Simple vs. complex carbohydrates: that's the difference

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If we are honest, there is hardly a topic that is in the everyday sporting life so many people and drives so hotly discussed, as the universe of carbohydrates, The consequences are sometimes fierce, because while some demonize the carbohydrates completely, others swear by it completely. Why is that? Well, not all carbohydrates are created the same, but are still lumped together by many people, although they actually want to get out on different things. The result is known. So what reason is there not to be more specific about the differences between long-chain and short-chain carbohydrates?

Are carbohydrates not carbohydrates?

What are the differences between the two variants? The short answer: not much, because both are split in the digestive tract into glucose and this the organism as fuel for every conceivable activity. The long answer: virtually every aspect of digestion, satiety, and nutrient intake makes a difference between short-chain and long-chain carbohydrates. The advocates of the carbohydrate crusade, which claim that in principle there is no difference between 25 grams of carbohydrates from sweet potatoes and 25 grams of carbohydrates from chocolate, are therefore wrong. In fact, the nature of carbohydrate chains has a huge impact on your blood sugar, your metabolism and, last but not least, your health.

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How is the carbohydrate structure different?

Short-chain carbohydrates are made up of individual sugar molecules, which come together in networks of not more than twenty molecules. Long-chain or complex carbohydrates are the exact opposite, because these multi-layered carbohydrate chains consist of at least twenty molecules, but often also have well over 100 particles per chain. The resulting sequence is actually obvious, because to decompose the complex carbohydrate chains for the purpose of energy production in individual molecules, the organism takes much longer than short-chain carbohydrates. By definition, simple carbohydrates include simple sugars such as glucose, fructose and galactose, as well as the double sugars maltose, lactose and sucrose. The complex carbohydrates, however, are attributed to multiple sugars such as starch, fiber and glycogen.

How is it in terms of digestion speed?

The glycemic index is a system that classifies various carbohydrate sources on a scale of 0 to 100 according to how fast the glucose resulting from the digestion gets into the bloodstream. The higher the glycemic index (GI), the faster the sugar is absorbed after consuming the corresponding food. How quickly glucose is absorbed has a big impact on your health, appetite and, last but not least, how you feel. While simple carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, white bread, white rice, cookies, fruit juice or sweets have a very high GI, complex carbohydrate sources such as oatmeal, brown rice, apples, etc. are the other way round. How is the insulin response in detail? When glucose enters the bloodstream, your pancreas begins to release insulin, which causes the macronutrients, fat, protein, and carbohydrates dissolved in the blood to enter the cells. But as soon as you consume a large amount of short-chain carbohydrates, your insulin levels skyrocket. If you consume large amounts of short-chain carbohydrates in the long term, over-production of insulin in the pancreas can occur over time. The result is increased insulin resistance and significant weight gain. This insulin resistance of the cells in combination with the permanently elevated blood sugar level leads in many cases to the development of diabetes type 2 as well as other metabolic diseases. Complex carbohydrates cause only a small insulin reaction and, moreover, ensure a stable blood sugar level, which makes the organism healthier.

How do short-chain and long-chain carbohydrates affect your energy levels?

Imagine eating a meal as part of a diet or simply not having time to eat because of stressful everyday life. So if your body does not get any nutrition for such a long time, the blood sugar level drops well below its normal level. This so-called hypoglycaemia, ie hypoglycaemia, is associated with symptoms such as tiredness, mild headache and cravings for sugary foods. If you give in to this craving for short-chain carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels will initially shoot up extremely, but then quickly break down again to shoot up again after further treats. You can easily avoid this energy runway with all its consequences by relying mainly on complex carbohydrates. This is the small but subtle difference, because the slowly digestible carbohydrates make the rollercoaster rather a symbolic slow train.

The thing with satiety

Physically perceived hunger is a combination of biochemical processes in the digestive tract and the level of your stomach. The faster carbohydrates digest and get into the gut from the stomach, the faster you'll feel hungry again. Short-chain carbohydrates are not really optimal for long-lasting satiety. In the case of complex carbohydrates, it takes much longer from a purely physical point of view, until the carbohydrate chains are split and the glucose reaches the bloodstream, the satiety feeling in many times longer. In addition, there are the fibers contained, which swell in contact with the liquid in the stomach and intestine and thus provide additional volume, which maintains the feeling of satiety. This fact should be used especially in the course of a diet, because this is always better than spending the day with a growling stomach and running the risk of reaching for sweets. But even outside of dietary phases, it can not hurt to put on fiber-rich foods such as oatmeal or green leafy vegetables.

What about the micronutrient content?

It's no secret that foods like biscuits, cakes and chocolates are not particularly nutritious. But many supposedly as healthy cereals such as rice or resulting products such as pasta and bread belong more in the field of nutrient-poor products. The latter is due in particular to the fact that in the course of the processing process a large part of the nutrient tissue and the bran is lost. Fibers, healthy fats and other micronutrients rarely end up in these products, meaning that only short-chain carbohydrates are left over. Thus, most foods that consist mainly of simple sugars lack essential vitamins and trace elements that contribute to the health of our organism. It is becoming ever clearer why nutrition experts advise on whole-grain products and as near-natural foods as possible. You can kill two birds with one stone by benefiting from the benefits of complex carbohydrates and ensuring micronutrients.


So what is the moral of the story? So should you avoid short-chain carbohydrates like the devil does the holy water? No, of course not, because even these simple carbs have their field of application in which they can fully exploit their strengths. This applies, for example, to the use immediately before and immediately after training, if it is really necessary to provide the organism with energy for the purpose of regeneration or optimum power delivery. So if you want to optimize your health, you should be careful to use both types of carbohydrates according to their strengths and weaknesses. With this approach, you are by far the most supporters of the various carbohydrate religions superior.