Fruits With Complex Carbs


Fruits with complex carbs are more filling and contain more nutrients for their weight. We’ve compiled a list of delicious fruits that are rich in complex carbs, yet low in sugar. This will ensure you don’t experience blood sugar spikes after eating them. We all know some fruits are a better than others. But sometimes, it’s hard to tell which fruits have complex carbs, and which have simple carbs. This article will help you find what kinds of fruits have complex carbs.

A Complete Guide to Complex Carbohydrates

Dietary fiber food still life

Here’s your complete guide to complex carbohydrates, which can help keep you full and promote a bevy of other health benefits.

Carbohydrates are an energy source in food that come from starch, sugar and cellulose. Carbohydrates provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber in the diet.

The current recommendations suggest 45 to 65 percent of our daily calories come from carbs. The 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing foods containing complex carbohydrates over refined sources most often for maximum benefits.

You can find healthful carbohydrate sources in foods like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye and in fruits, vegetables and legumes. Read on to learn more about the importance of including the right type of carbohydrates in your diet.

Complex Carbs vs. Simple Carbs

There are two types of carbohydrates — simple and complex. They differ in terms of the food’s chemical structure and how quickly the sugar is digested and absorbed, per the American Heart Association (AHA).

Simple carbs are digested quickly and send immediate bursts of glucose (energy) into the blood stream. That’s why you may feel a rush of energy when you eat a dessert, only to be followed by a crash of fatigue when that sudden burst of energy is depleted. Simple sugars are found in refined sugars, like the white sugar you’d find in a sugar bowl. Added sugars (including refined sugars) provide calories, but lack vitamins, minerals and fiber and can lead to weight gain.

Simple Carbohydrates: Refined vs. Natural

Simple carbohydrates are digested by the body quickly, after which they send a rush of glucose into the blood stream. This is why you might feel a burst of energy after eating a sweet. Some common examples of simple carbs include:

  • Candy
  • Non-diet carbonated beverages, like soda
  • Table sugar
  • Added sugars

Simple carbs are often softer in texture (think: white bread, white rice and baked goods). Soda, candy and sweeteners like table sugar and honey are also simple carbs.

Refined simple carbs are created when natural ingredients, such as sugar cane, are processed or refined into a product, such as table sugar.

Refined carbohydrates are added to foods as sweeteners, and include corn syrup, brown sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Foods that contain high levels of refined sugars include some breakfast cereals, yogurts, cookies and candy.

Refined flours, which have been stripped of some of their natural, high fiber content including the bran, germ or endosperm, are also considered refined simple carbs.

Refined carbohydrates tend to provide high calorie counts but lack nutrient value. In other words, for the number calories consumed, your body receives little benefit. To manage your weight and maximize your nutrition, limit the number of refined carbohydrates in your diet.

Are Fruits Simple Carbs?

The answer to this question is a bit nuanced.

Natural sources of simple carbohydrates provide quick energy and boost your health by supplying vitamins and minerals that are not found in refined carbohydrates.

Fruits, vegetables and dairy are technically made of simple carbohydrates, but because of the fiber, protein and other nutrients that naturally occur in these foods, they act more like complex carbohydrates in the body, per the AHA.

For these reasons, they’re recommended as part of a healthy diet.

If you have a choice between a refined and natural carbohydrate as a snack, such as choosing between a candy bar or apple, you’ll boost your nutrition by choosing the apple (the natural simple carb).

The apple contains fewer calories than the candy bar and also provides vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. In addition to its nutrient value, fruit serves double duty by providing complex carbohydrates in the form of soluble and insoluble fiber.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to digest and release glucose into the bloodstream at a steadier pace.

Complex carbohydrates have a sugar structure, called starch, that requires your body to work harder to access it. This means that complex carbohydrates release their energy slowly.

Foods high in starch content include potatoes, corn, pasta, breads and cereals. While these foods contain vitamins and minerals, starches from whole grains and some fruits and vegetables are more complete because they also contain dietary fiber.

Some common examples of complex carbs include:

  • Legumes including beans, peas and lentils
  • Starchy vegetables including potatoes
  • Whole-grain and fibrous foods, including brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa

You may have heard there are two major types of complex carbohydrates: fiber and starch.

