Carbohydrates: Healthy Uses and Benefits

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Updated on February 1, 2024

Reviewed by Raghda Elsabbagh

Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients present in many foods and drinks that provide your body with energy and starches. They are naturally found in plant foods and can occur in many processed foods in the form of starch or added sugar. They are considered neutral compounds of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.

Eating complex carbohydrates that come from plant sources, as an alternative to saturated fats, can help reduce cholesterol in the blood and nourish the cells. The human body stores carbohydrates in limited quantities for a period of one or two days and breaks them down into glucose, a simple sugar that the body uses. Some types of body cells, including brain cells, consume glucose, particularly from food, and then use it as an energy source.

Where Are Carbohydrates Digested?

Carbohydrate digestion starts physically and chemically inside the mouth. Only around 5% of starches are broken down in the mouth before entering the stomach because the amylase enzyme’s activity ceases in the stomach’s acidic environment. Intense stomach contractions then combine carbohydrates with gastric juice to create chyme, a liquid combination that travels to the top part of the small intestine, where it is digested.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are classified into simple and complex, depending on the chemical composition of the food and the speed of sugar digestion and absorption. Let’s dive deep into this classification.

Simple Carbohydrates

Also called simple sugar, simple carbohydrates are small molecules that consist of one monosaccharide or two linked to each other. A monosaccharide’s main types are glucose, fructose, and galactose. However, the two linked monosaccharides are called disaccharides, and their common examples are lactose, sucrose, and maltose.

Enzymes convert disaccharides into monosaccharides, which are easy to digest and absorb. These monosaccharides are sugar that the body and brain use for energy by passing through the walls of the intestines into the bloodstream.

Complex Carbohydrates

On the other hand, oligosaccharides, or polysaccharides, are long and complex chains of simple sugar molecules. That’s why they take a longer time to be digested compared to simple sugar, thus making their effect on the blood sugar level less because it does not raise it rapidly.

Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs


Although complex carbs seem more beneficial to the body, the human body needs simple carbs as well. In fact, some sources of simple carbs are healthy and beneficial, while others are harmful to health. Likewise, complex carbs may be present in foods rich in beneficial nutrients; however, they may be found in other foods of low nutritional value.

Simple CarbsComplex Carbs
Simple carbs have a simple structure consisting of monosaccharide or disaccharide molecules. They affect the body as follows:Complex carbs consist of a group of chains of sugar compounds that are longer and more complex than simple sugar. Therefore, it takes a longer time for the body to break them down and turn them into an energy source. Their effect on the body is as follows:
• They raise blood sugar levels rapidly.
• They provide the body with energy quickly because they are easily broken down in the body.
• Eating foods rich in added sugar in large quantities may contribute to weight gain because the sugar that the body does not use is stored in the form of fat.
• They raise blood sugar levels gradually.
• They provide a longer feeling of fullness because most foods that contain complex sugar also contain dietary fibre and are digested more slowly.
• They also provide the body with energy for a longer period of time compared to simple sugar but at a slower rate.
Sources of Simple CarbsSources of Complex Carbs
The following lines show the healthy and unhealthy sources of simple carbohydrates:
Most types of complex carbs are beneficial to the body, although there are some sources of low nutritional value. The following following lines explain:
• Healthy sources of simple carbs include:
– fruits, like dried fruit and unsweetened fruit juice,
– some vegetables,
– honey, and
– milk derivatives.
• Unhealthy sources of simple carbs include:
– white sugar,
– soft drinks,
– concentrated fruit juices,
baked goods, and
– cereals with added sugar.
• Healthy sources of complex carbs include refined grains, such as:
– white flour,
rice, and
– white bread.
• Unhealthy sources of complex carbs include:
– legumes like chickpeas and lentils,
– high-fibre fruits like apples and berries,
– starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn, and
– whole grains like oats, brown rice, barley, and buckwheat.

Healthy Sources of Carbs in Detail


The human body needs carbohydrates, along with proteins and fats. Unprocessed dietary carbs, such as those found in vegetables, fruits, and grains, are often nutrient- and health-rich. The following is a list of some foods that belong to simple and complex carbohydrates in more detail:

Bread and Cereal

Bread, whether it is made of refined flour or whole grains, is a great source of carbohydrates. The amount of carbohydrates in bread varies depending on the ingredients and dimensions. As most grains are rich in carbs, they should only be eaten occasionally when following a diet low in carbohydrates.


There are varieties of legumes that contain carbohydrates. They include but are not limited to the following:


Chickpeas contain a high amount of healthy carbohydrates. Chickpeas constitute approximately 66% of carbohydrates, most of which is due to dietary fibre that is beneficial to the body. It should be noted that one serving of chickpeas contains 40 grams of carbohydrates.


