Carbohydrate, Complex


Carbohydrates are a large family of compounds including sugars, starches, dextrins, dietary fiber, and functional fiber. "Complex carbohydrate" is a term meaning all of these except sugars, which are often called "simple carbohydrates." Unlike sugars, complex carbohydrates are large molecules that supply no energy until they are broken down by the digestive system. (In the case of dietary and functional fiber, the molecules can't be digested, but they do play another important role in health. See Fiber, Dietary.)


Your Daily Allowance


Partly because complex carbohydrates include dietary and functional fiber, most nutrition authorities consider them the mainstay of a good diet. Nevertheless, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) has not established a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for complex carbohydrates.* Since there is no official guideline, Diet Power arbitrarily sets your Personal Daily Allowance (PDA) by dividing your PDA of total carbohydrate into 80-percent complex carbohydrate and 20-percent sugars.



In its September 2002 report on macronutrients, however, the FNB did recommend getting no more than 25 percent of your calories from "added sugars," meaning those put in during processing. If you subtract that figure from the 45 to 65 percent recommended for total carbohydrates, you're left with 25 to 45 percent. But since that includes natural sugars, it doesn't qualify as an RDA for complex carbohydrates alone.


Upper Limit


The FNB has not established a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for complex carbohydrates. Presumably, a high intake would be harmful only if it crowded out an adequate intake of protein or fat, or if it provided too many calories or too little of some nutrient that can't be obtained from complex carbohydrates.


Revising Your Allowance


If your doctor recommends it, you can change your complex-carbohydrate allowance with the Personal Daily Allowance Editor.


Color Coding of This Nutrient


There is no color coding for complex carbohydrates, because Diet Power does not display them as a separate item in any charts.


Complex Carbohydrates on Food Labels


Nutrition labels are not required to list complex carbohydrates as a separate nutrient. If a food lists sugars, however, you can infer its content of complex carbohydrates by subtracting the sugars from the total carbohydrate. (Total carbohydrate is usually listed as just "carbohydrate" or "carbohydrates.")


There is no Daily Value for complex carbohydrates.


For more on label regulations, see Labels, Food.



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Last Modified: 6/29/07