Expert Q&A

Carbohydrates: What Are the Different Types?

I am confused about the different types of carbohydrates. Why are they important?

Because carbohydrates raise blood glucose, understanding them is very important if you want to control your blood sugar.

Carbohydrates are commonly classified as either simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, are primarily found in fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Simple sugars are composed of sugars called saccharides:

  • Monosaccharide - comprised of 1 sugar; includes glucose, fructose, and galactose

  • Disaccharide - comprised of 2 sugars; includes sucrose, lactose, and maltose.

Complex carbohydrates are usually glucose molecules linked together as polysaccharides, or many sugar units. The 3 most important complex carbohydrates are:

  • Glycogen, the form of sugar when it is stored in our cells
  • Starch found in grains, legumes, and tubers such as potatoes
  • Fiber, which supplies no rise in blood sugars (and will not be discussed).

The process of carbohydrate digestion renders them into small compounds that can be absorbed and used by the body for energy, mainly glucose and fructose. Carbohydrates affect your blood glucose levels by raising them. Starches contribute the most significantly to your body's glucose supply, but all carbohydrates will play a role in raising blood sugar levels.

Megan Porter, RD/LD
Contributing Expert

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