All About Nutrition

Carbohydrates Explained
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What are carbohydrates?

carbohydrates - GI - glycemic indexCarbohydrates are one of the essential nutrients that are necessary for sustaining life and must be supplied to the body (in the form of food that is eaten) each day.

Carbohydrates are nutrients which provide energy.

Carbohydrates are compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules arranged in a specific order, depending on whether they are simple or complex carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are classed as macronutrients as the body requires them in relatively large amounts (in comparison to vitamins, which are micronutrients and less of these are required each day).


Classification of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates used to be classified in terms of being either:

These days, the new classification of carbohydrates is called the glycemic index.


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Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are molecules which the body is able to digest very quckly - they do not need to be broken down too much to be digested and so have a rapid impact on blood sugar levels.

Simple carbohydrates are either:



Monosaccharides are the simplest types of sugars and can be broken down and absorbed very quickly by the body. They can be of the following three types:



Disaccharides are formed from two joined monosaccharide molecules and are the slightly more complicated than the monosaccharides, but still can be broken down to a simple form and absorbed fairly quickly. They can be of the following three types:


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Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are molecules which the body is able to digest very slowly - they need to be broken down quite a lot in order to be digested and so have a more gradual impact on blood sugar levels.

Complex carbohydrates contain many glucose molecules (polysaccharides) linked together and are:



Glycogen is the name for glucose that is stored in the liver. Glycogen is not considered a significant food source of carbohydrate. The only food that is eaten that contains negligible amounts of glycogen are animal protein foods - but as the amount of glycogen in these foods is negligible, it is not considered a viable way to get this nutrient.



This type of complex carbohydrate is found in plants. Grains are the richest source of starch. Main types of grains are:

Other types of starch are legumes (all types of beans, peas) as well as tubers (potatoes, yams).


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The structural part of plants are their fibre. Fibre is found in all plant foods:

Fibre comes in two types - soluble and insoluble:


Glycemic Index

Today, the glycemic index and the glycemic load are used to describe the effect that carbohydrates have on blood sugar levels. The article on glycemic index explains this new concept.


Recommended intake of carbohydrates

Latest recommendations for carbohydrates, are that they should consist of about half of the daily calorie intake - which is approximately 45%-65% of the total daily calorie intake.

For example:

An adult on a 2000 calories a day diet needs:

More information

To learn more, go to the official Glycemic Index (GI) web site


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Last reviewed: 14 January 2007 || Last updated: 27 September 2007


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NOTE: Mega doses of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or other supplements cannot cure illnesses and in fact can be very dangerous and produce toxic side effects and interfere with medicine you are taking. Always ensure you consult your doctor before taking any type of nutrient supplement.
Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to be used for diagnostic or prescriptive purposes. For any treatment or diagnosis of illness, please see your doctor.

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