Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the three macronutrient types of food. Following the pattern of three, carbohydrates can be broken down further into sugar, starch and fiber. Each carbohydrate plays a role in your diet, and some carbs are considered preferable choices for your health. Knowing how each affects you can help you determine how much you need on a daily basis.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. In the world of chemistry, simple carbohydrates are one or two units of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and because they have fewer molecules, they are easier for the body to break down and use as a quick source of fuel. Simple carbohydrates commonly are referred to as sugars. They can be found naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk or can be added to food products. Examples of added sugars include fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and maltose. Because simple carbohydrates tend to hold less nutritional value than their complex counterparts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you avoid foods with added simple sugars in favor of complex carbohydrates.
Starches and fiber are complex carbohydrates. These carbs have three or more carbon-hydrogen-oxygen molecules, making them tougher to break apart. Starches -- which must be digested before the body can break them down and use them as an energy source -- are present in both vegetables and many bread products. Examples include potatoes, dry beans, corn, breads, cereals and grains. It is possible to have both starches and fiber present in the same food item. For example, whole grain bread has some aspects of fiber and starches present.
Fiber is a carbohydrate type far different from simple and complex carbohydrates. The body does not break it down into smaller components and convert it to glucose for energy because fiber is not digestible. Instead, it passes through your body, drawing in water that adds bulk to your stool. A high-fiber diet reduces the likelihood of conditions such as constipation and hemorrhoids, notes the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois. The CDC recommends that you get 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume each day. Examples of dietary fiber sources include oatmeal, nuts, seeds, fruits, wheat bran, most vegetables and whole wheat bread.
You need carbohydrates to promote digestive regularity, to fuel your brain and tissues and for energy storage. Mayo Clinic recommends taking in about 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. If you consume a 2,000-calorie diet, this is 900 to 1,300 calories from carbohydrates or 225 to 325 carbohydrate grams per day. While you can take in any combination of sugars, starches and fiber each day, starches and fiber-containing foods tend to be lower in calories than their sugary counterparts.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.