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The Importance of Complex Carbohydrates

By Sara Butler

Carbohydrates have a bad reputation, but they’re an important part of your diet. What’s essential to understanding carbs is that they’re not all created equal. Here’s what you need to know about complex carbohydrates and how to make sure you’re getting what you need each day.

What Are They?

Complex carbohydrates are more commonly known as:

  • Maltose
  • Starch
  • Cellulose

You find them in vegetables, grains, fruits, seeds, nuts, and legumes. All plant-based foods contain complex carbs, usually a combination of cellulose and starch. Plants store their energy in natural starches, which are also considered a complex carb. Peas, rice, grains, potatoes, corn, and legumes all contain starch.

Plants are able to keep their shapes with cellulose, which is the main component of fiber. Broccoli, spinach, and green beans are examples of vegetables high in cellulose but low in starch.

The biggest difference between a complex carb and a simple one is the size of their molecules. Simple carbs are made up of only one or two units of sugar while complex carbs have at least three. Examples of simple carbs include honey, white sugar, syrups, and fructose.

Differences in Digestion

Starches tend to be digested faster and absorbed quickly, which is why starchy foods such as pasta can cause a spike in blood sugar. It’s a lot like eating something high in regular white sugar, from your body’s perspective anyway.

That’s why when you’re approaching complex carbs it’s so important to eat whole grains and vegetables that are high in fiber. This helps to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and won’t cause as much of a spike in your blood sugar.

How Much You Need

Complex carbs should account for about half of your daily calories. Adults need between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, so eating a diet high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains is important for your overall health and wellness.

When you plan your meals for the week, envision your plate divided into fourths. Half the plate should be colorful vegetables and fruit while one-fourth of your plate should have something with starch, such as potatoes, rice, pasta, or bread. The last fourth of the plate should be a source of protein such as fish or poultry. You can even use a plant-based protein such as lentils or legumes. The key is to keep your protein, carbohydrates, and fats balanced.

Don't give up on carbohydrates! Instead, make sure to eat the right kind to benefit your health! 

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Orlando, Fla.

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