In a previous post, we covered simple carbohydrates.
The short of it is that a simple carbohydrate is a short chain of sugar that doesn’t require digestive processing. This means it uptakes into the bloodstream quickly and can cause higher spikes in blood sugar compared to other carbs, complex carbs for example. For best health and blood sugar regulation, simple carbs are best avoided.
Today we're going to talk about complex carbohydrates and go over what they are, examples, and how they are different to simple carbs.
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What Is A Complex Carbohydrate?
Complex carbohydrates are longer chains of sugars (aka glucose) known as polysaccaharrides – glycogen, starches, and fiber. You've probably heard that eating complex carbohydrates is better for your health. While that is true, complex carbs are generally a better choice than simple carbs, there is a bit more too it.
For optimal blood sugar control many complex carbohydrate sources still need to be avoided because although the type of carb is important, the amount of carbs is even more important. Many of the complex carbs contain way too many carbs overall, which won't help you control blood sugar and A1C.
So let's go over the different types of complex carbs, and then we'll cover the practical stuff.
You won't hear about glycogen much in the way of the food we eat because there is only a small amount contained in meats. But you may hear of glycogen in the body because when we eat carbs we store some of the glucose as glycogen in the muscles and liver. This gives our body the ability to break it down for use when we need it. Still, it doesn't really relate to the food you actually eat.
Plants store glucose as starch – giant chains of sugars.
Fiber is what forms the structure of plants, so different amounts of fiber are found in all sources of plant foods.
There are 2 types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble means the fiber can dissolve in your stomach water and enzymes and this makes them like a gel that slows down digestion of foods, and slows down the uptake of glucose into the bloodstream.
Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve but helps to form a lattice-like structure in the digestive tract that cleans out our digestive tract and prevents constipation. Both forms of fiber are very good for us and can help you manage your diabetes. Fiber also helps fill us up and provides many health benefits.
Where do we get these fibers?
We need to eat LOTS of vegetables, and vegetables are a source of carbohydrate.
Most people don’t realize that vegetables are a source of carbohydrate. Here at DMP we encourage a low carb diet and many people often say: ‘but don't we need to eat carbs'…
Yes we do. A low carb diet is not a no carb diet!
And thankfully, we can get all the carbs we need predominantly from non starchy vegetables. If you focus all of your attention on eating vegetables as your main source of carb, you will lower blood sugar and A1C, and be able to manage them long term. This advice is equally as important for people with prediabetes and for general health as well.
As a person with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, it is recommended to avoid most starches as they are very high in carbohydrates, for example, check out this info about flours. However, there are some starches that are ‘resistant starches,' and we need these to feed beneficial gut bacteria. Resistant starches escape digestion in the small intestine and provide fuel to the bacteria in our large intestine. These bacteria generate small chain fatty acids such as butyrate that improve our health, boost immune function and reduce inflammation, amongst other things.
Resistant starch also improve insulin sensitivity, helps lower post meal blood sugar, and can have a ‘second meal' effect, meaning they help keep blood glucose lower after your next meal too.
We'll share examples below but let's first compare the difference between simple and complex carbs.
Simple and Complex Carb Comparison
This is the general list for both simple and complex carbs, so you can see the difference.
- white sugar
- white flour
- white bread
- white pasta
- soft drinks & sodas
- energy drinks
- fruit juices
- many cereals
- many crackers
- many sauces and condiments
- processed food
- ice creams
- cakes & cookies
- wild rice
- sweet potato
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Examples of Best Complex Carbohydrates Sources For Diabetes
While complex carbs are better than simple carbs, they are not all created equal. Some are still high carb foods, while others are lower carb foods that will help you maintain better blood sugar control. So let's take a close look at where all these forms of carbs fall and which ones are best to eat.
Fibers/ Carbs – Eat mostly these
- Bell pepper
- Spring onion / scallion
- And more
Resistant Starches to include
- Beans and legumes – small amounts only 1/4 cup per serve
Carbs – in moderation
Starches/ carbs to avoid
Choosing the right type of carbs is one of the most important things you can do to get better results with blood sugar and A1c.
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