Carbohydrate digestibility and metabolic effects

J Nutr. 2007 Nov;137(11 Suppl):2539S-2546S. doi: 10.1093/jn/137.11.2539S.


There is a history of interest in the metabolic effects of alterations in small intestinal digestion and colonic fermentation of carbohydrate. It is believed that the rate of digestion of carbohydrate determines the place and form in which carbohydrate is absorbed. Slowly absorbed or lente carbohydrate sources may reduce postprandial glucose surges and the need for insulin with important implications for lowering coronary heart disease risk and reducing diabetes incidence. Carbohydrates that are not digested in the small intestine will enter the colon, and those that are fermentable will be salvaged as short-chain fatty acids in the colon and at the same time may stimulate colonic microflora, such as bifidobacteria. This process may have metabolic effects in the gut and throughout the host, possibly related to short-chain fatty acid products, although these effects are less well documented. One important aspect of colonic fermentation is the stimulation of certain populations of the colonic microflora, which may assist in the biotransformation of bioactive food components including the cleaving of plant phenolics from their glycone to produce the more rapidly absorbed aglycone. However, human studies have been limited. Therefore, further studies are required to explore these important aspects of metabolism related to the rate of carbohydrate absorption and fermentation and their implications in health and disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / physiology*
  • Fermentation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa* / metabolism
  • Intestines* / physiology
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / metabolism*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile