Sources and types of carbohydrates and sugar

Carbohydrates are usually classified based on their chemical structure

Fructose is found in honey, dried fruit, jams and breakfast cereals

Sucrose or table sugar is found naturally in sugar cane and sugar beet

For most of the world's population, carbohydrates including sugars are a source of energy that is sourced from 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 based on their chemical structure, with the three most commonly known groups being monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides.

For detailed info see here - What are carbohydrates and sugar? 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.

Here is a list of the most common food and drink sources for different types of carbohydrates.


stock photo crispy muesli with garden berries delicious and healthy breakfast 1168190881Fructose

  • Honey
  • 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


stock photo homemade yogurt cake with icing sugar close up top view 1471765997Sucrose

  • 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
  • Malt extract, molasses
  • Beer


  • 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
  • Honey
  • Wine & beers


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

  • Legumes, beans, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts
  • Onion, artichoke, fennel, asparagus, beans & peas
  • Pre-biotics



  • 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
  • Pulses


Australian Food Composition Database NUTTAB 2010

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