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Complex vs simple carbs

I've been thinking about this and am kind of confused. Everyone knows that simple carbs like sugar are bad in terms of glycemic index, usually poor nutrition, and whatnot. And that complex carbs (polysaccharides) like starch are better for appetite control, glycemic index, etc.

OK, so I understand the difference between simplex and complex carbs. But then I read that e.g. white rice is a simple carb and bad for you, while brown rice is a complex carb and good for you.

But the only thing different between brown and white rice is that brown rice includes the grain husk, with lots of nutrients and proteins in it. So I know it's more nutritious and better for you that way. BUT, the carb part doesn't change between brown and white rice. The grain stays the same. So why do some people say white rice is a simple carb? Are there different definitions of simple and complex carb that people are using?

I just wonder since I sometime enjoy white rice (brown rice can just be too heavy for some things). And I don't get some glycemic overload after I eat it. Maybe a little more than brown rice since it's easier to digest. But it's not like drinking a bottle of fruit-flavored glucose water. If a white rice dish has, say, a sauce with lots of nutrients and proteins in it, is that so bad?

Any thoughts? What about whole wheat vs. white flour? I don't know as much about  the refining process with that. Is the difference only that the white flour gets stripped of nutrients? Or does it actually change the chemistry of the carbs themselves from complex to simple?

Hmmmm. Good question, trisa. I suppose that some of the vegwebbers with more scientific know-how are much more equipped to answer this question than I. However, I believe the principle with the white vs the brown rice is, as you say, the same as that between white and wheat flour. With wheat, the germ and the bran of the wheat is stripped off, leaving only the endosperm of the grain. These contain something like 22 vital nutrients and lots of insoluble fiber. My sense is that the nutritional impact of just the endosperm is something like just eating sugar because it is no longer AS complex? Okay, I'm in over my head now! --backing away slowly--


I think the difference is that the white flours or white rice do not have the bran and husk (and added fiber) to ease the glycemic load on your blood sugar.

This stripped version, in turn spikes blood sugar and brings on more cravings and also interfers with the body's storing abilities. That's why it's better on your body to eat whole wheat and grains to keep you full longer as well as keep insulin resistance in check.


Oh! So the husk (bran, etc.) does change the glycemic index not just add more nutrients? I know it's definitely better for you, I'm just wondering since it seems like simple carbs = monosacharides and complex carbs = polysaccharides and that doesn't change with removing the husk.

Maybe.... it has something to do with saliva breaking down the carbs in white rice into sugars more easily, and in your mouth before it goes into your stomach... so it's more like eating sugar, whereas the husk would slow that down? (Which WOULD change the glycemic index... hmmmm....)

But then the point of the macrobiotic folks chewing brown rice so much IS to break it down as much as possible before it goes in your stomach, to aid digestion. So, then it would just be the nutritional stuff? Ack! I'm over my head too. And it's not like I haven't read a lot about these things... it still doesn't always make sense to me.

I ask just because I'm wondering if I should be that hard on something like beans and (white) rice, which has the fiber and nutrients, but just not combined with the starch exactly the same way. A friend of mine calls all these things (white flour, white rice, white sugar...) the "white devils". :) I'm just wondering if they're only devilish by comparison or if they're truly bad. Sugar I can see, definitely. White rice though?

Like I love imported aged white Basmati and no brown rice can possibly replace it. But some places act like that's equivalent to candy. LOL. Well, not quite, but you know what I mean! :) And I love making bread and sometimes you really do need white flour. Not always but if you don't use it, you have to use a bunch of vital gluten anyway, which is probably more refined anyway.

Speaking of which, I just bought a sack of brown rice flour to experiment with. Does anyone have any good recipes that use rice flour?


Sugar I can see, definitely. White rice though?

White rice has a considerably higher glycemic index than table sugar.


