Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source and are a crucial part of a well balanced diet.
The three main types of carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fibre. These are then grouped into simple or complex carb groups based on what your body does with them once you have eaten them. But some foods contain one or more types of carbs and can be tricky to understand what is actually healthy and what is not.
Simple carbohydrates are composed of "easy to digest" basic sugars. These are an important source of energy and are sometimes naturally occurring, such as the sugars in fruits and milk, while others are refined and added to sweet treats, baked goods and soft drinks.
On nutritional labels, added sugars often go by several names including just sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose, maltose, malt syrup, trehalose, sucrose, honey and more. Producers of food and drinks with these in must state them in the ingredients clearly and label the amount of sugar added per serving of the product.
Simple carbohydrates aren't necessarily all bad carbs, it depends on the food that they come from. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for good health and they naturally contain simple carbohydrates composed of basic sugars.
Fruits and vegetables are drastically different from other foods in the simple carb category, such as cookies and cakes with added refined sugars. The added fibre in fruit and vegetables changes the way the body processes their sugars and slows down their digestion making them more like complex carbohydrates.
You can find simple carbohydrates to limit within your diet if you are looking to lose weight:
- Soft drinks
- Pastries and baked goods
- Energy drinks
- Ice creams
Complex carbs are often found in whole grains, legumes and starchy vegetables. They contain longer chains of sugar molecules which usually take more time for the body to break down and use. This in turn provides you with a more consistent amount of energy.
Complex carbohydrates are considered good because of the longer series of sugars that they are made of, which the body takes longer to break down. This means that you receive a low amount of sugars released at a more consistent rate, instead of spikes of energy which keep you fueled throughout the day.
Foods with complex carbs are typically full of vitamins, fibre and minerals than foods containing more simple carbohydrates, as long as whole grains are chosen over processed foods. For example, whole grains, whole-wheat flour, quinoa, brown rice, barley, oats and others all provide more nutrients than processed grains, such as white rice and breads, pasta and baked goods made with white flour.
Nutrient dense complex carbs that are part of a healthy balanced diet include:
- Whole wheat flour based products - bread, pasta and flour
- Brown and wild rice
- Legumes such as black beans and lentils