Carbohydrates provide an energy source that fuels your body and helps you make it through the day. Carbohydrates come in two varieties -- simple and complex -- which vary substantially in how they're digested and their nutrient content. While simple carbohydrates often get a bad reputation, they can provide important benefits when incorporated correctly into a healthy diet. Familiarize yourself with some of the most common forms of simple carbohydrates to ensure smart choices when planning your next meal.
Fruits and Vegetables
Though fruits and vegetables contain a number of important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, they are also high in simple carbohydrates -- specifically fructose, sucrose, maltose and glucose. In addition to their high simple carbohydrate content, fruits and vegetables also contain significant amounts of dietary fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate that comes in both soluble and insoluble forms. Dietary fiber is effective at tempering the effects of simple carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables, according to the authors of "Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology." This means that individuals can usually eat fruits and vegetables without experiencing a dangerous increase in blood sugar levels.
Dairy products also contain high amounts of simple carbohydrates -- in fact, there are about 12 grams of lactose, a simple carbohydrate, in one glass of nonfat milk. And as with other forms of simple carbohydrates, lactose consumption can lead to blood sugar spikes, notes "Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology." In addition to promoting increases in blood sugar, lactose intake can result in digestive distress for those who lack the digestive enzyme lactase and have lactose intolerance. Abdominal pain, nausea, bloating and diarrhea are all common symptoms of lactose intolerance.
"Regular" Caffeinated Beverages
"Regular" soft drinks -- including soda -- are another example of food sources of simple carbohydrates. In most cases, these carbohydrates come in the form of sucrose, or table sugar. Sodas that are classified as "diet" or "light" generally contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and are not classified as simple carbohydrates. Though diet beverages will not contribute calories or increase blood sugar levels, they may pose a number of other serious health risks, including depression and neurologic dysfunction, says "Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology."
It should come as no surprise that candy -- which is made with large amounts of table sugar, or sucrose -- also falls into the category of a simple carbohydrate. The sucrose in candy not only causes elevations in blood sugar level, but also contributes a substantial number of calories. Over time, excessive calorie intake can result in weight gain and the possibility of obesity.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nutrition for Everyone
- Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology; Marcia Nelms et al.
- Fitness Pro Health: List of High Fructose Fruits
- IBS Free: Lactose Content of Foods
- MedlinePlus: Carbohydrates