Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Nutritional characterization and measurement of dietary carbohydrates

Abstract

Dietary carbohydrate characterization should reflect relevant nutritional and functional attributes, and be measured as chemically identified components. A nutritional classification based on these principles is presented, with a main grouping into ‘available carbohydrates’, which are digested and absorbed in the small intestine providing carbohydrates for metabolism, and ‘resistant carbohydrates’, which resist digestion in the small intestine or are poorly absorbed/metabolized. For the available carbohydrates, the chemical division into the starch and total sugars categories does not adequately reflect the physiological or nutritional attributes of foods. Characterizing carbohydrate release from starchy foods provides insight into some of the inherent mechanisms responsible for the varied metabolic effects. Also, a pragmatic approach to product signposting consistent with guidelines to limit free (or added) sugars is proposed. The most prominent of the resistant carbohydrates are the non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) from plant cell walls, which are characteristic of the largely unrefined plant foods that provide the evidence base for the definition and measurement of dietary fibre as ‘intrinsic plant cell-wall polysaccharides’ as proposed in conjunction with this paper and endorsed by the scientific update. Indigestibility in the small intestine was not considered to be an adequate basis for the definition of dietary fibre, as there is insufficient evidence to establish public health policy by this approach and concerns have been raised about potential detrimental effects of high intakes of rapidly fermentable resistant carbohydrates. Functional ingredients such as resistant starch and resistant oligosaccharides should therefore be researched and managed separately from dietary fibre, using specific health or function claims where appropriate. This structured approach to the characterization of nutritionally relevant features of dietary carbohydrates provides the basis for establishing population reference intakes, nutrition claims and food labelling that will assist the consumer with properly informed dietary choices.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1
Figure 2

References

  • Abrams SA, Griffin IJ, Hawthorne KM, Liang L, Gunn SK, Darlington G et al. (2005). A combination of prebiotic short- and long-chain inulin-type fructans enhances calcium absorption and bone mineralization in young adolescents. Am J Clin Nutr 82, 471–476.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Alberts DS, Martinez ME, Roe DJ, Guillen-Rodriguez JM, Marshall JR, van Leeuwen JB et al. (2000). Lack of effect of a high-fiber cereal supplement on the recurrence of colorectal adenomas. N Engl J Med 342, 1156–1162.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • American Association of Cereal Chemists (2001). The definition of dietary fiber. Cereal Foods World 46, 112–126.

    Google Scholar 

  • AOAC (2005). Official Methods of Analysis 18th Ed W Horwitz. AOAC International: Gaithersburg, MD, USA.

  • Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria CM, Whelton PK (2003). Dietary fiber intake and reduced risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med 163, 1897–1904.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bazzano LA, Serdula M, Liu S (2005). Prevention of type 2 diabetes by diet and lifestyle modification. J Am Coll Nutr 24, 310–319.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bingham SA, Day NE, Luben R, Ferrari P, Slimani N, Norat T et al. (2003). Dietary fibre in food and protection against colorectal cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): an observational study. Lancet 361, 1496–1501.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bonithon-Kopp C, Kronborg O, Giacosa A, Rath U, Faivre J (2000). Calcium and fibre supplementation in prevention of colorectal adenoma recurrence: a randomised intervention trial. European Cancer Prevention Organisation Study Group. Lancet 356, 1300–1306.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Brand-Miller J, Hayne S, Petocz P, Colagiuri S (2003). Low-glycemic index diets in the management of diabetes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care 26, 2466–2468.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burkitt DP (1969). Related disease—related cause? Lancet ii, 1229–1231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burn J, Katheuser A, Fodde R, Coaker J, Chapman PD, Mathers JC (1996). Intestinal tumours in the Apc 1638N mouse: aspirin not protective and resistant starch increases small bowel tumours. Eur J Hum Genet 4 (Suppl 1), 13.

    Google Scholar 

  • Champ MM, Langkilde A-M, Brouns F, Kettlitz B, Bail-Collet YL (2003). Advances in dietary fibre characterization. 2. Consumption, chemistry, physiology and measurement of resistant starch; implications for health and food labelling. Nutr Res Rev 16, 143–161.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Daly M (2003). Sugars, insulin sensitivity, and the postprandial state. Am J Clin Nutr 78, 865S–872S.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Department of Health (1991). Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom. Report on Health and Social 41. London.

  • Elia M, Cummings JH (2007). Physiological aspects of energy metabolism and gastrointestinal effects of carbohydrates. Eur J Clin Nutr.

