The most important difference between simple and complex carbohydrates

Personal/Fitness Training Blog

Carbohydrates are not made equal. They come in two forms: simple and complex. And essentially, the difference between the two lies in the way each is digested and absorbed by your body.

Understanding the difference between the two means you’re able to make better choices about your nutrition.

Let’s take a closer look.

Simple carbohydrates

A simple carbohydrate comprises just one or two sugar molecules (hence why it’s also called a simple sugar). Because of its simple structure, it’s digested quickly and easily. So your body is able to turn it into energy fast. They offer you no nutritional value. Think sugar, corn syrup, honey and syrup.

What happens when you eat or drink a simple sugar?

The sugar is digested and absorbed fast and you’ll feel the boost in energy and alertness. Your pancreas will release a dose of insulin to help your body get rid of the excess sugar and reduce the amount of glucagon it’s producing (and glucagon is that wonderful hormone that releases the body fat you have stored up, to be burned for energy).

This dose of insulin leaves you feeling like you’ve got low blood sugar – like you’re in a slump – so you crave more sugar. Which in turn, causes the release of more insulin and the suppression of glucagon. And eventually, your body isn’t burning fat anymore – it’s just burning through the sugar you eat, as and when you eat it.

In a complex carbohydrate, there are a number of sugar molecules coiled together. This means it takes your body longer to break it down during digestion. These carbohydrates also tend to have a high fibre content.

And since a lot of the complex carbohydrates are plant-based, they often carry vitamins and minerals too.
For example:

  • Green veggies,
  • Beans and peas,
  • Whole grains and
  • Starchy vegetables.

What happens when you eat or drink a complex sugar?

During digestion, these carbohydrates are slowly broken down into their individual glucose molecules and are either used up as fuel (if you need it) or stored in your muscles and your liver in the form of glycogen (an easy-to-use form of sugar).

Read the labels and make healthy choices

It’s clear to see that the only time simple sugars are useful to you is when you’re running a marathon and need a boost.

Otherwise, they kill your body’s in-built fat burning mechanisms, while making you dependent on them for that fleeting high.

If you want to avoid this, learn to read food labels carefully. Learn to spot the sugars (these are the ingredients that end in “-ose”), and learn to differentiate between the simple and complex forms. Try to choose whole foods over processed foods, where sugars are easily hidden in a long list of ingredients.

Understanding the role of nutrition in your longevity and wellness is critical. And if you’re interested in learning more (and helping others improve their own nutrition), check out Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Specialised Nutrition Certificate.