What distinguishes simple carbohydrates from complex
Not all carbohydrates are the same! Learn how simple and complex carbohydrates affect weight, health, well-being and performance.
Author: Paul Salter, Master of Science, Certified Nutritionist
Since I am a dietician by profession, I am often asked whether simple carbohydrates are very different from complex carbohydrates. In short: not much. Both those and others eventually turn into glucose, which is the main fuel for the body. But if you dig deeper, the answer will change: from the point of view of assimilation, nutritional value and influence on health, a whole gulf divides them.
Because of the frenzied popularity of the flexible diet of IIFYM, many have believed that between 25 grams of carbohydrates from oatmeal and some cheap chocolate bar there is no difference. Allegedly, while you fit in the daily limit of calories, everything is OK!
In fact, the structure and nutritional value of carbohydrates have a huge impact on the rate of their assimilation by the body, blood sugar, your working capacity and feeling of satiation. If you are a supporter of a quantitative rather than qualitative approach to the choice of carbohydrates, your working capacity during the day will soar and fall several times. In the long run, this affects the metabolism and frustrates your attempts to lose weight. In the vast majority of cases, you must choose complex, not simple carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates consist of one sugar molecule or a short chain of interconnected molecules (no more than 20). Complex carbohydrates are represented by chains of molecules that contain at least 20 residues of glucose or other monosaccharide, but more often these residues are much larger than 100. Specificity of the structure underlies the differences in the cleavage and assimilation of different types of carbohydrates.
2. Glycemic index and rate of assimilation
Glycemic index (GI) – an indicator of how quickly glucose, the end product of the breakdown of carbohydrates, enters the bloodstream. Measured GI on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the index of the food product, the faster the glucose from this product is absorbed into the blood.
- Simple carbohydrates: potatoes, white bread, white rice, biscuits, candies, fruit juices, energy.
The rate of absorption of glucose into the blood has a great influence on well-being, working capacity, appetite and health in general.
3. Insulin and blood glucose fluctuations
When glucose is absorbed into the blood, the pancreas secretes insulin, which transports sugar from the blood into the muscles or fat cells. It is necessary to maintain a normal level of glycemia. If glucose enters the bloodstream quickly – as in the case of sweets or cakes – a lot of insulin is released, because you need to quickly disperse glucose by destination.
Over time, increased insulin secretion, or hyperinsulinemia, depletes the pancreas and reduces the effectiveness of insulin, which is accompanied by a worsening of glucose tolerance and, as a rule, weight gain. Because of too frequent contact with insulin, cells become less susceptible to its action and a condition that is called insulin resistance develops. As a result, blood sugar levels rise. In the end, all these changes lead to health problems: 2 type diabetes and other metabolic disorders develop.
If you eat foods with complex carbohydrates, glucose enters the blood slowly, insulin in response is produced little, and blood sugar is maintained at a stable level. In the long run, all this is very useful for health.
4. Well-being and working capacity
Remember what happens when you skip meals as part of the fight against excess weight or because of the tight schedule. If the body remains without food for a long time, blood sugar drops below the norm and a condition called hypoglycemia develops. Typical symptoms: weakness, dizziness, hunger and an irresistible craving for sweets.
A portion of fast carbohydrates in such a situation will lead to a sharp rise in the level of glucose in the blood, but then the glucose will also rapidly spread through the tissues, and this will end with another drop in blood sugar. In short, if you prefer simple carbohydrates to complex, prepare for the ups and downs of efficiency throughout the day.
The physical sense of saturation is associated with the digestion of food and its quantity in the stomach. The faster the carbohydrates are digested and get out of the stomach into the intestines, the faster you will feel hunger again. Therefore, quick-in-nature simple carbohydrates are not the best choice to maintain a sense of satiety.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are digested for a long time, and some of them are presented by cellulose, which is not digested at all. Although formally dietary fiber refers to carbohydrates, in fact there is little similarity between them. Fiber slows digestion and increases the amount of time during which hormones that reduce appetite will be released. As a result, the saturation centers in the brain will receive more positive signals.
In addition, the fiber increases the amount of food, and it takes up more space in the stomach. The natural stretching of the stomach acts in this situation as another indicator of satiety. If you are in the epicenter of a harsh diet, dietary fiber should become your best friend!
Of course, the size of the portion and other nutrients in the products also strongly affect the sense of satiety, but after simple carbohydrates in pure form, you will, in any case, very soon feel hungry.
It is clear that there is not much use for sweets, cakes and biscuits, but even cereals and products that are often advertised as "balanced" may be as poor in terms of nutritional value. Bright examples include white rice, pasta or bread.
Whole grains are often cleaned from endosperm and bran, in which there are many microelements, vitamins, fiber and healthy fats. As a result, only simple carbohydrates remain. After the removal of these layers, the grain is no longer integral; more than 15 vitamins and minerals have been removed from it, and at the same time fibers that enhance saturation and prolong digestion. Of course, in the process of "enriching" in the food, some nutrients are added, but not all, and certainly not cellulose.
Without treatment, whole grains are rich in nutrients and dietary fiber, and it remains a complex carbohydrate. By making the basis of your diet high-grade products such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-grain bread, you get all the benefits of a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that gives strength, energizes, strengthens immunity and improves health.
Is it necessary to avoid simple carbohydrates? Of course not; for them, too, there is time and place, for example, during and after training, or in moderate quantities on special occasions. But if you want to strengthen health, feel a surge of energy, increase efficiency and curb your appetite – and all this is extremely important during a diet – you need to know what the foods on your table differ.
Choose rich dietary fiber complex carbohydrates, trim a share of empty simple sugars, and you will become much easier to control weight, health and well-being.