  • Ellis PR, Rayment P, Wang Q (1996). A physico-chemical perspective of plant polysaccharides in relation to glucose absorption, insulin secretion and the entero-insular axis. Proc Nutr Soc 55, 881–898.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Cummings JH (1985). Digestion of the polysaccharides of some cereal foods in the human small intestine. Am J Clin Nutr 42, 778–787.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Cummings JH (1986). Digestion of the carbohydrates of banana (Musa paradisiaca sapientum) in the human small intestine. Am J Clin Nutr 44, 42–50.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Cummings JH (1987). Digestion of the polysaccharides of potato in the small intestine of man. Am J Clin Nutr 45, 423–431.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Hudson GJ (1996). The classification and measurement of dietary carbohydrates. Food Chem 57, 15–21.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Kingman SM, Cummings JH (1992). Classification and measurement of nutritionally important starch fractions. Eur J Clin Nutr 46, S33–S50.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Quigley ME, Hudson GJ (1994). Determination of dietary fiber as non-starch polysaccharides with gas–liquid chromatographic, high-performance liquid chromatographic or spectrophotometric measurement of constituent sugars. Analyst 119, 1497–1509.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Quigley ME, Englyst KN, Bravo L, Hudson GJ (1996). Dietary fibre. Measurement by the Englyst NSP procedure. Measurement by the AOAC procedure. Explanation of the differences. J Assoc Pub Anal 32, 1–52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Englyst HN, Wiggins HS, Cummings JH (1982). Determination of the non-starch polysaccharides in plant foods by gas–liquid chromatography of constituent sugars as alditol acetates. Analyst 107, 307–318.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst KN, Englyst HN (2005). Carbohydrate bioavailability. Brit J Nutr 94, 1–11.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst KN, Englyst HN, Hudson GJ, Cole TJ, Cummings JH (1999). Rapidly available glucose in foods. An in vitro measurement that reflects the glycemic response. Am J Clin Nutr 69, 448–454.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Englyst KN, Vinoy S, Englyst HN, Lang V (2003). Glycaemic index of cereal products explained by their content of rapidly and slowly available glucose. Br J Nutr 89, 329–339.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • FAO (2003). Food energy—methods of analysis and conversion factors. Report of a technical workshop. Rome 2002. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 77.

  • FDA (2000). Docket No. 91N-0098. Letter regarding dietary supplement health claim for fiber with respect to colorectal cancer (US food and drug administration center for food safety and applied nutrition office of nutritional products, labeling, and dietary supplements October 10, 2000).

  • Fried SK, Rao SP (2003). Sugars, hypertriglyceridemia, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 78, 873S–880S.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • FSA (2006). Rationale and discussion of the 15 g high sugars criterion within the FSA signposting scheme. http://www.food.gov.uk/foodlabelling/signposting/signposttimeline/rationalesugars/.

  • Goodlad RA (2007). Fiber can make your gut grow. Nutrition 23, 434–435.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gostner A, Blaut M, Schäffer V, Kozianowski G, Theis S, Klingeberg M et al. (2006). Effect of isomalt consumption on faecal microflora and colonic metabolism in healthy volunteers. Brit J Nutr 95, 40–50.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gross LS, Li L, Ford ES, Liu S (2004). Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment. Am J Clin Nutr 79, 774–779.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gudmand-Hoyer E (1994). The clinical significance of disaccharide maldigestion. Am J Clin Nutr 59, 735S–741S.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Institute of Medicine (2001). Dietary Reference Intakes: Proposed Definition of Dietary Fiber. The National Acadamies Press: Washington.

  • Institute of Medicine (2002). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (macronutrients). The National Academies Press: Washington.

  • Jacobs DR, Meyer KA, Kushi LH, Folsom AR (1998). Whole-grain intake may reduce the risk of ischemic heart disease death in postmenopausal women: the Iowa Women's Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr 68, 248–257.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Augustin LS, Franceschi S, Hamidi M, Marchie A et al. (2002). Glycemic index: overview of implications in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr 76, S266–S273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liu S (2002). Intake of refined carbohydrates and whole grain foods in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. J Am Coll Nutr 21, 298–306.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Liu S, Lee IM, Ajani U, Cole SR, Buring JE, Manson JE (2001). Intake of vegetables rich in carotenoids and risk of coronary heart disease in men: the physicians’ health study. Int J Epidemiol 30, 130–135.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Liu S, Manson J, Lee I, Cole S, Willett W, Buring J (2000b). Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: the women's health study. Am J Clin Nutr 72, 922–928.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Liu S, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Giovannucci E, Colditz GA et al. (2000a). A prospective study of whole-grain intake and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in US women. Am J Public Health 90, 1409–1415.

