What is a Carbohydrate Simplified

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you already know I’m passionate about the health benefits of the Healthy KetoTM diet.

I’ve provided so much information for you about this low-carbohydrate way of eating, and I know you’ll be excited about the potential for weight loss, increased energy, and improved mental clarity.

Not to mention the potential for keto, combined with intermittent fasting to reverse type 2 diabetes, heal your digestive system, and protect you from chronic diseases such as cancer and dementia.

I talk about carbohydrates all the time, and it occurred to me that you deserve a more thorough explanation that goes beyond “carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients along with protein and fat”. While the macro definition is accurate, it’s a very high level and doesn’t really give you a clear idea of what carbohydrates are.

a picture of various kinds of foods that are carbohydrates

I’m excited to give you an expanded - yet simplified - explanation of carbs. In this article, I’ll cover:

By the time you finish, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the different types, and feel confident in knowing which type best supports your health.

Let’s dive in.


Carbohydrates Can Be Confusing

There’s some confusion that comes along with all the information you can find about carbohydrates.

People talk about complex carbs and simple carbs. Polysaccharides, monosaccharides, and the like. You wonder: is a carb the same as sugar, or is it different? Until your head spins.

So, let me clear up the confusion.

Carbohydrates are made up of sugar, starches, and fiber.

The biochemical name for carbohydrate is saccharide. Carbs are compounds of different kinds of saccharides, and are classified by the types of saccharides that make them up. (As a note: saccharide is the Greek word for sugar.)

I know this is a little bit on the science side, but bear with me.


Four Common Types Of Carbohydrates

#1 Monosaccharides

Mono means one, or single. Thus, a monosaccharide contains one type of carb. Some examples are glucose, fructose (link), and galactose (link).

These are considered simple sugars.

#2 Disaccharides

The prefix di means two. You can tell from the name that a disaccharide contains two types of carbs.

Some common examples are table sugar, or sucrose, which comprises glucose and fructose, as well as lactose (milk sugar), which comprises glucose and galactose.

Disaccharides and the next two types make up what we call complex carbohydrates.

#3 Oligosaccharides

Oligosaccharides comprise three to nine types of saccharides.

Some common examples are in onions (including leeks and garlic), legumes, wheat, asparagus, jicama, and other plant foods.

#4 Polysaccharides

Poly means many. Thus, polysaccharides means carbohydrates made up of ten or more saccharides.

Some of what we call starches are officially classified as polysaccharides. Very common examples in our typical Western diet are potatoes, wheat, rice, and corn.

Another type of polysaccharide is fiber, also known as cellulose.

Now, most of us have heard enough about fiber to cause some serious confusion.

You don’t know if all fiber is good. Or why it’s good, if it is. Can you eat too much?

Not to mention the fear of constipation that’s been drilled into you by commercials (and maybe your parents!).


Why Fiber Works For Keto (Even Though It’s A Carbohydrate)

a photo of a bunch of fresh celery

Here’s what I really want you to know about fiber:

Fiber helps decrease your absorption of sugar. So, the more fiber you have in a given food - say, celery, as an example - the less sugar from the saccharides in the celery will be absorbed into your body. In other words, fiber decreases the blood sugar and Fat Storing Hormone response your body makes to a food.

Fiberous vegetables are perfect for keto because they eliminate the blood sugar spike and accompanying rise in Fat Storing Hormone that other carbohydrates can cause.

I know that some people worry that eating fibrous vegetables will push their carb count too high. But the fiber offsets the typical carb response so well that I don’t want you to even worry about the carbohydrate amounts in healthy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Helping You Choose Healthy Carbs

At its foundation, this is the relationship among the different types of carbohydrates and simple sugar, a complex sugar, saccharides, starches and fiber.

You’d also benefit from understanding the glycemic index, which ranks foods according to how quickly they raise your blood sugar. Knowing the score of a particular carbohydrate will also help you make the right choice for the keto diet.

a picture of a paper with the heading glycemic index

I know this was a little bit technical, but I think you’ll get a lot of value out of understanding carbohydrates at this level. You’ll no longer be at the mercy of food manufacturers, left wondering what the heck is a monosaccharide or a polysaccharide. You’ll understand those terms, because you’ve taken the time to learn about them.

I want you to have the necessary information to make the best possible choice for your diet and for your health. If you’re on keto, or considering the keto diet, you can now deepen your knowledge about the pros and cons of carbohydrates.

It’s time for you to take charge of your health. I support you, and I’m here to give you accurate, credible information. Because I care about your health and well-being!

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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