Simple vs. Complex Carbs by Ainsley Rodriguez

April 14, 2018


Get to know your carbohydrates with fitness expert Ainsley Rodriguez. In this blog, she breaks down everything you need to know about the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.


Before we can discuss the difference between simple vs. complex carbohydrates, we need to know what carbohydrates are in the first place. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies. They are the only direct energy source for our brains, and they are also the primary fuel for our muscles. We can find them in many different fruits, veggies, grains, and dairy products and they include sugars, starches, and fiber. The two types of carbohydrates are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates

Also known as simple sugars, simple carbohydrates are found in refined or processed foods like white table sugar and candy. They are also found in healthier foods such as fruit and milk.

It is healthier to get your simple sugars from fruit and milk as opposed to processed foods because sugar isn’t added to them like it is with candy or baked goods. These foods contain plenty of other nutrients such as vitamins, fiber and calcium.

Simple sugars are made of one or two sugar molecules. They are the quickest source of energy and fastest to digest. When eating simple sugars, you are more likely to feel hungry again sooner. With slower digesting foods, such as whole grain foods with complex carbs, you stay satisfied longer.

Complex Carbohydrates

Also known as dietary starches, complex carbohydrates are made of sugar molecules that are bound together.

These include whole plant foods and grain products such as breads, crackers, pasta, and rice. When unprocessed and unrefined, they are often rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Again, with complex carbs, some foods are better choices than others. Refined grains such as white flour and white rice have been processed, which means many of their nutrients and fiber have been removed in the process.

Unrefined grains, however, still contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber (which is great for your digestive system). Fiber helps you feel full, making it less likely for you to overeat. For example, a bowl of oatmeal will fill you up better than sugary candy, yet they still contain the same amount of calories!

When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into simple sugars, and then absorbs them into the bloodstream. Once they absorb, the sugar levels in your system rise and the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which is needed to move the sugars from the bloodstream into the cells, where it can be used as an energy source.

Choose the Best Carbohydrate Sources

Typically, ¾ of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates and it is important to choose the best sources. This means choosing complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates as much as possible. This also means choosing carbohydrates that still have their fiber intact like brown rice and bread over white varieties.

The best advice for eating carbohydrates is always choose whole, unprocessed foods from plant sources. Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice, a whole grain side dish instead of crackers, fresh veggies instead of potato chips. Also remember that if you live on protein rich foods like meat and eggs, these foods are entirely lacking carbs and you need to balance your diet with rich carbohydrate sources as well. When shopping, look for words like “whole” in front of grain, and try to avoid corn syrup as an ingredient (especially one of the first ones listed).

Here are the ways you can upgrade your carbs:

  • Skip the candy and eat fruit.
  • Avoid soda and go for freshly squeezed fruit juice, or better yet, a club soda with a splash of juice.
  • Stay away from white bread. Instead, choose whole wheat or seven-grain bread.
  • Choose whole wheat or cracked wheat pilaf over enriched pasta.
  • Instead of white crackers, go for whole grain crackers, or better yet, veggie sticks.
  • Instead of a chocolate chip cookie, go for an oatmeal raisin cookie, or better yet, some strawberries.
  • Ditch the sugary cereals, go for bran cereal, or better yet, rolled oats.

The choice is yours, and with the right knowledge, you can make the best decisions for your body!

About Ainsley Rodriguez
Ainsley Rodriguez’s fitness journey started a decade ago when she was just 16 years old. It took Ainsley years of study, training and hard work to earn her “overnight” success as a fitness celebrity, strength coach and nutritionist. Currently a member of Team BPI, Ainsley shares her advice and insights in her blog series, as well as on her Instagram account.

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