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Have you ever wondered about the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates? Registered dietitian, Maria Faires, is helping us break it down in this week’s blog!

Carbohydrates (or carbs) are often thought to cause weight gain, diabetes, or are mistaken as unhealthy. The idea that “carbs are bad for you” has left many people confused about carbohydrates. But the truth is, carbs are an essential part of a healthy diet and are the body’s primary source of energy and fuel that the brain and muscles need to function. In fact, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 45-65% of our calories come from carbs.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. The highest quality source of carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates because they are unrefined, unprocessed, whole, or minimally processed. Simple carbohydrates are lower in quality and best eaten in small quantities because they have very little nutrition. Let’s break it down a little further.


Simple carbs, also referred to as refined or processed carbohydrates, are the refined types of sugar you find in table sugar, white bread, sugary cereals, pastries, desserts, soda, and other highly processed or refined foods. They have a simple chemical structure with only one or two sugar molecules linked together. Simple carbs are quickly broken down by the body, leading to a faster rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion, which can have negative health effects like heart disease. Consuming large quantities of added sugar can stress and damage critical organs, including the pancreas and liver. Refined carbohydrates originate as healthy foods, like whole grains, but have been stripped of their healthiest parts – the bran and germ – leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and germ, 25% of a grain’s protein is lost in addition to the reduction of at least seventeen other key nutrients.


Complex carbs have three or more sugar molecules linked together in long chains that the body breaks down for energy. Because these long chains have to be broken down for energy, energy is released much slower as these sugars are digested, which provides the body with steadier, long-lasting energy. This is why higher intakes of complex carbohydrates are associated with better athletic performance. Complex carbohydrates are healthy fuel for the body and are a good source of vitamins, minerals, important antioxidants, phytonutrients (which have anti-inflammatory benefits), and good-for-you fiber.  


Complex carbohydrates are an important source of dietary fiber. Fiber helps the body's digestive system work and fills you up, which helps prevent overeating. Studies show that those who consume more fiber through complex carbs, like whole grains, consistently weigh less than those who get their fiber from simple carbohydrates. One study published in Annals of Internal Medicine also suggests that eating 30 grams of fiber each day can help with weight loss. So, it makes sense to eat more fiber, don't you think? You can find fiber in complex carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, potatoes, beans and peas, butternut and winter squash, and whole grains (like wheat, quinoa, barley, oats, and whole-grain products like Kodiak Cakes).

For optimal well-being, its best to opt for healthy complex carbohydrates like whole grains because they provide lasting energy and important nutrients that are an essential part of any healthy diet. You can find out more about Maria Faires on Instagram and at

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