Okay, I have an idea, I read that fruit is better than sugar because fruit has fiber, and fiber "holds" the sugar as it goes through your gut so that the sugar is slowly released from the strands of fiber as it moves through.  Could t his be the case with rice and flour as well?  Or is what I read totally wrong?


I don't like to label my carbs or see colors when it comes to my starches, I just love them all! And really isn't that what life is about?


youre right about the husk on grain providing a slower absorption rate, therefore a lower glycemic index.
but combining foods like beans, with a "white" product, will slow some of the glycemic effect as well.
fiber and fat both lower the glycemic index.

a perfect high glycemic meal is chinese food...with white rice and sticky sauces...the effect on blood sugar is huge!! thats why you'll be hungry in an hour!  :)

i have diabetes myself, so i check my blood sugar and can get an actual blood sugar  NUMBER, its really amazing to see the huge spike in bs from white things, esp rice! for me, its not even worth it to eat it... boo.  :(


Oh no,  :o  I shouldn't have asked. Now I know the truth! Ignorance was bliss... and now I can't eat the rest of my bag of basmati guilt-free. :'( But I guess this explains why I love it so much! Really I had no idea it was that bad. I thought it was a more subtle thing. Well I'll just finish this one bag! I promise!  ::)

Though Capture maybe you have the right attitude. :)


I'm like Lucidanne, so I avoid it. Trisa this is a bit of wisdom it has taught me, which applies to anyone. Moderation is key to everything, so enjoy in moderation. ;)


To some extent, the definition of a simple carb is one that, after chewing and addition of saliva, rapidly converts to glucose on the way to the stomach.  The pancreas has to control the amount of sugar in the blood stream, so pumps out insulin to counteract it, frequently too much insulin which then drops the blood sugar, you feel gross and you eat some more simple carb... Over time, this becomes insulin resistance and leads to both hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes, which are two sides of the same coin as a disease.  Loads of hypoglycemics become type 2 diabetics.

When you chew up the brown rice, it is not quickly converted to glucose because saliva cannot break down the starches, the bran, the germ like it can just the starch alone.  The pancreas doesn't react quickly and overly to them because they are not coming in as a load of glucose.  The fiber present is what slows down the process.  This is another reason why they get on the 5-a-day for life campaign with fruits and vegetables you sometimes see.  You want all that fruit and vegetable fiber because it bulks up in the gut, makes you feel full, contains lots of nice nutrients with it and because of the fiber, doesn't break down into glucose immediately. 

If you are asking if you have to give up every grain of white rice to be better off, no not exactly. Progress, not perfection.  You can mix 1/3 white with 2/3 brown and cook it the length of time you'd cook the brown.  You can switch to pasta that is part whole wheat and part white.  You can switch to quinoa for another heavy whole grain you don't care for.  The food nazis are not on their way to your kitchen.  It is up to you.

As a suggestion, I feel that brown rice is best when it is toasted prior to cooking.  I use an iron skillet and a little bit of oil, we are talking 1 tsp of it for 2 cups of rice, over medium heat.  Stir it constantly because it will do some popping out of the pan.  If you are going to make fried rice (this is actually what this technique is) then use toasted sesame oil.  You can use avocado oil or other nut oils to add something to other dishes too.  Cook as you normally would.  It makes it nuttier and more tasty while not really taking anything away from it.


other people have pretty much told you the 'science-y' part so i am just going to give you my perspective as a nutrition major. do not worry about EVRYTHING being whole grain. i used to pretty much eliminate everything that wasn't whole grain and it honestly started getting to me b/c i already get so much fiber. i don't worry about putting WW flour in my cookies or care if i have sushi (which i am pretty sure would be disgusting w/ brown rice).

I'm a diabetic like Lucidanne, so I avoid it. Trisa this is a bit of wisdom this disease has taught me, which applies to anyone. moderation is key to everything, so enjoy in moderation. ;)



Thanks everyone!... I think I pretty much understand it now (kinda sorta).

