Complex Carbohydrates Benefits and Sources

Complex carbohydrates are metabolized slower and provide excellent health benefits. Follow the dietary guidelines to get the most health benefits.

Carbohydrates (carbs) are a key component of our diets and provide an energy source for our body. Complex carbohydrates are preferred over simple carbohydrates for a number of reasons. Learning the difference between the two is a key nutritional strategy to optimize health and wellness.

What are the Benefits of Complex Carbs?

The key distinction between simple (fast) vs. complex (slow burn) carbs relates to speed they are broken down and turned into sugar.

Less Weight Gain

The body processes simple carbs rapidly and blood sugar spikes as a consequence. Insulin is the regulatory hormone that handles fluctuations in blood sugar, but only up to a point. Excess carbs are stored as fat and a diet rich in simple carbs can lead to unwanted weight gain. Complex carbs are broken down in a slower fashion and deliver a more evenly paced amount of glucose (sugar) to the blood stream. These slow carbs provide a more steady state of energy and help to avoid the "crash and burn" that is common from simple carb diets.

Rich Fiber Source

Besides helping us to keep slim, complex carbohydrates are also rich in fiber. Medical experts note that diets high in fiber help to lower cholesterol and improve heart health. High fiber diets improve intestinal health that leads to an overall improvement in wellness. Constipation and slow transit of food through the digestive track is thought to be a contributor to cancer as it allows greater time for toxins to be absorbed from out gut. Complex carbs and the high fiber can help to speed the passage for food through our digestive tract and thus strengths our immunity.

Foods Containing Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs mainly come from whole grains, so a diet rich in high-fiber whole grains, fruits and vegetables is a perfect way to get adequate amounts into your diet. Below are the major sources of complex carbs.

    • Fruits and Vegetables. While fruits do contain some simple carbohydrates, the amount is quite small relative to the rich amounts of complex carbs. Try to get four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and enjoy the benefit of the added vitamins and mineral found in this natural food source. Examples: Pears, strawberries, yams, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, beans, grapefruit, apples, onions, tomatoes, asparagus.
      • Seeds, Nuts and Legumes. The benefit of adding these natural foods related to the added protein and Omega-3 fatty acids they contain. Omega-3 is beneficial for both heart and brain health. Examples: chick peas, kidney beans, split peas, soybeans, lentils.
      • Whole Grains. Foods made of whole grains are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Examples include: oats, barley, rice, spelt and buckwheat. Brown rice is generally better than white.
      • Pastas and Whole Grain Breads. Look for whole grain pasta and bread. Many brands are also fortified with extra vitamins and protein. Avoid "white" sources such as white rice and white bread. The whole grain products you can find in most supermarkets are loaded with fiber and beneficial to the digestive system.
      • Dairy Products. Soy milk, low fat yogurt and skim milk are good choices that provide complex carbs, protein and additional vitamins and minerals.

Recommended Daily Complex Carbohydrate Intake

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates varies depending on age, exercise and activity level, pregnancy status or breastfeeding and whether dieting or not. The current RDA guidelines recommend an intake of 130 grams of carbohydrate for adult men and women. Nutrition experts take a slightly different approach and recommend that up to 60% of total calories come from carbohydrate sources. This works out to 1,200 calories for a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Complex carbohydrates should comprise 45 to 50% of caloric intake, while only 10% should be from simple carbohydrate sources.

The following table is an excellent reference for complex carbs.

Complex Carbs foods (100g-3.5oz)

Carbs (grams)

Oat bran (raw)


Barley (raw)


Wheat germ (crude)








Cornmeal (whole-grain,yellow)


Pasta (corn - cooked)


Brown Rice - long grain


Rye Bread






Yam (raw)


Lentils (boiled)


All Bran




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