The Basics

Sources and types of carbohydrates and sugar

    • Carbohydrate classification is predominantly based on chemical structure
    • The most nutritionally significant carbohydrate is glucose
    • Carbohydrates vary in their complexity and are found in a wide range of predominantly plant based foods. The exception being lactose from milk

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For most of the world's population, carbohydrates including sugar are a source of energy, as well as an ingredient in many pre-prepared foods.

The classification of carbohydrates is most commonly based on chemical structure, with the three most commonly known groups being monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. These are discussed further in 'Carbohydrates and sugar. What are they?' and 'Digestion, absorption and transport of carbohydrates'. A lesser known group are the oligosaccharides. These are short chain carbohydrates (8-10 units) such as raffinose or inulin. Like polysaccharides, these carbohydrates cannot be digested enzymatically and instead are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine.

Aside from lactose found in milk and small amounts of specific sugars in red meat, almost all dietary carbohydrates come from plant foods. These foods will often be made up of a combination of the different types of carbohydrates in varying amounts.

Below is a brief overview of the most common dietary sources for the different types of carbohydrates.


MONOSACCHARIDES

Fructose

Fruits, vegetables and honey

Also derived from the digestion of sucrose

Glucose

 

Small amounts are found in some fruits, vegetables and honey

Manufactured foods

Digestion and conversion of other carbohydrates

Galactose

Digestion of lactose


DISACCHARIDES

Sucrose

 

Derived from sugar cane and sugar beet

Sweet root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots

Table sugar, manufactured foods

Maltose

 

Malted wheat and barley

Malt extract

Beer

Lactose

 

Milk

Milk products

Trehalose

Mushrooms and edible fungi


OLIGOSACCHARIDES   

Raffinose, stachyose, verbascose, inulin, fructo and galacto-oligosaccahrides

Legumes

Onion, artichoke, fennel, asparagus

Pre-biotics


POLYSACCHARIDES

Starch

 

Cereal foods

Potato

Small amounts in other root vegetables and unripe fruit

Non-starch polysaccharides

 

Vegetables, fruit

Wholegrain cereals

Pulses

 

NEXT: The production of sugar: grow, mill, refine

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