Carbohydrates must be digested and absorbed in order to transform them into energy that can be used by the body. Food preparation often aids in the digestion process. When starches are heated, they swell and become easier for the body to break down. In the mouth, the enzyme amylase, which is contained in saliva, mixes with food products and breaks some starches into smaller units. However, once the carbohydrates reach the acidic environment of the stomach, the amylase is inactivated. After the carbohydrates have passed through the stomach and into the small intestine, key digestive enzymes are secreted from the pancreas and the small intestine where most digestion and absorption occurs. Pancreatic amylase breaks starch into disaccharides and small polysaccharides, and enzymes from the cells of the small-intestinal wall break any remaining disaccharides into their monosaccharide components. Dietary fiber is not digested by the small intestine; instead, it passes to the colon unchanged.
Sugars such as galactose, glucose, and fructose that are found naturally in foods or are produced by the breakdown of polysaccharides enter into absorptive intestinal cells. After absorption, they are transported to the liver where galactose and fructose are converted to glucose and released into the bloodstream. The glucose may be sent directly to organs that need energy, it may be transformed into glycogen (in a process called glycogenesis) for storage in the liver or muscles, or it may be converted to and stored as fat.