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Carbohydrates: Explained

The debate surrounding the health effects of carbohydrates remains unsettled, with proponents on both sides presenting their arguments. In order to discern the truth, let us delve into the facts and find answers to key questions regarding this topic.

First and foremost, what exactly is a carbohydrate? A carbohydrate, classified as a macronutrient, encompasses a group of large and recurring organic compounds found in foods and living tissues. These compounds, such as sugar, starch, and cellulose, generally consist of hydrogen and oxygen, mirroring the composition of water. Carbohydrates are broken down in the body to provide energy, primarily in the form of blood glucose and blood sugar. In fact, carbohydrates make up at least half of the daily food intake for individuals worldwide.

While carbohydrates are often viewed as a single category, there are two distinct types: simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates can exist as either monosaccharides or disaccharides, whereas complex carbohydrates are classified as polysaccharides. The primary distinction lies in the number of sugar molecules, with simple carbs having a lower count and complex carbs possessing a higher one.

Simple sugars, which are quickly broken down, can be found in foods such as milk, fruits, and vegetables. However, it is important to note that foods and beverages like soda, cake, and candy are also considered simple carbohydrates but do not offer the same nutritional value as the aforementioned sources. Complex carbohydrates are present in foods such as beans, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables. These sugars occur naturally and, when not immediately utilized, are stored in the liver and muscles for future energy needs.


Now that we have an overview of the two carbohydrate types, which is better for the body? Generally, consuming foods or beverages containing complex carbohydrates is more beneficial. This category provides a wider range of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber, promoting satiety and supplying sustained energy. Nevertheless, excessive intake of starchy foods can have detrimental effects on the body.

However, the superiority of complex carbohydrates does not imply complete avoidance of simple carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables, and milk primarily consist of simple carbs, which offer comparable benefits to complex carbs. Nonetheless, it is crucial to be cautious of highly processed simple carbohydrates, as they often contain excessive amounts of added sugar. Processed foods, such as various sweets, soda, and refined grains, should be regarded as junk food and limited in consumption.

In conclusion, understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is essential in maintaining a healthy diet. Complex carbohydrates generally offer more nutrients, but excessive consumption of starchy foods should be avoided. Simple carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and milk are beneficial due to their nutrient content. However, processed simple carbohydrates with added sugars should be consumed sparingly.

In summary, both simple and complex carbohydrates have their advantages and disadvantages. Complex carbohydrates, with their higher nutrient profile, are generally more favorable for the body. However, it is important to strike a balance and be mindful of the types and amounts of carbohydrates consumed, ensuring a balanced and healthy diet.


Slavin J, Carlson J. Carbohydrates. Adv Nutr.