Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Confused Day Tuesday: Simple Vs. Complex Carbohydrates

I found this picture several months ago, but couldn't figure out the source.  I really wanted to know who created this because I wanted to get a better image to post on my blog!  This is a perfect example of how the terms "simple" and "complex" can easily be misinterpreted.  Basically this photo is saying that Complex Carbohydrates and GOOD and Simple Carbohydrates are BAD.  Here is a review;

Simple Carbohydrates:  Made up of one (ex: fructose) or two sugars (ex: lactose), and are therefore absorbed much faster, and in theory they may raise your blood sugar faster (think about what a diabetic will do if he/she has low blood sugar, they will drink juice!  Why? Because juice is made up of simple carbohydrates that will raise blood sugar fast)

Complex Carbohydrates:  Made up of three of more sugars (Ex: Starches and fiber), and are therefore absorbed much slower, and in theory they may raise your blood sugar slower.

By giving simple carbohydrates the name "BAD", do you realize you would be saying that milk, fruit, and vegetables are bad?  Think about it.

Source: iStockPhoto
 Yogurt is mostly simple carbohydrates (ie: lactose and fructose when fruit is added), and the berries you might add on top are also simple carbohydrates (ie: fructose).  Would this be considered a bad choice?  No way!  Granted, I would choose plain yogurt because most companies add sugar (in the form of more fructose or even sucrose) to their flavored yogurts, but still, you get the point.  Yogurt and berries are made of all simple carbohydrates.  Yogurt and berries are not a bad food.

Source: iStockPhoto

And what about this delicious meal?  The broccoli is made of simple carbohydrates, the mango is made of simple carbohydrates, the brown rice.....is made of complex carbohydrates.  If you call all simple carbs "Bad" and all complex carbs "Good", that might denote that the only good part of the meal above is the brown rice.  Not true!

Source: iStockPhoto

And what about pancakes?  They are complex carbohydrates (starches) so does that mean this meal above is "Good"?  Not necessarily.  Take about 8 of those pancakes, add some simple carbohydrates in the form of fruit, and possibly add some protein in the form of nuts, and then it's much better. Or better yet, made these pancakes from a better form of complex carbohydrates; whole wheat (or other grain) flour!  

Simple carbs are not bad, unless you eat too many (remember this post about my thoughts on the new Weight Watchers system?).  The average person should not consume more than 3 servings of dairy (ie: lactose-containing foods) and 1-2 cups of fruit (ie: fructose-containing foods) and 2-3 cups of non-starchy vegetables (ie: fructose and other simple-carbohydrate-containing foods) per day.  There is also a limit for complex carbohydrates, because with any type of carbohydrate you can get too much!  Now once you start talking about simple carbohydrates in the form of candies, jams, and syrups (ie: simple carbohydrates found in foods with zero nutritional benefits) then clearly it's not quite as good.

Bottom Line:  Simple carbohydrates are not all bad. Simple carbohydrates, by themselves (ie: a spoonful of sugar!) are obviously not good, but when you find these in foods that contain nutrients and/or fiber, they are much, much better!  Complex carbohydrates are not all good.  White bread isn't a great choice, but it's a better choice if you make it whole, which means it contains more fiber and nutrients.

You should eat non-starchy vegetables, and fruits.

You should use milk (or choose alternatives like soy, almond, etc.) on your cereal if you want!  And heck, add berries too.

You should choose complex carbohydrates that also have a lot of fiber, such as beans, instead of starch white breads with little fiber.

And stop using the words "good" and "bad".  Got it?!  If you want to find out how many servings of fruits, vegetables, dairy (or dairy alternatives), protein, grains you need, check out ChooseMyPlate.Gov.  Now, what questions do you have for me???

Thanks for reading!

The Candid Rd
NOTE: I love comments!  But, be sure to come back to read any replies to questions or comments, as they do not go directly to your e-mail.


  1. great explaation gina! This is a confusing topic for a lot of people and this states everything perfectly! Love it!

  2. Great explanation!
    I have a question, I have been told so many times that for weight loss, cut out fruit because of the sugars. I feel like this is absolutely ridiculous and I still eat them in balance with lots of veggies, and still loose weight. I know the fiber and other nutrients help balance out the sugars.....What are your thoughts?

    1. I think fruit are important in everyone's diet, but I typically tell people no more than 1-1.5 cups a day (about the size of your fist). So, one small banana and a small handful of berries, or a small apple and a half of a banana, etc. Fruit is wonderful, but it comes with sugar, and too much can sabotage your weight loss!

      Also, keep in my that some fruits have less sugar and more fiber than others (berries are wonderful, and even oranges! Also right now pomegranates are big.)

  3. That first graphic made me cringe! If I had a high five for every time someone asked me about "good" carbs and "bad" carbs (or good food or bad food), my hand would be super sore. I like your terms "better" and "choose" more. Great summary, Gina!

  4. Very awesome explanation! I love your whole philosophy towards health- even though I feel like things like that are trying to dumb it down, it's really a lot easier when you explain it- and more accurate!

  5. Thanks for doing this. I get annoyed and won't read anything else the person says when they claim bread or pasta is a simple carb. I think people get confused between refined and simple, and I shouldn't be so harsh, but I am chemist, and these words have meaning, and they don't mean whatever a person feels them to mean at the moment.

  6. As you have probably noticed, I am just catching up on blog reading. I love all your posts! Soooo glad you are back blogging! :)