Complex carbohydrates

Health Advisor

06 November 2015

Recently, carbohydrates have been getting a bad name for being the cause of weight problems, and low-carb diets are rife. In fact, much of this blame is misplaced. Carbohydrates are essential for the body; the problem is that we often consume far more of them than we need, meaning that the energy is not being burned off, but stored in the body.

What many people do not realise is that there are two types of carbohydrates, and consuming too much of the wrong type is also an influential factor in weight gain. In fact, consuming the right type of carbohydrates can have the opposite effect, and can help with controlling weight.

The two main categories are:

  • Simple carbohydrates – these are a quick source of energy, as they are digested very quickly and are essentially just sugars. It is this type of carbohydrate that we tend to consume too much of, leading to weight gain.

  • Complex carbohydrates – these contain high levels of dietary starch, and are also usually rich in fibre. They are digested slowly by the body, releasing energy over a long period of time. As complex carbohydrates are usually found in plant sources, they are therefore also high in vitamins and minerals.

Complex carbohydrates and weight control

As complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, they help you to feel fuller for longer. This reduces the urge to snack between mealtimes, which is a leading cause of weight gain. Additionally, as the energy is released slowly, this helps to keep your blood sugar level stable. Dips and surges in blood sugar cause cravings for sugary foods, so if these are avoided by eating complex carbs, the chances of you sneaking away a few sweet treats diminishes.

These carbs can not only help you to manage your appetite, but they have also been found to help you burn fat. They are thought to speed up metabolism, encouraging the release of acids to burn fat, and can also preserve muscle mass. It may just be that the right amount of complex carbs helps you to achieve that toned body you are striving for!

Top 5 foods for complex carbs

Certain foods are naturally rich in complex carbs, and as many of these are also plant-based foods, they also contain many essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Quinoa – this excellent source of carbohydrates is also very high in protein, and is a great source of the B vitamins and magnesium. Quinoa has been found to increase metabolism and reduce appetite, making it a great choice when trying to lose weight.

  • Legumes – including beans, peas and lentils, this class of vegetables is rich in complex carbohydrates and protein. These also support the digestive system, helping you to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Root vegetables – as root vegetables grow underground, they soak up all the nutrients from the soil, meaning that they are not only full of complex carbohydrates, but are also full of vitamins A, C and E, and minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Root vegetables include parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, artichokes and onions.

  • Whole grains – this group of foods is one of the highest in complex carbs. Whole grains are available in bread, rice and pasta, for example. It is important to distinguish whole grain foods from those made from refined white and wheat flours, such as white bread, as these contain simple carbohydrates, which can cause weight gain.

  • Fruit – though fruit contains a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates, the negative effects of simple carbs are outweighed by the greater content of complex carbohydrates, as well as a plethora of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Fruit is a great alternative to processed sweet treats, as the sugars are natural and do not cause the fluctuations in blood sugar levels that refined sugar does.

Recipes rich in complex carbohydrates


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