NutriSense Blog
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Are Carbs and Sugar the Same? 

June 10, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Natalie Krafft

You may know that carbohydrates and sugar are what our body converts into energy. But what’s the difference between the two, and aren't they both essential for a healthy, balanced diet? 

Here's what you need to know first: sugar is a type of carbohydrate found naturally in many of the foods we eat. It can either occur naturally in foods or be added in, and is used by the body for energy. 

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can include foods made up of starches, fiber, and sugar. They serve several critical functions that are important for your overall health and are also turned into energy in your body.

Sugar and other forms of carbohydrates are what your body uses for fuel, and the CDC recommends that 45 to 65 percent of daily calories come from carbohydrates for most people. 

However, everyone’s individual needs can vary, and some people may even benefit from a low-carb diet. 

While these nutrients are vital for good health, consuming them in excess is also possible, leading to blood sugar spikes and other adverse health effects.

Let’s explore the roles of carbohydrates and sugar in the body and how you can incorporate them into a healthy diet.

Defining Carbohydrates

Jars of chia pudding, veggies, fruits, sauerkraut, and granola

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that make up a balanced diet, and carbohydrates are what your body converts into glucose to use as energy. In addition to being broken down for energy, carbs can also play a supporting role in immune health, metabolism, and reproductive health.

You’ll find carbs in foods like grains, fruits, dairy products, legumes, fruit juices, and soft drinks. They're broken down into two main groups: simple and complex carbohydrates. These groups will affect your body and blood sugar levels differently, affecting how quickly you digest and absorb your food.

Simple Carbs

There are two types of simple carbohydrates: monosaccharides (simple sugars) and disaccharides (two simple sugars). 

Simple carbohydrates are sugars that can be digested quickly by your body for energy and are found in foods like:

  • Candy
  • Syrups
  • Table sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate

Complex Carbs

Your body breaks down complex carbohydrates into oligosaccharides (three to six monosaccharide units) and polysaccharides (more than six). These take longer to digest than simple carbs and lead to fewer glucose spikes. They include foods like:

  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes 
  • Starchy vegetables

The Dangers of Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are foods that can lead to crashes in glucose and unstable energy levels as they are easiest for your body to absorb

Many simple carbs have little nutritional value and can be high in calories. Eating too many can cause health issues, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions. 

Refined carbohydrates may also negatively affect brain health.

The Benefits of Eating Complex Carbohydrates

Sweet potatoes cut up into wedges

Complex carbs, sometimes referred to as “healthy carbs,” take longer for the body to digest and convert into glucose, and they don’t spike blood glucose as much as simple carbs do. 

These molecules possess many critical functions for your body, including decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, enhanced digestive health, and better blood sugar control. 

Starches are one type of complex carb that can be broken down into glucose and provide energy for the body. 

The digestion process takes longer in complex carbohydrates and prevents blood glucose levels from spiking. Balance is vital when aiming to eat a healthy diet and avoid glucose spikes, especially if you are someone with or at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. 

Complex Carbs Provide Your Body With Energy

Foods containing longer chains of sugar molecules take longer for the body to break down and provide longer-lasting energy

Complex carbs also contain more vitamins and minerals and have other vital nutrients.

Complex Carbs Are Great for Your Digestive System

Cut up watermelon on a towel at the beach

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that your body can’t break down and instead plays a role in aiding digestion, regulating blood sugar, and lowering cholesterol

Eating complex carbs high in fiber can aid gut health due to their high prebiotic quantities. They're in foods like:

  • Blueberries
  • Watermelon
  • Garlic
  • Onions 
  • Leeks

They Help You Sleep

Complex carbs can also help support better sleep, which is essential for our overall health and can affect your blood sugar levels

Including complex carbs in your diet can raise melatonin and support a good night’s sleep.

Complex Carbohydrates Increase Brain Function

Besides reducing risk factors for many chronic diseases, complex carbs can also provide the brain with a steadier fuel level than simple carbohydrates, as they take longer to digest and send out into your body. 

These foods can also protect brain cells from damage and improve cognitive performance

Studies have shown that simple carbs can harm brain health and cognitive function compared to complex carbs. 

These foods can also protect brain cells from damage and improve cognitive performance.

What is Sugar?

Person adding sugar to eggs in a bowl

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is broken down into glucose when digested by the body. It  is found naturally in things like fruits and vegetables and can be added into processed foods and sweets.

You may have heard of sugar referred to as glucose, fructose, sucrose, or even lactose—but there are over 60 different names for sugar. 

Glucose is essential for overall health and provides energy that allows the brain, red blood cells, and central nervous system to work correctly. 

