Complex Versus Simple Carbohydrates

I got this question at work the other day (we’re a fairly healthy-minded bunch):

What are complex carbs vs simple carbs?

This question seems complex, but the answer is quite simple. Simple carbs and complex carbs end up in the same place of the nutrition facts label, but they are most certainly different.

Are all carbs bad?

Clearly not all carbohydrates are bad. We need carbs to live – glucose (what carbs break down to in your body) is what your body uses for energy. That’s why when you eat a candy bar you get hyper for a little while – your body just got a big dose of easy-to-use energy because the carbs were partially processed before they got to your stomach. Simple carbs and complex carbs both turn into sugar in the body; the process just happens faster for simple carbs.

McDonald's Soft Serve Vanilla Ice Cream Cone

I’m pretty sensitive to sugar (too many sweet treats = too many pimples). In addition to my skin sensitivity to sugar, I also seem to have either a mental or physical reaction to eating it – once I start it’s hard to stop! If I have a McD’s cone as a snack I also want one for dessert that night, for a snack the next day, and forever more. So I try to avoid sugar to avoid sugar cravings and bad acne. When it comes down to complex versus simple carbohydrates, complex is what I choose, especially complex carbs from veggies.

Which carbs are bad for us?

Most scientists agree that the faster carbs (simple, or white carbs; meaning they convert to sugar quickly) are the worst type of carbohydrate. This is mainly because they spike blood sugar, which has a number of negative long-term effects including a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. These carbs include (and thus I try* to avoid…):

  • Processed carbs like white bread, white flour, sugar, high fructose corn syrup (also regular corn syrup)*
  • Processed carbs like candy, cookies, most baked goods*
  • Fake sweeteners (not technically carbs because they have no calories – but they give me a stomachache, a headache, and it’s probably not good to eat frankenfood chemicals)
I love muffins!
I love muffins!

*I still eat these things, but in moderation when I want them. Artisan bread with smooth creamy butter? On occasion, yes please!

Which carbs are good in moderation?

There is definitely a middle ground when it comes to complex versus simple carbs, and that middle ground is whole grain-y things (for me). They’re not the easiest foods to digest (see IBS), but they certainly are delicious. These guys include:

  • Unprocessed grains like rice (white or brown).* (I grew up hating rice but now I LOVE it. I usually have it several times a week. It’s especially good with ghee, aka clarified butter.)
  • Oatmeal (steel cut, regular – preferably not instant).
  • Winter squash (these are my favorite foods, but it’s easy to get a stomachache if you eat too much of them; squash also has lots of beta-carotene – but beware the orange glow).

I love having rice with veggies, like in bi-bim-bap (pictured above – veggies, egg, beef over rice). In fact, I just like mixing foods together in general. Mix-it-up bowls are possibly the greatest invention ever.

Which carbs are good for us?

Most vegetable carbohydrates are good for our bodies. Some of my favorite carbs are…

  • Root veggies like carrots, parsnips, winter squash (kabocha, acorn, spaghetti, butternut, etc…)
  • Non-root veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, peppers, yadda yadda yadda… Veggies are a diet staple.
  • Fruits (but not too much). Fruit makes me break out as well in large (more than 1 a day) quantities. Some lower-sugar fruits that I really like are: papaya, blueberries, berries in general, cranberry juice (without sugar) and spritzer, lime/lemon juice and spritzer, melons (cantaloupe, honeydew).


Do you eat a lot of carbs? Do you avoid any? Which are your favorites?

When it comes down to complex carbs vs simple carbs, it’s probably better to choose the complex ones. But remember to include healthy fats (including saturated fat – it’s good for the brain) and protein. Out of the simple carbs, sugar is probably the worst. At least that is what works for me!

Manna Bread Winner!

We have a winner! The winner of the Manna Organics giveaway is…

Cellabella, I just emailed you. I also love banana bread and fresh baguettes 😉 Thanks to everyone for all your entries! And if you didn’t win, you can still check out Manna bread in your local grocery – check the frozen section. I will have another giveaway for you all later this week. Are you up for some yoga?

Weekend Link Love – 06.25.2011

In the spirit of spring summer cleaning, I am cleaning out my “starred” list on Google Reader. Here are my favorites – lots of love for these links!

Recipes & Food

  • Quintessence. This is a funky raw (vegan) restaurant that I want to try out downtown (NYC). Have you been?
  • Humble Stew via Burp and Slurp. This looks simple and filling. And Bobby-friendly. Definitely a must to try.
  • Mexican Fiesta Salad. I am actually making a very similar dish for a potluck I’m going to tomorrow. Natalie always has great recipes!
  • Avo-Tofu Salad. Another from Natalie! Cannot wait to make this one.
  • Chilled Summer Soups from Mark’s Daily Apple. You know, I don’t eat much soup – but I think I should start. I especially want to try making the Chilled Beet Soup Spiked with Dill and Vinegar.
  • 3 Indian Recipes – these all look amazing; thanks for the ideas, Mimi! Each has 6 ingredients or less (sort of).
  • Family Style Frittatas by Everyday Paleo.
  • Chili Lime Tuna Burgers by Heather Eats Almond Butter.

