Carbohydrates: what are they?

The foods we eat daily contain three types of macronutrients: fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

What are carbs?

Carbohydrates fall into two distinct categories, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Your body digests these carbohydrates and uses them as fuel for all of your basic body functions.

Simple Carbohydrates are sugars that contain one or two sugar molecules, monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides contain one sugar molecule and disaccharides contain two sugar molecules. Your may be familiar with monosaccharides as fructose, glucose and galactose. Disaccharides are created when two monosaccharides bond and form sucrose, lactose and maltose. Sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose, while lactose or milk sugar, is a combination of glucose and galactose. Maltose is a pairing of two glucose molecules.

Sugars are Fast Carbs. These small sugar molecules are rapidly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream and are often referred to as fast carbs. Sugar may be useful for that quick jolt of energy, but when eaten regularly, fast carbs keep your blood sugar constantly elevated resulting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, an elevated risk of Type 2 diabetes, and inflammation.

Examples of Simple Carbs include table sugar, brown sugar, honey, fruit and fruit juices, milk, yogurt, molasses, and maple syrup. Foods made from processed flours and sugars are also high in simple carbs: sweets, cakes, candies, most breakfast cereals, white bread, pasta, and ice cream. Sugar is a major ingredient in many manufactured foods and goes by many names including high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, turbinado, and caramel.

Complex Carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides, poly meaning many, containing many sugar molecules that form long chains. Polysaccharides are starches and dietary fiber and are almost exclusively plant based. Complex carbohydrates are more difficult to digest and absorb.

Complex Carbohydrates are Slow Carbs. As these complex carbs (starches and fiber) are more difficult to digest and do not cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, they are referred to as slow carbs. These slow carbs have a lower glycemic index, meaning they cause a slower and lower rise in blood sugar requiring a smaller release of insulin.

Examples of Complex Carbs include vegetables, whole and unprocessed grains, seeds, nuts, potatoes, and most beans, peas and legumes. Most of these slow carbs are higher in fiber, a nutrient found lacking in many modern diets. Dietary fiber has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and may reduce your risk of cancer.

Slow Carbs vs. Fast Carbs. Reducing your intake of sugar and fast carbs will help stabilize your blood glucose and insulin level. Breaking your sugar addiction and reducing sugar in your diet have been shown to reduce the occurrence of obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated triglycerides.

When you choose starches and high-fiber foods containing slow carbs you will aid your weight loss efforts and reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes or help manage your diabetes. A slow carb diet can be more filling and satisfying and can help control overeating.


Kevin Trumpfeller
Coach Kevin Trumpfeller​ is Certified Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, Nurse and former US Army Medical Instructor & Master Fitness Trainer. He is the author of the Wellness Workbooks Series available on Amazon and currently working on the next book in the series: Coach Kevin's Blood Pressure Workbook: 30-Day Action Plan To Safely Control Hypertension