The Truth about Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are necessary to your health, because every cell in your body uses them for energy. In fact, your brain can only use carbohydrates for energy.  With the popularity of low-carb diets, many people are afraid to eat any carbohydrates, but it’s important to distinguish between the health-robbing effects of simple sugars and other carbs, and the health-giving properties of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are high-fiber foods, which improve your digestion; they help stabilize the blood sugar, keep your energy at an even level, and help you feel satisfied longer after your meal. The healthiest foods are high in fiber, and contain complex carbohydrates along with many other vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They will also contain other nutrients, such as protein and fats, in moderation. These foods will not be highly refined.

Some examples of healthy foods containing complex carbohydrates are:

Spinach Whole Barley Grapefruit
Turnip Greens Buckwheat Apples
Lettuce Whole wheat bread Prunes
Water Cress Oat bran bread Apricots
Zucchini Oatmeal(steel-cut oats) Pears
Asparagus Oat bran Plums
Artichokes Muesli Strawberries
Okra Wild rice Oranges
Cabbage Brown rice Yams
Celery Multi-grain bread Carrots
Cucumbers Pinto beans Potatoes
Dill Pickles Navy beans Soybeans (tofu)
Radishes Rice milk Lentils
Broccoli Almond milk Garbanzos (chickpeas)
Brussels Sprouts Plain Yogurt Kidney beans
Eggplant Whole mealspelt bread Split peas
Onions Cauliflower
Tomatoes Hummus


Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are more refined, are usually found in foods with fewer nutrients, and tend to be less satisfying and more fattening.  They can alter your mood, lead to cravings and compulsive eating, cause wide swings in your blood-sugar levels, and cause weight gain in most people.  In addition, a high consumption of sugar can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you finally decide to improve your diet and forgo the sweets. Unfortunately, over-consumption of sugar and other highly refined carbohydrates has been associated with a higher incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even breast cancer.  Sugars and other simple carbohydrates are also a leading factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic.

Some examples of foods containing simple carbohydrates are:

Table sugar
Corn syrup (high fructose corn syrup)
Fruit juice
Snack foods
Bread made with white flour
Pasta made with white flour / rice mixes
Soda pop, such as Coke®, Pepsi®, Mountain Dew®, etc.
Junk food / Fast food
All baked goods made with white flour
Most packaged cereals


If you are trying to eliminate simple sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, but you don’t want to refer to a list all the time, here are some suggestions:

  • Read the labels – If the label reads sugar, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, white or “wheat flour,” these foods contain simple carbohydrates.  If these ingredients are at the top of the list, they contain mostly simple carbs and little less and should be avoided.
  • Look for foods that have not been highly processed or refined – Choose a piece of fruit instead of fruit juice, which is high in naturally occurring simple sugars and fiber.  Choose 100% whole grain breads instead of white bread.  Choose whole grain oatmeal instead of instant oatmeal or packaged cold cereals.  The closer you get to nature, the closer you get to health.