    Article  CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Liu S, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB, Rosner B, Colditz GA (2003). Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. J Am Coll Nutr 78, 920–927.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Liu SM, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Giovannucci E, Rimm E, Manson JE et al. (1999). Whole-grain consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: results from the Nurses’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr 70, 412–419.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Livesey G (2003). Health potential of polyols as sugar replacers, with emphasis on low glycaemic properties. Nutr Res Rev 16, 163–191.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Macfarlane S, Macfarlane GT, Cummings JH (2006). Prebiotics in the gastrointestinal tract. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 24, 701–714.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • McCance RA, Lawrence RD (1929). The Carbohydrate Content of Foods. MRC Special Report. HMSO: London.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCleary BV, Murphy A, Mugford DC (2000). Measurement of total fructan in foods by enzymatic/spectrophotometric method: collaborative study. J AOAC Int 83, 356–364.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Park Y, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, Bergkvist L, Berrino F, van den Brandt PA et al. (2005). Dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer: a pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies. JAMA 294, 2849–2857.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pehrsson PR, Cutrufelli RL, Gebhardt SE, Lemar LE, Holcomb GT, Haytowitz DB et al. (2005). USDA database for the added sugars content of selected foods. www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata.

  • Pendlington AW, Meuree-Vanlaethem N, Brookes A (1996). The Method Specific Certification of the Mass Fraction of Dietary Fibre in Lyophilised Haricot Beans, Carrot, Apple, Full Fat Soya Flour and Bran Breakfast Cereal Reference Materials. CRMs 514, 515, 516, 517 & 518. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities: Luxembourg.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pietinen P, Rimm EB, Korhonen P, Hartman AM, Willett WC, Albanes D et al. (1996). Intake of dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease in a cohort of Finnish men. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study. Circulation 94, 2720–2727.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Quigley ME, Hudson GJ, Englyst HN (1999). Determination of resistant short-chain carbohydrates (non-digestible oligosaccharides) using gas-liquid chromatography. Food Chem 65, 381–390.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Rabe E (1999). Effect of processing on dietary fiber in foods. In: Cho SS, Prosky L, Dreher, M (eds). Complex carbohydrates in foods. Marcel Dekker, Ink: NewYork, Basel. pp 395–409.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ranhotra GS, Gelroth JA, Eisenbraun GJ (1991). High-fiber white flour and its use in cookie products. Cereal Chem 68, 432–433.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rimm EB, Ascherio A, Giovannucci E, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC (1996). Vegetable, fruit, and cereal fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men. JAMA 275, 447–451.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Virtanen JK, Venho B, Vanharanta M, Mursu J et al. (2003). Low intake of fruits and berries and vegetables is associated with excess mortality in men; the Kupio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study. Am Soc Nutr Sci 133, 199–204.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Roberfroid MB (2005). Introducing inulin-type fructans. Br J Nutr 93 (Suppl 1), S13–S25.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rumessen JJ (1992). Hydrogen and methane tests for evaluation of resistant carbohydrates. Eur J Clin Nutr 46 (Suppl 2), S77–S90.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sengupta S, Muir JG, Gibson PR (2006). Does butyrate protect from colorectal cancer? J Gastroenterol Hepatol 21, 209–218.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Silvester KR, Englyst HN, Cummings JH (1995). Ileal recovery of starch from whole diets containing resistant starch measured in vitro and fermentation of ileal effluent. Am J Clin Nutr 62, 403–411.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Slavin J (2003). Why whole grains are protective: biological mechanisms. Proc Nutr Soc 62, 129–134.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Southgate DAT (1969). Determination of carbohydrates in foods. II. Unavailable carbohydrates. J Sci Food Agric 20, 331–335.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Southgate DAT, Englyst HN (1985). Dietary fibre: chemisty, physical properties and analysis. In: Trowell H, Burkitt D, Heaton K (eds). Dietary fibre, fibre depleated foods and disease. Academic Press: London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Steffen LM, Jacobs DR, Stevens J (2003). Associations of whole-grain, refined-grain, and fruit and vegetable consumption with risks of all-cause mortality and incident coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr 78, 383–390.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Theander O, Westerlund E (1993). Determination of individual components of dietary fiber. In: Spiller GA (ed). CRC Handbook of Dietary Fiber in Human Nutrition. pp 77–98. CRC Press Inc: Boca Raton, FL.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trowell H (1972). Crude fibre, dietary fibre and atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis 16, 138–140.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Trowell H, Burkitt D, Heaton K (1985). Editors of Dietary Fibre, Fibre-depleted Foods and Disease. Academic Press: London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tuohy KM, Hinton DJ, Davies SJ, Crabbe MJ, Gibson GR, Ames JM (2006). Metabolism of Maillard reaction products by the human gut microbiota—implications for health. Mol Nutr Food Res 50, 847–857.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • USDA/DHHS (2005). Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. DHHS: Washington, DC.