Complex Carbs and Fiber

Complex carbs are beneficial, in part, because they can be an excellent source of dietary fiber. Fiber is the part of plant-based food that your body can’t digest or absorb, per the Mayo Clinic, and it comes in two categories: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber attracts water and helps slow digestion. Insoluble fiber resists water and acts as bulk in your digestive tract, leaving you feeling fuller over longer periods of time. You’ll find soluble fiber in:

  • Beans
  • Oats
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Barley
  • Citrus fruits
  • Psyllium
  • Peas

This type of fiber has been found to reduce cholesterol and aid in blood sugar control.

Insoluble fiber supports digestion by increasing stool bulk. Since it’s “insoluble,” the body can’t break down part of the food, and so these parts travel through our bodies, adding roughage to help move things along. You’ll find insoluble fiber in:

  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Wheat bran
  • Whole wheat flour

In order to see the most benefit, you should be getting both types of fiber by consuming a wide variety of high-fiber foods, per the Mayo Clinic. Both forms of dietary fiber play an important role in nutrition by stabilizing your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Complex Carbs and Starch

Starch is a type of complex carbohydrate found only in plant foods, per the Cleveland Clinic. Starchy foods provide vitamins and minerals, and they require more effort (and time) to break down in the body. As a result, blood sugar levels are stabilized and you feel full for longer.

High-starch foods include:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Cereal
  • Corn
  • Lima beans
  • Oats
  • Peas
  • Rice
  • Potatoes

When you eat starchy foods, your body works to break them down into glucose, the sugar your body uses at its source of energy. The glucose not only helps you physically, but is also the primary source of fuel for your organs, including your brain, kidneys and muscles.

How Are Carbohydrates Digested?

Carbohydrate digestion begins in your mouth, where special enzymes in the saliva start to break complex carbohydrates down, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The food then passes through the stomach and into the small intestines, where more enzymes break carbohydrates down into the simplest form of sugars that the body can use for energy.

Though all types of carbohydrates eventually break down into blood glucose, complex carbohydrates take longer to complete this process and offer vital nutrients the body needs along the way. Complex carbs also provide indigestible fibers that aren’t broken down; instead they move through the body to promote gut health and stool elimination.

When simple carbohydrates are consumed, they offer little nutrition and are broken down rapidly causing a sharp spike in blood sugar and the hormones needed to complete carbohydrate digestion.

The Health Benefits of Complex Carbs

Complex carbs may benefit weight loss.​ People who eat whole grain foods, including wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye show a lower risk of obesity, including a reduced body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip measurement according to the Whole Grains Council.

Complex carbs may also help reduce the risk for certain health conditions.​ People who enjoy at least three servings of whole grains each day have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25 to 36 percent, stroke by 37 percent, type 2 diabetes by 21 to 27 percent, digestive system cancers by 21 to 43 percent, and hormone-related cancers by 10 to 40 percent, per the Whole Grains Council.

Complex carbs benefit gut health and may lower cholesterol.​ The dietary fiber content of complex carbs may help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol while normalizing blood glucose levels and insulin response over time, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Fiber also promotes bowel health by creating a more productive stool to prevent constipation and reduce diverticular disease.

Eating Carbs and Losing Weight

Carbohydrates are often the first food group to get cut when people attempt to lose weight, but doing this may actually hurt your weight loss efforts.

The trouble with “cutting carbs” to lose weight is that we’re lumping all sources of carbohydrates into one group, while we’ve learned that complex carbs and simple carbs are two very different beasts.

Focusing on certain complex carbs can help keep you full and energetic.

One such complex carb is the potato. While sometimes vilified in diet culture, potatoes have actually been shown to promote healthy weight (we’re talking all types of potatoes here, not just sweet potatoes).

Potatoes are a nutrient-dense food. A medium potato (with skin) has just 118 calories and one gram of sugar while providing 3 grams of protein, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fiber, 20 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin C, 24 percent DV of vitamin B6 and 11 percent DV of folate, according to the USDA.

When it comes to weight loss, potatoes are unique from many other foods in that they contain resistant starch, per a February 2020 review in the ​Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics​. This specific type of fiber may decrease the number of calories we process and increase satiety, along with other health benefits.

