Starch, sugar, and fiber: Here’s what the 3 main types of carbohydrates mean to your health, plus how to track them

  • 3 Minutes Read
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Not all carbs are equal. Learn about the three main types of carbohydrates and how MyNetDiary makes it easy to set custom targets and track what is important to you!

3 types of carbohydrate

What are carbohydrates, and what are the three main types?

Carbohydrates, or “carbs,” include three main types: starches, sugars, and fiber.

Starches and sugars, whether found in grains, fruit, milk, yogurt, or sweets, wind up as blood sugar and are used as a source of energy.

Some people choose to limit carbohydrates to promote weight loss. In addition, studies associate a diet high in refined starches and added sugars with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

The healthiest carbohydrate sources among the three main types include unprocessed whole grains (such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice), fruit, dried beans and peas, and unsweetened milk or yogurt.

Your carbohydrate goal

Most of our users are trying to lose weight or manage blood sugar. Therefore, MyNetDiary uses a default carbohydrate goal of 45% of calories, balanced with healthy proteins and fat. These goals are within the Institute of Medicine’s Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. These ranges support the intake of essential nutrients while reducing chronic disease risk. If you want a different macronutrient distribution, you can customize your goals with a Premium Membership, as shown below:

Consider our Premium Low-Carb or Keto diet plans for additional carb-tracking support.

Dietary fiber: Do you get enough?

Dietary fiber is a complex carbohydrate that humans cannot completely digest. The benefits of fiber include proper digestion, the growth of healthful gut bacteria, and feeling full. High-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains contain other valuable nutrients.

There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Most plant foods provide a mix of both fibers.

Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water. This type of fiber adds bulk to the stool, helping prevent and manage constipation and supporting a healthy digestive tract. Good sources of insoluble fiber include bran from grains, and skins and seeds from fruits and vegetables.

Soluble fiber absorbs water to form a gel-like consistency.

Soluble fiber helps soften stools and lowers cholesterol. Rich sources of soluble fiber include oats, chia seeds, carrots, and legumes.

How much fiber do I need?

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for total fiber intake for adults is 14 grams per 1000 calories and is MyNetDiary's default goal.

You may prefer to use these Adequate Intake (AI) goals for fiber to encourage plenty of fiber even on a lower calorie plan:

Total sugar and added sugars

Total sugar

If you track sugars using MyNetDiary, the value refers to total sugars, whether naturally occurring sugars (like fruit and yogurt) or added sugars (like granulated sugar, honey, and corn syrup). MyNetDiary uses a default limit of 25% of total calories for sugars.

There are many forms of sugar, including lactose, fructose, and sucrose.

Added sugars

Excess added sugars can pose a risk for heart disease, supply extra calories, and reduce nutrient quality. Of the three types of carbohydrates, added sugars can be the sneakiest to sabotage your weight-loss goals.

The US Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 10% of total calories from added sugars. For example, if you consume 2000 calories, your limit would be 200 calories (50 grams) from added sugars per day.

MyNetDiary uses this target of under 10% of calories from added sugars as a default limit.

Sugar alcohols

Despite the name, sugar alcohols are neither sugar nor alcohol. Instead, they are a type of sweetener used in many reduced-sugar foods.

Sugar alcohols are lower in calories than sugar because we don’t entirely digest them. As a result, some people experience unpleasant side effects (such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea) when consuming them in large amounts.

Net carbs

Net carbs refers to the fully digestible carbs found in foods.

Net Carbs = Total Carbohydrate (g) minus Dietary Fiber (g) minus Sugar Alcohol (g) minus Allulose (g)

Example: For a food with 28 grams total carb, 10 grams fiber, and 12 grams of sugar alcohol, Net Carb is:
    28g Total Carb
    - 10g Dietary Fiber
    - 12g Sugar Alcohol
    = 6 g Net Carb

Note: If a product does not list sugar alcohols or allulose on the label, MyNetDiary assumes this value is zero when calculating net carbs.

MyNetDiary supports your personal carbohydrate goals

MyNetDiary Premium allows you to set custom carb targets and track the three main types of carbohydrates and more!

You can track and customize your goal for any of the following:

Simply tap My Weight Plan on your Dashboard and select the "Nutrient Targets" tab at the top. When you choose specific nutrients, you may also select "Show on Dashboard" or "Show in Log" under Target and Settings to see the nutrients more conveniently.

Perhaps you're striving to lose weight or watching blood sugars for diabetes management. Either way, better understanding the three types of carbohydrates in your diet and applying these tracking tips will help you reach your healthier lifestyle.

Related content

Do you know how much added sugar you consume per day? Here's how to find out if you are eating too much

Want to master your blood sugars? Here's what you'll want to learn about diabetes

Why you should eat good food sources of fiber every day for optimal health

Reviewed and updated on Jan 8, 2024 by Sue Heikkinen MS, RDN, CDCES

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Jan 15, 2024

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