Another legume that is rich in carbs is beans. One serving of beans contains a portion of proteins and a portion of carbohydrates, which makes it a complete food like other legumes. Half a cup of beans contains 88 calories and 14 grams of carbohydrates.


Green peas are also among the popular legumes that are quite nutritious and contain fibre and antioxidants. Research shows that they may help protect against heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Half a cup of cooked green peas contains 12 grams of carbohydrates and 59 grams of calories.

Carbohydrate-Rich Vegetables

Here are some vegetables that are rich in carbohydrates:


Carbohydrates are an essential part of potatoes. In fact, 100 grams of boiled potatoes with peel includes roughly 22 grams of carbohydrates, along with a lot of water. They also contain low protein, low cholesterol, and no fat.

Sweet Potatoes

Another type of carbohydrate-rich vegetables are sweet potatoes. More than 400 varieties of sweet potatoes grow worldwide, and all of them are rich in vitamins and minerals. The amount of carbs in one medium-sized roasted sweet potato with the skin on is 25 grams. Purple sweet potatoes have antioxidant and anti-tumour capabilities, too.


Maize is also a popular carbohydrate-rich vegetable. According to a study, maize is beneficial for people with high blood pressure and blood sugar levels. One hundred grams of maize contains 25 grams of carbohydrates. It also provides the body with vitamin C.


Quinoa is known for its high content of several minerals. It can help reduce weight because of its high amount of protein and fibre. On top of that, a study conducted on mice indicated that this type of grain could regulate the level of sugar in the blood. One cup of it contains 40 grams of carbs.

Carbohydrate-Rich Fruits

Now, let’s explore some fruits that contain carbohydrates in large quantities:


Bananas contain various nutrients. A medium-sized banana contains 28 grams of carbohydrates and 12 grams of sugar. They are often grouped with sweets and can be eaten or cooked as a dessert.


An apple a day keeps the doctor away. An apple lowers your chance of developing cancer and diabetes. In elderly women, eating apples can reduce the risk of several deadly diseases. A medium-sized apple contains 27 grams of carbohydrates, 95 grams of calories, 3 grams of fibre, and other vitamins.


Dates come in a variety of types and sizes, and they are sweet. In small quantities, they provide several essential nutrients for the health of the body. One date contains more than 19 grams of carbohydrates and 80 grams of calories.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are also beneficial to the human body and are rich in carbohydrates. They include oats, brown rice, barley, and buckwheat.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is found to be a healthier option than white rice. Whole-cooked rice has a significant antioxidant content despite having only 36 grams of carbohydrates in one cup. It is also rich in dietary fibre and contains high levels of magnesium, thus making you less vulnerable to strokes and heart diseases.


Muesli is one of the entire grains that is also best for your health. These rolled oats include 27 grams of carbohydrates per cup. Its advantages for heart and vascular health were scientifically proven.

Unhealthy Sources of Carbs in Detail


It’s time now to find out more about the sources of carbs that negatively affect your overall health, and you should avoid eating them in large quantities to maintain good health.

Granola, Energy, and Candy Bars

Some people resort to eating granola, energy, and candy bars as fast and healthy snacks, but the truth is they are ruining their diet and damaging their health in the long term. Granola, energy, and candy bars have high amounts of sugar, so they are not as healthy as promoted, even the ones that have whole grains or dried fruits.

Potato Crisps and Crackers

Potato crisps and crackers are also among the common snacks. These processed foods are typically eaten quickly and in large quantities, thus increasing the ingested carbohydrates. Since 28 grams of tortilla chips, or the equivalent of 13 medium-sized crisps, contain 18 grams of carbohydrates, it is advised to avoid eating them, especially for those who follow a low-carb diet like Keto.

Sugar-Made Sweeteners

Among the popular unhealthy sources of carbs are sugar-made sweeteners. One tablespoon of natural sugar provides the equivalent amount of carbohydrates in white sugar (12.6 grams), maple syrup (13 grams), and honey (17 grams). That’s why the nutritional value of these sweeteners decreases.

Low-Carb Foods


Low-carb foods include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, and green leaves. Let’s explore some of them in detail.


Cheese is among low-carb foods. For example, a slice of cheddar cheese (equivalent to 28 grams) contains less than 1 gram of carbs. Additionally, one cup of shredded mozzarella (equivalent to 113 grams) contains 3.5 grams of carbs. However, a cup of cottage cheese (equivalent to 200 grams), in its low-fat version, contains 6 grams of carbs. One hundred grams of feta cheese contains 4 grams of carbs.


