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

  1. Wonderful article, Jonni!
    One question perhaps you can help me with. I read somewhere that wine, especially red, does not turn to fat. Is it true or its a myth? Thank you ahead of time.

    • I don’t have the answer to that, I’m afraid. There are several positive reasons to drink red wine, but part of Dr. Lustig’s lecture was all about how sugar turns to fat because it’s metabolized the same way as alcohol. I think the definitive answer would have to come from a scientist who specializes in metabolism. Does anyone know how to find the answer?

  2. Can anyone tell me why is the word wheat in quotations under the Read the labels tab? I understand that we should stay away from white flour but I thought that we are supposed to eat wheat flour instead of white. Also, what are some ways that I could naturally increase my metabolism?
    Thank you

    Read the labels. If the label lists sugar, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, white or “wheat” flour, they contain simple carbohydrates.

    • I think that some labels use the term “wheat” to give the impression that their product is made from whole wheat, when it’s not. White flour is made from wheat, but all the nutrients have been removed. Whole wheat is much better.

  3. Hi my name is Esther I am 23 5ft 3 and weigh 60’kg I don’t know what that is in pounds I avoid most simple carbs and haven’t had a soda in 6 months, I make smooties to avoid cravings is it healthy to weight that much beccause I am not losing any weight.

  4. This article is right in spirit but wrong in facts. Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex by the number of sugars in their molecules. Fruits are simple carbohydrates–not complex. They contain fructose, which is a monosaccharide, meaning it only has one sugar in its molecule. Complex carbs are composed bonds of three or more sugars. These type of carbs are called starches. White rice and white bread are complex carbohydrates and they increase the blood glucose levels much faster than any fruit, which is a simple carb. People are just repeating false information by mistake because it is everywhere.

  5. My mother (who is in her late 80’s) was told by a doctor 4 or 5 years ago to go on the South Beach Diet to help her heart. She had great results, so I tried it ,too. I love it! It is not low-carb, but there are “phases” that restrict foods in order to wean you off sugars and simple carbs that spike blood sugar. It does reference the glycemic index, but goes further because it is heart-health conscious. By the time you are in phase 3 you can choose to eat almost anything because you have learned how to compensate. Truthfully, I have found there a lot of thingsI don’t want to eat any more- sugar and empty carbs are just not satisfying. I rarely eat pasta, either. I have my spaghetti sauce with broccoli. The only thing I cannot wrap my tastebuds around is low-fat cheese…YUCK! Like eating erasers! But, even with regular cheese, I find I am able to keep my weight at a nice consistent number. My cholesterol is fabulous and I I have lots of energy. My skin was never great and i have suffered with adult acne, but this way of eating has made a huge difference in the amount of breakouts I have too.

  6. I have had a yeast infection for sometime. My doctor cultured but didn’t isolate the specific type and determine proper medication. She prescribed fluconazole for 3 months. (One week a triple dose) This week a new doc tested and results will be in next week. In the mean time with a treatment of cream he suggested I eat a diet which will suppress the growth of yeast. There are so many diet suggestions out there. Some are opposites in content. Do you recommend a diet?
    Roxie

    • Hi Roxie. I’m not a doctor, but the best thing I can think of is to not eat things that yeast likes to eat. That would basically mean giving up sugar, anything sweetened with corn syrup, and white flour. People have told me that it helps. Good luck.

  7. I have been on a strict diet since I was five because of chronically low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). They had different names for it back then, but basically all I’ve eaten for the last 50 years is high protein, high complex carbs, low simple sugars, and as I’ve got older, low cholesterol, low sodium, and low or no fat foods. And I eat six small meals a day (a meal the equivalent of half a sandwich). It has kept me healthy and my metabolism singing since I was 5, with few adjustments. And as the author says, it’s not hard to do. Just become a label reader. You might be surprised at how many foods that are not sweet actually contain high fructose corn syrup, and sugar. I can think of spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, and many canned soups. I don’t buy things in cans, though. Much as it makes my budget cringe, I buy fresh fruits and vegetables all year, and make my own sauces. And there is a lovely brown rice pasta available in some health food stores that is much healthier than that white stuff, and you boil it for one minute and then take it off the heat, cover it, and leave it alone for 20, so it has the added benefit of being energy conserving, too!

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