The thing is, I was macro for a while and very into whole grains, so I'm comfortable with it, and lived for a while without the white devils (and I have a rice cooker so cooking is no prob... I love rice! I have three books just about rice! So you'd think I'd have a clue by now!  :P)

But like several of you said, that can eventually got too severe. But THEN I justified stopping by thinking "oh it's the same starch and your teeth mechanically separate the bran from the grain anyway, then your saliva break it down the same way...". Which is kinda sorta true too, but it's automatically mixed with all that fiber at the same time so I can see now how the glycemic index would change. I still don't quite get how it would be different from just eating the fiber (say from beans) in the same biteful and chewing well... OR... LOL!... chewing some separately prepared rice bran up together with the white rice! Ha ha. Not seriously, but the point is maybe it's just the lack of fiber.

Oh, but also... maybe the fibers in the husk are better "adapted" to working together with the starch in rice. Kind of like the enzymes in brown-rice-cultivated miso are adapted to helping with digestion of brown rice. So maybe just ANY fiber won't do, but you need the fiber that was "meant" to be with the grain....

In any case, direct experience (like with the blood sugar monitors) says something is going on... and that's more important to know (for me) than exactly why (that's just the fun part!)

Anyway, so since I used it as justification to stop being whole-grain-focused before (and enjoy good basmati), now realizing that "oh they were right afterall!" doesn't mean I have to go totally macro or something. A middle path is good. :)

And hespedel, I've actually made brown rice maki rolls before and they aren't so bad! The trick is getting the rice to be sticky enough. You use a good short grain brown rice, and double up the (vegan) sugar in the rice vinegar mixture you use. Other than that it's the ame, and doesn't taste bad at all (and does fill you up more quickly).

Well thanks again!


Oh, and I guess that should be brown rice syrup, not sugar. That would kind of defeat some of the purpose otherwise! Nevertheless, that's the way I've done it, and it's just a tiny amount anyway, just for the stickiness not the taste. Maybe using a very sweet mirin would be better.


i don't worry about putting WW flour in my cookies or care if i have sushi (which i am pretty sure would be disgusting w/ brown rice).

I always put at least some WW in my cookies and sushi with brown rice is YUMMY!!

Obviously, I got in on this one late. ;)
Dunno if someone said this or not but I define carbs as: refined and unrefined .... I think it's more accurate labeling than simple and complex, for all the reasons discussed.

I once read a recipe where someone used 'unrefined basmati rice'.... I've never been able to find it. Does anyone know if it is real??


I don't know about unrefined basmati, but here in  my Asian supermarket you can get black rice and red rice, which is considered a "noxious weed" by the rice industry in the US from what I read on the Net, but is eaten in India and other places. Red rice is very chewy but OK, black rice turns purple in cooking and left me underwhelmed! (Purple is my fave colour but it does strange things to other foods on the plate....kind of like the time as a kid we used food colouring to make green scrambled eggs like in Green Eggs and Ham--and then no one could eat them.) ::)


Okay, because you're all being so mature I'll say it.

He he, end-o-sperm, he he.


Oh no,  :o  I shouldn't have asked. Now I know the truth! Ignorance was bliss... and now I can't eat the rest of my bag of basmati guilt-free. :'( But I guess this explains why I love it so much! Really I had no idea it was that bad. I thought it was a more subtle thing. Well I'll just finish this one bag! I promise!  ::)

i wouldn't worry so much about the occasional rice binge. it seems like you are aware of what goes into your body most of the time, and combining low and high glycemic foods def. averages out.

besides, your body knows how to function, mine doesn't...thats why i just dont bother w/ the white rice, its just too frustrating  :'( :'(


I once read a recipe where someone used 'unrefined basmati rice'.... I've never been able to find it. Does anyone know if it is real??

I think this is just brown basmati rice, which is available at any natural food store in bulk bins. (it tastes better than white in my opinion!!!)

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