Another reason complex carbs are so important for weight loss has to do with their fiber content.

Fibrous foods in general support weight management because they are nutrient-rich and low in calories — especially fruits and vegetables. (think: fruits and vegetables).

Simply aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight as effectively as a more complicated diet, found a February 2015 study in the ​Annals of Internal Medicine.


Carbohydrates — fiber, starches and sugars — are essential food nutrients that your body turns into glucose to give you the energy to function. Complex carbs in fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products are less likely to spike blood sugar than simple carbs (sugars). Low-carb diets like keto can be high in fats.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (also called carbs) are a type of macronutrient found in certain foods and drinks. Sugars, starches and fiber are carbohydrates.

Other macronutrients include fat and protein. Your body needs these macronutrients to stay healthy.

How does the body process carbohydrates?

Your digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose or blood sugar. Your bloodstream absorbs glucose and uses it as energy to fuel your body.

The amount of carbs you consume affects blood sugar. Taking in a lot of carbs can raise blood sugar levels. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can put you at risk for diabetes. Some people who don’t consume enough carbs have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

What are total carbohydrates?

Foods and drinks can have three types of carbohydrates: starches, sugars and fiber. The words “total carbohydrates” on a food’s nutrient label refers to a combination of all three types.

What’s the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates?

A food’s chemical structure, and how quickly your body digests it, determine whether the food is a complex or simple carb. Complex carbs are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar. They also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs. (You may be familiar with the term “good carbohydrates,” but it may be best to think of them as healthy carbohydrates. )

Too many simple carbs can contribute to weight gain. They can also increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

What are starches?

Starches are complex carbohydrates. Many starches (but not all) fit this category. They provide vitamins and minerals. It takes your body longer to break down complex carbohydrates. As a result, blood sugar levels remain stable and fullness lasts longer.

You can find starchy carbohydrates in:

  • Beans and legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.
  • Fruits, such as apples, berries and melons.
  • Whole-grain products, such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread and pasta.
  • Vegetables, such as corn, lima beans, peas and potatoes.

What is fiber?

Plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products, contain fiber. Animal products, including dairy products and meats, have no fiber.

Fiber is a complex healthy carbohydrate. Your body can’t break down fiber. Most of it passes through the intestines, stimulating and aiding digestion. Fiber also regulates blood sugar, lowers cholesterol and keeps you feeling full longer.

Experts recommend that adults consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day. Most of us get half that amount.

High-fiber foods include:

  • Beans and legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils and pinto beans.
  • Fruits, especially those with edible skins (apples and peaches) or seeds (berries).
  • Nuts and seeds, including almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
  • Whole-grain products, such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, cereal and whole-wheat bread and pasta.
  • Vegetables, such as corn, lima beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts and squash.

What are sugars?

Sugars are a type of simple carbohydrate. Your body breaks down simple carbohydrates quickly. As a result, blood sugar levels rise — and then drop — quickly. After consuming sugary foods, you may notice a burst of energy, followed by feeling tired.

There are two types of sugars:

  • Naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in milk and fresh fruits.
  • Added sugars, such as those found in sweets, canned fruit, juice and soda. Sweets include things like bakery, candy bars and ice cream. Choose fruit canned in juice over other varieties. Note that sugar-free soda is available.

Your body processes all sugars the same. It can’t tell the difference between natural and added sugars. But along with energy, foods with natural sugars provide vitamins, minerals and sometimes fiber.

Sugar goes by many names. On food labels, you may see sugar listed as:

  • Agave nectar.
  • Cane syrup or corn syrup.
  • Dextrose, fructose or sucrose.
  • Honey.
  • Molasses.
  • Sugar.

Limiting sugar is essential to keep blood sugar levels in the healthy range. Plus, sugary foods and drinks are often higher in calories that can contribute to weight gain. Limit refined foods and foods that contain added sugar, such as white flour, desserts, candy, juices, fruit drinks, soda pop and sweetened beverages. The American Heart Association recommends:

  • No more than 25g (6 teaspoons or 100 calories) per day of added sugar for most women.
  • No more than 36g (9 teaspoons or 150 calories) per day of added sugar for most men.

