Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex. This classification depends on the chemical structure of the food, and how quickly the sugar in the food is digested and absorbed. Simple carbohydrates have one (single) or two (double) sugars. Complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars.
Examples of single sugars from foods include:
- Fructose (found in fruits)
- Galactose (found in milk products)
Double sugars include:
- Lactose (found in dairy)
- Maltose (found in certain vegetables and in beer)
- Sucrose (table sugar)
Honey is also a double sugar. But unlike table sugar, it contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals. (Note: Honey should never be given to children younger than 1 year.)
Simple carbohydrates that contain vitamins and minerals occur naturally in:
- Milk and milk products
Simple carbohydrates are also found in processed and refined sugars such as:
- Regular (non-diet) carbonated beverages, such as soda
- Table sugar
Refined sugars provide calories, but they lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Such simple sugars are often called "empty calories" and can lead to weight gain.
Also, many processed and refined foods, such as white flour, sugar, and white rice, lack B vitamins and other important nutrients unless they are marked "enriched." It is healthiest to eat carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients in the most natural form possible -- for example, from fruit instead of table sugar.
Complex carbohydrates, often referred to as "starchy" foods, include:
- Legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils and peanuts
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, green peas, and parsnips
- Whole-grain breads and cereals