  • van Dam RM, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB (2002). Dietary patterns and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus in US men. Annals of Internal Medicine 136, 201–209.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • van Dam RM, Seidell JC (2007). Carbohydrate intake and obesity. Eur J Clin Nutr.

  • van den Heuvel EG, Muijs T, Van Dokkum W, Schaafsma G (1999). Lactulose stimulates calcium absorption in postmenopausal women. J Bone Miner Res 14, 1211–1216.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Venn BJ, Green TJ (2007). Glycemic index and glycemic load: measurement issues and their effect on diet–disease relationships. Eur J Clin Nutr.

  • Vinjamoori DV, Byrum JR, Hayes T, Das PK (2004). Challenges and opportunities in the analysis of raffinose oligosaccharides, pentosans, phytate, and glucosinolates. J Anim Sci 82, 319–328.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wacker M, Wanek P, Eder E, Hylla S, Gostner A, Scheppach W (2002). Effect of enzyme-resistant starch on formation of 1,N(2)-propanodeoxyguanosine adducts of trans-4-hydroxy-2-nonenal and cell proliferation in the colonic mucosa of healthy volunteers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 11, 915–920.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wasan HS, Goodlad RA (1996). Fibre-supplemented foods may damage your health. Lancet 348, 319–320.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • WHO Technical report series 916 (2003). Diet Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease. WHO: Geneva.

  • Willett W, Manson J, Liu S (2002). Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr 76, S274–S280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wolk A, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Hu FB, Speizer FE et al. (1999). Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of coronary heart disease among women. JAMA 281, 1998–2004.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wong JM, de Souza R, Kendall CW, Emam A, Jenkins DJ (2006). Colonic health: fermentation and short chain fatty acids. J Clin Gastroenterol 40, 235–243.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wood R, Englyst HN, Southgate DAT, Cummings JH (1993). Determination of dietary fibre in foods—collaborative trials. IV. Comparison of Englyst GLC and colorimetric measurement with the Prosky procedure. J Assoc Pub Anal 29, 57–141.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank Professor Nils-Georg Asp, Professor John H Cummings, Professor Timothy Key, Professor Jim Mann, Professor HH Vorster and Dr Roger Wood for the valuable comments they provided on the earlier manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to K N Englyst.

Additional information

Conflict of interest

During the preparation and peer-review of this paper in 2006, the authors and peer-reviewers declared the following interests.

Authors

Dr Klaus Englyst: Director and share-holder in Englyst Carbohydrates Ltd which is a small research-oriented company working on dietary carbohydrates and health. The UK Food Standards Agency is the main research partner and sponsor. In addition, Englyst Carbohydrates provide analytical assistance to universities and food industry worldwide, albeit on a small scale. The complete independence of Englyst Carbohydrates is maintained by not entering into any consultancy agreement.

Professor Simin Liu: Member of the Scientific advisory board for the EU Health Grain Project.

Dr Hans Englyst: Director and share-holder in Englyst Carbohydrates Ltd which is a small research-oriented company working on dietary carbohydrates and health. The UK Food Standards Agency is the main research partner and sponsor. In addition, Englyst Carbohydrates provide analytical assistance to universities and food industry worldwide, albeit on a small scale. The complete independence of Englyst Carbohydrates is maintained by not entering into any consultancy agreement.

Peer-reviewers

Professor Nils-Georg Asp: On part-time leave from university professorship to be the Director of the Swedish Nutrition Foundation (SNF), a nongovernmental organization for the promotion of nutrition research and its practical implications. SNF is supported broadly by the food sector; the member organizations and industries are listed on the SNF home page (www.snf.ideon.se).

Professor John H Cummings: Chairman, Biotherapeutics Committee, Danone; Member, Working Group on Foods with Health Benefits, Danone; funding for research work at the University of Dundee, ORAFTI (2004).

Professor Timothy Key: None declared.

Professor Jim Mann: None declared.

Professor HH Vorster: Member and Director of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary health Research (AUTHeR), Research grant from the South African Sugar Association

Dr Roger Wood: None declared.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Englyst, K., Liu, S. & Englyst, H. Nutritional characterization and measurement of dietary carbohydrates. Eur J Clin Nutr 61 (Suppl 1), S19–S39 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602937

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602937

Keywords

  • available carbohydrates
  • resistant carbohydrates
  • dietary fibre
  • non-starch polysaccharides
  • resistant starch
  • free sugars
  • glycaemic index

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links