Complex or Simple? Carbohydrates explained

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Carbohydrates are found in many types of food and they can typically be broken down into two categories:

SIMPLE/Free sugars included in jam, sweets and fruit juice

COMPLEX/Starchy carbohydrates included in bread, rice and potatoes.

We need carbohydrates in our bodies as they are converted into glucose. The human body can then use this as a source of energy to keep the muscles and organs working. Although there are many diets on the market that encourage people to eat a low carbohydrate diet this is not generally recommended.

All carbohydrates will be broken down into simple ‘glucose’ or ‘sugar’ in our body. Simple/free sugars will break down quickly, whilst complex/starchy carbohydrates will break down slowly. This ‘glucose’ or ‘sugar’ is used as a source of energy by the body. On a day-to-day basis our bodies will use a combination of glucose, fats and proteins for energy, growth and repair.

The British Dietetic Association advise that we should be “carbohydrate aware” and stick to the appropriate portion sizes. In general terms a portion size is about the size of your fist for a meal time portion of carbohydrate. Depending on an individuals’ activity levels the portion size of carbohydrates can be adjusted. Scientific Experts advise that around half of our energy intake should come from carbohydrates.

Do carbohydrates lead to a gain in weight?

The human body gets its energy in the diet from foods containing carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol.  Any extra or unrequired energy we take in will be converted to fat regardless of the original source. Essentially the carbohydrate contained in food is not in itself directly fattening however if you eat a lot more of it that you should this will contribute to weight gain.


Foods that contain carbohydrates are an important part of our diets and should be included in as part of a healthy balanced, diet. It is helpful to choose wholegrain ‘starchy’ carbohydrates as they contain additional important ‘nutrients’ for the body. As with any food, it is important to choose the correct portion to suit your needs. It’s useful to be aware that ‘free sugars’ often provide lots of energy with very little nutritional value so these should be consumed in moderation.

The above information has been sourced from

There are many more complex factors relating to carbohydrates and your individual dietary requirements will depend on your health and any medical conditions. If you have any concerns relating to your diet and need help then you should speak to your GP  and private doctor/GP or a qualified medical professional such as a specialist dietitian.

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