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Simple Carbohydrates Vs. Complex Carbohydrates and Heart Rate

By Jill Corleone, RDN, LD

Your heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats in a minute, can indicate heart health. Harvard Health Publications reports that an increase in heart rate over time may be an indicator of future heart problems. What you eat, including type of carbs, can affect heart rate. Consult your doctor if you're concerned about your heart rate.

Simple and Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates are divided into types based on their chemical makeup and rate of digestion and absorption. Simple carbs are made up of one or two sugar molecules and are digested and absorbed quickly by your body. Fruit, milk and added sugars such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are examples of simple sugars.

Complex carbs are made up of a string of sugars that takes longer to digest than simple carbs; they are absorbed by your body at a slower rate. Examples of complex carbs include bread, rice, grains, beans and potatoes.

Carbs and Heart Rate

Rate of digestion of simple and complex carbs affects blood sugar, which in turn affects blood pressure and heart rate, according to the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute. Higher blood sugar leads to higher blood pressure and heart rate, says Lawnwood.

Simple carbs that digest quickly tend to cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, while complex carbs tend to cause a lower, steady rise in blood sugar. There are some exceptions, though -- white bread is technically a complex carb, but it digests quickly due to the refined grains. Fruit is filled with simple carbs but digests more slowly because of its fiber content. Choose simple and complex carbs that naturally contain fiber, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Carbs and Obesity

Carrying excess weight requires your heart to work harder, which might increase heart rate. Consuming too many calories from any source causes weight gain. But certain simple carbs, namely added sugar, contribute calories without offering any nutritional value. Many Americans consume more calories from added sugar than they realize, which may lead to weight gain, obesity and, in turn, an increase in heart rate, says the American Heart Association.

Tips for Improving Heart Rate

Choosing carbs that have less of an impact on your blood sugar, which are referred to as low-glycemic carbohydrates, may help improve heart rate. Examples of low-GI foods include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, beans, vegetables and 100 percent whole-wheat bread.

If you're obese, making changes to your diet to promote weight loss may also help improve heart rate. Filling your diet with healthy and filling simple and complex carbs, such as fruits, nonfat milk and yogurt and whole grains, can help you save calories and lose those excess pounds.

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