Most people know that they should eat more complex carbs, but a lot of people don't know what that really means or what the right kind of carbs do for a person's diet.
What are Complex Carbs?
Complex carbs, also known as complex carbohydrates, are a particular class of carbohydrates distinguished from simple carbs. Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex based on how quickly they are digested and absorbed as sugar by the body.
Simple carbs include things like fruit, vegetables and dairy products. These items have simple sugar compounds that are digested and absorbed by the body quickly. Simple carbs are also found in the refined sugars in table sugar, candy, baked goods, non-diet carbonated beverages and other sugary substances. White foods like white bread and white rice are popular examples of simple or refined carbs as well.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to break down into sugar in the body. Examples of this kind of carbohydrate are whole grain breads and grains, starchy vegetables and legumes.
Why Pay Attention to Carbs?
Simple carbs, at least the ones from fruits, vegetables and dairy, are not necessarily bad for you, at least not by themselves. The trouble is that a lot of people get too many simple carbs in the form of sugary treats, sodas and refined grains and not enough complex carbohydrates from whole grains.
Low-carb diets usually focus on the complete elimination of simple carbs, while complex carbs are allowed back into the diet after an initial period of abstention.
Carbohydrates fuel the body and are vital to its proper functioning. But eating the right balance of carbs (meaning more complex and fewer simple) is key to getting to and maintaining a healthy weight.
Eating too many carbs, especially too many simple carbs, can lead to weight gain because excess carbs are stored as fat, just like any other excess calories.
Examples of Complex Carbohydrates
So which carbs should you be getting more of? There are a variety of different kinds of complex carbs, including:
- Whole grain breads
- Other whole grains such as brown rice and oatmeal
- Potatoes (both white and sweet)
- Whole grain cereals
Many experts say that carbohydrates should make up 50 to 60 percent of calories in a healthy diet. Complex carbs should make up the majority of your carbohydrate intake through the day, though it's certainly fine to eat simple carbs when they are in the form of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
The problem with carbs comes when you're eating too much simple sugar and refined products like cakes, cookies and sodas. Then the weight gain can happen quickly and be difficult to control because your body begins to crave sugar.
Complex carbohydrates don't cause this problem because the unprocessed form of grains contain fiber that makes you feel full longer and helps move waste from the body. Eating more fiber is a great strategy when you're trying to lose weight.
How to Eat More Complex Carbohydrates
If you're trying to get more complex carbohydrates into your diet, it's really pretty easy. More and more products are being made with whole grains or with some whole grains instead of processed grains, meaning when you add them to your diet you get fewer simple carbs by making easy changes:
- Try whole-wheat bread instead of white bread. Some companies even make whole-wheat white bread that looks like the unhealthy stuff but has plenty of fiber.
- Replace plain white pasta and rice with whole grain pasta and brown rice. You can pick whole wheat pasta or pasta made from other whole grains such as kamut, spelt or even corn.
- Start your day with a high-fiber cereal. Look for whole grains on the ingredients list, or go for oatmeal. Adding a bit of fruit, which is a simple carb, still ups your fiber intake and gets your day off to a good start.
Incorporating a little more complexity into your diet can be a very good thing for optimal nutrition and weight control.