Natural and complex carbohydrates Natural and complex carbohydrates

Instead of eating processed or refined foods, these alternatives are part of a healthy diet and are perfect for a good breakfast to fill you up with energy.

Medical advisor: Yovanny Rangel Prieto -Nutritionist and dietitian

You have to admit: carbohydrates have had a bad reputation. Many people –often with the intention of watching their figure– leave them out without first seeking proper professional guidance.

In fact, along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are one of the most important macronutrients in our diets. They can be divided into two types: simple and complex. Both types can be turned into glucose in the body and be used as energy and are also found in starches and different types of sugars.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, our main intake of carbohydrates should come from natural complex sugars instead of processed and refined ones. These can be found in legumes and grains (such as oats, wheat, corn, beans, brown rice, chickpeas and lentils), in yucca, potatoes, plantains, and in certain fruits and vegetables.

As our nutritionist Yovanny Rangel Prieto explains, the body can digest simple carbohydrates more easily and have little nutritional value. “It is a short-term form of energy. However, the chemical structure of complex carbohydrates includes fiber and vitamins in addition to sugar, which gives them a much greater nutritional value. This slows the absorption of this food and allows it to be used for a much longer period of time, for example, for basic metabolic functions such as our digestion, or for when we exercise and our demand for energy is much greater.”

In order to best digest complex carbohydrates, Rangel recommends eating those that have the highest glycemic indexes at breakfast, “…which is when we need more energy and sugar, because we have not eaten in eight hours. This is when we need to eat a serving of fiber such as whole wheat bread, which is a good source of complex carbohydrates, a corn arepa or whole grain oat cereal, which provides enough energy for the morning.”

While amounts very depending on the individual, our nutritionists recommend including four to five complex carbohydrates in our diets a day, distributing them over breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, afternoon and dinner.

Potatoes, yucca and plantains

As our nutritionist argues, the myth behind these three foods needs to be torn down. We should focus instead on how much of these you eat, what you eat them with and how they are prepared. As for when they should be eaten, eat them in the morning or afternoon, but not at night, as yucca and plantains contain high percentages of starch.

Potatoes, on the other hand, should be cooked using the healthiest method possible, regardless of what type you use (there are over 200 varieties of potatoes). The recommendation is to boil or bake them, ideally, with the peel. As Rangel affirms, “The peel provides a much higher percentage of fiber and lowers your glycemic index when it is metabolized. If you want to make mashed potatoes, it is best to do so without milk or butter. With soups, be careful of how much of this tuber you use, as large amounts are often used, and rice or other types of carbohydrates are eaten in addition to them.”

It is important to measure your portion size in order to not overdo the amount you need. This is an opportunity to be creative with your meals. With yucca, for example, you can grate it and bake it like a small tortilla.

Overall, carbohydrates represent 50% to 55% of a person’s daily caloric needs. Compared to other macro nutrients, they provide the greatest amount of energy. So when it comes to eating a healthy diet, there is no need to avoid them, the key is being smart about their consumption.

Keep in mind

Due to its caloric content, eating complex carbohydrates before exercising can be beneficial. Combining carbohydrates with proteins helps build muscle more easily.

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