Simple carbohydrates are smaller, easily processed molecules. They contain either one sugar molecule or two sugar molecules connected. (Simple sugar cube, hard candies, etc...)
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, have more than two sugar groups linked together. (Whole grains, quinoa, steel cut oats, etc…)
“Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrate and cannot be broken down any further since they contain only a single sugar group. Oligosaccharides consist of short chains (di-, tri-, etc) of monosaccharide units all put together. And polysaccharides are long chains of monosaccharide units all put together.” Dr. John Berardi Precision Nutrition
Why is carbohydrate intake so important?
All carbohydrates we consume are digested into simple sugars before they’re absorbed by the body, it doesn’t matter what the food source is, a jolly rancher hard candy or a high-fiber, low glycemic bowl of oatmeal. The difference is the “healthier carbs” are digested and absorbed much slower while the “non-healthy” carbs are digested very quickly.
Once broken down and absorbed, these sugars go to the liver to fill energy stores. After that, they enter the bloodstream and travel to the other cells of the body. This is when insulin is released to handle this “sugar load” on the body.
Carbohydrates are primarily a source of immediate energy for all of your body’s cells.
Like I said above, carbohydrates also cause a release of insulin. A larger insulin response can be beneficial at certain times (like after an intense workout) and not so beneficial at certain times (like before bed).
This is what you need to know….
Although the process of digestion is the same, people differ in their tolerance and handling of carbohydrates. The type of carbohydrate also plays an important part….
When someone’s diet consists of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates (which the body breaks down rapidly), you will notice elevations in blood triglyceride levels (fat in the blood), bad cholesterol, and insulin resistance.
When someone’s diet consists of carbohydrates that are digested and absorbed slowly, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, these can help to control insulin response, energy levels, and body composition. Such unrefined, unprocessed, complex carbohydrate sources may reduce triglycerides and improve one’s cholesterol profile (Jenkins et al 1987).
Most people should be consuming a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, with most of that coming from vegetables and fruits. Higher amounts of carbohydrates are needed with increased muscle mass and increased physical activity levels. But be careful! Too much carbohydrate consumption will be stored for future use (as fat or glycogen).
The rate at which the carbohydrate is digested and absorbed can influence body composition and health.
A slower carbohydrate breakdown from lower glycemic carbohydrates is better for satiety (fullness), blood sugar, and body composition. These carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
Rapid digestion of simpler, higher-glycemic carbohydrates is helpful during the pre- and post-workout periods.
Consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day from vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to make sure you have optimal health and a good body composition.