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and sugar highs, while complex carbs provide prolonged energy. Simple carbs may be beneficial for endurance athletes who need a boost for performance.

Including complex carbohydrates as part of your diet will promote weight loss because the fiber remains in the stomach longer and keeps your digestive system in good working order. Studies have shown that consuming complex carbs such as oats, beans, quinoa, and other whole grains help reduce your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and improves the “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

Below are examples of complex carbohydrates that promote weight loss:

  • Oatmeal, bananas, and potatoes contain resistant starch, which is a type of dietary fiber that helps you feel full. It also enables you to eat less while providing energy and a boost to your metabolism.
  • Quinoa is a good source of protein and fiber and can be mixed with chopped vegetables for a complete meal.
  • Barley and brown rice are high-fiber foods that are also a good source of potassium.
  • Many fruits contain fiber, but pears contain more fiber than an apple.
  • Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils, are high in fiber and protein, and low in fat. They also are a natural appetite suppressant as they promote a feeling of fullness after a meal.
  • Whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bread (in moderation) contain many health benefits. According to Harvard researchers, eating 100%, whole grain foods help shield you from heart disease.

Quote of the week:

If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way think about it. ~ Mary Engelbreit

Recipe of the Week: Cauliflower Parmesan


1 large head cauliflower, stem trimmed and cut vertically into 1” planks

3 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and Pepper

1 ½ cups marinara sauce

¼ cup grated Parmesan, divided

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh basil or dried Italian seasoning

Crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425°. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet and brush both sides with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast, flipping once, until cauliflower is tender and golden, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and top each piece of cauliflower with marinara sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Switch oven to broil and broil cauliflower until cheese is bubbly and golden in spots, about 3 minutes. Serve with remaining Parmesan, basil leaves (or Italian seasoning), and red pepper flakes. Serves 4.

Cauliflower Parmesan

Published by

Leslie Ouellette

Listening and learning about nutrition, exercise, and health-related issues has been a life-long passion turned into action. I am most passionate about my family, friends, and good health. I am a business professional with over 30 years of expertise in marketing, market research, communications, writing, and editing. @balancedhealthblog

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