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Simple Vs Complex Carbohydrates | Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight

carbohydrates dr. morgan nolte fiber sugar weight loss Apr 06, 2019

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You Will Learn

  • The difference between a simple and complex carb.
  • Why some complex carbs can stifle your weight loss. 
  • Complex carbs that won’t hinder your weight loss. 
  • Simple carbs that will greatly hinder your weight loss efforts.  


We've All Been There (Myself Included!)  

You told yourself before the party you were only going to have one bite or helping of desert, but then the time came for desert and you just couldn’t say no to more. It was like the pie or cake or ice cream (or all of the above) was literally calling your name saying “eat me I’m so delicious and you know it, one little bite will be fine”…3 servings of desert later and 😲😳😬…better luck next time!  

Or, you told yourself that you were going to skip the bread at Olive Garden this time, but the breadsticks were passed around and you felt silly to not take one, so you did, and boy was it yummy. So yummy in fact it made you crave that tiramisu. Your plan was already derailed for the day so why not just start eating healthy again tomorrow.  

I could tell you stories like this all day and I’m sure you could completely relate.  

When you are trying to lose weight, it is so much easier to stick to your plan and say no to cravings or temptations when you understand WHY certain foods (especially sugar) can wreak havoc on your health and leave you wanting MORE!!  

Today I will focus on two questions:  

1. What is the difference between a simple and a complex carbohydrate?  

2. How to eat carbs and still lose weight.  


What is the Difference Between a Simple and Complex Carbohydrate?  

To best answer this question, it is important to remember the 3 main types of carbohydrates: fiber, sugar, and starch. It will be helpful to review the sugar article found HERE so you know what the following terms mean.  

Sugar in the form of monosaccharaides (glucose, fructose, galactose) and disaccharides (lactose and sucrose) are considered simple because they break down quickly and easily by the body.  

Fiber and starch are considered “complex” because they are made of more than one or two molecules and it takes the body longer to digest them.  

As a rule of thumb, complex carbohydrates are better for us than simple. Some people call complex carbohydrates “good carbs” and simple carbohydrates “bad carbs”. I personally don’t think it creates a healthy mindset to think of foods as “good” or “bad” so will avoid those terms.  


Why Eating Some 'Complex Carbs' Can Stifle Your Weight Loss Efforts  

Starch that is found naturally in foods like whole grains, potatoes, beans, and some vegetables comes with fiber and often some protein and fat that slows overall digestion and causes a lower insulin response than refined and processed carbs like table sugar and flour.  

Flour has been stripped of much of the fiber, protein, and fat that was in the original whole grain. So flour ends up containing a lot of concentrated starch (which remember is just many molecules of sugar).  

So, refined starch will affect our body very similarly to sugar.  

One more thing to consider…if you are really trying to lose weight or belly fat, starchy foods, whether refined as in flour or unrefined in the form of lots of beans, starchy vegetables, or whole grains, will cause too high of an insulin release from the high amount of glucose in those foods. Insulin causes fat to be created and stored.  

Just because “complex” carbs are better for you than “simple” carbs, they may not be the best choice for your weight or fat loss goals.  

It doesn’t matter where the sugar (glucose and fructose) comes from, the body will use what it needs and the rest will be quickly converted into glycogen that is stored in the liver and muscles until room runs out and the rest is turned into fat and stored in our body.  


Complex Carbs That Won't Hinder Your Weight Loss  

Below is a list of complex carbohydrates that contain a lot of fiber and are relatively low in starch and/or sugar that you can enjoy as much as you want and still lose weight.  

  • Non-starchy vegetables: Peppers, artichoke, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, beets, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, summer squash, onion, mushrooms, spaghetti squash, eggplant (p.s. has anyone ever actually had eggplant??), cucumber, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale…the list goes on!, and some fruits like tomatoes and avocados  

Below is a list of complex carbohydrates that contain fiber but a little more starch and/or sugar. Enjoy in moderation when trying to lose weight.  

  • Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, carrots, peas, canned beans, sweet potatoes, potatoes (with skin, french fries don’t count), corn, lentils, chickpeas, whole and unprocessed grains like oats, barley, wild rice, and quinoa.  


Simple Carbs That Will Greatly Hinder Your Weight Loss Efforts 

Below is a list of simple carbohydrates that contain little fiber (if any in some cases) and a lot of starch and/or sugar that will greatly hinder (I was going to say sabotage but thought that was a strong word when talking about food…) your weight loss efforts.  

When trying to lose weight keep these foods to a minimum such as a special occasion or social gathering:  

  • Flour products in the form of bread and pasta, any fruit besides berries, white or brown rice, products with added sugar in any form whether that be cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave or whatever the sweetener is – these added sugars are found in sneaky places like cereals, yogurts, and sauces so look at your food labels, cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc…all that “good” stuff. 😉  


Bottom Line  

The above recommendations are for someone trying to lose weight. If you don’t need to lose weight and just want to be healthy, you will be fine to eat whole, real, unprocessed carbohydrates.  

The unfortunate truth is that the more processed and refined flour and sugar products you consume, the more likely you are to struggle with weight and illness down the road.  

That doesn’t mean NEVER have them, but save them for special and rare occasions. Your health is worth it. Start forming good habits today!  


Action Items  

  • If you are currently eating a lot of processed and refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, or cereal, try spaghetti squash, low-carb tortillas, and chickpea pasta instead.
  • Try to reduce the amount of sweets, pop, and candy you are eating. Those will turn right into fat once they are digested unless you burn them off right away with a lot of exercise (and most of us don't!).