Carbohydrates: Complex Carbs vs Simple Carbs

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Carbohydrates: Complex Carbs vs Simple Carbs

Carbohydrates are the main source of calories in a healthy diet and are the primary fuel for the brain and muscles. Typically, about three-fourths of daily calories should come from carbohydrates. It's also important to choose the best carbohydrate sources. That means two things:

  • Choose complex carbohydrates, rather than simple carbohydrates.
  • Choose carbohydrates that still have their fiber, like brown rice or brown bread, rather than white rice or white bread, from which the fiber has been stripped away.


Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates may be referred to as dietary starch and are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil. They are often rich in fiber, thus satisfying and health promoting. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and, therefore, are also often high in vitamins and minerals.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are sugars. All simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules. They are the quickest source of energy, as they are very rapidly digested.

Getting the Best Carb-Rich Foods

Choose whole, unprocessed foods from plant sources. Choosing whole fruit instead of juice, a whole-grain side dish instead of crackers, and fresh vegetables instead of potato chips will ensure you are getting complex carbohydrates, complete with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Remember also that all types of meat and eggs are essentially devoid of carbohydrates.

When buying packaged foods, check food labels for the word "whole" in front of the word "grain" and make sure that corn syrup or one of the other simple carbohydrates listed above doesn't appear among the first few ingredients on the list.

Carbs to Limit Smarter Carbs Best Choices
Instead of: Choose:
Or better yet choose:
Candy Dried fruit Whole fruit
Soda or punch Fruit juice Seltzer with a dash of juice
White bread Whole-wheat bread Seven-grain bread
Enriched pasta Whole-wheat pasta Cracked wheat pilaf
White Crackers Whole-grain cracker Vegetable sticks
Cotton Candy Caramel apple Apple
Chocolate chip cookie Oatmeal raisin cookie Strawberries
Sugary cereal Bran cereal Rolled oats