Friday, June 24, 2016

Complex Carbohydrates vs. Simple Carbs: Understanding the Difference May Help You Lose Weight and Better Your Health

A lot of people ask me about carbohydrates or carbs or I hear a lot of people having confusion about carbs and how they work.

First of all you have to know the difference when people are talking about carbs.  Are they talking about simple or complex?  Please note the following blog post is about carbs and not other foods like meat and eggs (protein sources) which usually do not have any carbs.

According to Wikipedia  "In food science and in many informal contexts, the term carbohydrate often means any food that is particularly rich in the complex carbohydrate starch (such as cereals, bread and pasta) or simple carbohydrates, such as sugar (found in candy, jams, and desserts)."

Typically if it's sweet/sugar, then it may be a carbohydrate food.  Now there are some foods that you can easily taste the sweetness and know right away that this is a carbohydrate food like honey, sweet peas, corn, sweet potatoes, etc.  But there are other foods that you can't taste the sweetness but still have sugar like zucchini or cabbage.  This is why carbohydrates can be confusing.

For instance, I have on many occasions asked people about their sugar intake and they will say..."Oh I don't eat a lot of sugar, I rarely eat junk food."  But later in our discussion I find that they eat lots of enriched pasta, white bread, rice, etc.  These foods also fit in the the carbohydrate/sweet category.


Complex carbs you can think of them as complicated, meaning they are foods that are more complicated in their makeup.  Generally they have fiber and other nutrients as well and they take longer to digest because of their complexity.  This is a good thing!  These foods keep you full longer and will lessen your need or desire to eat more.  Carbs in general are satisfying and are a considered brain food.  Therefore eliminating carbs altogether is not a good idea.  I sometimes say carbs are like getting a hug on the  Also another very important thing to note is complex carbs generally DO NOT cause your blood sugar to spike as much as simple carbs.

Simple carbs are different, they are generally void of fiber and are basic or simple in their makeup. When you ingest these foods, and if  you do not use them as fuel right away, they immediately get stored as fat because they process through the body very quickly.  These foods are not a good idea...typically if you do not plan to burn them off, these are the foods you should try to avoid.


Complex carbs as food examples can be brown rice, oatmeal,  starchy vegetables like sweet and white potatoes, whole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables, the skins of most fruits,  etc.

A list of complex carbs can be found here:

Simple carbs as food examples can be ENRICHED pasta, white rice, sugary foods like sugary cereals and things we typically call junk food like chips and cookies.    These foods cause your sugar levels to spike.  These foods are just that, too simple.  They are not challenging for the body's digestion and immediately turn to fat because let's face it, most people are not using donuts are a pre-workout snack.  So these foods should not be in your diet or they should limited!  You can find a way to still eat sweets but try to do it in a more creative way.  For instance, try eating warmed apples slices topped with cinnamon and sprinkled with crushed up nuts.  This would be much better than a donut.

Here is another area that can cause confusion and give carbs, even complex carbs a bad reputation. Just because a food is considered a complex carb you still have to consider other factors about that food.  For instance, bananas and sweet potatoes are good examples.  This foods are complex. Bananas, for instance, have fiber and are a great source of potassium but they are also extremely high in sugar and have a higher carb count.  So although, bananas are healthy you may want to be mindful how many/much you consume.  When I was heavier, bananas were my go to desert, but as I get closer to my goal weight I've found that I have to limit my intake.  So if you ask me are bananas bad to eat?  Then my answer is, it depends.  If you are trying to lose weight, are diabetic, etc.  Then you may want to limit.  You probably do not want to consume more than 1 small banana per day (earlier in the day).  If you are a bodybuilder, you may avoid them altogether.  Remember, carbs keep your body from turning your stored fat into energy.  Lastly, and this is very important, especially if you are diabetic, you may need to consider looking into a carbs glycemic index (GI).  Glycemic index and load are numbers that indicates how much a food will spike your blood sugar.  Spiked blood sugar is not good for anyone, but especially dangerous for diabetics.  Check out the following link to see a list of foods with their GI listings.  This should help you rank your complex carbs, so you know which ones have lower number of carbs and therefore which ones are better for you to consume more of. This website linked here is a small list, to see your exact food search

When you are trying to lose weight you want to make sure you do not consume too many.  This can be especially hard to do if you eat a vegan/vegetarian diet.  So if you choose to follow this type of diet make sure you are not getting a lot of calories from simple carbs.

This has become my personal preference.  I eat carbs at every meal, but I eat foods that are higher in carbs like rice, quinoa, beans, etc. earlier in the day.  I generally eat my leafy green vegetable carbs in the evening.  The reason I do this is it allows me to have most of the day to digest those higher sugar carbs and burn them off.  Someone who is a athlete or who plans on doing an marathon soon may chose to do the opposite. They may "carb load" a few days before their event.  "Carb Loading" is when you eat a large amount of carbs so that you can utilize them for an upcoming physical activity. There are times when you need an abundant amount of fuel and a marathon is a great example. Carbs, in this case are ideal because it doesn't take the body quite as long to turn carbs into fuel as it does stored fat.  If you do not fit in this category (running a marathon) and you want to lose weight then I suggest you do as I mentioned above, eating only the amount of carbs you need for the day. Base your intake on your activity level.

The reason you want to limit them with weight lose specifically is because carbs are a such a great fuel source your body will use/burn carbs first.  Carbs are easier for the body to turn into fuel, so if you take in a lot of carbs your body will not use your stored fat as fuel EVER.  So if you desire to lose weight you will never achieve weight lose because of your abundant carbohydrate intake.  So be mindful of your intake.

Limiting carbohydrate may not sound like much fun.  Simple carbs are basically our 'comfort foods' and you may feel like I don't want to have to give up my carbs.  Well if you become diabetic this is what the nutritionist will tell you, you will HAVE NO CHOICE but to limit your intake of these foods.  So why not do it now, on your own, while you have a choice.


Everyone is different because of gender, height, and weight so the amount of carbohydrate grams you need will vary.  One easy way to know if you are taking in too many carbs is weight lose.  If you are actively trying to lose weight and it is not happening for you, this is the first place you should look...ask yourself am I eating a lot of white bread, junk food, etc?  If you cut back and eat more vegetables you should see better results.  To know specially how much you need try using a calorie calculator app or website like MyfitnessPal and or

In conclusion, carbs may still be confusing to you, especially if you are just starting out.  If it is, try not to worry about carbs, protein, and fats yet but concentrate on EATING THE RAINBOW (especially your green vegetables) and limiting your junk food intake, increasing your water intake.  If you do this you will make progress.