Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Bread is a type of carbohydrate

Bread is a type of carbohydrate
beginning of content

Carbohydrates

2-minute read

Carbohydrates are one of the three major food groups that also include fats and protein that are seen as essential to your health and nutrition.

Our bodies need carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates are present in all fruit and vegetables, breads and grain products, and sugar and sugary foods.

It is best to choose carbohydrate-rich foods that are healthy and full of dietary fibre. Try to limit your intake of snack foods, as they are high in kilojoules, saturated fat, sugars and salt, and have very few nutrients.

Types of carbohydrates

Sugars, starches and some types of dietary fibre are carbohydrates. Sugars include:

  • glucose — in fruit, honey and some vegetables
  • fructose — in fruit and honey
  • sucrose — from sugar cane
  • lactose — in all types of milk including breast milk
  • maltose — in malted grains

Starches are also known as complex carbohydrates. Starches can be found in:

  • legumes
  • nuts
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • wheat
  • grains

Starches are also found in cereal products such:

  • pasta
  • breakfast cereals
  • flour
  • polenta
  • couscous
  • burgul (cracked wheat)
  • quinoa

Dietary fibre is found in many different plant foods including:

  • vegetables
  • wholegrain foods
  • legumes
  • fruits
  • nuts
  • seeds

There is not enough sugar in fruit and milk to be a problem. But the sugars and starches in many snack foods are highly refined. You should only eat biscuits, sauces and confectionery in small amounts.

Digestion of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are digested in your small intestine. They are broken down into simple (single) sugars such as glucose and fructose.

These sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream and can be used for energy. Some sugar is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver. Between meals, liver glycogen is converted back into blood glucose as an energy supply.

Glycogen is also stored in muscles for muscle activity. Carbohydrates not used for energy or glycogen storage are converted to fat.

Glycaemic index

The speed at which the carbohydrates in a food are digested to glucose is called the food’s glycaemic index (GI) value.

Low GI foods are broken down slowly. The glucose, or energy, from their carbohydrates is released into the blood over several hours. Low GI foods prolong digestion due to their slow break down and may help with you feel full for longer.

High GI foods are digested rapidly and give you a blood glucose spike. Slow digestion is better than fast digestion, so low GI foods are generally better than high GI foods. This is important if you have diabetes — it helps keeps your blood glucose levels stable.

It’s important to look at the overall nutritional value and carbohydrate content of a food item, not just the GI. Junk food with a low GI is still junk food.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Weight loss and carbohydrates - Better Health Channel

Carbohydrates are essential for a healthy body, so beware of very low-carbohydrate diets.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Fuelling your Body | Nutrition Australia

The fuel requirements for events of up to about 90 minutes in duration can be met by the normal muscle glycogen stores of a well trained individual. (Glycogen is the body's ready source of energy stored in the muscles.) To fuel up, all you need is 24-36 hours of rest or lighter training, and a higher carbohydrate diet.

Read more on Nutrition Australia website

Are carbohydrates fattening? Dietitians Association of Australia

Are carbohydrates fattening? Foods rich in carbohydrateare an important part of a healthy diet theyre a source of energy for our body, and fuel for our brain

Read more on Dietitians Association of Australia website

Carbohydrate Counting and Diabetes

Carbohydrate Counting and Diabetes This fact sheet provides information on carbohydrate counting and diabetes

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Carbohydrates and Sugar | The Heart Foundation

Many people think of rice, potatoes and pasta as 'carbs' but that's only a few of the huge range of foods that contain carbohydrates. Many foods you don't think about have carbohydrates too.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Carbohydrates and Glycaemic Index

Understanding how quickly different carbohydrate foods are digested is important for managing your blood glucose levels.

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Carbohydrates - Glycemic Index Foundation

Discover why carbohydrates are one of the most important sources of energy for our bodies and how much we should be eating.

Read more on Glycemic Index Foundation website

Carbohydrates what you need to know Dietitians Association of Australia

Carbohydrates what you need to know Carbohydrates are an important nutrient we need for fuel

Read more on Dietitians Association of Australia website

Glycaemic Index

Glycaemic Index The glycaemic index or GI ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood glucose levels

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Glycaemic Index

Glycemic Index The glycemic index or GI ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood glucose levels

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo