Examples of Complex Carbohydrates: List of Common Foods

Updated March 31, 2021
complex carbohydrates example of oatmeal and blueberries
    complex carbohydrates example of oatmeal and blueberries
    Arx0nt / Moment / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Carbohydrates have earned themselves a bad rap. Over time, a food that provides us with energy has been vilified as the source of obesity. People trying to lose weight say they're going off carbs because they know they convert into sugar (the real evil). However, if you explore various complex carbohydrate examples, you'll quickly see that not all carbs are bad.

What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

Why do we often hear about good and bad carbs? Or complex and simple carbs? What does that mean? A carbohydrate is an organic compound made of carbon, hydrogen and water. Carbohydrates come in two different forms: complex and simple.

Complex Carbs Defined

Complex carbs are typically known as good carbs. These carbs consist of sugar molecules strung together in long, complex molecule chains. Given their complex nature, it takes more work for the body to digest these carbs, giving you energy for longer.


Simple Carbs Explored

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are created from short, simple carbohydrate strains. So, they are much easier for the body to digest. Think of the rush you get from a sugary soda or candy bar. However, this also means that simple carbs lead to sugar spikes in the body.

Common Complex Carbs List

Let's take a look at examples of complex carbohydrates and sort through the good and the bad. A complex carbohydrate (carb) food list includes healthy foods that provide the body with lasting energy rather than sugar spikes. For example, peas, beans and whole grains are complex carbs.

Nuts, Seeds and Legumes

These snacks tend to be classified as "high carb." However, these are examples of good carbs where you'll find they're filling, low in sugar and provide energy.

  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Split peas
  • Soybeans
  • Pinto beans
  • Soymilk

Whole Grains

Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that are not only filling but also nutrient-packed. Here are some of the healthiest options:

  • Buckwheat
  • Brown rice
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Sorghum
  • Quinoa

Fruits and Vegetables

Although certain fruits have high levels of natural sugar, they're still a healthier substitute than some of our favorite simple carb-ridden snacks. Here's a sampling of fruits and vegetables that contain complex carbohydrates:

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Okra
  • Dill pickles
  • Carrots
  • Yams
  • Strawberries
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Grapefruit
  • Prunes
broccoli and complex carb vegetables
    broccoli and complex carb vegetables
    Junaid Rashid / Moment / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

The Benefits of Complex Carbs

Complex carbohydrates provide the body some of what it needs to operate at peak performance. Here are a few reasons to choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates.


Provide Fuel

Complex carbs keep the body fueled for an extended period of time. Reaching for simple carbohydrates may be a quick way to fill your stomach or to fulfill a craving, but the simple sugars are quickly digested, meaning hunger will return sooner.

Slower Digestion

Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest. This makes them key to fulfilling hunger as well as providing a longer-lasting source of energy. Because complex carbohydrates often have lots of fiber, this bulks up stool, allowing it to move smoothly through the digestive tract. When this occurs, less bloating and gas exist, constipation can be lessened, and more toxins are removed from the body.

Help Weight Loss

Yes, the right carbs can actually help you lose weight, not gain weight. Eating complex carbohydrates helps you feel full for a longer period of time. As a result, cravings are lessened and the need to reach for unhealthy snacks between planned meals is diminished. Instead of reaching for a simple carbohydrate, snacking on a complex carb is an easy way to stay on track with your weight loss or maintenance goals.


Aid in Heart Health

A diet rich in vegetables has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks by lowering blood pressure. Complex carbs can keep your heart healthy. Whole grains and legumes also protect the heart by lowering cardiovascular and coronary heart disease risk.

How to Include More Complex Carbs in Your Diet

In order to achieve the benefits of eating more complex carbohydrates, it might be necessary to make some changes to your diet. Here are some examples of easy substitutions:

  • Instead of white bread and pasta, switch to whole grain bread and pasta. If the switch is intimidating at first, try mixing half whole grain and half white when making pasta.
  • Other alternatives to pasta are spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles (or zoodles).
  • Instead of munching on potato chips, try nuts and raw vegetables.
  • Rather than using white rice, consider brown rice, quinoa or beans as a base for dishes.
  • As a potato alternative, try some mashed or roasted cauliflower.
  • Instead of instant oatmeal in the morning, try steel-cut oats or rolled oats. Instant oatmeal tends to come with added sugar, while steel-cut or rolled oats are more natural.

Additionally, Harvard Health makes the case that a low-carb diet isn't necessarily a smart choice. With a reduction in carbs, we have to replace our calorie intake some other way and a high-fat diet isn't necessarily the answer.


Change the Reputation of Carbs

In the end, complex carbohydrates are the opposite of fattening. Rather, they're filling, providing our bodies with nutrients it will appreciate. The ability to feel fuller longer will help prevent unnecessary consumption of sugar, which can be harmful to our blood sugar levels. This makes complex carbs a win-win for everyone who chooses spaghetti squash over a box of macaroni at night.

That was quite a bit of complex chatter. Let's have some fun. Enjoy these examples of food idioms and see if you'll go bananas over any of these catchphrases!