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The Battle of the Carbs: Simple vs. Complex, Which Is Better?

Carbohydrates are one of the important macronutrients needed and one of the body’s primary sources of energy.  Yet, carbs are found to be wrongly judged in most weight loss programs. While planning a rational, well balanced diet is ideal, the key is in choosing the right kind of carbs instead of completely avoiding them.

Hearing the mention of carbs as simple or complex might not be something that you hear for the first time. You must’ve heard it several times that it always better to have the complex variety instead of the simple one, especially when you are on a mission to lose weight. So how do you tell one form from another? Let’s find out ahead:

What are Carbs?

Carbohydrates are one of the major macronutrients that provide energy to the body, the other 2 being protein and fat.

Carbs are classified majorly as:

  • Sugars: Singular sugar molecules or short chains of sugar molecules, they are also rapidly absorbed by the body. Ex. Glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.
  • Starches: These are longer chains of carbohydrate that are slowly broken down in the digestive system.
  • Fiber: This can be further classified into soluble and insoluble fibers. These type of carbohydrates cannot be digested by the body.

The reason behind Carb-confusion:

The fact that not all carbs are equal, despite each gram of carb giving you 4 kcals, is part of the reason for the confusion surrounding carb intake.

Identifying carbohydrate mainly based on the generic classification as the good and the bad variety can be misleading. Since the different types of carbs are associated with different health effects, it only makes sense to understand them better than just identifying them as good or bad.

Rather, it is wiser and better to define carbs as:

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  • Complex carb: Carb-containing foods that are in their whole, unprocessed form. Foods that fall into this category are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and pulses.
  • Simple carb: Sugars and starches that are devoid of any fiber, nutrients and have been refined. Foods that fall into this category include table sugar, high fructose corn syrups, juices, maida products (refined wheat flour), and white rice.

The Nutritional Quotient:

Complex carbs are healthier as they are less or not processed at all and therefore contain a good amount of nutrients. This means, them being nutrient dense is in relation to the number of calories they provide. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses are foods that are high in nutrition content- high in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Whereas, simple carbs on the other hand contain “empty” calories as they are devoid of any nutrients as such (this is lost during the food processing course) and give higher calories.

Health benefits of complex carbs:

Complex carbs are less likely to cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels as they are broken down slowly and as a result, the release of glucose in blood stream is slower. This helps keep you full for longer while keeping your blood sugar levels steady. That is the main reason why a diabetic diet will have more of complex carbs as for its carbohydrate portion.

They help reduce the risk of metabolic diseases:

Consumption of complex carbs cuts down your risks of certain chronic diseases like heart ailments, obesity or diabetes.  As they are high in fiber content, antioxidants and micronutrients, together these play an important role in disease prevention.

Improved digestion:

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The soluble fiber from complex carbs helps grow and maintain the beneficial gut microbes. With the help of fiber in the gut, the bacteria are able to produce (SCFA) short chain fatty acids which are beneficial in keeping up the digestive health.

While Simple carbs can be damaging:

Simple carbohydrates like refined grain flours and added sugars can be worst choice for your body, especially if you are in the habit of consuming them more often. The most common health effects reported on frequent consumption of simple carbs:

  • Lead to overeating: as simple carbs break down pretty quickly and cause fluctuations in the blood glucose levels, this contributes to cravings, untimely hunger pangs and overeating.
  • Increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes: With lack of fiber leading to altered lipid levels in the body, ultimately shows its impact on heart health. And with several episodes of blood sugar spikes and crashes, the body’s cells ultimately become resistant to insulin which increases your risks of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • High chance of obesity:  With addiction to sugar, frequent consumption of simple carbs over a period of time alters the appetite regulating hormones thus making you lose your control over appetite and ending up obese.

Final Message:

Be wise when making food choices. While most food labels don’t tell you the true content of the product, you can take it upon yourself to learn better and be aware of what is right and healthy for your body. While it is okay to enjoy a little bit of sweets and desserts or items that may fall under the simple carb category but ensure that it is limited. Try to adopt a healthy lifestyle and make complex carbs in combination with quality protein and healthy fat a part of your diet as they are high in nutrients and fiber and also lighter on your girth. 

 

 

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