what are complex carbs

Complex carbs are really not that complex.

But often, when our doctors or fitness friends tell us to eat more complex carbs, we feel….a little…lost.


Because we don’t always understand the fundamentals of why complex carbs are better than simple carbs.

Let me lend you an example.

Ketosis. The ketogenic diet. People who are on a keto diet, or low carb diet, count carbs. This has led to a somewhat tricky spot for complex carbs. This is because carb counters count carbs.

So if an apple has 25 grams of carbs, that’s 25 grams of carbs against our daily carb total. It may or may not work. Coca-cola has 39 grams of carbs in a 12 oz can.

So what’s the difference?

Well, the apple is a complex carb. It has at least 4 grams of fiber, lowering its net carbs to 20 grams roughly (maybe less). The apple isn’t the best example (I will get to those before), but the point is to show that not all carbs are equal. Carb counting has blurred the science of carbs and digestion. Some carbs digest slow, while others, the simpler versions, digest incredibly fast.

Fast is bad.

Slow is good.

But sometimes, the total carbs are equal between the two and the low carber eliminates the apple, or cashews, or beans, unreasonably, from their diet.

So I’m here to save complex carbs from the underbelly of dietary persuasion.

So let’s dive in (slowly, as is the theme of the article’s content), and figure this stuff out.

What Are Complex Carbs?

Complex carbs are complex chains of sugar. Here’s the deal, this is simple (pun about to be intended).

complex carbs vs simple carbs

Simple Carbs Vs. Complex Carbs

There are two main types of carbs.

  • Simple carbs
  • Complex carbs

Simple carbs are typically carbs, such as sugar, sans the fiber. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are usually found in more fibrous foods. Both simple carbs and complex carbs convert carbs into energy and glucose, but complex carbs do it much slower.

The slower carbs hit your body, the less pressure they place on your blood sugar.

Complex carbs are “simply” better for your health. They create a more sustained energy that lasts much longer. Simple carbs are a roller coaster ride, your blood sugar spikes hard, and dumps harder.

Orange juice, for example, is a simple carb. A cookie is typically a simple carb.

In both cases, your digestion extracts the sugar/carbs without any delay.

A complex carb example is oatmeal (I have a lot more examples listed below).

In the case of oatmeal, you eat it, your digestion has to break it down in order to extract the sugar/carbs. It’s a slower, healthier process.

Benefits Of Complex Carbs

complex carbs benefits

Complex carb benefits are well-defined and scientifically proven. By just adding in a handful of complex carbs each day, you can revamp your health and improve your life.


Complex carbs help improve human digestion. You’re a human, so this applies to you!

The higher fiber content helps to “usher along” waste from your digestive tract. Healthy digestion is linked to all kinds of wellness indicators. Meaning, if your digestion is healthy, you are at lower risks for a variety of ailments.

Metabolic Influencer

Complex Carbs require energy in the digestive process. That’s because complex carbs are fiber and fiber requires digestive energy to break it down. This breakdown process causes energy to be utilized.

Energy used is calories used. That means more fat burn, even while you are just sitting there.

Now, I don’t suggest you binge on beans and then just lay on the couch and watch Netflix for weeks. That’s not going to work. But complex carbs help influence a more optimal energy-burning process.

Insomnia Breaker

complex carbs insomnia

Complex carbs can help you stop tossing and turning at night.

Ah, just maybe, a few good complex carbs could thwart bouts of frustrating insomnia.

Many complex carbs, such as oatmeal, contain high levels of tryptophan. As we know, tryptophan is helpful at influencing sleep.

Additionally and as an aside, low serotonin from low carb diets is often linked to insomnia. Many people who subscribe to ketogenic diets learn this the hard way. Carbs help produce serotonin.

Complex carbs are the best of both worlds. You get the carbs, but not simple carbs. So you get improved sleep, without the detrimental obesity risk associated with fast carbs.

Weight Loss

How many of you skimmed the entire article for this section?

I get it.

No shame in doing so.

Weight loss is on nearly everyone’s mind. That’s because Standard American Diets have taken their toll on our health. We are heavier than we should be.

