Author: Troy Theodosiou
Carbohydrates are a major macronutrient and one of your body’s primary sources of energy.
Carbohydrates are made up of three components: fiber, starch, and sugar.
Carbohydrates are sugars that come in 2 main forms – simple and complex. This is also referred to as simple sugars and starches.
The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is how quickly they are digested and absorbed – as well as their chemical structure.
Most carbohydrates can be broken down by digestion into glucose and these are the carbohydrates we shall look at in this article.
Simple carbohydrates are called simple sugars. Sugars are found in a variety of natural food sources including fruit, vegetables and milk. They give food a sweet taste but they also raise blood glucose levels quickly.
Sugars can be categorised as single sugars (monosaccharides), which include glucose, fructose, and galactose, or double sugars (disaccharides), which include sucrose (table sugar), lactose and maltose.
Complex carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides, are starches formed by longer saccharide chains, which means they take longer to break down.
Chemically, they usually comprise of three or more linked sugars.
Strictly speaking, the term complex carbohydrate refers to any starches, including highly refined starches.
- Whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, whole-grain (rather than pearled) barley, bulgur (which is made from cracked wheat), and farro
- Grain-like foods such as quinoa (a seed) and buckwheat (a grass)
- Starchy vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn
- Non-starchy vegetables—everything from asparagus to zucchini
- Beans and legumes like lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas
Note that all of these foods are excellent sources of fiber. Fiber helps keep blood sugar levels from spiking too high, helps regulate cholesterol levels, and is important for intestinal health.
Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for the body. Complex carbohydrates provide a more lasting source of energy than simple carbohydrates because they take longer to digest.
However, this does not mean that all complex carbohydrates are healthier choices. Simple carbohydrates are present in many healthful foods, such as fruits and milk. Complex carbohydrates may also be a constituent of refined foods, such as white bread or white rice.
For these reasons, it is essential to consider the whole food rather than just the type of carbohydrate it contains.