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.
This post is going to be an explanation of what has worked for me. I’m pretty sensitive to sugar (read: 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 (they’re cheap and yum) 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 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 a big of ghee, aka clarified butter.)
- Oatmeal (steel cut, regular, whatever – 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!