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Carbohydrates Definition

Carbohydrates are one of the main dietary components. This category of foods includes sugars, starches, and fiber.


Alternative Names include:

  • Starches;
  • Simple sugars;
  • Sugars;
  • Complex carbohydrates;

Purpose/Use

The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. The liver breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar), which is used for energy by the body

Food Sources

Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex. The classification depends on the chemical structure of the particular food source and reflects how quickly the sugar is digested and absorbed.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates have one (single) or two (double) sugars while complex carbohydrates have three or more. Examples of single sugars from foods include:

  • fructose (found in fruits)
  • galactose (found in milk products).

Examples of double sugars include:

  • lactose (found in dairy),
  • maltose (found in certain vegetables and in beer), and
  • sucrose (table sugar).

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are often referred to as "starchy" foods. They include:   

  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Starchy vegetables   (e.g., broccolli, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Legumes
 
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