Simplex and Complex Carbohydrates

There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates require little digestion and thus are a quick energy source. Fruits, fruit juices and milk contain simple sugars (carbohydrates) that provide valuable nutrients in addition to an energy boost.

Candies, table sugar, alcoholic beverages and sweetened soft drinks are simple sugar sources that provide calories, but usually no nutrients.

Complex carbohydrates are found in grains, some vegetables and legumes. They are starches and require more digestion than simple carbohydrates. Rich in Vitamin B Complex Vitamins, fiber and iron, complex carbohydrates from grains are the body’s best source of energy because they are burned in a constant, time released manner. They provide sustained energy for athletic events and can help manage blood sugar irregularities. The fiber found in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables can help lower blood cholesterol in some people when eaten as part of a low-fat diet.

Daily Consumption

Although there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates, most nutrition authorities recommend that carbohydrates comprise at least 45 percent – and up to 70 percent – of a person’s daily calories. In contrast, most Americans average only 50 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates.

Sports Performance

Athletes should eat 60 to 70 percent of their total calories in the form of carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen in the muscles and then used as a source of energy. High glycogen stores are essential for endurance sports. Regular inclusion of complex carbohydrates foods such as bread, cereals, pasta, corn and potatoes will supply sustained energy for most athletic events.

Carbohydrates and Weight

Why would Americans get heavier on a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet? Because we are not eating less fat; we are eating the same number of grams of fat as we did 20 years ago, and about 300 to 500 extra calories per day. Therefore, the percentage of fat calories has gone down but only because total calories have gone up.

Complex carbohydrates foods play an important role in weight loss because they are usually low in calories and fat and high in dietary fiber which creates a full feeling, and may help discourage over-consumption of higher caloric foods.

Carbohydrates food comparison

Carbohydrates and Diabetes

Carbohydrates are crucial to managing diabetes and high blood sugar. Under medical supervision, persons with diabetes who follow a diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber often have better blood sugar control.

You need your energy. Your body needs fuel to create that energy. Carbohydrate is the fuel your body runs on, the nutrient that converts to energy. If you were a car, you might not need to be refueled every day. Since you are only human, it is important to eat foods every day that supply carbohydrate, especially if you have diabetes.

Carbohydrates are either simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars which are made of only one or two units or molecules. Words that end in “ose” are sugars. Examples of sugars include:

  • Sucrose or table sugar
  • Fructose, the sugar naturally occurring in fruit and honey
  • Lactose, the sugar found in milk

Complex carbohydrates

Also known as starch, are very long chains of glucose molecules. Both types of carbohydrate, simple and complex, have a similar effect on blood sugar levels. Except fructose (a simple carbohydrate) which causes a smaller rise in blood sugar compared to equal amounts of other sugars or most complex carbohydrates.

The Food Pyramid for Diabetes is a useful tool for identifying specific foods to include in your diet and as a guide to ensure that you include carbohydrate-containing foods with each meal.

Carbohydrates in Your Diet

Grains/Beans/Starchy Vegetables: At the base of the pyramid are all foods that provide complex carbohydrates.

Vegetables: Vegetables, found in the next level of the pyramid, provide both simple and complex carbohydrates.

Fruits/Milk: Fruits and milk provide simple carbohydrates or sugars.

Sweets: At the very tip of the pyramid are sweets, which, according to the American Diabetes Association, may be included in the diet.

Diabetes and Fiber

Fiber in breads, cereals and other grains may cut the risk of diabetes, say two studies — one that tracked roughly 25,000 men and women for about a decade and a meta-analysis that combined the results of nine other large studies. Researchers found about a 30 percent lower risk of diabetes in people who reported eating the most fiber from grains, compared to those who ate the least. Fiber from fruits and vegetables wasn’t linked to diabetes.

The lower the risk of diabetes was roughly 20 percent lower in people who reported eating the most magnesium (375 milligrams a day) than in those who ate the least (225mg a day), according to the meta-analysis.

So, what can you do? You can eat more whole-grain breads, cereals, and other grains to cut your risk of diabetes. You can get more magnesium from leafy greens, nuts, fish, and beans.

Although people with diabetes were told at one time to avoid sugar and sweets, it is now recognized that such foods may be included in the diet occasionally as part of your total carbohydrate intake.

Try to spread your carbohydrate intake evenly throughout each day. A consistent intake of total carbohydrate from day to day helps to promote control of your blood sugar levels. Talk to your health care team about how much carbohydrate per day would be beneficial for you.

Heart Disease

A diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates may be beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol. The soluble fiber in oats, legumes, fruits, vegetables and some grains is effective in lowering blood cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.

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