Don’t Miss a Single Update or New Release! Sign up Today

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

Simple Vs. Complex Carbs: What's The Difference?
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

Medically reviewed by

Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 4 min read

There is conflicting information out there about carbs.

Studies have shown that low-carb diets are effective for weight loss, but that doesn't mean that eating carbs makes you fat. In fact, there are plenty of health benefits associated with eating carb-containing foods, but that's only if you eat the right kinds. While some high-carb foods are highly nutritious and even helpful for weight management, others are detrimental to your health.


Carbohydrates are the main source of calories in a healthy diet and are the primary fuel for the brain and muscles. Typically, about three-fourths of daily calories should come from carbohydrates.

There are three different classes of carbs. 


Sugars: Individual sugar molecules or short chains of sugar molecules. These include glucose, fructose, galactose and sucrose.

Starches: Longer chains of carbohydrate molecules that need to be broken down in the digestive system.

Fiber: Carbohydrates that the body cannot digest.


The primary function of carbs is to power the body. Most of them are broken down into glucose in the digestive system and provide the body with essential food. Each carb should provide around for calories per gram, except for fiber; which generally does not provide many calories. 


It's also important to choose the best carbohydrate sources. That means two things:

Choose complex carbohydrates, rather than simple carbohydrates.

Choose carbohydrates that still have their fiber, like brown rice or brown bread, rather than white rice or white bread, from which the fiber has been stripped away.


Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates may be referred to as dietary starch and are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil. They are often rich in fiber, thus satisfying and health promoting. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and, therefore, are also often high in vitamins and minerals. Complex carbs are healthier than simple carbs because they are generally nutrient dense. This means they contain a large number of nutrients in relation to the number of calories they provide.


Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are sugars. All simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules. They are the quickest source of energy, as they are very rapidly digested. On the contrary, simple carbs contain "empty" calories, meaning they have calories, but very little nutritional value. Simple carbs are digested very quickly, which causes a spike in your blood sugar. The blood sugar spike stimulates your pancreas to release a large dose of insulin, which often leads to a blood sugar "crash," leaving you hungry and craving more sugar 

Choose whole, unprocessed foods from plant sources. Choosing whole fruit instead of juice, a whole-grain side dish instead of crackers, and fresh vegetables instead of potato chips will ensure you are getting complex carbohydrates, complete with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Remember also that all types of meat and eggs are essentially devoid of carbohydrates.


When buying packaged foods, check food labels for the word "whole" in front of the word "grain" and make sure that corn syrup or one of the other simple carbohydrates listed above doesn't appear among the first few ingredients on the list.


This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.