What are Simple Sugars and Refined Carbs?

Less sugar text from tiled letter blocks and sugar pile on a spoon suggesting dieting concept


Simple sugars and refined carbohydrates offer quick but fleeting energy. They lack fiber, vitamins, and minerals making them “empty” sources of calories.


  • Simple sugars like sucrose, fructose, glucose and dextrose spike blood sugar and insulin rapidly due to fast absorption and digestion.
  • Refined carbs including white bread, crackers, pastries and breakfast cereals provide easily accessible energy but minimal satiety or nutrition.
  • Limit added sugar and processed refined grains. Instead, choose whole foods with fiber like fruit, beans, minimally processed whole grains and starchy vegetables.
  • If cutting out simple sugars entirely, reduce gradually. Moderation is key for long-term sustainable nutrition habits.


  • Candy, soda, table sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup
  • Donuts, saltine crackers, instant potatoes, white rice

Related Terms

  • Empty calories, glycemic index, nutrient density, complex carbs

Common Questions

  • Are simple sugars worse than complex carbs? Yes, the rapid blood sugar spikes elicit greater insulin and fat storage.
  • Can I eat sugary or refined foods while dieting? Sparingly – the lack of nutrition makes it hard to fit them into a deficit.

Do Not Confuse With

  • All carbohydrates – Complex carbs differ by providing more satiety and vitamins.
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