While added sugars are not absolutely necessary for survival, there are naturally occurring sugars found in things like fruit that contain essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamin C

The American Heart Association advises that added sugar intake is limited to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men

The Dangers of Consuming Too Much Sugar

Many foods include added sugars, which you should limit in your diet because too much of it can lead to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.

Things such as fruit juices, sodas, white bread, snack foods, and sweets are simple carbohydrates that can also be high in added sugars. 

These foods are not typically high in other vital nutrients and are quickly digestible, which can cause sharp blood sugar spikes.

Chronic blood sugar spikes caused by an excessive intake of sugars and carbs can lead to type 2 diabetes over time as the cells that produce insulin (which allows the body to use and store sugar) are damaged over time. 

It's important to note that sugar is just one cause of blood sugar spikes. Many factors can contribute to the development of diabetes, such as obesity, low physical activity, and high blood pressure. 

How Carbohydrates and Sugars Affect Your Blood Sugar

Person checking their glucose chart on NutriSense app

Eating carbohydrates and sugars can naturally raise your blood sugar as foods are digested and broken down into glucose that enters the bloodstream

Simple carbohydrates like baked goods, candy, fruit juices, cereals, pasta, and bread made with white flour are digested more rapidly, leading to quick spikes in blood sugar. Many studies recommend including more complex carbs such as fiber in your diet to decrease risk of higher blood sugar spikes. 

It’s essential to avoid excessive blood glucose spikes to prevent diseases like type 2 diabetes. For some, a low-carb diet can help improve insulin resistance and assist in weight loss or management. 

It's not necessary to cut out carbohydrates from your diet to prevent blood glucose spikes. However, following a low-carb diet can be healthy for certain people, such as those with diabetes mellitus. You should always speak to your doctor or an accredited dietitian before making significant dietary changes.

Whole food carbohydrates are a healthy element of the diet and do not cause diabetes or other health problems on their own. Creating healthy dietary habits by limiting added sugars and including foods known to prevent blood sugar from rising is one way to combat these spikes. 

Foods like non-starchy veggies (such as celery), vinegar, prebiotic-rich foods, leafy greens, legumes, and good quality proteins are just a few examples of these foods.

Manage Your Carbohydrate and Sugar Intake with NutriSense

Natural sugars and carbohydrates each have an essential role in a healthy, balanced diet. Understanding the effects your dietary choices have on your blood glucose can help you prevent disease, maintain a healthy weight, and optimize your health. 

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can be a great way to learn about your response to different foods and allow you to see real-time insights into how your diet is impacting your health. 

NutriSense’s CGM program allows you to access your body’s data and even pairs you with a personal dietitian to analyze health patterns and a craft personalized diet and health plan to help you meet your goals. See how NutriSense can help you create healthy habits and take control of your health today.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
Are Carbs and Sugar the Same? 
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Best Physical and Mental Health Apps Available in 2022
Best Physical and Mental Health Apps Available in 2022

Here are the eleven best physical and mental health apps available in the app store.

Podcast
33
min
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Improving Metabolic Health with Carlee Hayes
Improving Metabolic Health with Carlee Hayes

On this episode of Passionate Pioneers with Mike Biselli, Carlee Hayes, Nutrition Manager at NutriSense, discusses the company’s digital platform that aims to help others discover and reach their health potential.

Podcast
40
min
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Carlee Hayes talks Metabolic Health with Rejuvenaging
Carlee Hayes talks Metabolic Health with Rejuvenaging

In this episode of Rejuvenaging with Dr. Ron Kaiser, Carlee explains how to cut through the online nutrition industry's noise, why we shouldn't look for a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition, and how CGMs work.

Story
6
min
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Fruit Juice or Whole Fruit? What You Should Pick and Why
Fruit Juice or Whole Fruit? What You Should Pick and Why

Should you be drinking your fruits? Read on to find out more about juicing, whole fruits, and why one may be better for you than the other.

Story
7
min
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Meet the Blood-Glucose Friendly Rambutan: What It Is and How to Eat It
Meet the Blood-Glucose Friendly Rambutan: What It Is and How to Eat It

Do you know what a rambutan is? Learn more about this blood-glucose-friendly tropical fruit and why you should add it to your diet.

Story
13
min
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Organ Meats: Should You Be Adding Them to Your Diet?
Organ Meats: Should You Be Adding Them to Your Diet?

Learn about the health benefits and risk factors of adding organ meats to your meals, and try our favorite recipes using these nutritional treasure troves. 

Story
6
min
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Five Cancer Research Developments of the Last Five Years
Five Cancer Research Developments of the Last Five Years

Read on to learn more about five of the most promising developments in cancer research.

