What do you know about simple and complex carbohydrates?

What do you know about simple and complex carbohydrates?

Generally, carbohydrates are of two types; simple and complex. The former is found in table sugar and syrups whereas the latter is present in foods like bread and pasta.

Complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of sugar molecules than simple carbohydrates. For this reason, they take longer to break down or digest and provide more lasting energy.

Thus, they are considered a more stable source of energy as compared to simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, are made up of shorter chains of molecules. They are quicker to digest as compared to complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates provide short-lasting energy, producing a spike in blood glucose. This preliminary spike in energy causes the so-called sugar rush followed by the consumption of certain simple carbohydrates, such as a chocolate bar or a sugary drink.

However, a review of studies, generated in 2019, found no evidence regarding carbohydrates producing immediate elevations in mood or activity levels.

The study included 1,259 participants for analysis and found a reduction in alertness and increase in fatigue after 30 to 60 minutes of sugar consumption.

Foods containing simple and complex carbohydrates

The main function of carbohydrates is to provide energy and complex carbohydrates do this more effectively. However, the type of food containing the carbohydrate is important as well.

Milk and whole fruits contain a variety of necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients along with carbohydrates. On the other hand, simple sugary drinks are of generally low nutritional value.

Some of the processed foods such as refined white flour also contain complex carbohydrates but they are generally without much nutrition. However, many other complex carbohydrates are in more nutritious foods like fiber.

There are many cases of foods, containing simple carbohydrates that are suitable for a healthful diet. Fruits and vegetables serve a good example in this case. They contain simple carbohydrates but are rich in micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals along with dietary fiber. Milk and milk products contain lactose. It is a type of simple carbohydrate. These foods are rich in protein, calcium, and vitamin D. However, they are deprived of dietary fiber.

Simple carbohydrates in processed foods or those with added sugar should be avoided. This is because adding sugar to food increases its calorie content, without providing any additional nutrition. Common examples of such foods are as follow,

  • Candy
  • Sugary drinks
  • Syrups
  • Table sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate

One should prefer whole fruits over fruit juices as they contain more dietary fiber and are of greater nutritional value.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates found in whole foods tend to be highly nutritious.

As mentioned above, whole-grain foods contain a layer of bran and germ providing fiber, vitamin B and E, phytochemicals, and healthy fats. Examples of whole grains include,

  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Oats
  • Wild rice

Refined grains are also complex carbohydrates. However, they don’t contain the bran and germ of the grain. They have a lower nutritional value and include,

  • White flour
  • Degermed cornmeal
  • White bread
  • White rice

Vegetables, legumes, and nuts are also examples of highly nutritious sources of complex carbohydrates.

Possible benefits

Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for the body. However, they offer a vast variety of other health benefits as well.

For example, they may also reduce the risk of several chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer. Moreover, they fuel your kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system.

Keeping in view the analysis, one is advised to make healthy choices of food and avoid unhealthy foods.


The author is a Medical Microbiologist and healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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