Everything you need to know about eating carbohydrates — plus a healthy pancake recipe!


Adriana Urbina is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow her on Instagram and visit her website for more.

Carbohydrates are often portrayed negatively in the media, but the truth is not all carbohydrates are created equal. Keeping the right carbohydrates in our diet actually gives us usable energy, facilitates healthy digestion and helps support a healthy weight. On the other hand, eating too many refined carbohydrates increases our risk of chronic inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

So, how do we know which carbs to choose?

The first thing to know is that the main function of carbohydrates is to provide us with energy. Complex carbohydrates contain fiber that supports gut health and helps us manage weight and reduce cholesterol. The two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and help us avoid spikes, which allows us to maintain more consistent blood glucose levels.

Soluble fiber slows digestion by increasing digestive transit time, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools to support digestive regularity. When adding additional fiber to your diet, make sure to do it slowly to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, and remember to increase your water consumption.

Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars during digestion and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose. Insulin then allows glucose to enter the cells as a source of energy. Depending on your body’s needs, any unused glucose is stored in the liver or converted into fat for later use.

Types of Carbohydrates

There are two main categories of carbohydrates: Simple and complex. These terms refer to the chemical structure of the molecules that make up the food.

Simple Carbohydrates 

Simple carbohydrates are small compounds broken down quickly, providing a quick burst of energy when consumed.

Sources of simple carbohydrates include:

  • Sugar

  • Dairy

  • Fruit and honey

  • Malt sugar

As a source of simple carbohydrates, fruit naturally contains sugar, but it’s also a good source of fiber (unlike most processed foods with added sweeteners). Because of this, fruit doesn’t cause as sharp of a spike in blood glucose levels. In addition, fruit offers much more than just energy — it’s a source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Complex Carbohydrates 

Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbs are larger compounds that require more time to break down, slowing digestion and absorption and preventing extreme changes in our blood glucose levels.

Sources of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grain brown rice

  • Barley

  • Buckwheat

  • Bulgur wheat

  • Oats

  • Wild rice

  • Spelt

  • Beans/legumes

  • Vegetables

Since these foods are good sources of fiber, they also help you manage weight and support your cardiovascular health.

Below, you’ll find an easy-to-make recipe for buckwheat pancakes. They’re super light and have a tender texture and a nutty flavor that’ll help you to start your day full of energy.

Buckwheat Pancakes

Credit: Adriana Urbina
Credit: Adriana Urbina

Yields 10 pancakes 


  • 1 cup buckwheat flour

  • 1/2 cup oat flour

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • Zest of one lemon

  • 1 1/4 cups milk (either dairy or non-dairy)

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or white vinegar

  • 4 tablespoons ghee, melted, plus more for skillet

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

  • 1 large egg


  1. Combine milk and lemon zest and set aside for five minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.

  2. Whisk the egg and vanilla into the milk mixture.

  3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the milk mixture and melted butter into the well and use a fork to stir until you no longer see clumps of flour.

  4. Heat a large skillet (or griddle) over medium heat. The pan is ready if when you splatter a little water onto the pan surface, the water dances around the pan and eventually evaporates.

  5. Lightly brush the skillet with melted butter. Use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to spoon batter onto the skillet. Gently spread the batter into a 4-inch circle.

  6. When the edges look dry and bubbles start to appear and pop on the top surface of the pancake, turn it over. This takes about two minutes.

  7. Once flipped, cook for another one to two minutes or until lightly browned and cooked in the middle.

  8. Serve immediately with warm syrup, ghee or any of your favorite pancake toppings.

If you enjoyed this story, find out why you should be eating more fiber here!

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