There isn’t a set amount of recommended daily carbs. Your age, gender, medical conditions, activity level and weight goals all affect the amount that’s right for you. Counting carbs helps some people with diabetes manage their blood sugar.

For most people, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a healthy plate or MyPlate approach. You should fill:

  • Half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • One-quarter of your plate with whole grains.
  • One-quarter of your plate with protein (meat, fish, beans, eggs or dairy).

Is a low- or no-carb diet healthy?

Some people cut their carb intake to promote weight loss. Popular low-carb diets include the Atkins diet and the ketogenic (keto) diet. Some healthcare providers recommend the keto diet for epilepsy and other medical conditions.

Strict dietary restrictions can be hard to follow over a long time. Some carb-restrictive diets include large amounts of animal fat and oils. These foods can increase your risk of heart disease. Experts still aren’t sure if a low- or no-carb diet is healthy. Talk to your healthcare provider before trying a low- or no-carb diet.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

You may have been thinking of carbohydrates as either “good” or “bad.” As with all foods, the secret with carbohydrates is to make smart decisions and limit the ones that aren’t as healthy for you. Your best bet is to choose nutrient-dense carbs that have fiber, vitamins and minerals. Eat foods that have added sugars in moderation. Your healthcare provider can help determine the right amount of carbs for your needs.

 Your Guide to Eating Healthy Carbs

Make the Right Choice

Make the Right Choice

Think of carbs as raw material that powers your body. You need them to make sugar for energy.

They come in two types: simple and complex. What’s the difference? Simple carbs are like quick-burning fuels. They break down fast into sugar in your system. You want to eat less of this type.

Complex carbs are usually a better choice. It takes your body longer to break them down.

Read the "Fine Print"

Read the “Fine Print”

Nutrition labels offer an easy way to spot added sugar, the source of simple carbs that you want to cut back on. Just look for words that end in “ose.”

The chemical name for table sugar is sucrose.  Other names you might see include fructose, dextrose, and maltose. The higher up they appear in the ingredients list, the more added sugar the food has.

Just Avoid Simple Carbs?

Just Avoid Simple Carbs?

Well, it’s not quite that easy. Foods that have been processed with added sugars generally aren’t as healthy a choice, it’s true. But simple carbs occur naturally in some foods that are part of a balanced diet. For example, most milk and other dairy products contain lactose, or milk sugar.

Get Smart About Bread

Get Smart About Bread

Does your loaf have the complex carbs that are good for you? It depends on the grain used to make it.

Look for bread made with whole grains. Barley, rye, oats, and whole wheat are some top choices.

What About Fruit?

What About Fruit?

They’re sweet, which must mean they have simple carbs, right? That’s true, but they’re still a healthy choice. They’ve got fiber in them, which helps slow the breakdown of sugar. Plus, most are a good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium.

Fruits with skins you can eat, such as pears, apples, and berries, are especially high in fiber.

Watch What You Drink

Watch What You Drink

That soda you’re sipping could be a sneaky source of simple carbs. That’s because non-diet sodas contain a sweetener, often high-fructose corn syrup. It’s right there on the nutrition label, usually one of the first ingredients listed. Twelve ounces of a regular soda can pack 39 grams of carbs, all coming from the sugar in it.

Think Fall

Think Fall

Many of the foods you associate with autumn are great sources of complex carbs.

Try starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin.

Sweeten With Caution

Sweeten With Caution

You can quickly load up on simple carbs if you’re not careful about what you stir into your hot drink or put on your oatmeal. Go easy on brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, and molasses.

And don’t overdo it on fancier-sounding sweeteners, like turbinado and agave nectar. They’re also sources of simple carbs. 

Bring on the Beans

Bring on the Beans

They’re a good way to get complex carbs. Whether you choose kidney, white, black, pinto, or garbanzo, beans have lots of fiber.

While you’re on that aisle in the grocery store, think about picking up some lentils or split peas, another way to add complex carbs to your diet.

A Guilt-Free Treat

A Guilt-Free Treat

It seems too good to be true, but you can believe it: Popcorn is a whole grain. That means it’s got complex carbs and fiber. Your healthiest choice is air-popped, without any added fat and salt. Season it with your favorite dried herbs and spices instead.

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