Olives are beneficial to your health since they help you manage your blood sugar levels. They also provide you with healthy fats, boost the fibre in your diet, and give you a healthy dose of vitamin E. Five small olives contain around 1 gram of carbs, each of which has 4 to 5 calories.


Nuts are a source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Every 14 grams of almonds, for example, contain 3 grams of carbohydrates and 82 grams of calories. However, around 100 grams of pistachios contain 27 grams of carbs, while the same amount of cashews contains 30 grams of carbs.


Berries, in the culinary sense, not the botanical sense, include blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. A cup of blueberries contains 21 grams of carbohydrates; however, a cup of raspberries contains around 15 grams of carbs. Similarly, a cup of blackberries contains 14 grams of carbs.

Foods With No Carbs

The following list includes some carbohydrate-free foods:

Benefits of Complex Carbohydrates


Complex carbohydrates are characterised by their many benefits to the body as they are a source of dietary fibre. They are also characterised by their slow digestion in the body. Among the most important benefits are the following:

Main Source of Energy

The body and brain use carbohydrates as their primary source of energy to carry out their essential mental and physical functions. So, it is preferable to consume complex carbohydrates, i.e. vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They slowly release the body’s energy requirements into the bloodstream, allowing you to stay alert and increase your stamina.

Notable Improvement in Digestion

Complex carbohydrates are a source of dietary fibre, which is an essential component of the diet. Fibre helps regulate the digestive system and eliminate waste. This reduces constipation and gas and removes toxins and undigested substances from the body, thus preventing diseases and helping to lose weight.

Source of Vitamins and Minerals

Good health means the consumption of complex carbs. For a hormonal balance and healthy skin, hair, nails, eyesight, and body, complex carbohydrates are a significant source of the needed vitamins and minerals. They do not only support a healthy weight but also fight off numerous ailments, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and vascular disease.

Fibre-rich fruits and vegetables are a significant source of antioxidants, which help protect the body from some types of cancer and heart disease. Foods that contain whole grains are a source of vitamin B, which provides energy to the body and prevents muscle weakness.

Carbohydrates for Bodybuilders

Eating carbohydrates helps provide bodybuilders with the energy they need to get through competition preparations and increase their athletic performance. However, their needs for carbohydrates vary from one to another. On top of that, inadequate carbohydrate intake will make resistance training less effective.

According to current studies, each kilogram of your body weight benefits from 4 to 7 grams of carbohydrates throughout the training phase. A study also found that consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal three to four hours before exercising increases carbohydrate reserves and improves athletic performance.

Disadvantages of Carbohydrates to Public Health


Eating carbohydrates in an intense manner causes many problems for public health. Therefore, we list some of the negative and harmful issues resulting from eating a high amount of carbs. They include:

1. Carbohydrates Cause Diabetes

The excessive consumption of carbs, such as soft drinks and pastries in which the percentage of carbohydrates is high, is harmful to public health. It causes diabetes due to the high amount of sugar that exceeds the body’s needs.

Diabetes is diagnosed by measuring the percentage of sugar in the body. Blood sugar is usually estimated at 70 and 110 mg/dL. One of the most important symptoms that indicate the individual suffers from diabetes is the feeling of constant thirst and extreme hunger. There will be a high percentage of blood sugar in the urine. If the matter is not understood correctly, it can quickly worsen, and complications may occur.

2. Heart Attacks and Heart Disease

Heart attacks, strokes, and heart diseases rise when the proportion of carbs rises in the body. Angina and cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle, are both more likely to occur when eating a lot of amounts of sugar.

3. Weight Gain

One of the most significant harms that carbohydrates cause is weight gain. The excessive consumption of sugar causes a massive increase in weight, and it can turn into morbid obesity. The danger begins here, as obesity paves the way for other diseases.

4. Other Diseases

There are other harms caused by the excessive consumption of carbohydrates. Although there are weak possibilities of occurring, they are possible to happen. These diseases include developing certain types of cancer or falling into a coma.

Lack of Carbs

What about the damage that results from the lack of carbohydrates in the human body? Let’s find out in the following points.

  1. A lack of carbohydrates in the body causes fainting cases and has a very negative impact on brain activity.
  2. A lack of carbohydrates also limits the secretion of the happiness hormone in the body, causing depression and misery.
  3. A lack of carbohydrates causes loss of concentration and inability to move well. In addition, it causes laziness and inability to complete tasks.

To sum up, carbohydrates are a good source of energy and important nutrients in your diet. They contain fibre, calcium, iron, and a group of B vitamins. It is worth noting that some people believe that carbohydrates may lead to weight gain, but one gram of them contains less than half of the calories in fat.

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