Examples of Simple and Complex Carbohydrates




Many health experts recommend cutting down or eliminating sugar and other simple carbohydrates, and increasing the servings of complex carbohydrates in the diet.

Carbohydrates are necessary to your health, because every cell in your body uses them for energy. In fact, your brain can only use carbohydrates for energy.

Unfortunately, over-consumption of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other highly refined carbohydrates has been associated with a higher incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even breast cancer. And eating refined carbs can, over time, result in almost uncontrollable sugar cravings.

According to the World Health Organization, sugars and other simple carbohydrates are a leading factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic.

With the popularity of low-carb diets, many people are afraid to eat any carbohydrates, but it is important to distinguish between the health-robbing effects of simple sugars and other carbs, and the health-giving properties of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are high-fiber foods, which improve your digestion. They help stabilize the blood sugar, keep your energy at an even level, and help you feel satisfied longer after your meal.

In contrast, sugar and other simple carbohydrates can alter your mood, lead to cravings and compulsive eating, cause wide swings in your blood-sugar levels, and cause weight gain in most people. In addition, a high consumption of sugar can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you finally decide to improve your diet and forgo the sweets.

Examples: simple and complex carbohydrates

Some examples of healthy foods containing complex carbohydrates:

Spinach Whole Barley Grapefruit
Turnip Greens Buckwheat Apples
Lettuce Buckwheat bread Prunes
Water Cress Oat bran bread Apricots, Dried
Zucchini Oatmeal Pears
Asparagus Oat bran cereal Plums
Artichokes Museli Strawberries
Okra Wild rice Oranges
Cabbage Brown rice Yams
Celery Multi-grain bread Carrots
Cucumbers Pinto beans Potatoes
Dill Pickles Yogurt, low fat Soybeans
Radishes Skim milk Lentils
Broccoli Navy beans Garbanzo beans
Brussels Sprouts Cauliflower Kidney beans
Eggplant Soy milk Lentils
Onions Whole meal spelt bread Split peas

Some examples of foods containing simple carbohydrates:

Simple carbohydrates are more refined, are usually found in foods with fewer nutrients, and tend to be less satisfying and more fattening.

Table sugar
Corn syrup
Fruit juice
Candy
Cake
Bread made with white flour
Pasta made with white flour
Soda pop, such as Coke®, Pepsi®, Mountain Dew®, etc.
Candy
All baked goods made with white flour
Most packaged cereals

If you are trying to eliminate simple sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, but you don’t want to refer to a list all the time, here are some suggestions:

Read the labels. If the label lists sugar, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, white or “wheat” flour, they contain simple carbohydrates. If these ingredients are at the top of the list, they may contain mostly simple carbohydrates, and little else. They should be avoided.

Look for foods that have not been highly processed or refined. Choose a piece of fruit instead of fruit juice, which is very high in naturally occurring simple sugars. Choose whole grain breads instead of white bread. Choose whole grain oatmeal instead of packaged cold cereals.

The closer you get to nature, the closer you get to health.

Simple carbohydrates, like sugar and corn syrup, are created in a factory – while complex carbohydrates in vegetables and whole grains are designed by nature, and help you maintain your health.

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99 thoughts on “Examples of Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

    • Sugar would be a simple carb, while whole wheat or squash would be complex. Although there are a number of different ways that people define carbs, and this is only one of them.

  1. Please can you advise me which food groups e.g complex / simple carbs these foods/drinks fall in to…

    Marmite
    Wine
    Greneche
    Baileys
    Sweetner
    Crisps
    Pot Noodle
    Custard
    Oat biscuits
    Dumplings made with suet

    • The easiest way to do this is to look on the label. If it contains sugar, sucrose, fructose or corn syrup, consider it a simple carb. If it’s whole food, just as it came from the ground or the tree, it’s complex. Does that help?

  2. This article is rubbish, no offense, but you said “your brain can only use carbs for energy”. WRONG! Your brain can also use FATS!

