In a previous post, I talked about 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.
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, like I said, it doesn't really relate to the food you actually eat.
Plants store glucose as starch – giant chains of sugars.
Carbohydrates in the form of starches include potatoes, wheat, rice, other grains like millet, rye, barley, and oats, sweet potatoes, beans and lentils.
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 help manage diabetes, they fill us up, and provide 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 Diabetes Meal Plans we do promote a low carb diet and many people often say: ‘but don't we need to eat carbs'…
Yes we do, and we can get all the carbs we need predominantly from 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 prediabetes and for general health as well.
As a diabetic it is recommended to avoid most starches as they are very high in carbohydrates, for example, check out this post about flours. However there are some starches that are resistant starches and we need these feeding beneficial gut bacteria. You see, resistant starches escape digestion in the small intestine and provide the fuel to the bacteria in our large intestine. These bacteria generate small chain fatty acids such as butyrate that improve our health and boost immune function, amongst other things.
Resistant starch also improve insulin sensitivity, helps lower post meal blood sugar, and beans and legumes (a resistant starch) have a ‘second meal' effect, meaning they help keep blood glucose lower after your next meal too.
We'll share more 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
- whole grains
- whole grain breads
- whole grain crackers like brown rice cakes
- gluten free wholegrain pastas
- brown rice
- vegetables – loads fo them to choose from
- beans and legumes such as:
- adzuki beans
- borlotti beans
- navy beans
- wild rice
- sweet potato
Examples of Best Complex Carbohydrates Sources For Diabetes
Now all that scientific stuff is out of the way, let's get down to the practical stuff. Where do all these forms of carbs fall and which ones should you 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
- Cashews – yes these are a fat and a carb
Carbs – in moderation
Starches/ carbs to avoid
- Sweet potatoes
- Most grains
- Most flour
- And so forth
More Resources For You
- Guide to healthy carbohydrates
- How many carbs to eat per day
- What is a simple carbohydrate
- Diabetes friendly food list
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