The Basics

Sources and types of carbohydrates and sugars

    • Carbohydrate classification is predominantly based on chemical structure
      Carbohydrates vary in their complexity and are found in a wide range of predominantly plant-based foods (except for lactose, which is from milk)


For most of the world's population, carbohydrates including sugars are a source of energy that is ingested via a wide range of predominantly plant-based food types. Carbohydrates are found in many natural foods as well as being an ingredient in many pre-prepared or processed foods.

The classification of carbohydrates is generally based on their chemical structure, with the three most commonly known groups being monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. These are discussed further in 'Carbohydrates and sugar. What are they?' and 'Digestion, absorption and transport of carbohydrates'.

A lesser known group of carbohydrates are the oligosaccharides. These are short chain carbohydrates (8-10 units) such as raffinose or inulin. Like polysaccharides, these carbohydrates cannot be digested enzymatically and instead are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine.

Aside from lactose found in milk and small amounts of specific sugars in red meat, almost all dietary carbohydrates come from plant foods. These foods will often be made up of a combination of the different types of carbohydrates in varying amounts.

Below is a brief overview of the most common dietary sources for the different types of carbohydrates.




Dried fruits such as apples, dates and sultanas

Fruit jams, chutney’s, barbecue & plum sauce, gherkins, sundried tomatoes

Breakfast cereals with whole wheat, oats and fruits

Canned fruits such as pineapple, strawberry and plum

Fresh fruits including grapes, apples, pear, kiwi & banana

Also derived from the digestion of sucrose



Honey, golden syrup

Dried fruits such as dates, currants & figs

Small amounts are found in some fruits (grapes and dried apricots), vegetables (sweet corn) and honey

Manufactured foods such as juices, cured hams, pasta sauces

Digestion and conversion of other carbohydrates


Flavoured yogurts or with fruit pieces added

Lactose-free milk

Instant coffee granules, ground black pepper

Digestion of lactose




Derived from sugar cane and sugar beet

Table sugar, manufactured foods, such as cakes, cookies, and dark chocolate

Sweet root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots



Malted wheat and barley

Breads, bagels, breakfast cereals, energy bars

Sweet potatoes, peaches, pears

Malt extract, molasses




Milk, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, condensed milk,

Milk products, frozen yogurts, cottage cheese, evaporated milk,
goats milk & ice creams


Mushrooms and edible fungi

Some seaweeds, lobsters, shrimp


Wine & beers


Raffinose, stachyose, verbascose, inulin, fructo and galacto-oligosaccahrides

Legumes, beans, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts

Onion, artichoke, fennel, asparagus, beans & peas





Cereal foods, cornmeal, pretzels, flours, oats, instant noodles, pasta, rice

Potato, corn

Small amounts in other root vegetables and unripe fruit

Non-starch polysaccharides


Vegetables, fruit

Wholegrain cereals




Australian Food Composition Database NUTTAB 2010

NEXT: The production of sugar: grow, mill, refine




Portion control, sugars intakes and more 


Sugar and health

How much sugar are we recommended to eat?


Frequently asked questions

Natural versus added sugars - what's the difference?