Your body breaks ALL carbs down into glucose – the sugar molecule that your cells prefer to use for energy. (Fun fact: cells only use fats and proteins for energy if they have no other choice – glucose is definitely their preferred way to go.)
So food experts divide carbs into two groups – simple and complex – according to how easy they are to break down.
Simple carbs (AKA ‘sugars’) are easy for your body to break down. That means they’re great for a short-term energy hit, but not so great for sustained energy. And unless you use them up immediately – eg. in an intense workout – they create a blood sugar rollercoaster of a spike followed by a crash, which is just one of the reasons why sugar is bad for you.
You’ll find simple carbs in refined starches like white rice, white flour and white pasta (notice a pattern there?) They’re also in many fruits and the occasional veggie. The difference is that in fruits and veggies, you’re also getting fibre, water and nutrients, all of which get stripped out when you eat processed simple carbs.
Complex carbs are harder for your body to break down. That means you get longer-term, more sustained energy from them. And because you find them in foods that contain a fair amount of fibre, those foods tend to be lower in calories. They also tend to keep you feeling full for longer.
Good foods for complex carbs include brown rice, wholegrain breads and cereals, and some starchy veggies. And not only are these foods rich in fibre, but they also tend to have a bunch of important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.