Story
8
min
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A Quick Look at Meditation and Blood Glucose 
A Quick Look at Meditation and Blood Glucose 

Learn more about meditation, how it positively impacts blood sugar, and how you can start incorporating it into your routine.

Story
7
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Tasty, Nutritious Salads You'll Love
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Tasty, Nutritious Salads You'll Love

Salads don't have to be boring! Our Nutrition Team recommends nine delicious, nutritious salads to help you find your favorite.

Story
7
min
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Do You Need More Vitamin D?
Do You Need More Vitamin D?

Most people get the vitamin D they need from exposure to sunlight, but if you don't spend enough time outdoors, you may not be getting enough of this vital nutrient. Read our article to learn more.

Story
6
min
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Your Mother's Day Gift Guide
Your Mother's Day Gift Guide

Can't decide on the perfect gift for Mother's Day? Pick from a list of ideas to find a healthy, but still exciting gift this year.

Story
8
min
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Can Soy Really Prevent Diabetes?
Can Soy Really Prevent Diabetes?

Some research suggests that eating soy may reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Read on to learn whether that's true and find out more about the other health benefits of soy.

Story
9
min
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Celiac Disease
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Celiac Disease

Did you know that 23.5 million Americans live with autoimmune conditions? Learn more about the symptoms and causes of celiac disease and what you can do about it.

Story
7
min
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Positive Thinking May Affect More Than Your Mental Health 
Positive Thinking May Affect More Than Your Mental Health 

It's no secret that positive thinking can improve your mood and help you cope with difficult situations. Review our article to see how a positive outlook may also benefit your physical health.

Story
10
min
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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

Story
8
min
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9 Unusual Health Conditions You May Not Know About
9 Unusual Health Conditions You May Not Know About

Though most of us may never encounter these, these health conditions are still fascinating to learn more about. Read our article to find out more about nine of the most fascinating, unusual health conditions.

Story
10
min
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar 
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar 

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

Podcast
17
min
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Two to 80 Employees in Just Two Years
Two to 80 Employees in Just Two Years

In this 20-minute conversation, Dan shares how he’s putting a Rockstar in every seat. And mistakes to avoid along the way.

Podcast
45
min
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Understanding how Glucose Effects our Metabolic Health with Kara Collier
Understanding how Glucose Effects our Metabolic Health with Kara Collier

Kara, registered dietitian, and co-founder of NutriSense, discusses how blood glucose levels are a core marker of metabolic health. She dives into the health consequences of fluctuating blood glucose levels, and what levels to look fasted compared to post-meal.

Podcast
57
min
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Using Real-Time Data to Improve Metabolic Health with Kara Collier
Using Real-Time Data to Improve Metabolic Health with Kara Collier

Today on the podcast, Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC, discusses revolutionizing preventative healthcare. It’s her mission to empower people with the knowledge to effectively monitor, optimize, and sustain their own metabolic health.

Story
10
min
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11 Simple and Effective Weight Loss Tips for Men
11 Simple and Effective Weight Loss Tips for Men

Losing weight is typically easier for men than women, biologically speaking, but it's still challenging! Here are 11 simple yet effective tips for losing weight for men.

Story
9
min
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What are the Best Times to Eat for Losing Weight?
What are the Best Times to Eat for Losing Weight?

Review our helpful article where we discuss the best times to eat if you are trying to lose weight.

Story
10
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Books on Metabolic Health
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Books on Metabolic Health

Whether you're looking for weight loss tips or to learn more about metabolism, a little reading material can go a long way. To help you get started, here’s some books on metabolic health, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

Story
9
min
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Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): Can It Replace Your Workout?
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): Can It Replace Your Workout?

NEAT can’t replace the benefits of intense cardio or strength-training workouts but like any physical activity, it has many overall health and fitness benefits. Read on to find out everything you need to know about NEAT.

Podcast
40
min
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NutriSense CGM Program Review
NutriSense CGM Program Review

On this week's episode, Shannon describes the comfort, cost, usability, and education she experienced using the continuous glucose monitor program from NutriSense.

Podcast
25
min
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Track Your Health in Real-Time with Dan Zavorotny
Track Your Health in Real-Time with Dan Zavorotny

On this episode of the Making Bank podcast, Dan Zavorotny discusses how he started the company “NutriSense” and how it reached a 150 million dollar valuation in 26 months.

Podcast
37
min
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Can a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) Help You Lose Weight?
Can a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) Help You Lose Weight?

Carlee Hayes talks to This Podcast Burns Fat! about the important role blood sugar plays in weight management.