My Workout Updates

This week I did a lot of BodyRock. Here is what I did:

  • Monday: 30 day shred (not BodyRock but very Zuzana-esque). Used 3 pound weights.
  • Tuesday: Poker Face Workout. I definitely did not have a poker face. My reps here.
  • Wednesday: BodyRock (BR) Burpee challenge. I did 46.
  • Thursday: BR Wild & Free Challenge = insanity. My time was 26:13, using 6 pounds of weights instead of a sandbag, and no jumprope for the high knees. Could. Not. Speak. This is the day that Bobby officially realized I am nuts.
  • Friday: BR Major Muscle Apocolypse. My reps: Lunge (left): 8, 8, 8, 7, 8, 8, 7, 8, 8, 9. Lunge (right): 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 9. Burpee: 3, 3, 3, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4. Pull up (reverse push up with chairs and broomstick): 8, 9, 8, 9, 9, 9, 8, 8, 8, 10.
  • Saturday (this morning): BR Pound Melting Workout. Only 12 minutes. My reps: Reptile Toe Touch Push Up – 13, 14. Sandbag Side Lunge Knee Up (right leg) – 19, 20. Sandbag Side Lunge Knee Up (left leg) – 20, 20. Crab Fighter (right leg) – 10, 10. Crab Fighter (left leg) – 10, 10. Sandbag Squat – 17, 16.


Happy Weekend!

108 Sun Salutations, Burpees, and Pain au Chocolat… Manger Bouger?

Last night Bobby and I went to NJ for my sister’s high school graduation. It was great! I’m so proud of her. Afterwards we went out to Uno’s where I wolfed down a Cobb Salad. My dad came back with us to the city because he has a super-fun pension conference here today.

This morning’s workout:

  • 46 BodyRock Take Me Burpees
  • 15 sun salutations

Some yogis like to do 108 sun salutations at each change of the season (spring to summer, summer to fall, etc…). There are many answers to the question, “Why 108?” and one of them is that there are supposedly 108 names for Buddha. HuffPo has some more.

I’ll share another French moment. This IS a food blog after all. (I got the best comment ever yesterday.)

  • Coca-cola. (Bobby’s. Real sugar coke! I still don’t like it.)
  • Pain au chocolat. (To share.)
  • From La Mie Câline in Saumur.

Since I am generally a healthy eater I have no qualms about indulging in buttery, chocolatey, French baked goods when I’m on vacation. They’re not as sweet as they are in here in the states, and they are tiny. The “gargantuan” croissants were the size of our regular ones. Even the bottles of Coke are smaller.

In France, most food ads come with this message (or a similar memo) at the bottom:

Pour votre santé, évitez de manger trop gras, trop sucré, trop salé.

It means, “For your health, avoid eating food that is too fatty, too sweet, too salty.” Manger-bouger means, “eat, move.” I certainly didn’t see many overweight people in France – though I am not sure it’s because of this campaign. I did see a lot of smokers and wine and coffee drinkers. So while they may have a good thing going in terms of food and portion control, I think they are a little bit behind the times when it comes to other areas of health. (No, coffee and wine are not bad, in moderation. There is never an excuse for smoking.)

Do you think we should have mandatory messages on food ads and packaging? What would the messages say?

Makeshift Dip Station and Free Timers

Another Tuesday. Another day of BodyRocking. Today’s BodyRock Fat Burning Poker Face Workout was a 20-minute max reps challenge. Here are my scores. I think I could have pushed myself more in the beginning because you can see my reps did not decrease much as I went through. I was still beat at the end:

Exercise Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
Surfer 10 7 8 7
Round Kick Crunch (Left) 14 14 14 14
Round Kick Crunch (Right) 14 14 14 14
1-2-3 Pushup 12 12 12 10
NINJA! 5 5 5 5

These workouts are short and effective and, as my husband will tell you, efficiency and optimization are always, always, on my mind. Whether it’s minimizing the amount of time we have to wait at stop lights while walking or maximizing utils, I am an optimization machine. (I was an econ and math major in college.)

Ah, yes, today’s title:

Makeshift Dip Station

It’s 2 chairs (just dining chairs) with folded linens over the tops (I started without but it hurt my hands). It is a little bit short for me but I made sure that I didn’t hunch and instead just bent my knees when going to grab the backs of the chairs for the air crunch. I don’t know what the pair of scissors is doing there. Bobby must have used them last night for something.

Free Timers

I use this one, but I also found two other options while Googling this morning:

Last summer at my wedding (bride + maid of honor). Handmade and handpicked bouquets from the organic farm she works at.

P.S. It’s my sister’s graduation from high school today! Congratulations Julia!!