Original post : Nov 7, 2011

Understanding Carbohydrates

What do we understand by the term carbohydrate?

 When we talk about carbohydrate we think about a piece of fruit or a slice of bread.   But what actually is a carbohydrate made of? 

The answer is sugars, names that might sound familiar are, glucose, fructose and lactose.   Some larger names that we need to understand are: monosaccharide, disaccharide and polysaccharides.

A Monosaccharide is the most basic unit and consists of only one sugar.  Examples of these might be, glucose, fructose, galactose and ribose.

Glucose  is the only fuel that the brain uses.  There are three main ways that the body can provide glucose:

  • Occurring naturally in food we eat
  • Digestion of more complex carbohydrates
  • Gluconeogenesis-where glucose is synthesised from primarily  amino acids.

When glucose is digested it is absorbed by the small intestine and either:

  • Is used for energy straight away
  • Is turned into glycogen for fuel storage in the liver and muscles
  • Converted to fat

A Disaccharides are when two monosaccharide’s combine. There are three principle disaccharides and they all contain glucose

  • Sucrose - Glucose and fructose  - Sucrose is simple white sugar
  • Lactose -  glucose and galactose – Lactose is known as milk sugar
  • Maltose – glucose and glucose. – formed by condensation maltose is often found in beer.

Monosaccharide’s and disaccharides are termed simple sugars and can have names such as, brown sugar, corn syrup, fruit syrup, molasses, barley, malt, invert sugar, honey and natural sweeteners.

You will find all these names on food packaging labels, so look out for them when trying to eat less sugar.

A Polysaccharides is another name for fibre. i.e. either cellulose or starch


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