I sometimes find it simply incredulous that in this modern world, where all the information known to mankind can be found right in the phone in our hand, there is so little knowledge of basic nutrition. Don’t believe me? Then check out any of the big weight loss forums such as Weight Watchers Connect, My Fitness Pal or Spark People to name just a few. Many people have little to no idea what makes them fat, nor can they figure out how to lose it. We see evidence of this here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness too when we receive private emails from our readers wanting specific advice to help them lose weight. We encounter people almost daily who have no understanding of macronutrients and the role they play in our bodies. It is not uncommon for the question to arise regarding just what is the difference between sugar, simple and complex carbohydrates. It gives me a laugh when I have people tell me that my methodology is too restrictive because I advise to not eat sugar and simple carbs, only for them to tell me they are just going to do “My Keto:.
This in itself tells me they have little understanding of nutrition. And, what in the world is the difference between “My Keto” and just doing Keto anyway…
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are forms of sugars, fibers, and starches. They can be found in a wide array of both healthy and unhealthy foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and cherry pie. Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet as they provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity.
The healthiest sources are complex carbohydrates which come from unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. These foods promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients. Unhealthy sources of carbohydrates, or simple carbs, include added sugars, white bread, pastries, sodas, and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
Simple Carbs are simplistic nutrition!
Simple carbs are sugars. While some of these occur naturally in milk, most of the simple carbs in the American diet are added to foods.
Common simple carbs added to foods include:
corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup
glucose, fructose, and sucrose
fruit juice concentrate
When metabolized, carbohydrates get broken down and turn into sugar. The hormone insulin gets produced by the pancreas and takes sugar from the blood to the cells to use for energy. Because simple or refined carbohydrates, such as white breads and sweets, have little to no fiber content, they are broken down more quickly, creating a faster blood sugar surge and placing more demand on the pancreas. When you have diabetes, either your pancreas isn’t making enough insulin or the insulin it is making isn’t being used efficiently. Over time, excess stress on the pancreas can cause it to burn out, making it difficult to keep up with the glucose load, resulting in high blood sugars. Having too much sugar in the blood for long periods of time can cause serious health problems if it’s not treated. Hyperglycemia can damage the vessels that supply blood to vital organs, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve problems. For these reasons along with the addictive nature of simple carbohydrates, we recommend not consuming them at all. I can guarantee when you get completely off of sugar and simple carbs, you will find that you feel much better and that weight loss comes easy.
Complex Carbohydrates are smart nutrition.
Complex carbs pack in far more nutrients than simple carbs. They’re higher in fiber and digest more slowly. This also makes them more filling, which means they’re a good option for weight control. In limited quantities, they are also ideal for people with type 2 diabetes because the fiber component helps manage blood sugar spikes after meals. Fiber and starch are the two types of complex carbohydrates. Fiber is especially important because it promotes bowel regularity and helps to control cholesterol.
The main sources of dietary fiber include:
For better blood sugar control its best to choose more complex carbohydrates, rich in fiber such as whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, etc. These types of carbohydrates produce a slower glucose rise. In addition, these types of foods are also more nutrient and fiber-rich, making them better choices for weight loss and overall health.
Do not assume you can pig out on complex carbs just because they are healthier than simple carbs!
While complex carbohydrates are certainly healthier than simple carbs, you cannot eat an endless amount without negatively impacting your blood sugars. The quantity of carbohydrates is just as important as which carbohydrates you choose to eat. Healthy carbohydrate foods are not free foods as Weight Watchers would have their followers believe. All carbohydrates count in your overall nutrition and calorie consumption. For example, oatmeal is a complex, high fiber carbohydrate, but it is still a carbohydrate that will raise blood sugar. Therefore, it’s important to portion control how much you eat. The amount of carbohydrates you should eat per meal varies from person to person and is determined by a variety of factors such as gender, calorie needs, weight, blood sugar control, and activity level. For most people following a consistent carbohydrate meal plan, they are able to eat about 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and obtain good blood sugar control. If you consume more carbohydrates than your body requires, you will find that your odds of experiencing future health problems will increase.
Besides type 2 diabetes and weight gain, long-term complications include:
heart attack or stroke
damage to the eye and loss of vision
kidney disease or failure
nerve problems in the skin, especially the feet, leading to sores, infections, and wound healing problems