What is a complex carbohydrate?
Carbs have a poor reputation. However, not all carbohydrates are produced equal. We’ll go into why complex carbs are better than simple carbs and how to include them in your diet.
Carbohydrates have had a roller coaster ride recently, and carbs can be tricky. When you hear the word “carbohydrates,” you might think of white bread, rice, and pasta as foods to restrict or avoid. Have you heard about complex carbohydrates and how they can be integrated into a healthy diet?
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Carbohydrates are needed by everyone, they are the body’s chosen energy source. They provide required fuel to your brain and muscles, since they are digested faster than protein and fat. The amount of carbohydrates you need in a day is determined by your specific requirements. Carbohydrates should account for 45%-65% of your daily calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines.
For example, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, carbohydrates can account for 900-1,300 calories. This amounts to approximately 225-325 grams of carbohydrates per day. And the majority of those carbohydrates can come from complex carbohydrate sources that are good for you.
What makes simple and complex carbohydrates different?
Your body breaks down simple carbohydrates (also known as simple sugars) easily since they only have one or two sugar molecules connected together. Easy carbohydrates are found in honey (fructose and glucose), table sugar (sucrose), and milk (lactose).
Complex carbohydrates contain more nutrients and take longer to digest, so they make you feel complete and don’t cause the same blood sugar spikes as simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates may be contained in grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables (yes, also potatoes).
Many carb foods include a mixture of carbohydrates; for example, fruit contains both natural fruit sugar (fructose, a simple carb) and dietary fiber (also a type of carb). The healthiest carbohydrates are what we term “complex carbohydrates,” which are unrefined plant foods that are low in added sugars and high in fiber, and which we could all use more of in our diet.
Why are complex carbohydrate foods superior to simple carbohydrate foods?
1. Complex carbs hold you fuller for longer and maintain a stable blood sugar level. Foods high in simple carbohydrates, such as candy, pastries, and soda, offer an immediate source of energy, but they are easily digested and spike the blood sugar. This causes the post-sugar crash you’re probably familiar with, as well as a return of hunger. Since their molecular structure is larger, complex carbohydrates take longer to break down. Fiber, which passes slowly across the digestive tract, is also abundant in the best ones.
2. Complex carbohydrates are more nutrient-dense. Complex carbohydrates, in addition to controlling blood sugar, also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that simple carbohydrates lack. A sweet potato, for example, is high in vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants, while simple carbohydrates are high in sugar but low in nutritional value.
3. Complex carbs are great for weight loss. Soluble fiber, such as that found in complex carbohydrates like apples and oatmeal, may assist in the reduction of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Eating 25-35 grams of fiber a day will help you lose weight and hold it off in the long run. Every day, the average American consumes just about 15 grams of fiber.
Complex carbohydrates: How to consume them
Complex carbohydrates may be a nutritious addition to every meal or snack. For additional energy and satiety, combine them with protein and healthy fats. Here are some easy ways to use them.
Eat potatoes: A medium potato has less calories than a cup of pasta and contains 4 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 25% of your daily potassium allowance. Fill the rest of your plate with non – starchy vegetables like broccoli or Brussels sprouts and protein if you’re getting potatoes for dinner.
Select whole grains over refined grains: Quinoa, farro, amaranth, barley, soba noodles, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice are complex carbohydrates that not only include fiber but also additional vitamins and minerals that refined grain products such as white rice and white pasta do not.
Increase the amount of vegetables on your plate: It’s hard to overestimate the value of consuming more vegetables and beans/legumes are an obvious option if you’re searching for complex carbs. Consider incorporating spiralized root vegetables such as sweet potatoes or parsnips into pasta dishes, substituting beans for beef in chili and burgers (or a half-and-half approach), and adding cooked leafy greens to soups, egg scrambles, pastas, and sandwiches.
Add to your snacks complex carbs: Snacks can be fast and easy to prepare while still being high in complex carbohydrates. A sliced apple or banana covered with peanut butter is a decent source of healthy carbs. Alternatively, think outside the box and grab some beans.
Recipe to try
Carbonara with sweet potato, mushrooms and spinach
With the inclusion of spinach and mushrooms, this sweet potato vegetable noodles recipe—a nutritious twist on conventional carbonara—achieves superfood status. To make the longest veggie noodles, look for big, straight sweet potatoes.
Step 1: Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Step 2: Split sweet potatoes lengthwise into long, thin strands using a spiral vegetable slicer or a julienne vegetable peeler. There should be around 12 cups of “noodles” in total.
Step 3: Cook the sweet potatoes in the boiling water for almost 3 minutes, softly stirring once or twice, until they are only beginning to soften but not totally tender. Drain all but 1/4 cup of the boiling water. Remove the noodles from the heat and return them to the oven. In a cup, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pour over the noodles and toss gently with spatula until completely covered.
Step 4: In a big pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook (stirring regularly) until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are beginning to tan, around 6 to 8 minutes. Cook (stirring continuously) for 1 minute, or until garlic is fragrant. Cook (stirring continuously) until the spinach has softened, around 1 to 2 minutes. Toss the vegetables with the noodles to mix them. Add a generous grind of pepper on top.