Carbohydrates are a group of compounds that include starch, cellulose and sugars which provide the body with energy. Made up of only three molecules —carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen— in varying combination, carbohydrates are broken down by enzymes in the upper part of the gut and are absorbed in the small intestine. Carbohydrates may be large and complex, or small and simple.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, or saccharides, provide calories (energy) and are also rich sources of vitamins and minerals.

Complex carbohydrates are found predominantly in

  • cereals
  • rice
  • pasta
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • milk

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are refined sugars that can be found in such foods as candies, cookies and pastries. Simple carbohydrates, referred to as monosaccharides, also provide energy but do not provide significant quantities of minerals or vitamins.

Foods Low in Carbohydrates

  • Leafy, green vegetables (i.e. spinach, kale, collard greens, and chard)
  • Vegetables that have lots of color (i.e. tomatoes, green peppers, brussel sprouts, and asparagus)
  • Meats like chicken and fish are low in carbohydrates (but may be high in fats)
  • Eggs and cheese (not including processed cheese or cheese spreads)
    variety of vegetables on display at a market

Foods High in Carbohydrates

  • Potatoes, cereals, and starchy foods
  • Beans, legumes, and pastas
  • Some vegetables such as onions and beets
  • Fruits

How Sweet It Is

You have probably heard these terms before, yet did not know exactly what they meant.

  • Glucose is a monosaccharide (simple carbohydrate) found in plants.
  • Galactose is a monosaccharide sugar that is less sweet than glucose.
  • Fructose, another simple carb found in many plants, is also known as fruit sugar.
  • Lactose is a carbohydrate derived from glucose and galactose that is found in milk.
  • Sucrose, commonly known as table sugar, is made from glucose and fructose.


Doctors recommend that carbohydrates should provide 50-55% of our total daily energy intake.

  • Complex and naturally occurring sugars are especially recommended, but refined sugars should be limited since they provide minimal nutritional benefits.
  • Reducing carbohydrates in your diet is no easy task, as most processed foods contain a lot of carbohydrates. Excessive intake of carbohydrates can lead to obesity since each gram of carbohydrate contains approximately four calories of energy.
  • Conversely, deficient intake may lead to malnutrition.