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Simple vs Complex Carbs

Photo of simple and complex carbs, apples, fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc

There are three main macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. These make up the basic components of any healthy diet. Sadly, conflicting studies and general misinformation have led to carbs becoming one of the most misunderstood foods in the country. Where some eat too many carbohydrates, others leave carbohydrates out of their diet entirely.

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates comprise all the starches, sugars, and fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. They are designed to provide fuel for your muscles and the central nervous system in general. They support the metabolism of fats and prevent your body from breaking down muscle tissue for energy. Carbohydrates also have a direct influence on mental functions, supporting positive mood and memory.

When carbs are digested, they get broken down into glucose, fructose, and other smaller sugar units. These sugars enter the bloodstream through your small intestine, travel to the liver, and are all converted into glucose. Glucose is the main sugar in your body and the primary source of energy for all your basic bodily functions.

If you don’t immediately use the glucose for energy, you store about 2,000 calories of it in your liver and skeletal muscles in the form of glycogen. However, once those stores are full, your body begins to convert leftover carbs into body fat, which is where people get the idea to omit carbs from their diet entirely, but carbs and losing weight aren’t that simple.

Simple and Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates can be broken up into two different groups: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates general comprise what we know as sugars, while complex carbohydrates consist of starches and fiber.

The two types of carbs also differ in their molecular structures. Simple carbohydrates comprise just one or two sugars, like fructose, lactose, and sucrose. Single sugars are known as monosaccharides, while carbs with two sugars are called disaccharides. Complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides, meaning they contain three or more sugars.

The different molecular structures have a huge effect on how the carbs are digested. Simple carbs are much easier for the body to break down and absorb, leading to quicker bursts of energy, while complex carbs take longer to digest, allowing for a more sustained flow of energy over a longer period of time. Simple carbs also tend to cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, sugar highs, and eventual crashes.

Simple Carbs That You Should Avoid

Avoiding simple carbohydrates can be difficult, particularly for American diets where most simple carbs are added to foods in the form of sugars that are usually refined or processed. Most simple carbs contain no real vitamins, minerals, or nutritional value and basically comprise empty calories that only contribute to weight gain. However, some simple carbohydrates occur naturally and can potentially contribute to a balanced diet. Milk and other dairy products, for instance, contain the milk sugar known as lactose.

Generally, simple carbs that contain added sugars are the ones you should avoid. The main culprits of this include:

  • Soda and sugary drinks
  • Cookies and other baked treats
  • Most breakfast cereals
  • Fruit juice from concentrate

Complex Carbs You Should Eat

Complex carbs contain actual vitamins and nutrients that can support good health. They can better manage blood sugar spikes throughout the day, protect you against future cardiovascular problems, and help you maintain your weight. Fiber, one type of complex carbohydrate, helps to promote better digestive and intestinal health and can help you control cholesterol. Some of the most common sources of fiber include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains

Starches are the other type of complex carbohydrate. Most fibrous foods also contain starches, though there are plenty of foods high in starches, including:

  • Potatoes
  • Whole wheat breads
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Peas

Generally, the more complex the carb, the better for your health. Eat more grains, which are often rich in magnesium, selenium, and potassium, but make sure you go for less processed whole grains, like quinoa and buckwheat. Fiber-rich fruits, like berries, apples, and bananas, offer a wide range of vitamins and nutrients and can help to satisfy your sweet tooth, though make sure to avoid canned fruits, which usually contain added sugars and syrup. Beans are a great source of fiber, iron, folate, and potassium. As always, make sure you eat plenty of leafy greens, broccoli, and other veggies.

Why are Carbs Important?

Leaving carbs out of your diet in the long-term can lead to some serious health problems. To get enough energy without carbs, your body will likely turn to protein, meaning your muscle tissue. Aside from reducing your muscle mass and tone, using protein for fuel puts excess stress on the kidneys, which can cause painful byproduct to pass out of your body through your urine.

Carbs are also a great source of various nutrients. Whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables and whole grains all contain carbs along with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  High fiber complex carbs can also help to lower cholesterol, which supports better heart health.

Contrary to what you might think, eating the right carbs can actually support weight loss and help you maintain a healthy weight. That’s because most complex carbs contain fiber. Dietary fiber, which is conveniently found in low-calorie foods, helps you feel full for longer, preventing dips in blood sugar that can lead to cravings for unhealthy simple carbs. Look for fiber in whole grains and vegetables with skin.

You can find a variety of different diets that focus on carbs, like low-carb diets and carb cycling. While many people have benefited from these types of diets, remember that everyone gains and loses weight differently. Often, controlling your weight and maintaining good health come down to eating a balanced diet and working out regularly. Many people also find success by using workout and weight loss supplements. If you are considering adding supplements to your diet, MYOKEM™ offers a variety of supplements made from natural ingredients that can help you lose weight, gain greater muscle mass, and perform at your best.

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