We are more fatigued that we care to be. We have higher risks for cancer and heart disease than we are comfortable with.

Complex carbs can help us lose weight and become healthier.

They do this by satiating us. In laymen’s terms, fiber makes us feel fuller.

The more fiber we eat, the less crap we crave (it’s that simple). Studies validate this concept. And although the low-carb crowd tends to get triggered by any such talk, the science is truly undeniable in this capacity.

Adding complex carbs into your diet will likely influence weight loss. Doing it daily could contribute to lost pounds annually.

Now, how good do those beans sound?

We May Be ‘More Smarter’ On Carbs

Yes, I’m making a play on words. I needed to get your attention, didn’t I?

Carbs and brain function are like State Farm commercials and awkward exchanges (seriously, those Aaron Rodgers commercials are hideously awkward).

Fat is great for the brain. I’m saying it. Because you’re thinking it. Healthy fats fuel brain power. But healthy complex carbs also influence healthier brain function.

Much of this has to do with serotonin production and carbs (I talked about that in the insomnia section). Carbs influence the production of vital serotonin which helps regulate your mood and sleep cycles.

Ever been around a perpetually aggravated low-carber?

They are deficient in serotonin.

Some oatmeal or beans could brighten their day up really fast!

Lower Stress and Anxiety

Ok, now I’m going to admit to you straight up, I’m getting redundant.

Again, carbs help influence the production of serotonin. More serotonin means less unsettling feelings of anxiety.

Complex Carbs And Green Drinks

green drink complex carbs

Before I get to the full complex carbs list, I want to make an important note. Yes, this is one of those annoying emergency broadcast interruptions with the loud ringing sound coming across your television.

(And its a pretty cool hack)

Many of the top green drinks already have a lot of complex carbs in them. So yes, you can buy a green drink supplement and not have to go to the grocery store to get your complex carb on.

No, I Did Not Say JUICING

Green drinks retain their fiber, juicing strips it out. So don’t get what I just said confused. If you juice the below complex carb list, you’ll get none of the complex carbs, no matter what your health guru cubicle mate tells you!

Complex Carbs List

complex carbs list

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. Believe it or not, nature has provided us with a plethora of tasty options that benefit our heart health, blood sugar, and even lower our cancer risk.

Here’s a comprehensive list of complex carbs. Many can be eaten alone, or used as ingredients healthy recipes.

Friendly Starches

complex carb oatmeal

Old fashioned oatmeal can offer a slow release of carbs, and some proteins to boot.

  • Oatmeal
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa (trendy, but legit)
  • Lentils
  • Potatoes
  • Split Peas
  • Pinto beans (who knew that Mexican dinner offered a little value?)
  • Black Beans
  • Kidney Beans

Fun Fruits

complex carb apple

Apples are a healthy, sweet complex carb option.

  • Apples (you know what they say…)
  • Grapefruits (grapefruits on our top superfoods list)
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Bananas (more green, more starchy, more complex)
  • Plums (weird, but seriously, better than you think)
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Acai berries
  • Strawberries (I’m berried out, honestly!)

Edgy Veggies

complex carb spinach

The superfood spinach is also a popular choice for low carb, and complex carb.

Nuts For Nuts

Nuts are a heavy fat experience. They do not often contain a ton of carbs, but the carbs they do contain are most certainly complex in nature.

complex carbs almonds

Almonds are a complex carb that offer amazing health benefits.

  • Cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds (omega 3 rich to boot)
  • Almonds
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans

Nuts can be used for sauces, believe it or not. Cashews are often used to make vegan cheese dips. While vegan might not be your thing, cashew cheese is a powerful health improvement from the often cheap cheeses used in dips.

Nuts are also great to add to salads for heartiness and additional healthy fats.

Don’t forget to check out my ultimate list of all superfoods.


Complex carbs are game changers when it comes to numerous health issues. The slower release of carbs can provide essential energy throughout the day while also playing host to powerful nutrient density. The complex carbs list is long and full of tasty options. Many complex carbs can serve as the foundation of your favorite recipe, thereby improving its health dynamic.

Complex carbs fuel excellent digestion and improved brain function. They are readily available and affordable.