Where it's ALL about food!

Toggle Navigation

Carbohydrate Crash Course

Carbohydrate Crash Course

Simplex and Complex Carbs

There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates require little digestion and thus are a quick energy source. Fruits, fruit juices and milk contain simple sugars (carbohydrates) that provide valuable nutrients in addition to an energy boost.

Candies, table sugar, alcoholic beverages and sweetened soft drinks are simple sugar sources that provide calories, but usually no nutrients.

Complex carbohydrates are found in grains, some vegetables and legumes. They are starches and require more digestion than simple carbohydrates. Rich in Vitamin B Complex Vitamins, fiber and iron, complex carbohydrates from grains are the body's best source of energy because they are burned in a constant, time released manner. They provide sustained energy for athletic events and can help manage blood sugar irregularities. The fiber found in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables can help lower blood cholesterol in some people when eaten as part of a low-fat diet.

Simple Carbs

Daily Consumption

Although there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates, most nutrition authorities recommend that carbohydrates comprise at least 45 percent - and up to 70 percent - of a person's daily calories. In contrast, most Americans average only 50 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates.

Sports Performance

Athletes should eat 60 to 70 percent of their total calories in the form of carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen in the muscles and then used as a source of energy. High glycogen stores are essential for endurance sports. Regular inclusion of complex carbohydrates foods such as bread, cereals, pasta, corn and potatoes will supply sustained energy for most athletic events.

Carbohydrates and Weight

Why would Americans get heavier on a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet? Because we are not eating less fat; we are eating the same number of grams of fat as we did 20 years ago, and about 300 to 500 extra calories per day. Therefore, the percentage of fat calories has gone down but only because total calories have gone up.

Complex carbohydrates foods play an important role in weightloss and control because they are usually low in calories and fat and high in dietary fiber which creates a full feeling, and may help discourage over-consumption of higher caloric foods.


Carbohydrates are crucial to managing diabetes and high blood sugar. Under medical supervision, persons with diabetes who follow a diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber often have better blood sugar control.

Heart Disease

A diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates may be beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol. The soluble fiber in oats, legumes, fruits, vegetables and some grains is effective in lowering blood cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.

For more information, download Grains of Truth about Carbohydrates from the Wheat Foods Council.

Share This Page

Back to Essential Nutrients