What Are Carbohydrates?




Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that provide energy from food, along with protein and fat. Carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and dairy.


  • During digestion, carbohydrates break down into glucose which circulates in the bloodstream. Glucose is the primary energy source for the body and brain.
  • Carbs contain roughly 4 calories per gram. Fiber is an exception because it cannot be digested.
  • Simple carbs have a basic sugar structure. Complex carbs have longer chains of sugar units.
  • Simple carbs (sugar, fruit, juice) raise blood sugar quickly. Complex carbs (veggies, whole grains) raise blood sugar slowly.


  • Simple carbs: Table sugar, candy, soda, syrup, white bread
  • Complex carbs: Whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, beans, lentils, vegetables, sweet potatoes


  • Glycemic index: Measures how quickly carbs raise blood sugar. Lower GI is slower and better.
  • Glycemic load: Glycemic index adjusted for typical serving size.
  • Fiber: Indigestible carb that aids digestion and nutrient absorption.


  • Are carbs bad? Carbs are essential nutrients in moderation. Refined carbs lack fiber and micro-nutrients.
  • How many carbs per day? 45-65% of total calories is a moderate carbohydrate intake.
  • What are net carbs? Total carbs minus fiber content. Fiber does not impact blood sugar.
pasta dish on white ceramic bowl carbohydrates


  • Simple vs complex carbs – refers to chemical structure. Fast vs slow carbs refers to blood sugar impact.
  • Net carbs – carbs excluding fiber. Total carbs includes all carbs including fiber.
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