Carbohydrates vs. Starch

What's the Difference?

Carbohydrates and starch are both types of macronutrients that provide energy to the body. Carbohydrates are organic compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, and they are the main source of energy for the body. Starch, on the other hand, is a complex carbohydrate made up of long chains of glucose molecules. It is the primary storage form of energy in plants and is commonly found in foods such as potatoes, rice, and bread. While all starches are carbohydrates, not all carbohydrates are starches. Carbohydrates can also include simple sugars like glucose and fructose. Both carbohydrates and starches are essential for providing energy to the body, but starches are a more complex form of carbohydrates that take longer to break down and provide a sustained release of energy.


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DefinitionOrganic compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.A complex carbohydrate made up of long chains of glucose molecules.
FunctionProvide energy for the body.Store energy in plants.
StructureCan be simple (monosaccharides) or complex (polysaccharides).A type of complex carbohydrate.
ExamplesGlucose, fructose, sucrose.Potatoes, rice, wheat.
DigestionBroken down into glucose for energy.Broken down into glucose for energy.
SolubilityMost carbohydrates are soluble in water.Starch is insoluble in cold water.
SourceFound in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products.Found in plants, particularly in seeds, tubers, and grains.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Further Detail


Carbohydrates and starch are two essential components of our diet, providing us with energy and serving as building blocks for various biological processes. While carbohydrates are a broad category of organic compounds, starch is a specific type of carbohydrate. In this article, we will explore the attributes of carbohydrates and starch, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Definition and Structure

Carbohydrates are organic compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. They are classified into three main types: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrates, consisting of a single sugar unit. Examples include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Disaccharides, on the other hand, are formed by the combination of two monosaccharides through a dehydration reaction. Common disaccharides include sucrose, lactose, and maltose. Lastly, polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates composed of long chains of monosaccharides. Starch is a polysaccharide made up of glucose units linked together.

Food Sources

Carbohydrates can be found in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and dairy products. Fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges are rich in simple carbohydrates, providing a quick source of energy. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains like oats, brown rice, and quinoa, are digested more slowly, providing sustained energy. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn are also good sources of carbohydrates. Starch, as a specific type of carbohydrate, is primarily found in plant-based foods like potatoes, rice, wheat, and corn.

Digestion and Absorption

When we consume carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into simpler forms for absorption and utilization. In the case of monosaccharides, they can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine. Disaccharides, however, need to be further broken down into monosaccharides by specific enzymes before absorption. Polysaccharides like starch undergo a more complex digestion process. In the mouth, an enzyme called amylase begins breaking down starch into smaller molecules. The process continues in the small intestine, where pancreatic amylase further breaks down starch into maltose, a disaccharide. Finally, maltase, an enzyme produced by the small intestine, breaks maltose into glucose, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Energy Source

Both carbohydrates and starch serve as important sources of energy for our bodies. When we consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, which is the primary fuel for our cells. Glucose is readily available for immediate energy production. Excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, which can be later converted back into glucose when needed. Starch, being a complex carbohydrate, provides a more sustained release of energy compared to simple sugars. It takes longer to break down starch into glucose, resulting in a slower and more prolonged release of energy.

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by our bodies. It is mainly found in plant-based foods and plays a crucial role in maintaining digestive health. Both carbohydrates and starch can contain dietary fiber, although the amount varies depending on the food source. Fiber adds bulk to our stool, promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol, and promotes a feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management.

Health Implications

Carbohydrates and starch can have different effects on our health depending on the type and quantity consumed. Simple carbohydrates, especially those found in processed foods and sugary beverages, can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. This can be problematic for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates like starch, when consumed in their whole and unprocessed forms, provide essential nutrients and are generally considered healthier options. They are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer.


Carbohydrates and starch are vital components of our diet, providing us with energy and supporting various bodily functions. While carbohydrates encompass a broader category of organic compounds, starch is a specific type of carbohydrate composed of glucose units. Both carbohydrates and starch can be obtained from a variety of food sources, and their digestion and absorption processes are similar. However, starch, being a complex carbohydrate, provides a more sustained release of energy compared to simple sugars. Understanding the attributes of carbohydrates and starch can help us make informed dietary choices and maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

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