Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Simple Vs. Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a hot topic nowadays. Carbs are good. Carbs are bad. Eat complex. No wait, it doesn't matter! We are going to delve into a small portion of the carb-ness craze today and talk about what simple and complex carbs are. 

Let's go with the simple carbs first. Simple carbs are constructed from one or two sugar molecules, which makes them easier to digest. Six important simple carbs include: glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), galactose (found in milk), maltose (malt sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (milk sugar). Complex carbs, on the other hand, are made up of chains of multiple sugar molecules. This makes them take longer to digest. Complex carbs include starches (grains, legumes, vegetables) and fiber. 

Now, on to the fun part. You consume a simple carbohydrate and your body breaks down, absorbs and stores the sugars. Then, you consume a complex carbohydrate and the same thing happens! Your body breaks down, absorbs, and stores the sugars. Your body is unable to distinguish between the carbohydrates found in whole foods (like fruits and vegetables) and the carbohydrates found in food-like products (like candy and chips).  Crazy, right? Chemically, these sugars are the same. So why don't we just eat candy bars instead of fruit? Well, foods with naturally occurring sugars contain many vitamins and minerals that promote health. Also, like in the case of fruit, these foods contain fiber, which is also important for your health.

There is a further slight difference in the breakdown of carbohydrates. Simple carbs are metabolized quickly and provide a short dose of energy for your body. Starches take longer to digest; however, in the end, they are broken down into simple sugars anyway. Fiber, because of it's toughness and stringiness, does not break down in the body completely, thus it is beneficial for digestion and adds bulk to food without adding extra calories. 

In the end, it's all relative and comes down to the basics of sugar. (Minus fiber, see my article on fiber for more information). With that said, I leave you with a poem!

Carbs, carbs everywhere! Simple, complex! Should we care? 
Featured in each daily trend! Look no further. You have found the end!

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