Types of Carbs

Types of Carbs

This a good general overview of the main types of carbs.  Yet there are many more classifications not even listed on this chart.  Thats another reason not to listen to low carb experts (when I say low I mean 50g or below) because they fail to distinguish what types are harmful and what types are helpful.

Another important tip about carbs is the glycemic index (GI).  Many diets recommend eating only low GI foods (vegetables, oatmeal, beans) to keep blood sugar stable, but as long as you combine carbs with protein, fat and fiber (a balanced diet) then your worrying about a non issue.  For example, a white potato has an extremely high glycemic index, but is a healthy source of carbs.  And since your eating that potato with meat (steak or chicken) and usually a fat source (butter or sour cream), then the GI doesn’t matter, because the other foods slow it down.  The only way the glycemic index is relevant is to eat pure carbs in your diet with nothing else.  (not too many people that do that)  Here is another example that perfectly illustrates how irrelevant this is; deep dish Pizza Hut pizza has a glycemic index of 30 (low) and a watermelon has a GI of 100 (very high).  According to this scale, the pizza is the healthier “fat burning food” because its digested slower. (… umm afraid not).  Bottom line: don’t worry about it.

Complex Carbohydrates

These are primarily starches that break down into glucose when eaten.  Glucose takes digestion to being utilized as sugar and these molecules are primarily used for instant energy or stored as muscle glycogen to be used when you pump iron.  Glucose has many positive effects on the metabolism, hormones, heat production, muscle building, and energy levels.  Try lifting with glucose stored in your muscles and 5 lbs will feel heavy.  Primary sources include starch based foods such as potatoes, bread, oatmeal, beans and other non sugar sources of carbs.

Simple Carbohydrates

These are basically sugar and digested very rapidly when eaten alone.  Just like with the glycemic index though, if you eat them with other nutrients then rapid digestion is slowed.  These molecules contain a 50/50 split between glucose and fructose.  Many people obsess about sugar intake, but as long as your eating in the optimal carb range (100-150 gram) a little bit of sugar isn’t going to cause any problems.  The liver also uses glucose and fructose as energy and having low levels of these fuels can negatively effect energy and hormones in the body.  Sources include candy, ice cream, white flour and bread (although these are technically broken down to glucose not sucrose), gatorade and soda.


Fructose is found largely in fruits, but if you eat tons of sugar then your also getting a good amount of fructose in your diet.  Fructose is primarily stored in the liver and many experts freak out over this molecule.  Again its only bad if you get too much of it.  It’s quite easy to get to much of it in today’s society with all of the sugary drinks and foods around, but a little bit isn’t going to effect you.  Fructose goes to your liver and once your liver is full, there is a strong possibility the excess is going into fat storage (provided your in a calorie surplus).  Keeping fructose to around 50 grams a day or below is wise, because your body can handle this much without spillover.  Fructose doesn’t have the metabolism boosting benefits that glucose provides, so getting more of your carbs from starches is a good idea.  Sources fruit, honey and excess sugar.


There are two types of fiber soluble and insoluble.  Many people lump these two into the same category, but soluble is highly beneficial, while insoluble is largely useless.

Soluble fiber is listed as a carb, but is technically broken down into short-chain fatty acids.  You also only absorb about 1.5-2 calories per gram rather than 4 calories like most carbs.  These short-chain fatty acids slow digestion, greatly improve bacteria in the gut, speed the metabolism, allow more nutrition to be absorbed from food, and increase insulin sensitivity.  Sources include beans, oatmeal, fruit, vegetables and Quest bars. (best tasting source in my book)

Insoluble fiber doesn’t get digested at all and has no calories.  Insoluble fiber doesn’t have many benefits besides easing constipation and helping you feel full.  Too much insoluble fiber could be bad due to its effects on interfering with vital vitamins and nutrients. Sources include veggies, whole grain foods and seeds.

Fiber intake should stay around 30-50 grams, but if most of your fiber intake is soluble, then you could easily go over this number with no problems.  If most of that intake is insoluble then you may want to reduce it a little bit.



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