Carbohydrates come in two basic forms: complex and simple.


Simple carbohydrates are sugars such as glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose.  As they make the very top of the Food Pyramid we will deal with them later. For now, you just need to know that some simple sugars can be easily identified, such as honey, corn syrup, and maple syrup.  But others are tougher to find, especially in frozen dinners, white breads, cereal, and yogurt.  Excluding fruits and vegetables, most simple carbohydrates do not have much nutritional value. 

Complex carbohydrates are long chains of glucose molecules.  They are usually comprised of starches, which are the products of carbohydrate storage in plants.  The major sources of complex carbohydrates are bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and cereals, all making the bottom of the Food Pyramid. ‘Cereals’ does not mean ‘breakfast cereals’, because the latter are processed foods, which contain as much as 60% pure white sugar!!!

There are two groups of complex carbs: high fiber and low fiber. Fiber is an important component of many complex carbohydrates. It is almost always found only in plants, particularly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes (beans and peas). (One exception is chitosan, a dietary fiber made from shellfish skeletons.) Fiber cannot be digested but passes through the intestines, drawing water with it and is eliminated as part of feces content. The following are specific advantages from high-fiber diets (up to 55 grams a day):

  • Studies suggest that diets rich in fiber from whole grains reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes. Sources include dark breads, brown rice, and bran.
  • Insoluble fiber (found in wheat bran, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and fruit and vegetable peels) may help achieve weight loss.
  • Soluble fiber (found in dried beans, oat bran, barley, apples, citrus fruits, and potatoes) has important benefits for the heart, particularly for achieving healthy cholesterol levels and possibly benefiting blood pressure as well. Simply adding breakfast cereal to a diet appears to reduce cholesterol levels. People who increase their levels of soluble fiber should also increase water and fluid intake.

While it is true that fiber is an important part of your diet, even necessary to protect you from some diseases, carbohydrates themselves are not necessary. There are “essential” fatty acids and “essential” amino acids (from protein), however there are no known essential carbs.

“In the presence of dietary carbohydrate, the preferred fuel is glucose and the capacity to mobilize fat is limited. Factors that increase blood glucose during dieting may stimulate insulin release and all the metabolic sequelae of circulating insulin. Fatty acid synthesis is activated and lipolysis is profoundly inhibited by insulin even at very low concentrations of the hormone.” [12] [Note: Fatty acid synthesis is the creation of body fat. Lipolysis is the burning of body fat.]

If you really must eat complex carbs consider choosing high fiber sources from the table below, which, when combined with low glycemic index foods discussed later, provides a winning combination for healthy meals. 

SOURCES OF FIBRE with fibre content per 100 g of food


Cereal Products

Dried Vegetables

Oily dried fruit


Wholemeal Bread

Wholemeal Flour

Wholegrain Rice

White Rice

White Bread







Dried Beans

Split peas







Desiccated coconut

Dried figs











Green Vegetables


Fresh Fruit

Cooked peas


Cooked spinach

Lamb’s lettuce





















Pears with skin

Apples with skin









The digestion of complex carbohydrates begins in the mouth where salivary glands secret the enzyme called amylase, which breaks down starch to maltose.  Carbohydrates typically pass through the stomach unchanged and are further broken down in the duodenum of the small intestine where amylase is secreted from the pancreas. The final product- glucose- is then absorbed by the intestine and released into the blood stream. In response to the absorbed sugar in the blood, our pancreas secretes insulin. The insulin then transports glucose into muscle cells and the liver for later use as an energy fuel.

Certain carbohydrates raise the blood sugar level more than others, even in non-diabetics. A measure of how much a given carbohydrate can elevate the blood sugar level is called the glycemic index (GI). Trivializing, GI is a measure of carbs’ “potency” to affect the weight of an individual. The higher theGI of the carb you eat the more weight you put on.

Generally, simple carbohydrates (sugars) have a higher glycemic index than complex carbohydrates (starches) since they quickly break down in the intestine, causing the blood sugar level to rise rapidly. Starches, in turn, are digested and absorbed slowly, resulting in lower sugar and insulin levels. However, there are some complex carbohydrates that have a higher glycemic index than some of the simple carbohydrates. For example, baked potatoes have a glycemic index considerably higher than that of table sugar.

When your blood glucose levels are low, you get hungry. That is nature’s way of telling you to eat for survival. When you eat a high glycemic carb, you get a quick rush of glucose and insulin. This in turn promotes fat storage (remember, insulin serves to store nutrients for later) and then a drop in blood glucose levels, making you feel tired and hungry again soon afterwards. This is what is commonly referred to as a sugar rush. Eating low GI carbs will allow for a slow, steady release of insulin into the blood stream, which will let your body to avoid spikes in insulin and glucose. Eating low GI carbs every 2-3 hours will keep your blood glucose levels stable, help control your hunger, and limits storing carbs as body fat to a minimum.

On the other hand, eating foods with a high glycemic index may have a number of harmful effects. These may include lower levels of the good (HDL) cholesterol, higher triglycerides (fat) levels, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, increased appetite, and weight gain.


Adding fiber to any meal slows the absorption of sugar, hence lowers the glycemic index of the meal and makes you slimmer in the long run.

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