Ultimate guide to nutrients: Carbohydrates-The Basics

Carbohydrates are a bit of a complex topic, so we’ll be breaking it down, in order to cover it properly. The challenge will be to cover the topic, help you understand what they are and why we need them, without boring you to tears. Future articles will cover:

  • Simple sugars
  • artificial sugars
  • oligosaccharides
  • starch
  • dietary fiber

This article will cover the basics, and yes, there needs to be a bit of science involved…sorry! 🙂  Carbohydrates are basically chains of sugar.  One thing to remember about ALL carbohydrates: THEY ALL, YES ALL, break down into SIMPLE SUGARS in the body, whether it’s a piece of candy or a whole grain bran muffin. To your body, both items, when broken down, are identical. The only difference between the two is the length of time it takes the body to break down the sugar. Because of the fiber and complex sugars in the muffin, it takes longer to digest, and has less of an impact on your body. In other words, the fiber in the muffin will cause less of a “sugar spike” and keep you full longer.

A carbohydrate, by definition, is an organic compound made up of varying numbers of monosaccharides. A monosaccharide is 1 single molecule of sugar.  ALL carbohydrates, when broken down in the body, are broken down into one of the basic monosaccharides.(Yes even that bowl of brown rice 🙂 )

Carbohydrates are broken down into 2 categories: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES-consist of monosaccharides and disaccharides.This category includes glucose. The function of glucose in the body is to provide the cells of the body energy. Other energy sources can be used, but it is the preferred fuel for the nervous system/brain and the sole energy source red blood cells. In other words, carbohydrates are a very important part of any healthy diet. Here’s a breakdown of simple carbohydrates.

  • Monosaccharides-1 sugar molecule
    • glucose
    • fructose
    • galactose
  • Disaccharides-2 sugar molecules
    • lactose-made up of galactose and glucose…found in milk and dairy products
    • sucrose-made up of fructose and glucose…simple table sugar
    • maltose-made up of 2 glucose molecules…not found in many food items, but instead made from the breakdown of starch, such as the production of beer.

COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES-consist of oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. This is the group of foods from which we should be eating. Here is the complex carbohydrate breakdown:

  • Oligosaccharides-3 – 10 sugar molecules. Oligosaccharides are found in many foods, such as lentils, beans, and peas. The human body lacks the enzyme necessary to digest oligosaccharides. Instead, they are broken down by the friendly bacteria in our large intestine, and therefore VERY important, because these little friends help keep our digestive system and the rest of our body, healthy and happy. One side effect of this process is bloating, cramps and gas. (Like when you eat a bowl of chili or beans…this is why!) the two most common oligosaccharides are:
    • raffinose
    • stachyose
  • Polysaccharides– more than 10 sugar molecules.
    • Glycogen-this is the storage form of sugar in the body, primarily found in the liver and muscles.
    • Starch- found in wheat, corn, squash, oats, grains, potatoes, yams, etc.
    • Dietary fiber- found in plants, not digested or absorbed by the body. Instead it is partially broken down by friendly gut bacteria and helps to “clean” the digestive tract.


Table 1: categories of carbohydrates

What type of carbohydrates should you eat?

Don’t be afraid of carbs! You’re body needs them! It’s important to include healthy sources of carbohydrates in your diet. If you eliminate simple sugars, processed sugar and refined food, and focus on whole food carbohydrates you’ll be fine.

Another tip, adding a healthy fat, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or organic cultured butter will slow the digestion down even more.


Next week we’ll continue on with our discussion on carbohydrates with an article on sugars, what to use and what to avoid. Let me know if you have any questions on the above information. I hope it came across clear for you. Stay tuned throughout the week as I introduce you to some ancient grains and healthy carbohydrates!

SOURCE: McGuire, M. & Beerman, K.A. (2013). Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food.  (3rd edition). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


26 thoughts on “Ultimate guide to nutrients: Carbohydrates-The Basics

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I always learn something new from your articles. 🙂 Do you perhaps know of some healthy ways to put on weight, for those of us who are underweight? Just thinking that maybe you could write an article about that sometime in the future?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you are eating any type of fruit or vegetable, you’re getting carbohydrates. It’s very difficult to eat a diet completely devoid of carbohydrates. The main thing I worry about when people tell me this is fiber. Just make sure you are getting enough fiber. Your body needs 25 grams per day. 🙂 (or you’ll get “backed up”) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

I'd love to know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.