Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) that the body uses for energy. A pervasive diet myth is that carbohydrates cause weight gain. The truth is that excessive calories cause weight gain. Carbs have much less to do with unwanted weight than your overall calorie intake. Eliminating all carbs from your diet is a horrible idea and will lead to an unhealthy lifestyle.
All carbohydrates are made up of varying amounts of sugar molecules. The number of sugar molecules linked together determines how the carbohydrate acts inside the body. The more sugar molecules are linked together, the bigger and more ‘complex’ a carbohydrate is.
Because complex carbs are made up of hundreds or even thousands of sugar molecules, the body takes a lot longer to digest and absorb them. While simple carbs are digested and absorbed very quickly, complex carbs take a lot longer to travel through the digestive system. Complex carbs are healthier because of their slow digestion time.
Benefits of Complex Carbs
Slow digestion helps to better regulate blood sugar levels, hunger and calorie intake. Because simple carbs are digested so quickly, they lead to a quick spike in blood sugar levels. This spike causes a short term increase in energy but quickly leads to a crash leaving you tired and lethargic. Simple carbs move through the digestive system so quickly that they don’t keep you full for a very long time. This increases your hunger and leads to cravings. Cravings are never for healthy foods. Instead, they cause you to binge on unhealthy junk increasing your calorie intake while doing nothing to improve your overall health.
Complex carbs are digested a lot slower. They don’t give you a huge spike of energy that leads to a crash. Complex carbs give you a slow and steady release of energy which keeps blood sugar levels stable and decreases hunger. A 300 calorie snack of complex carbs will keep you full for a lot longer than a 300 calorie snack of simple carbs. This will lead to a lower calorie intake throughout the day helping with weight loss.
Sources of Complex Carbs
Foods high in complex carbs are a lot higher in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber than other foods. Complex carbs are found in unprocessed foods such as: products made with 100% whole wheat flour (bread/pasta/tortillas), brown rice, vegetables, beans, oatmeal, granola and legumes. These foods are nutrient dense rather than energy dense.
Low Carb Diets/Losing Weight
Low carb diets have become popular in part because they work. The success is wrongly attributed to avoiding carbs rather than a reduced calorie intake. All diets work on the same principle: if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. It doesn’t matter if you cut carbs, fats or proteins. Low carb diets that don’t distinguish between good (complex) and bad (simple) carbs are not healthy. They rob you of important nutrients and foods that can improve your overall health.
The Bottom Line
Carbohydrates are not the enemy. They are your body’s main source of energy. Certain types of carbs can even improve your overall health. Complex carbs can help you feel full for longer periods of time which will help with weight loss and hunger control. They are found in foods that are high in essential nutrients. Complex carbs are an important part of a healthy and balanced diet.