Foods High in Carbohydrates

Foods high in carbohydrates include breads, pastas, beans, potatoes, bran, rice, and cereals. Most such foods are high in starch. Carbohydrates require less water to digest than proteins or fats and are the most common source of energy in living things. Proteins and fat are necessary building components for body tissue and cells, and are also a source of energy for most organisms.

Carbohydrates are not essential nutrients in humans: the body can obtain all its energy from protein and fats. However, the brain and neurons generally cannot burn fat and need glucose for energy; the body can make some glucose from a few of the amino acids in protein and also from the glycerol backbone in triglycerides. Carbohydrate contains 15.8 kilojoules (3.75 kilocalories) and proteins 16.8 kilojoules (4 kilocalories) per gram, while fats contain 37.8 kilojoules (9 kilocalories) per gram. In the case of protein, this is somewhat misleading as only some amino acids are usable for fuel. Likewise, in humans, only some carbohydrates are usable for fuel, as in many monosaccharides and some disaccharides. Other carbohydrate types can be used, but only with the assistance of gut bacteria. Ruminants and termites can even process cellulose, which is indigestible to other organisms.

Based on the effects on risk of heart disease and obesity, the Institute of Medicine recommends that American and Canadian adults get between 40-65% of dietary energy from carbohydrates.

The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization jointly recommend that national dietary guidelines set a goal of 55-75% of total energy from carbohydrates, but only 10% directly from sugars (their term for simple carbohydrates).


For dietary purposes, carbohydrates can be classified as simple (monosaccharides and disaccharides) or complex (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides). The term ''complex carbohydrate'' was first used in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs publication ''Dietary Goals for the United States'' (1977), where it denoted "fruit, vegetables and whole-grains". Dietary guidelines generally recommend that complex carbohydrates, and such nutrient-rich simple carbohydrate sources such as fruit (glucose or fructose) and dairy products (lactose) make up the bulk of carbohydrate consumption. This excludes such sources of simple sugars as candy and sugary drinks.

The USDA's ''Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005'' dispensed with the simple/complex distinction, instead recommending fiber-rich foods and whole grains.

The glycemic index and glycemic load concepts have been developed to characterize food behavior during human digestion. They rank carbohydrate-rich foods based on the rapidity of their effect on blood glucose levels. The insulin index is a similar, more recent classification method that ranks foods based on their effects on blood insulin levels, which are caused by glucose (or starch) and some amino acids in food. Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly food glucose is absorbed, while glycemic load is a measure of the total absorbable glucose in foods.

Further Reading

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