Functions Of Carbohydrates

Understanding Simple And Complex Carbs

Everyone loves carbohydrates (as known as carbs). It's a macronutrient along with protein and fats. They are present in almost every meal we consume, but we often forget that there are several types of carbs, some are more recommended than others.

The main goal of carbohydrates is to supply energy for the nervous system, the brain and the body. Salivary amylase (an enzyme in the mouth) start breaking down carbs as soon as you eat them, but they are fully broken down into glucose molecules by pancreatic amylase (in the small intestine) and then they can be absorbed and used by the body.

Carbohydrates are divided in two general types: simple and complex (also known as good carbs and bad carbs). They are clasified depending on their structure and how quickly the sugar is absorbed into the blood.

The glycemic Index is a measure of the breakdown and absorption time of carbohydrates, and it rates them on a scale of 0 to 100. 0 means that it does not affect your blood sugar, and 100 means it is almost instantaneously absorbed and can cause your blood sugar to spike.

  • Low Glycemic Index: 0 to 55 (apples, black beans, whole wheat ...)
  • Medium Glycemic Index: 56 to 69 (corns, sweet potatoes, apricots ...)
  • High Glycemic Index: 70 and more (white bread, white rice ...)

Simple carbs provide nutritional value to the body, but it's recommended to consume them in small quantities. In contrast to complex carbohydrates, simple carbs are quickly assimilated and used by our body and tend to rate higher on the glycemic index. Their simple chemical structures make them very easy to break down and then be absorbed into the body much faster. They tend to raise the blood sugar levels quickly, which leads to secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin a powerful hormone that regulates storage and rationing of glucose to different parts of the body.
Here are some examples of food that contain simple carbs:

  • White Rice
  • White Bread
  • Chocolat
  • Candy

In short, foods that are normally considered processed and sugary tend to be higher in simple carbs. Though it may be true in many cases, not all sugary processed foods will have a high glycemic index.

Foods that contain carbohydrates along with higher fiber, protein, vitamin and mineral content are considered to be complex carbs. They take more time to digest because of their complex chemical structure which is more difficult to break down into smaller pieces that can be absorbed. This makes blood sugar rise gradually, which is much better for your health.

Complex carbs can be found in food like:

  • Oats
  • Broccoli
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-Wheat Pasta
  • Brown Rice

Simple carbs will provide quick energy (glucose) to your body. If this energy is not used while it's in your blood, it will be converted into fat. Therefore, if you spend your day eating simple carbs without exercising, you will accumulate fat a lot faster, because you are not using the carbohydrates that you are consuming.

Compared to simple carbs, complex carbs will give you energy for a longer period of time, little by little. Therefore you will feel full longer and you will have more readily available energy for exercise.

The fiber found in complex carbs helps to control blood sugar levels, so you avoid fat storage and prevent diseases that can come along with high blood sugar like diabetes and obesity.
They also have many other benefits, such as:

  • Felling full longer
  • Having more energy during the day
  • Supplying vitamins and minerals
  • Maintaining low cholesterol

Simple carbs can be your friend in certain cases. In the morning, consuming simple carbohydrates along with complex carbohydrates will provide you with much needed energy after sleeping for long hours without food.

The best time to eat simple carbs is post-workout; after a workout your body has consumed a lot of glycogen. Therefore, you should ingest simple carbohydrates in order to restore muscle glycogen. After a workout, simple carbs are the best choice to refill your body with glycogen.

We've provided all the information you need to understand the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs.Here is a summary of what we've learned about carbohydrates:

  • They supply energy for the nervous system, the brain and the body.
  • The glycemic index (GI) ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100.
  • Food with low GI will take longer to digest.
  • Complex carbs are low GI and provide more fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Consuming simple carbs post-workout can help with recovery
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