Overview & Description

Carbohydrates are compounds made up of sugars. Theycome from the starchy part of plant foods. They easily convert to sugarin the body. For this reason, carbohydrates are considered fast fuel.


In general, we can think of carbohydrates as either simple orcomplex. Simple carbohydrates refer to a single sugar molecule or twosugars linked together. Complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugarslinked together.

Simple carbohydrates include the following:

  • fructose, which is the sugar found in fruits
  • galactose
  • glucose
  • lactose, the sugar found in milk
  • maltose
  • sucrose, which is common table sugar
  • People who live in developed nations generally eat and drinktoo many simple carbohydrates. A rise in childhood obesity in these countriesis linked with this high sugar intake.

    Complex carbohydrates are the basis of a healthybalanced diet.Some good sources of complex carbohydrates are:

  • grains, including oats, rice, and wheat
  • foods made from grain, such as bread, cereal, and pasta
  • legumes, including dried peas and beans
  • vegetables, such as potatoes, peas, and corn
  • The food guide pyramidrecommends 6 to 11 servings of complex carbohydrates every day.The American Heart Association, called AHA, recommends that 55 to60 percent of a person’s daily calories come from complex carbohydrates.However, AHA warns that a diet too high in carbohydrates can causechanges in blood cholesterollevels. Getting more than 60 percent of daily calories fromcarbohydrates can raise triglyceride and fat levels. It can also lower the levels ofHDL, which is calledgood cholesterol.

    Functions and Sources

    What food source is the nutrient found in?

    Carbohydrates are found in various foods:

  • 3 ounce sirloin steak = 0 grams (g)
  • 1 medium carrot = 7 g
  • 1 cup skim milk = 12 g
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread = 16 g
  • 1 cup oatmeal = 25 g
  • 1 ounce licorice candy = 26 g
  • 1 medium boiled potato = 27 g
  • 1 cup orange juice, from concentrate = 27 g
  • 1 large apple = 32 g
  • 1 cup raisin bran = 42 g
  • 1 cup cranberry-apple juice = 43 g
  • 1 cup brown rice = 45 g
  • Carbohydrates are found in many foods in thefood guide pyramid.They provide over half the calories of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates canbe found in the breads, cereals, and grains group at the base of thepyramid. They are also found in the fruit group, the vegetable group,and the milk, yogurt, and cheese groups. In fact, carbohydrates areabundant in all the groups of the food guide pyramid exceptthe meat and meat substitutes group.

    How does the nutrient affect the body?

    The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy to thebody. Carbohydrates are broken down into a form of sugar known as glucose.Glucose is carried to every cell in the body by the blood and can be usedright away for energy.

    Glucose can be combined into larger sugar units calledglycogen, which is a storage form of glucose. A certain amount ofglycogen is stored in the liver. It serves as an energy reserve until it’sneeded by the body. To a lesser degree, glycogen is stored in muscles.It is a key fuel source for the muscles, especially during exercise.

    Article type: xmedgeneral