How Does the Body Digest Carbohydrates?

By Charlie Osborne

Carbohydrates you consume in your diet provide your body with energy necessary for day-to-day activities and ensure proper function of your bodily systems. Both complex carbohydrates from foods such as unrefined pasta and whole grains, as well as simple carbs from fruits and starches sources undergo a unique process of digestion within your body.


The first step in the digestion of carbohydrates begins as soon as you begin to chew the food. According to Western Kentucky University, salivary amylase -- an enzyme in your saliva -- immediately begins its work by breaking down carbohydrates contained in the food you chew into certain sugars. These simpler sugars are called disaccharides and trisaccharides, and travel to your stomach when you swallow.

Carbs in the Stomach

Partially broken-down carbohydrates travel through the esophagus and enter the stomach after you swallow them. Once inside the stomach, the cell walls of food containing carbohydrate sugars are broken down by hydrochloric acid in the stomach -- preparing them for the next stage of their digestive journey. Their short stay in the stomach ends when the partially digested carbohydrates travel through a muscular valve at the end of the stomach allowing them to enter the small intestine, where the key stages of carbohydrate digestion begin.

Pancreas and the Small Intestine

Within the small intestine, the carbohydrate sugars undergo the final stages of digestion. An enzyme that is made in the pancreas, pancreatic amylase, enters the small intestine and begins breaking down long carbohydrate sugars into more simpler forms of sugar. The small intestine secretes another enzyme called maltase, which further breaks down sugars into glucose and fructose, while another intestinal enzyme, sucrase, breaks down the sugar sucrose into glucose and fructose, as well.

Glucose and Fructose

The carbohydrates that began their journey in your mouth as you chewed them have now been broken down into simpler forms that your body can use for energy. These two sugars, glucose and fructose are absorbed into your bloodstream. They are then sent to muscles, organs and tissues, where they are used for your body's metabolic processes, to maintain healthy cells -- and give you the food-energy boost you need for daily activities.

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