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Alternative Names
starches, sugars, CHO, carbs, carbos, complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are compounds composed of sugars. They come from the starchy part of plant foods. They easily covert to sugar in the body. For this reason, carbohydrates are considered "fast fuel."

What food source is the nutrient found in?
Carbohydrates are found in various foods:
  • 1 medium boiled potato = 20 grams (g)
  • 1 medium carrot = 3g
  • 1 slice wholemeal bread = 10-15g
  • 30g liquorice = 16g
  • 30g lollies = 25g
  • 90g sirloin steak = 0g
  • 1 cup skim milk = 13g
  • 1 large apple = 26g
  • 1 cup apple juice = 27g
  • 1 cup orange juice (from concentrate) = 21g
  • 1 cup cooked oats = 21g
  • 1 cup crunchy breakfast cereal = 25-40g
  • 1 cup brown or white rice = 35-45g
Carbohydrates are found throughout the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating . They provide over half the kilojoules of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates can be found in the breads/cereals/grains group as well as in the fruit, vegetable, and milk/yoghurt/cheese groups. In fact, carbohydrates are abundant in all the groups of the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating except the lean meat group which includes legumes as a carbohydrate source.

How does the nutrient affect the body?
The main function of carbohydrates is to provide energy to the body. Carbohydrates break down to a form of sugar known as glucose. Glucose is transported to every cell in the body by the blood. Glucose can be reassembled to larger sugar units called glycogen. A certain amount of glycogen is stored in the liver and serves as an energy reserve until it's needed. To a lesser degree, glycogen is stored in muscles where it is an important fuel source.

In general, we can think of carbohydrates as either simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates refer to a single sugar molecule (monosaccharide) or two sugars bonded together (disaccharide). Complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugars. These are known as polysaccharides.

Simple carbohydrates include:
  • fructose, which is the sugar found in fruits
  • galactose
  • glucose
  • sucrose, or common table sugar
  • lactose, the sugar found in milk
  • maltose
Complex carbohydrates are the basis of a balanced diet. Foods like hard beans, whole grains and starchy vegetables are high in complex carbohydrates. They are naturally low in fat.

The Australian Guide To Healthy Eating shows that a person should get 6 to 16 servings of complex carbohydrates every day. All carbohydrates provide 16 kilojoules per gram. This is less than half the kilojoules than a gram of fat. Organisations such as the The Sports Dieticians Association recommend that at least 50% of a person's daily kilojoules come from carbohydrates. These should be primarily the complex variety. For a person consuming 8000 kilojoules per day, this would be 250 grams of carbohydrate per day. The nutrition facts label on packaged foods tells how much carbohydrate is in that food. Total carbohydrates are listed. Some manufacturers also list the number of grams of sugars ("simple carbohydrates") and fibre.

Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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