General Health

Simple Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates: Knowing the Difference

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By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 13 September 2023

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Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet and provide us with the energy we need to function optimally. They come in various forms, but the two main types are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy. When we consume carbohydrate food, they are broken down into glucose, which is used by our cells as fuel. Additionally, carbohydrates play a crucial role in brain function and are involved in the synthesis of important molecules, such as DNA and RNA. In this article, we will explore the distinctions between simple and complex carbohydrates and how you can make  healthier dietary choices.

What are Simple Carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates, also known as "simple sugars," are made up of one or two sugar molecules. They have a simple chemical structure, which allows them to be quickly broken down and absorbed by our bodies. This rapid digestion leads to a quick release of energy. Examples include:

  • Sugars: These  include honey, table sugar, maple syrup, and other sweeteners that we commonly use in our kitchen.
  • Fruits and Fruit Juices: While fruits provide  essential vitamins and fibre, they also contain natural sugars, making them a source of simple carbohydrates.
  • Processed Foods and Sweets: Items such as cakes, cookies, candies, and sugary beverages often contain added sugars, making them high in simple carbohydrates.

What are Complex Carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates are a type of carbohydrate that consists of longer chains of sugar molecules. Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly by the body, providing sustained energy over a longer period. This makes them an important part of a balanced diet. Examples of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains: These include foods like brown rice, quinoa, and oats. Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm, making them rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Legumes: Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. They are also  high in protein and fibre, making them a nutritious option for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Starchy vegetables: Vegetables like sweet potatoes, corn, and peas are considered complex carbohydrates. These vegetables contain higher amounts of starch compared to non-starchy vegetables.

Simple Vs. Complex Carbohydrates

What is the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index (GI) is a tool used to measure how quickly carbohydrates in food can raise blood sugar levels, thereby  aiding in diabetes management. It ranks carbohydrate-containing foods on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher values indicating a faster rise in blood sugar levels.

Foods with a high GI, such as simple carbohydrates, are quickly digested and cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, while foods with a low GI, such as complex carbohydrates, are digested more slowly, leading to a gradual rise in blood sugar levels.

High GI foods may also contribute to inflammation, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Effects of Simple Carbohydrates on Health

Incorporating simple carbohydrates into your diet can have numerous negative effects on your health:

1. Weight Gain and Obesity Risk

  • Simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down by the body, leading to a rapid spike in blood sugar levels.
  • This sudden surge in blood sugar triggers the release of insulin, which helps transfer glucose from the bloodstream into cells for energy production.
  • However, excessive consumption of simple carbohydrates can overload the body with glucose, leading to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity.

2. Increased Risk of Insulin Resistance

  • The frequent intake of simple carbs can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where cells become less responsive to insulin's effects.
  • Insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells cannot effectively absorb glucose from the bloodstream, resulting in high blood sugar levels.
  • Over time, this can strain the pancreas, which produces insulin, and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

3. Dental Health Concerns

  • Simple carbohydrates, particularly those high in sugars, can contribute to tooth decay and cavities.
  • Harmful bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugars present in simple carbs, producing acids that erode tooth enamel.
  • Regular consumption of sugary foods and drinks without proper oral hygiene can lead to dental problems.

Benefits of Complex Carbohydrates for Health

Including complex carbohydrates in your diet offers numerous health benefits:

1. Sustained Energy and Satiety

By including complex carbohydrate food in your diet, you can enjoy sustained energy levels and a feeling of satiety for longer periods. This is because complex carbohydrates take longer to break down in the body, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream.

Moreover, it helps prevent rapid spikes and crashes in blood glucose, promoting overall blood sugar stability.

2. Improved Digestive Health

Another advantage of complex carbohydrates is the presence of fibre, which plays a crucial role in maintaining good digestive health. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. It adds bulk to the diet and aids in digestion. Carbohydrate food high in fibre can help regulate bowel movements, reduce the risk of constipation, and promote feelings of fullness.

3. Reduced risk of chronic diseases

Consuming complex carbohydrates has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain types of cancer. The high fibre content in complex carbohydrates aids in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and promoting heart health. Furthermore, fibre-rich foods have been associated with a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.


Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is crucial for making informed choices about our diet. By opting for complex carbohydrate food, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, we can ensure a steady release of energy and support overall health. Being aware of the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates can help you make conscious choices that support your overall well-being. So, let's aim for a balanced and healthy diet by opting for complex carbohydrates and enjoying them in moderation.

Consult Apollo’s Expert Dieticians


General Health

Frequently Asked Questions

  While it is advisable to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates, completely avoiding them is not necessary. It is important to choose healthier sources such as fruits instead of sugary snacks.  

  Complex carbohydrates can be beneficial for weight loss as they provide a feeling of fullness and promote better digestion. However, portion control and overall calorie intake also play a significant role in weight management.  

  Yes! You can enjoy desserts in moderation by opting for healthier alternatives such as fruit-based desserts or homemade treats made with whole-grain flour and reduced sugar.  

  Carbohydrates can affect blood sugar levels, so diabetics need to monitor their carbohydrate intake. Choosing complex carbohydrates and controlling portion sizes can help manage blood sugar levels effectively.  

  You can incorporate more complex carbohydrates into your diet by opting for whole grain products, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, and choosing legumes as a source of protein.  

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