What do you think of when you hear the word Carbohydrate?
Bread? Pasta? Pizza? Maybe, bad, even?
I doubt most people’s first instinct is to think Complex vs Simple or Whole vs Refined, however these distinctions really do make all the difference.
Spoiler alert: Not ALL carbs are bad, and despite most people thinking they need to eliminate carbs from their diet to lose weight or be healthy- that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Carbohydrates in their basic form can contain, starch, fiber, or sugar. The main difference is which of these elements are present and how they get broken down to effect your blood sugar when digested. While carbs generally get classified into Simple vs Complex, there are still varying levels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that can fall under these umbrellas.
So let’s break it down (no pun intended).
Simple Carbohydrates are essentially just sugar. They are broken down and digested quickly by your body which can also result in increased blood sugar levels. These types of carbs generally leave you feeling less satisfied, so you may find yourself getting hungry again faster and ultimately, eating more in the long run.
Simple carbohydrates are often found in processed foods and include: sugar, syrup, candy, cookies, and soda.
On the flip side, simple carbohydrates can also be naturally occurring in some fruits, vegetables, and milk, so again it’s good to know the distinction!
Complex Carbohydrates on the other hand are just that, a bit more complex. They can consist of starches and fiber and generally take longer for your body to process. Choosing to incorporate complex carbs into your diet can result in lower blood sugar and longer satiation… a.k.a you won’t be reaching for a snack right after your meal.
Some examples include whole grains, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, and quinoa.
Rice however, is the perfect example of where Whole vs Refined comes into play, especially with complex carbs. Brown rice for instance is a whole grain whereas white rice has been refined. What does this mean exactly?
Refined carbs are processed, or milled, meaning key nutrients are removed. One of the best examples being white flour. As this can be a main ingredient in many of the foods you eat (bread, muffins, crackers, cereals), it’s good to always be cognizant and read your labels. Instead, look for whole wheat, rye, or barley based products and when it comes to flour consider almond, coconut, or buckwheat. Even Gluten-free products may include refined carbohydrates, so again, it’s good to be aware of the type of ingredients you want to be ingesting.
Overall, when it’s comes to carbs, it’s not about eliminating them from your diet, but rather knowing which ones are the most nutritious to fuel your body. Instead of a muffin for breakfast (which can be full of refined and simple carbohydrates) opt for a piece of whole grain toast or steel cut oatmeal. Sushi? Swap out the white rice for brown. At dinner, choose a lean protein and sweet potato over a dish of pasta.
At the end of the day, choosing whole, clean foods over processed will always be the winning choice!