Printable version of the article 


Carbohydrates are the body's principle source of energy, providing the body with most of the calories it uses. Depending on whether they're complex or simple, carboyhdrates aid in digestion, provide a lasting form of energy and can be as low in fat as four calories a gram.

Carbohydrates come in the form of fiber, starches and sugars, all of which play a crucial part in healthy bodily functions.

Learn more



Fiber is made up of complex carbohydrates that are not a source of energy and are generally not completely digested before passing through the body. There are two different types: insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. Most plant foods contain varying amounts of both types.


Insoluble fiber, such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin -- found in whole grains and other plants -- are natural laxatives. They absorb water, help you feel full after eating and stimulate your intestinal walls to contract and relax. By moving food quickly through your intestines, insoluble fiber may help prevent or relieve digestive disorders such as constipation or diverticulosis (infection caused by food getting stuck in small pouches in the wall of your colon). Insoluble fiber also makes your stool softer, relieving or reducing your risk of hemorrhoids.

Soluble fiber, such as pectin (found in apples) and beta-glucans (found in oats and barley) may lower your cholesterol level, and may be a factor in explaining why a diet rich in fiber seems to offer some protection against heart disease.


Fiber is found in all plant foods -- fruits, vegetables and grains. But there is no fiber in animal foods -- meat, fish, foul, eggs and dairy.

Recommended intake

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average American woman gets about 12 grams of fiber per day and the average man gets about 17. That's well below the current recommendations, which is 20 to 30 grams per day.


The majority of calories in your diet come from starches, or complex carbohydrates. Unlike simple sugars, complex carbohydrates consist of long chains of sugar units linked together. Before they can be absorbed, these sugars must be split apart, and this means they are more gradually absorbed into the bloodstream.


Complex carbohydrates provide a lasting source of energy. This is particularly important for athletes fueling up for an event. Because carbohydrates yield only four calories per gram, they are essential to any weight control program. This idea runs counter to earlier theories about dieting, where the first things to get ousted from the diet were those "fattening" starchy foods. High carbohydrate foods are actually low in fat -- unless you add fat in cooking or at the table.


Starches are found in foods like breads, cereals, starchy vegetables, legumes, rice and pasta.

Recommended intake

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, suggest 6 to 11 servings a day of grain foods (bread, cereal, pasta, rice) plus 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and 2 to 4 servings of legumes -- which all contain complex carbohydrates.


Sugars, or simple carbohydrates, are divided into two groups: monosaccharides (glucose, fructose and galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, maltose). Most sugars have one appealing trait in common -- sweetness. Simple sugars provide calories but not many vitamins and minerals. With its minimal nutrient contribution, sugar has been blamed for everything from obesity to hyperactivity. But the only disorder sugar has been directly linked to is tooth decay. As long as you're getting your sugar from an apple and not a candy bar, there is no harm in including it in your diet.


Carbohydrates, along with proteins and fats, provide the energy we need from our diets. In fact, carbohydrates provide most of the calories your body uses. Nutritious sources of sugar will provide an easily available source of energy.


Sugars are found in all types of foods, such as milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables. They are also found in sweet-tasting processed and refined food products, such as candy, honey, syrups and carbonated beverages.

Recommended intake

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommends getting to 2 to 4 servings of fruit and 3 to 5 servings of vegetables per day -- both nutritious sources of simple carbohydrates. Refined sugars are only recommended on a once-in-a-while basis.

More Articles:

Gut Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: The Benefits of Applying the 4R GI Restoration Program
Herbal Antimicrobials for Intestinal Infections: A Summary
The Role of Standardized Herbal Formulas in Contemporary Healthcare Delivery: A Summary
Part I: Cardiovascular Disease, Risk Factors and Fundamental Nutrition
Part II: Cardiovascular Disease, Nutritional Management of Clinical Markers
The Role of Detoxification in the Prevention of Chronic Degenerative Diseases: A Summary
Nutritional Influences on Estrogen Metabolism: A Summary
Nutritional Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Summary
Fiber may help manage irritable bowel syndrome
Treating Injury and Supporting Musculoskeletal Healing: A Summary
Flavonoids possess high pharmacological potency
Effects of copper supplementation in rheumatoid arthritis patients
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) may treat rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders
Glucosamine sulfate significantly reduces progression of knee osteoarthritis over 3 years
Glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of osteoarthritis
The anti-inflammatory effects of proteolytic enzymes, flavonoids, and vitamin C in comparison to NSAIDs
Nutritional Support for Insulin Resistance: A Summary
Magnesium deficiencies seen in patients with hypertension and diabetes
Vitamin E improves insulin action
Diets high in carbohydrates shown to increase cholesterol levels in diabetic patients
Micronutrients and antioxidants improve diabetes symptoms
Supplemental chromium improves glucose and insulin variables
Conjugated linoleic acid normalizes glucose regulation
Omega-3 fatty acids shown to prevent diabetes complications
Fiber shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease in men
Vanadium improves insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients
The beneficial effects of alpha-lipoic acid on type 2 diabetes
Biotin shown to be effective in treating hyperglycemia
Natural Support for Neurologic Health: A Multiple Pathway Approach
Adrenal Function: How Herbs Can Help
Bacterial Infection: Management by Ayurvedic Botanicals
Liver Health: The Ayurvedic Approach
Mental Function: The Ayurvedic Approach
Cardiovascular Disease, Part One: Prevention Through Nutrition
Cardiovascular Disease, Part Two: Nutritional Management
Connective Tissue Repair and Wound Healing: The Role of Nutrition
Diabetes Management: How Herbs Can Help
Fibromyalgia: Nutritional Support
Ginkgo Biloba: Mind, Mood and Memory
Immune System: Herbal and Nutritional Support
Intestinal Health
Kava: A South Pacific Herb for Anxiety, Tension and Insomnia
Menstruation: Fostering a Healthy Cycle
Migraine Care with Feverfew
Osteoporosis and Bone Health
Probiotic Supplements: How to Choose What's Right for You
Soy Isoflavones: Remarkable Health Benefits
Whey Protein Concentrate: Choosing a Supplement
Fats and Oils
Nutritional Supplements: Ingredients, Safety and Proper Use
Bone Health and Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite Concentrate (MCHC)
Bone Health
Nutrition's Role in Injury, Spasm and Pain
Natural Therapies for Osteoarthritis: A Summary
Nutritional Strategies in the Prevention of Osteoporosis: A Summary
Proven Therapeutic Benefits of High Quality Probiotics: A Summary
Natural Therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Chronic Inflammatory Conditions: A Summary
The Remarkable Health Benefits of Soy Isoflavones: A Summary
Nutritional Management of Stress-Induced Dysfunction: A Summary