Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are the starches and sugars found in food, and are the body’s main source of energy. All carbs are broken down into simple sugars, which are absorbed by the bloodstream, according to You on a Diet. This rise in blood sugar causes the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin, which carries the sugar to cells so it can be used as energy. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), carbs come in two varieties—simple and complex. The difference between the two is how they are digested by the body.
Simple Carb Definition
Simple carbs consist of one or two sugar molecules, while complex carbs have three or more. Simple carbs are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream much more quickly, because the molecules are smaller. Insulin rushes into the blood to meet the demand of all that sugar, causing the levels to spike. Because they are broken down rapidly, simple carbs like candy and cake are the body’s quickest source of energy.
Some simple carbs are naturally found in food and provide vitamins and minerals as well as calories and quick energy. Fructose is the most well-known of these natural carbs and is found in oranges, apples and pears, among other fruits. Other sugars considered natural simple carbs include galactose and lactose, found in dairy products like milk and cheese; sucrose, found in vegetables like beets, carrots, peas and corn; and maltose, found in beer. Honey and maple syrup are also considered natural simple carbs.
Processed Simple Carbs
Some simple carbs are found in processed foods like candy, regular soda, table sugar, simple syrups, white flour, white pasta and white rice. During processing, most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber have been removed from the final product, causing these foods to provide empty calories. In other words, they provide energy, but have no nutrients. In the dieting world, they are known as the "bad carbs." Some processed carbs labeled "enriched" have added vitamins back into the food.
Carbs In The Diet
Adults should obtain 40 to 65 percent of their diet from carbohydrates, according to the Institute of Medicine. The NIH says, "it is healthiest to get carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients in as natural a form as possible." It is also recommended to get mostly complex carbohydrates, and limit simple carb intake to natural sources like fruit.