Difference Between Complex and Simple Carbs

The media says carbohydrates are bad. With all of these diet books telling you that carbs cause weight gain, you would think that getting rid of foods such as doughnuts, candy, bread, pasta, rice and fruits would help you lose weight. This is somewhat true but not because there is anything wrong with carbs. Carbs have calories and just like anything with calories, over eating will cause weight gain. Contrary to what some popular diets want you to think, not all carbs are the same and differentiating between the good and bad ones can have some real health benefits.

Simple vs. Complex

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. All carbohydrates are made out of sugar molecules and the difference between simple and complex carbs is the amount of sugar molecules that come together to form a carbohydrate. Simple carbs are made of just a few molecules while complex carbs can be made up of hundreds or even thousands of sugar molecules put together. The result is that simple carbs are digested and absorbed a lot quicker than complex carbs. Quicker digestion means you will be hungry sooner which will ultimately increase your daily caloric intake (bad for weight loss).


Fiber is a special type of complex carbohydrate that cannot be digested by humans. Fiber can also slow the digestion process down which can help reduce your caloric intake. Fiber can also lower cholesterol and prevent certain types of cancer. Foods high in complex carbs are also usually high in fiber. If you cut all carbs out of your diet, you will also dramatically reduce your fiber intake which is bad for your overall health.


Another advantage of eating foods high in complex carbs is that they are higher in nutrients than foods high in simple carbs. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These nutrients are responsible for many chemical reactions that take place in your body without which you would not survive.

Complex Carbohydrate Sources

The bottom line is that you want to focus on getting most of your carbs from complex sources. Foods high in complex carbs include (but are not limited to) 100% whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, vegetables, beans, peas, corn and traditional or old fashioned oatmeal.

Simple Carbohydrate Sources

Simple carbs aren’t always bad. During and immediately following a heavy workout, simple carbs can help your body begin the recovery process. Generally, you want to stay away from consuming too many simple carbs. Sources of these include (but are not limited to) soda, fruit juices, sweet tea, doughnuts, cookies, sweetened chocolate, most breakfast cereals and candy.

The Bottom Line

Carbs aren’t all bad. They are the body’s main source of fuel meaning that if you completely cut then out of your diet, your body won’t work as good. In addition to providing energy, foods that contain carbohydrates are also filled with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that will help your body function better and even prevent certain forms of cancer. Losing weight is about cutting calories, not carbs.

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