Many experts attribute the large scale epidemic or obesity in the United States, where 1/3 of all adults are obese in large part to a steady increase over a prolonged period of time in the intake of unhealthy carbohydrates, which include, but are not limited to table sugar and all items made from it, refined starches, processed food and even too much fruit sugar.
According one study, (Cohen E, et al., Statistical Review of U.S. Macronutrient Consumption Data, 1965–2011), the number of overweight and obese Americans rose from 42.3% to 66.1% from 1971 to 2011 and during this time:
- The consumption of fat decreased from 44.7% to 33.6%
- The consumption of carbohydrates increased from 39% to 50% from 1965 to 2011
Researchers surmise that these statistics imply a link between high carb intake in our diets and obesity on a societal scale.
Before judgments are made, it is important to understand the major differences between the two types of carbs, and if one is particularly more advantageous over the other. It is also important to consider your goals in diet, do you want to lose weight, are you pre-diabetic, or have diabetes, or maybe you are fit and health?
Complex carbs or multiple-chain sugars are believed to not result in a rapid surge of glucose into the blood stream, but rather a slower, more sustained release over the course of many minutes, or hours.
Insulin is better able to (though not in all individuals) handle the glucose load, reducing the likelihood of excessive sugar being left in the blood stream.
- Whole grains: wild rice, brown rice, whole wheat, spirulina, rye and other whole grains that are not processed, such as white rice, pasta and white bread
- Simple Carbs
Simple carbs are single-chain sugars, therefore the name simple, they do not take long to process in the body and do cause erratic blood sugar spikes to occur.
- Sucrose is plain old table sugar
- Glucose is found in some fruits and starchy vegetables
- Fructose is the sugar in all fruits and honey and is also used to make many processed food products because of its high level of sweetness
- Galactose is the sugar that occurs naturally in dairy, like milk and yogurt
Complex Carbs In Detail
Maybe Useful In Helping To Manage Blood Sugar Levels In Diabetics
Type 2 diabetics, in particular, have insulin that is both impotent and possibly deficient in quantity. As such, the body is ill prepared to properly metabolize, or store blood sugar, causing an abnormally high amount to be left circulating in the blood. Often, complex carbs are recommended over simple carbs to those with insulin issues and diabetes to better manage blood sugars and reduce glycemic load.
However, it should be noted that not all people with diabetes or pre-diabetes react well to complex carbs, where for them they cause the same erratic spikes in blood sugar as simple carbs do.
Better For Weight Loss And Maintenance
When it comes to the body’s weight control mechanism, hormones play an extremely important part. Once again, our friendly neighborhood insulin can be the cause of you gaining dozens of pounds, as opposed to maintaining your body weight. The fact is insulin is a “storage” hormone.
It wants to shuttle as much sugar and fat as possible into your cells, while at the same time restricting the usage of fat (also known as lipolysis). This inhibition of fat breakdown, and enhanced storage of the same, is one major reason sugars contribute to weight gain.
Slower digesting carbs do not result in a very acute insulin spike, so its duration of action is shorter, and may not contribute to weight gain as simple carbs do.
However, while all above maybe theoretically true, not everyone tolerates carbs well, especially in regards to weight loss and this includes complex carbs and some experts disagree that simply using the label of “complex” to evaluate a food’s impact on weight management or loss is lacking, and that evaluating “glycemic load” of a food is a far better predictor.
Evaluating Glycemic Load
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale of 1 to 100 that measures a food’s impact on raising blood sugars or its glycemic load, the higher the number the higher the load.
- A white potato without skin has a GI of 98, while one raw apple has a 34 GI
The potato is considered a complex carb, while the apple is considered to be a simple carb. As you can see, the potato is much more likely to cause erratic spikes in blood sugar and weight gain than the apple.
One study proved this: Doctors and other researchers in the Harvard Nurses Health Study (the largest epidemiological study conducted in the US into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women and has been going strong since 1976) found that baked potatoes and cold cereal were foods that contributed most to increasing blood sugar levels to an unacceptable level, known as “glycemic load.”
Therefore, low carb diets, like Ketogenic and Atkins take the viewpoint that all complex carbs are inhibitors to weight loss due to their high glycemic load, and in order to induce ketosis (the goal of these diets) the body’s ability to burn fat for energy instead of dietary carbs.
In a strict low carb diet, complex carbs are eliminated or else the body will continue to turn them into glucose and use them for energy defeating the entire purpose of strict low carb, which is to induce ketosis where the body burns stored fat for energy instead of dietary carbs.
- Maintaining Energy Levels
One of the common myths floating around is that carbs are the body’s only source of energy and one that is typically tough to replace. WRONG!
When you are following a very strict low carb diet, and eliminate carbs, your body will go into a metabolic state known as Ketosis, where it burns stored and dietary fat for energy, a perfectly safe process, and the reason why low carb is so successful in helping people to lose weight.
The body is highly adaptive, and many studies have shown that the body is more than capable of running on stored fats and maintaining energy levels. It may take a couple of weeks for the body to adjust, but in the end those who succeed with low carb eating find they lose a lot of weight, and look and feel better than ever.
Additionally, when you reduce carb intake, you eliminate a fat storage process that results from eating them. When you eat carbs they turn into glucose in the bloodstream to be used as energy, but any that is not immediately used gets stored as fat.
- Simple Carbohydrates Do Have Their Benefits
Many people testify to simple sugars having zero importance in the real world, however this is not exactly correct. In fact, simple sugars do have a few unique uses under very specific circumstances and are thus important in conditional scenarios.
- Pre-Workout Energy – Those who participate in intense exercise, weight lifting, and endurance training need simple carbs to get through grueling workouts. Bodybuilders for example require glucose from carbs as that is what muscles use for energy during exercise. For this reason, there are two special versions of the ketogenic diet tailored for fitness enthusiasts and athletes.
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet or CKD – This plan is widely used by athletes, bodybuilders, weight lifters and anyone participating in high intensity exercise and features short periods of higher-carb refeeds with 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high carb intake days
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet or TKD – This plan is also used by bodybuilders, athletes and those who workout regularly to fuel intense workouts and includes high load carb intake based around workouts.
- Pre-Workout Nutrition- Simple carbs can play a critical role in nutrition following your workout, although many people do not take advantage at this time and miss crucial recovery. Following a workout (especially weight training) muscle fibers are damaged and in critical need of recovery nutrients. However, not just anything will suffice at this time; in order to kick-start the recovery of muscle cells, and shutdown muscle catabolism, speed is important. Research has shown that a rapidly digesting protein shake and fast digesting glucose drink taken immediately following a workout reduced post workout pain, results in increased muscle protein synthesis and makes the time you spent working out worth it.
- Ease Of Digestion- simple carbs are important sources of energy for persons with digestive difficulties, or young children unable to handle complex digestion. In these cases, simple carbs are not only useful, but also likely essential to the health and well being of these persons.
- Emergency Fuel – simple carbs can be a lifesaver in persons suffering from acute hypoglycemia, such as is possible if a diabetic has overdosed on his medication, or mistook an insulin shot. In addition, athletes performing at a high level may experience periods of acute blood sugar drops, resulting in dizziness, nausea and fainting, simple carbs are especially important at these times, as they can literally save your life.
As you can see, a definitive verdict cannot be reached into which is superior, as they each have distinct advantages. However, if you fall within normal parameters of health, chances are your needs for simple carbs will be much less.