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Diabetes Knowledge

Carbohydrates 101: What are Healthy/Complex Carbs?

12/3/2021 by mySugr

Carbohydrates 101: What are Healthy/Complex Carbs?

Foods that have carbohydrates turn into glucose (blood sugar) when your body digests them. If you have diabetes, you know that managing your blood sugar is essential. That means that managing carbohydrate consumption is key, too.

But there’s a lot of confusion when it comes to carbs. What are complex carbs? Are they really healthy? Is it okay to eat carbs?

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, often just called carbs, are a macronutrient that’s found in many drinks and foods. Carbs include starches, fiber, and sugars. Protein and fat are other macronutrients. The body needs all of them to stay healthy.

When you eat carbs, the digestive system breaks them down into blood sugar. As the level of sugar rises in the blood, the pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. That hormone helps the cells absorb sugar to use for energy or to store it.

For people with diabetes, the pancreas may not product insulin or the cells may not respond well to insulin. This means that sugar stays in the blood causing high blood sugar.[1] That’s why controlling your carb intake is so important to managing diabetes.

What are Simple Carbs?

Simple carbs are made up of sugars like glucose or fructose. They have a simple chemical structure and can be used quickly and easily for energy in the body. That means they can lead to a fast increase in blood sugar.

Most simple carbs are added to foods. A few simple carbs often found in foods include:

  • Corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose, fructose, and glucose

What are Complex Carbs?

Complex carbs have chemical structures that are more complex. This means that they are harder to break down and take longer to digest. Since they take longer, they don’t affect blood sugar levels as quickly. Instead, they cause a slower rise in blood sugar. Complex carbs like whole grains may even help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.[2]

Starch and fiber are the two basic kinds of complex carbs.

  • Starches – Most starches are complex carbs and they are generally packed with minerals and vitamins. Starchy carbs include:
    • Legumes and beans like kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, and lentils
    • Vegetables like lima beans, potatoes, corn, and peas
    • Fruits like melons, berries, and apples
    • Whole grain products like pasta, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread
  • Fiber – Fiber is another type of complex carb that can’t be broken down by the body. Most passes through your intestines, helping with digestion. Fiber helps keep you feeling full and can help regulate blood sugar, too.[3]Foods high in fiber include:
    • Fruits, particularly those that have edible skins like peaches and apples or those containing seeds, such as berries
    • Seeds and nuts, such as sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts
    • Vegetables like broccoli, corn, squash, brussels sprouts, and lima beans
    • Legumes and beans, such as pinto beans, black beans, and chickpeas
    • Whole-grain products like quinoa, some cereals, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and oatmeal

Healthy Complex Carbs to Add to Your Diet

It’s always important to talk to your healthcare team about the amount of carbs you should eat each day. However, some of the healthy, complex carbs to focus on include:

  • Fruits rich in fiber. Good options include bananas, apples, and berries. Skip the canned fruit, since most canned fruit usually has added sugar or syrup.
  • Beans. They don’t just offer fiber, but they’re a good source of other important nutrients.
  • Whole grains. They’re an excellent source of fiber and nutrients like magnesium and potassium. Go with options that are less processed, such as whole-wheat pasta, buckwheat, or quinoa.
  • Veggies rich in fiber. Carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens are all excellent choices.

Sources and References




The mySugr website does not provide medical or legal advice. mySugr blog articles are not scientific articles, but intended for informational purposes only.
Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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