In this article we will try to address how simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels and what their health consequences may be.
Keeping track of carbohydrates in your diet is an important part of managing type 2 and type 1 diabetes.
It is also helpful to have some knowledge of the difference between the two types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates found in everything from table sugar to fruits, and complex carbohydrates or starches, are contained in foods like whole grains and vegetables starchy like sweet potatoes.
Each type of carbohydrate affects blood glucose levels somewhat differently.
So, whether you're managing the carbohydrates in your diet by counting them, observing your portions using the Plate Method, or following another carbohydrate tracking protocol, understanding the effects of each type of carbohydrate can help you get the most out of your treatment plan, control your blood sugar levels, lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight and help prevent complications.
Simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed faster than complex ones, so simple carbohydrates can raise blood glucose levels faster and to a greater extent.
Fast facts on carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients in food that provide fuel for the body to function properly. The other two are protein and fat.
During digestion, all three are broken down into elements that the body can use for energy: Proteins are reduced to amino acids and fats are reduced to fatty acids, which are then stored for future use.
Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are broken down into glucose (sugar) which, after a quick shutdown in the liver, enters the bloodstream and is immediately available to be absorbed by cells for energy.
This is why consuming carbohydrates can affect blood sugar levels so quickly and dramatically.
This is also why it is so important for people with type 2 diabetes to control the amount of carbohydrates they eat. During this disease, the pancreas does not produce enough hormone called insulin that regulates glucose levels in the blood or the body has become resistant to the effects of insulin.
In both cases, glucose can build up in the bloodstream.
Simple carbohydrates are, as the name implies, simple structures. In chemical terms, they are small molecules that consist of a single monosaccharide or two monosaccharides joined together, which are called disaccharides.
Glucose, the type of sugar the body and brain use for energy, is a monosaccharide, just like fructose and galactose. Disaccharides include lactose, sucrose, and maltose.
Simple carbohydrates are fairly easy for the body to digest - most are processed in the small intestine, where enzymes break them down into individual components that are then passed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream to be used for energy.
Any sugar that is not used right away turns into fat and is stored. This is the reason why eating foods with a lot of added sugar can contribute to weight gain.
Examples of simple carbohydrates
Many foods that contain naturally occurring simple carbohydrates are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients, so they can, and should, be part of a diabetes-friendly diet. Examples include:
· Fruit, including nuts and unsweetened fruit juice.
· Dairy products.
· Certain vegetables.
· Certain grains.
Fruits are valuable sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, as are vegetables and grains. Similarly, dairy products offer protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
However, not all simple sugars are processed at the same speed. For example, because whole fruit contains fiber, the fructose it contains is digested and absorbed more slowly than sucrose, for example, and may have a less dramatic effect on blood glucose levels.
Complex carbohydrates, known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, are made up of longer, more complex chains of sugar molecules, so they take longer for the body to digest than to process simple carbohydrates.
Some complex carbohydrate foods contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals and take longer to digest. This means they have a less immediate impact on your blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly.
Examples of complex carbohydrates
Certain complex carbohydrates are better options than others. The healthiest complex carbohydrates are those that have not been processed or refined:
· Whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, oats, whole barley (instead of pearl barley), bulgur (which is made from cracked wheat), and farro.
· Grain-like foods, such as quinoa (a seed) and buckwheat (an herb).