Complex Carbohydrates Overview

What are they?

Complex Carbohydrates are one of the two types of carbohydrates, the other being simple carbohydrates. Alternatively known as polysaccharides, complex carbohydrates are composed of a long as well as a complex chain of sugar or glucose molecules.

These type of carbohydrates are mostly gathered from single sugar units such as glucose, galactose, fructose, and sometimes from pairs of single sugar molecules, a prime example of disaccharides a combination of lactose, sucrose, and maltose.

Polysaccharides are a combination of number of single sugar units and usually taste sweet. They are also found in both natural and refined forms of foods.


Since complex carbohydrates are rich in starch, they are also sometimes referred to as starches.

Where are starches found?  They are mostly found in plants;celluloses or fibers, which are a form of indigestible carbohydrates; and glycogens, a kind of stored form of carbohydrates that are commonly found in human beings and animals.


Also, an important type of complex carbohydrates is dextrin, which is formed as a result of fragmentation of longer chains of starches into smaller chains during the digestion process. A prime feature of this type of carbohydrate is that when compared to simple carbohydrates, it takes longer time for the digestion, as digestive enzymes have to take much effort in order to access the chains and to break down them into single sugars for the absorption via the intestines.

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List of Foods

Complex carbohydrates are mostly found in vegetables, nuts, grains, oat meals, and nuts. Listed below are some of the examples of complex carbohydrates food:

  • Barley
  • Oat bran bread
  • Museli
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Whole meal spelt
  • Brown rice
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Okra
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Apples
  • Grapefruits
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Oranges

We also have a list of low-carbohydrate foods. Of these above food, perhaps the best are the complex carbohydrates contained in vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as leguminous plants like green beans and peas, since all these have more fiber and less starch.

White Flour Foods and Warning

Complex carbohydrates found in cereals, pastas, whole grain bread and oatmeal are also a great source. However, complex carbohydrates contained in cereals, breads, and pastas made from refined white flour are not recommended, as they have been stripped of their outer most layer which contains the fiber (source).

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Glycemic Index Values

Glycemic Index or GI is simply a numerical scale used to measure the level of carbohydrates on blood glucose. In other words, it is a method adopted to assess blood glucose levels in proportion to the consumption of carbohydrates. Glycemic Index ranks foods containing carbohydrates on a scale of 1 to 100, thereby providing each food items with its own GI value. In fact, Glycemic Index is beneficial to help us in the selection of right foods, which in turn aid for the proper stabilization of blood sugar levels. Mentioned further are some of the complex carbohydrates food items along with their GI index values and which are considered among the world’s healthiest foods.

  • Spinach with GI of 15-50 
  • Okra with GI of 15-50
  • Green peas with GI of 50
  • Pearled barley with GI of 35
  • Whole meal bread with GI of 88

What is the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates are the two types of carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are digested into blood sugar to form glucose, which in turn is carried by the blood around the body and cells in order to convert it into energy. If you have excess glucose, then it is converted into glycogen and is mostly stored in the liver. Sometimes when your body requires increased energy the pancreas secretes a hormone known as glucagon, which has the ability to transform the glycogen again into glucose. This is then released into your blood stream for cells reuse. In short, sugar or glucose metabolism in your body is a cycle of insulin, glucose, and glucagon reactions.

Bad Carbs

When we talk about 'bad carbs' we are referring to the major difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs allow for a slower release of glucose and hormones. This is beneficial to help maintain a stable weight by providing sustainable levels of energy in the body. They also minimize your hunger level and give you longer lasting energy. Simple carbohydrates food usually contain added sugar with less nutritional value, and therefore is considered 'bad carbs'. Complex carbohydrate foods usually contain essential fiber, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Low Carb VS. Low Fat Plans for Fat Loss

Several studies have summarized that a low carb diet lost more weight than a low fat diet. Low carbohydrate rich foods are regarded as an effective plan for weight loss over a low- fat diet. When you need to ingest carbohydrates complex carbohydrates with fiber should be the focus as it will help stabilize blood sugar and to maintain your energy at an even level.

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