Carbs 101

I mentioned last week that I was going to begin a new series of blog entries, entitled “(fill in the blank) 101.”  The point being to give basic information on a variety of topics.  I believe that sometimes people feel more empowered when they have a simple understanding of things rather than when they try to grasp all the intricacies.  At the very least, the basics are a good place to start.

Carbs (or carbohydrates) are something that pretty much everyone has heard about.  We’ve heard no carbs, high carbs, low carbs, but I’ve found that most people dont have a solid understanding of what a carb actually is.  Here’s the actual definition:

“any of a class of organic compounds that are polyhydroxyaldehydes or polyhydroxy ketones, or change…ZZZZZZZZZZZZ…OOPS! Sorry didn’t mean to fall asleep during that incredible exciting definition.  Let me try again.

“any of a class of organic compounds that are polyhydroxyaldehydes or polyhydroxy ketones, or change to such substances on simple chemical transformations, as hydrolysis, oxidation, or reduction, and that form the supporting tissues of plants and are important food for animals and people.”

But my guess is that most of you don’t care about that, and probably found the definition fairly boring/confusing.  The good thing is, you don’t need to care about the actual definition too much.  What is important is that you are able to identify carbohydrates and understand how they impact the body.

To break down the above definition something that are specific ketones or can easily become ketones and serve as a vital tissue for plants.

Carbs are usually divided into two groups-complex carbs and simple carbs.  I think things are a bit more involved than this, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to use these crude categories.  (Don’t I sound so condescending?)  Complex carbs are a chain of three or more sugar molecules linked together.  Simple carbs, on the other hand, are made of one or two sugar molecules.  Complex carbs are a bit more involved than simple carbs, and they have more structure to them (three + sugar molecules linked versus 1-2).  This makes complex carbs a slower digesting carb, resulting in longer energy and a smaller spike in insulin.  (I’m not going to get into insulin in this post, but maybe in the future.  To be brief, let’s just say that spikes in insulin are not good for you.  Can you say hello diabetes?) Conversely, simple carbs digest rapidly, give you quick but fading energy and result in a higher insulin spike.  This is why drinking soda gives you energy for about 20 minutes and then you feel like poo.

So, now for the million dollar question-So what foods fall under the carbohydrate umbrella?  And are they complex or simple?

A basic rule for what foods are carbs  is, did it grow from the ground?  If the answer is yes, then it is most likely a carb.  This includes if it’s basic ingredients came form the ground.  (An example would be jam.  It’s made mostly of fruit and sugar.  Both of which came form the ground.) Exceptions to this rule would be olives, seeds, nuts, avocados.  These are fats.  But most foods that have grown from the earth are carbs.

Complex carbs are foods that have been minimally disturbed from their original state:


-Yams and sweet potatoes

-Beans, beans, the musical fruit (although these have a decent source of protein to them)

-Whole grain breads

-Brown rice

-Non-instant oatmeal

Simple carbs would be foods like:


-Non-whole grain breads

-White potatoes

-White Rice

-Cookies, doughnuts, candy


-Soft drinks

Now just because fruit is in the same category as soft drinks, don’t go demonizing it.  Yes, it has a simpler structure than complex carbs, but it is has a very different effect on the body than other simple carbs.  (I told you it was a bit more involved than just complex and simple carbs.)

There is much more to carbs then I’ve written about here.  Like when should you eat certain carbs?  Are all complex carbs good for you? Etc.  I’m not going to go into any of that today, but if you want, you can buy me a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you all about it!

I’m just joking.

(But seriously, who wants to buy me coffee and make me feel like I have friends?)


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