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Carbohydrates may be classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides depending on the number of monomer (sugar) units they contain. They constitute a large part of foods such as rice, noodles, bread, and other grain-based products. Monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides contain one, two, and three or more sugar units, respectively. Polysaccharides are often referred to as complex carbohydrates because they are typically long, multiple branched chains of sugar units.

Traditionally, simple carbohydrates were believed to be absorbed quickly, and therefore to raise blood-glucose levels more rapidly than complex carbohydrates. This, however, is not accurate. Some simple carbohydrates (e.g. fructose) follow different metabolic pathways (e.g. fructolysis) which result in only a partial catabolism to glucose, while many complex carbohydrates may be digested at essentially the same rate as simple carbohydrates. Glucose stimulates the production of insulin through food entering the bloodstream, which is grasped by the beta cells in the pancreas.

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