Complex, Simple, and Refined Carbohydrates, Which should I be Eating?

Complex, Simple, and Refined Carbohydrates

A List of Foods You Should and Should Not Eat When You Want To Be Healthy!

A healthy diet is essential for managing your health and losing weight. And there are certain foods that you need to choose carefully, particularly carbohydrates. But, this can be a confusing task. We are told to avoid simple carbs and refined ones, and choose complex ones, but what does that all mean?

What Foods Contain Carbohydrates?

Foods that contain carbohydrates include starches such as grains and starchy vegetables, fruit, milk/yogurt, snack foods, and sweets.

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that affects blood sugars the most. They are important because carbohydrates play a role in providing the body with energy. They also add flavor, fiber, and texture to foods.

What Do Carbohydrates Do and Why Do You Need Them?

When eaten, carbohydrates are metabolized and broken down into sugar or glucose. Glucose is the body's primary source of fuel or energy, but when you have prediabetes or diabetes your body does not handle sugar properly. Instead of sugar being taken to the cells to use as fuel, it remains in the blood. Excess or high sugar in the blood can be very problematic and can leave to many disease states! To avoid elevated sugars, you should aim to eat a variety of good quality carbohydrates. In fact, the type of carbohydrates you choose can affect your mood, blood sugar, energy levels and health. Eating a healthy, balanced, high fiber, carbohydrate controlled diet can help to reduce blood sugars, lose weight and increase energy levels.

Excess carbohydrate intake can cause weight gain because glucose that is not used as energy or stored for later use in the muscle or liver is stored as fat in adipose tissue. Excess sugar in blood stream can also lead to cardiovascular damage and increased inflammation throughout the body and brain.

What Types of Carbohydrates Should You Eat and Avoid?

When choosing carbohydrates, it's best to choose complex carbohydrates that are rich in fiber and low in sugar.

Simply stated, complex carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules that are strung together in long, complex chains. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are turned to glucose (blood sugar) in the body and are used as energy. However complex carbs take longer to digest and are less likely to spike blood sugar levels- thus spiking insulin. Glucose is used in the cells of the body and in the brain. Any unused glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for use later. Simple carbohydrates are those foods that contain only one or two sugar molecules; they are referred to as monosaccharides and disaccharides. These simple carbs can be digested quickly and can adversely increase blood sugar levels. These foods include things like milk, fruit, juice, table sugar, and syrup. Some simple carbohydrates are healthy, such as fruit.  These foods contain protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which can boost nutrition and slow down how quickly blood sugars rise. Although they are healthy, they should be portion controlled. Other simple carbohydrates such as syrup, juice, soda, table sugar, etc. contain little fiber and no real nutritional value - which can cause blood sugar spikes, cravings, and weight gain. These types of foods should be avoided altogether or eaten very sparingly.

Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta, are starches undergone processing which removes the bran and germ of the grain, stripping them of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  These foods can also cause big blood sugar spikes and yield little to no nutritional value

So Where Do I Start?

Avoid These Types of Carbohydrates:

  • Beverages: Juice (even 100% fruit juice), soda, sweetened iced tea, lemonade, Gatorade, Vitamin water, sweetened coffee drinks, flavored milk
  • Starches: White breads: rolls, bagels, hero bread, Italian bread, multi-grain bread (this is not necessarily a whole grain), white pasta, white rice, muffins, croissants, scones, sweetened cereals
  • Snack foods: white crackers, chips, pretzels, sweetened dried fruit, yogurt covered snacks, cookies, cake, ice cream, candy bars, cereal bars
  • Condiments and added sugars: Syrup, sugar, brown sugar, sugar in the raw, honey, agave, molasses, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrates

Choose These Carbohydrates Instead:

  • Beverages with zero carbohydrates: water (add lemon or lime for added flavor), seltzer, unsweetened iced tea, herbal tea, coffee, kombucha tea
  • Dairy: whole milk, Greek yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, real hard cheese
  • Starches: Legumes (beans), any type, preferably dry, but if canned be sure to rinse, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, peas, corn, grains: 100% whole pseudo-grains are best choices (oatmeal, quinoa, barley, etc),
  • Eat your vegetables!!! (aim to make 60% of your plate as vegetables)
  • Snacks and other foods: nuts, small amount of fruit.

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