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Healthy Weight Center > Nutrition > Understanding Carbs: 1 | 2

Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates—Understanding the Difference (cont.)

The Whole Picture

Good and bad foods exist in each food group: fat, protein and carbohydrate. Just as there are "good" and "bad" fats, not all carbs are created equal. Fast acting carbohydrates are the simplest in nature and though they quickly enter the bloodstream after we eat, they do not provide long-lasting energy. These include fruit juice, sweetened beverages, and other refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice. These foods should be limited, and when consumed occasionally, they should be paired with higher fiber foods such as veggies or beans, to slow the uptake of sugar into the bloodstream.

Sugars are a diverse group and can be found naturally in all carbohydrate foods, from dairy to fruit. Sugar can also be added to foods in the form of sucrose, or common table sugar. No matter what the sugar source, it is converted into glucose, which is the first energy source our body utilizes. Although our bodies prefer burning glucose to other nutrients, it's our job to ensure we are fueling ourselves with the right carbohydrates.

A Complex Issue

Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, take longer to break down than simple sugars. When eaten within a balanced diet, they leave us more satiated, keep blood sugars even, and provide excellent nutrition, including fiber. They also are better sources than their refined counterparts of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and chromium—all needed for normal body function. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, pasta and cereals, whole wheat bread, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Whole fruits take longer to break down than juice, therefore providing energy for a longer period of time.

Cutting calories by reducing all nutrients, especially saturated and trans fats, is the key to long-term weight loss and maintenance. The FDA summarizes its obesity report by putting the findings in perspective, "To manage your weight, balance the calories you eat with your physical activity. Have a carrot, not the carrot cake; or have cherry yogurt, not cherry pie." Let's hope more Americans follow this advice.

— Eileen Peterson, RD

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