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Difference Between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Difference Between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is a must if you want to follow a healthy diet.
Abhijit Naik
If carbohydrates have come under the scanner for weight gain, it is more because of wrong choices that people make when choosing carb-rich foods. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex, which differ from each other in terms of their chemical structure. While simple carbohydrates are absorbed by our body with ease, complex carbohydrates take longer. Interestingly, carbs which are not used for energy production are eventually stored in the body in the form of fats, which, in turn, results in weight gain.

Why Do We Need Carbohydrates?

The low carb diet fad has left people utterly confused, with no idea whatsoever on whether they should be including foods high in carbohydrates in their daily diet or not, and if yes, what should be the ideal amount. There is no doubt about the fact that carbs have a crucial role to play when it comes to our overall health. Basically, carbohydrates constitute one of the three macro-nutrients we require; the other two being protein and fats. They provide bulk of energy that is required by our body. Besides this, carbs also play an important role in processing protein and fats.

The simple rule of thumb is that more physical work you do, more carbs you should be including in your diet. Ideally, carbs should make up 50 - 60 percent of your daily diet. Along with the right amount, it is also important to get the right kind of carbohydrates. This is where the two different types of carbohydrates, simple and complex come into the picture.

Simple Vs. Complex Carbohydrates

As we mentioned earlier, the basic difference between these two is their chemical structure. It is this very difference that determines how quickly they will be digested and absorbed by our body. While simple carbohydrates are made of one or two sugars, complex carbohydrates are made of three or more sugars. Examples of carbs with single unit of sugar are glucose, galactose, etc., while examples of carbs with two units of sugars are sucrose, lactose, etc. Simple carbs with one sugar unit are referred to as monosaccharides, while the same with two units are referred to as disaccharides. Similarly, complex carbohydrates are referred to as polysaccharides and oligosaccharides. The list of foods with simple carbohydrates include table sugar, corn sugar, honey, dairy products, etc., while the list of foods with complex carbohydrates includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.

While simple carbs are digested and absorbed by our body with ease, complex carbs stay in the blood stream for longer because of their complex chemical structure, which takes time to break down. It is very difficult to generalize that a particular type is better than the other. Though recent studies have revealed that foods with complex carbs are better owing to the fact that they come with other nutrients, such as dietary fibers, which are important for our body. The speed at which either of these two types of carbs are processed also depends on which other nutrients are consumed with them. Experts are of the opinion that fruits and low-fat dairy products, even though they are simple carbs, are permissible because of their fiber and calcium content, but it's wise to stay away from other such foods.

At the end of the day, complex carbohydrates have a slight upper hand, as their slow absorption results in favorable effects on the blood sugar levels and keeps insulin levels in the body stable. Simple carbs, on the other hand, are known to trigger sudden fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which is considered harmful. One also has to take into consideration the fact that simple carbs are known to facilitate short bursts of energy, while complex carbs are known to facilitate steady, long-lasting bouts of energy.