  3. Maybe it was a bit harsh saying it’s rubbish but your info is wrong. “In fact, your brain can only use carbohydrates for energy.” – look up Ketosis.

    • Yes, of course you’re right. For those who aren’t familiar with no-carb diets or fasting, Ketosis is a process that is used by the body to keep the brain and other body cells alive in the absence of glucose. In the technical language on Wikipedia, “During prolonged fasting or starvation, acetyl-CoA in the liver is used to produce ketone bodies instead, leading to a state of ketosis.”

      Diets that lead to ketosis are not really a subject for this blog, but if readers are interested, this might be a good place to start.

  4. Wheat flour IS better for you than WHITE flour. IE: Wheat bread over white bread. However, wheat flour is still considered a sugar due to the way the body metabolizes it. I eat Ezekiel bread which is made from grains. Another name for it is “protein bread”. It contains 9/18 amino acids and is considered a protein equivilant to the Omega 3 egg. I am addicted to it. I toast it and dip it in a little olive oil. Yum!

    • Lorynn, do you bake your own bread? I’d like to try making some Ezekiel bread (your comment “sold” me on the idea – it sounds great.) I found a recipe online. The recipe include some spelt flour (which won’t be easy to find in my small town) and quite a lot of honey. Is this similar to the bread you recommend?

      • Wait – I just read a bit more, and some sites say that Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted grains, but the recipe I linked to in my first comment is just whole grains turned into flour with a home grain mill. That would be healthier than most store-bought bread, but now I’m confused. Can you tell me exactly what Ezekiel bread is, in your opinion?

    • Lorynn,
      WHOLE wheat flour is better than white flour. Both are made from wheat. I often find that breads that are labelled as “multi-grain” (rather than whole grain)will list “wheat flour” as one of the first ingredient. This is white flour. Whole wheat flour is listed as whole wheat flour — 5 letters, big difference.

  5. I was recently told by my doctor to lose weight and lower my blood sugar. He gave me a diet plan booklet that says no more than 195 grams of carbs per day. I have found out that EVERYTHING seems high in carbs. Fruits, vegetables, and even the nuts that are recommended as ‘good fats’. Help! How do I balance this????

    everything

    • Did your doctor give you a reason why he chose to put you on a low-carb diet? There are some very popular books on the market that give recipes and menus for low-carb diets, and many people swear by them. However, they do require some effort to get used to them. It might be easier for you to make the effort if you find out exactly why the doctor prescribed this diet.

      Good luck with it.

  6. I am 59 years old. Four years ago after having diabeties, shots and pills and weighting 220 lbs, I had the gastric bypass. I weigh 104 pounds, no shots or pills for 4 years. I feel so much better and feel like I have added more quality years to my life. I have had a few gastric problems but nothing that I can not fix with my diet. You learn what to eat and what not to eat. My problem is that I can not eat rice or noodles of any kind. So I am eating mashed potatoes with cheese or baked potatoes. Is this a bad thing?
    thank you
    Ginger

  7. I recently was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I was lost about what to eat until I talked to a nuetritionist. She told me something even my doctor neglected to say. Pre diabetics can reverse the condition and never be diabetic if they take care then. If you dont you will become diabetic and once you are there you can control it and treat it but you will always have it. I was a pre diabetic and didnt understand this or how to cut back. I watched carbs and didnt know what was acceptible per meal. Now I know even though it is too late for me. 15 -20 grams is 1 serving. If that gets confusing stick to 15g is 1 serving. For breakfast I can have 3 servings or 45 g. For lunch 4 servings and dinner 4 servings. with a fist size piece of meat or a serving of protien…a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter. For snack I get 1 serving protien and 1 serving carb. I eat 1500-1600 calories a day and forget trying to balance all the different information that comes at me. Salads while they have carbs dont have enough to really count so I can have as much as I want while watching not too much dressings. In 1 month I have lost 27 pounds. I have a variety of health issues which makes exercise not possible for me. But for a diabetic exercise can also lower sugar levels in the blood.

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