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The CalorieKing Carbohydrate Guide

Carbohydrate foods are an important part of any healthy diet

“Carbohydrate” is a word hot on everyone’s lips at the moment, and not usually in the friendliest sense. In fact, carbohydrates seem to be turning into the next evil scapegoat for everybody’s extra kilos. But the idea that carbs are somehow “bad” for you is unscientific, unwise, and misleading. Carbohydrate foods in their more natural forms are a very important part of a healthy diet. They provide energy, fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein, and water, all of which are crucial for a fit and sound body.

Read this guide to find out more about carbohydrates and the roles they play in the body. Learn how best to incorporate carbs in your diet and find out whether carbs really are fattening.

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What are carbohydrates?

In technical terms a carbohydrate is an organic compound made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. In food terms we find carbohydrates in many items such as cereals, grains, fruit, legumes, fruit juices, vegetables, milk, sugars, jam, honey, confectionery and soft drinks.

At a rudimentary level, carbohydrates can be described as either simple or complex:

  • Simple carbohydrates are the most basic of carbohydrates found in foods such as sugar, honey, jam, confectionery and soft drinks. These contain very little in the way of nutrients other than carbohydrates.
  • Complex carbohydrates come from plants, and are found in foods such as grains, breads, cereals, vegetables, legumes and seeds. Unlike simple carbohydrates, these foods contain other essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.

Technically speaking, however, carbohydrates are classified by the number of single sugar molecules they contain. All carbohydrates are made up of one or more basic sugar molecules binding together to form monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.


Monosaccharides contain one sugar molecule. These are sugars in their most simple form. The most important monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, and galactose.


Also known as dextrose or grape sugar. This is the major form of sugar in the blood and ultimately provides energy for all cells in the body. The body converts the carbohydrates in foods to glucose. It is also present in some foods such as honey.


Also known as fruit sugar or levulose. This is present in fruit and honey and in small amounts in vegetables.


This is formed during the digestion of milk sugar (lactose).



Disaccharides contain two sugar molecules joined together. The most important disaccharides are sucrose, lactose, and maltose.


This is made up of glucose and fructose. It is found mainly in sugar cane. Small amounts of sucrose are found in some fruits and vegetables such as peaches, apricots, pineapple, peas and sweet corn.


This is made up of glucose and galactose. It is the sugar naturally present in milk.


This is made up of two glucose molecules, and is found in malt and malted milk.



Polysaccharides can contain up to 10,000 glucose or sugar molecules linked together like a strand of pearls. The most important polysaccharides are starch and glycogen. 


This is found in legumes, grains and cereal products such as rice and wheat, and in vegetables, especially root vegetables such as potatoes. 


This is a carbohydrate form stored in the liver and muscles; it is like a ‘savings account’ of carbohydrates for the body. Glycogen stored in the liver is used to replenish blood-sugar levels, particularly between meals. Glycogen stored in the muscles is the most readily-available source of glucose used for energy when exercising.

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