Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, and although you can live without them, they benefit your body in many ways. They regulate protein, promote body tissue growth, enhance the immune system, lubricate joints, and control fat metabolism. Carbohydrates are also important because they provide vitamins and minerals needed for total physical health. However, carbohydrates can also make you fat, unless you eat the right ones.
There are two types of carbohydrates—simple and complex. The primary difference between the two is the length of time it takes to digest them. Simple carbohydrates digest quickly because they are processed and much of the work of digestion is already done for you. Complex carbohydrates are usually not processed and are natural foods. Complex carbohydrates also take longer to digest and are better for the body because they boost the body’s metabolism and help to keep blood sugar levels even.
Ideally, you want to get most of your carbohydrates from complex carbohydrates, rather than simple carbohydrates. The reason why is simple carbohydrates contain alot of sugar: Fructose (sugar from fruit and honey), galactose (sugar in dairy products), glucose (metabolized), and sucrose (primarily table sugar). Simple carbohydrates are primarily found in sweets, such as white breads, cookies, cakes, and ice cream. They are also found in fruit and to a lesser degree in vegetables. Processed foods are not good for you because they encourage obesity, raise blood sugar levels, and cause blood sugar spikes.
Complex carbohydrates are much better for you than simple carbohydrates. Normally, they have less sugar and more fiber. Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, and nuts. There are two types of complex carbohydrates: Foods high in starches and foods high in fiber. Starchy foods include such things as pasta, grains (rice, wheat, oats, barley, and rye), potatoes, and corn. Starchy foods do not turn into sugar as fast as simple carbohydrates, so they help you maintain a more even blood sugar level, but they do turn into sugar faster than high fiber foods.
Complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber can found in such thing as artichokes, broccoli, legumes, and the skin of fruits and vegetables. Pure 100% whole wheat is also high fiber, and when grains remain whole, even though they’re starchy, they burn more slowly and keep blood glucose levels lower. (To learn more about fiber, read Fiber is more Than a Hill of Beans.) Fiber foods also help the intestines and are necessary for good colon health.
As a comparison, here’s a list of processed carbohydrates. Notice how much fiber, sugar, calories, and fat are these items. Compare those totals against the second chart which provides information for complex carbohydrates.
Simple Carbohydrates (Processed Foods)
|Apricots, canned in heavy syrup, 1 cup||6g||41g||182||2g|
|Campbell Chunky Chicken Corn Chowder
Soup, 1 cup
|Dark Chocolate Bar, 1.45 ounce||3g||19g||218||13g|
|Jamba Juice Bright Eye Blueberry
|McDonald’s Bake Apple Pie, 2.7 ounce||2g||13g||249||12g|
|Orange Sherbet Ice Cream, 1/2 cup||1g||18g||107||1g|
|Potato Chips, Lays, 1.5 ounces, barbecue||2g||3g||230||15g|
|Ritz Crackers, 1 ounce||1g||2g||138||6g|
|Starbucks, Mocha Frappuccino,
no whipped cream
|Table Sugar, 1 Tablespoon||0g||12g||45||2g|
|Wendy’s Frost Dairy Dessert, Small||7g||*||300||6g|
|White Bread, 1 slice||1g||1g||66||1g|
Complex Carbohydrates (Primarily Unprocessed Foods)
|Apricot, 1 cup diced, fresh||3g||14g||74||1g|
|Artichoke, 1 medium, fresh||10||1g||120||0g|
|Banana, 1 small||3g||12g||90||0g|
|Broccoli, 1 large stalk, steamed||9g||4g||98||1g|
|Carrot, 1/2 cup sliced, boiled||2g||3g||27||0g|
|Corn, 1 ear small, sweet, white, boiled
|Lentils, 1 cup, cooked||16g||4g||226||1g|
|Oatmeal, instant, fortified||4g||1g||159||3g|
|Plum, 1 fruit||1g||7g||30||0g|
|Rice, brown long grain, cooked
w/salt, 1 cup
|Vegetable mix (corn, lima beans, peas,
green beans, carrots) 1 cup, canned
|Wonder Bread, 100% whole grain,
Comparing the two charts, you can see the complex carbohydrates are usually higher in fiber and lower in sugar, fat, and calories than the simple or processed carbohydrates. That’s important because 50 to 60 percent of your daily diet needs to come from carbohydrates. If you choose good carbohydrates low in fat and high fiber, they’ll automatically have less calories and help you stave off hunger, which means you’ll be less likely to gain weight. Additionally, because complex carbohydrates are low in sugar, you will also be less likely to have blood sugar spikes.
All of these things encourage optimal body performance, and when the body is operating at peak efficiency, it automatically burns more fat. If your body burns more fat and you consume less calories, it means you have a greater chance of not being obese, and when you’re not obese, you also are less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and so forth, which means you’re more likely to achieve the total health you seek.