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Carbs: Eating for Nutrients

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Simple & Complex

By: Pam Smith, RDN

All carbs are not created equal — there are simple and complex, whole and refined. The goal is to avoid empty carbohydrates made with white flour and refined sugar and replace them with fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans — carbohydrates that pack plenty of nutrients.

You want to make the most of what you eat. Make sure you are eating foods that give you nutrients, not just calories.


Read on for a better understanding of carbohydrates and a list of nutrient-packed carbs!

SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES are sugars in foods already in a simple form, requiring little digestion before absorption into the blood stream. Examples are fruits and non-starchy vegetables.


COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES are starches in foods that require digestion into sugars before absorption. Examples are grains and starchy vegetables.


WHOLE CARBOHYDRATES are those in the least processed form — harvested grains and fruits or vegetables that have been prepared without destroying their nutritive value or fiber. These carbohydrates are broken down more slowly in digestion, gradually and steadily releasing glucose into the system to be burned. These carbohydrates rank lower on the glycemic scale. They include whole-grain breads, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables. These complex carbohydrates turn into energy more slowly. Eating these carbs keeps your blood-sugar levels steady and, because many are high in fiber, make you feel full longer and leave you less inclined to snack.


REFINED CARBOHYDRATES have been stripped of fibers and most of their vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. These carbohydrates break down quickly during digestion and are quickly released into the bloodstream to be metabolized. Examples are whole wheat refined to white flour, and brown rice to white rice. These refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and potato chips, cause blood-sugar levels to spike almost immediately after they are eaten. A few hours and these high-glycemic foods leave you feeling hungry again.


Stock up on these nutrient-packed carbs:

  • Apples

  • Artichokes

  • Avocados

  • Beets

  • Berries

  • Broccoli

  • Brown rice

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Bulgar wheat

  • Cabbage

  • Garlic

  • Greens

  • Kiwis

  • Legumes

  • Oatmeal

  • Onions

  • Oranges

  • Pineapples

  • Red peppers

  • Romaine lettuce

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Tomatoes

  • Wheat bran

  • Winter squash

  • Yogurt

Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well!

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