Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body. They consist of one or more sugar molecules (saccharides) and are divided into monosaccharides and disaccharides (1-2 saccharides, the sugars), oligosaccharides (3-9 saccharides) and polysaccharides (>9 to thousands of linked saccharides, the starches).

Digestible carbohydrates are broken down by the body into monosacharides. Important sources of carbohydrates, of which intake is recommended, are whole grain products, such as whole grain bread and whole grain pasta, potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruit. Non-digestible carbohydrates are also known as dietary fibres. Good sources of dietary fibres are whole grain products, legumes, fruit and vegetables. Dietary fibres can also be added to products that do not naturally contain this, such as dairy products.

In summary:

  • Carbohydrates are macronutrients, just as protein and fat. 
  • All digestible carbohydrates, sugars and starch, deliver 4 kcal per gram. Protein also delivers 4 kcal per gram, fat delivers 9 kcal per gram and alcohol delivers 7 kcal per gram. 
  • Dietary fibres are not digested in the body. Fermentable fibres are broken down (partially) in the large intestine by bacteria into short chain fatty acids that provide the body with energy. On average, they provide 2 kcal per gram.
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) advises to obtain 45-60% of total energy intake from carbohydrates. The Health Council of the Netherlands advises to obtain at least 40% of energy intake from carbohydrates. See our factsheet Carbohydrates in dietary guidelines for more information.
  • The Dutch National Food Consumption Survey, conducted by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (2019-2021), shows that the Dutch obtain an average of 43.1% of their energy intake from carbohydrates. The main sources are bread, grains, rice, pasta, non-alcoholic beverages, dairy, cakes and pastries, fruit, sugar and candy.
  • The body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in muscles and the liver. Carbohydrates are an important energy source for (endurance) athletes.
  • Consumption of carbohydrates in the Netherlands

    Consumption of carbohydrates in the Netherlands

    Results from the sixth Dutch Food Consumption Survey 2019-2021.
    Bestandstype: pdf
  • Carbohydrates in dietary guidelines

    Carbohydrates in dietary guidelines

    In this factsheet the dietary recommendations for carbohydrates are discussed.
    Bestandstype: pdf