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Simple Carbs Vs Complex Carbs: What's The Difference?

A picture of bagels

Carbohydrates, often referred to as carbs, are one of the three main macronutrients essential for the proper functioning of the human body, alongside proteins and fats. Chemically, they consist of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.

Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the body, particularly for the brain and muscles. When consumed, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which serves as a readily available fuel for various physiological processes.

The importance of carbohydrates lies in their role as the body's preferred and most efficient energy source. Glucose derived from carbohydrates provides the necessary energy for brain function, supporting cognitive processes such as concentration and memory.

Additionally, during physical activities, muscles utilize glucose as a quick and accessible energy supply. Carbohydrates also play a crucial part in sparing proteins from being used as an energy source, allowing them to fulfill their primary functions in tissue repair, immune system support, and enzyme production.

Moreover, certain types of carbohydrates, such as fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, contribute to digestive health by promoting regular bowel movements and aiding in the prevention of various diseases, including cardiovascular conditions and type 2 diabetes. Despite their importance, it's essential to consume a balanced amount of carbohydrates, as excessive intake can lead to weight gain and other health issues.

Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates can be broadly classified into two main types based on their chemical structure and how quickly the body digests and absorbs them: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates:

Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, consist of one or two sugar units. They are quickly digested and absorbed by the body, leading to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. Due to their rapid digestion, simple carbohydrates provide a quick burst of energy. However, this energy is short-lived, often followed by a crash in blood sugar levels, which can leave individuals feeling fatigued and craving more sugar.

Examples of common simple carbs:

Table Sugar (Sucrose): This is the common sugar used in households and is derived from sugar cane or sugar beets.

Brown Sugar: Similar to white sugar but with molasses added for flavor and color.

Honey: A natural sweetener produced by bees from flower nectar.

Maple Syrup: A sweet syrup made from the sap of sugar maple trees.

Molasses: A byproduct of the sugar-making process, often used as a sweetener.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): A sweetener made from corn starch that is widely used in processed foods and beverages.

Fruit Juices: While fruits contain natural sugars, fruit juices can be high in simple sugars without the fiber present in whole fruits, leading to a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.

Candy and Sweets: Many candies, chocolates, and sweet treats contain simple carbohydrates in the form of various sugars.

Soft Drinks and Soda: These beverages often contain high amounts of added sugars or high-fructose corn syrup.

Complex Carbohydrates:

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are composed of multiple sugar units linked together in a more complex structure. They take longer for the body to break down into individual sugar molecules and, as a result, provide a more sustained release of energy.

The presence of fiber in many complex carbohydrate sources further slows down the digestion process, promoting a gradual and steady increase in blood sugar levels. This steady release of energy helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and keeps individuals feeling fuller for a more extended period, which can be beneficial for weight management.

Examples of common complex carbs:

Whole Grains:

Brown Rice: Contains the bran, germ, and endosperm, providing more fiber and nutrients than white rice.

Quinoa: A grain-like seed that is rich in protein and contains all essential amino acids.

Oats: Rolled oats or steel-cut oats are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates and fiber.


Lentils: High in fiber and protein, lentils are a nutritious source of complex carbohydrates.

Chickpeas: Also known as garbanzo beans, they are rich in fiber and can be used in various dishes.

Black Beans, Kidney Beans, and other legumes: These provide a good balance of complex carbohydrates and protein.


Sweet Potatoes: A nutrient-dense root vegetable with complex carbohydrates and a good source of vitamins.

Butternut Squash: A winter squash that is rich in complex carbs and provides various vitamins and minerals.

Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, and Cauliflower: These cruciferous vegetables contain complex carbohydrates along with fiber.

Whole Wheat Products:

Whole Wheat Bread: Made from whole wheat flour, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Whole Wheat Pasta: A healthier alternative to traditional pasta, providing more fiber and nutrients.

Barley and Bulgar: Whole grains that can be used in soups, salads, or as side dishes.

Wild Rice: A nutrient-dense grain that contains more fiber and nutrients compared to white rice.


Apples, Pears, and Berries: While fruits contain natural sugars, they also provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals.


Chia Seeds: High in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Flaxseeds: Provide fiber, healthy fats, and various nutrients.

Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs:

In summary, the primary difference between simple and complex carbohydrates lies in their molecular structure and the rate at which the body processes them.

Simple carbohydrates provide quick but short-lived bursts of energy, while complex carbohydrates offer a more sustained and steady release of energy.

Choosing complex carbohydrates over simple ones is often recommended for maintaining better overall health and energy balance.


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