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Example of Carbohydrates

The class of foods called carbohydrates is variously considered the problem for people putting on weight and the source of energy for athletes. Carbohydrates underpin the diets of humanity in various forms, like bread, rice, and corn. These are among the most important of all chemicals on Earth, present in everything from trees to people.

Carbohydrates are molecules which are primarily comprised of the elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The ratio of carbon to the hydrogen and oxygen elements is 2:1, a stable double bond.

The name literally translates as 'carbon hydrate', referring to the common chemical formula of Cm(H2O)n in various forms.

These are organic molecules and include two of the major classes of foods, sugars and starches. A virtual synonym for carbohydrates is the term 'saccharides', which relates to simple sugars.

There are four basic classes of saccharides, including:

  • Monosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Polysaccharides
  • Oligosaccharides

The different types of saccharides perform different organic functions:

  • Monosaccharides: These are the smallest single forms of saccharised, which cannot be reduced by hydrolization. Forms part of enzymes like ATP and elements of RNA and is the common form of blood sugar, glucose.
  • Disaccharides: Comprised of two joined monosaccharides. Common types are table sugar and lactose.
  • Polysaccharides: Polymer saccharides, containing more than 10 monosaccharide elements. Stored energy metabolites like starches and like glycogen. Also form structural elements like chitin (insect body structure) and cellulose (plant structure)
  • Oligosaccharides: A mid range between mono and discaccharides, with up to ten monosaccharide elements.

Common carbohydrates in nutrition


The carbohydrates form a major part of the natural environment and the food chain. Carbohydrates are present in nearly all organisms in some form.

For humans, carbohydrates are available in many forms, including primary forms of starches, including:

  • Cereals and derived products like bread
  • Legumes, including beans and related plants
  • Potatoes and related tubers
  • Rice
  • Maize

For dietary purposes, the top of the starch forms of carbohydrates range are the 'complex carbohydrates', including unprocessed grains, which are polysaccharides. These carbohydrates contain a large amount of both carbohydrates and related trace elements used in seeds like wheat grains.

Cellulose- The key to life on Earth

In the natural environment, the polysaccharide cellulose is the keystone carbohydrate of global ecology. It's a form of carbohydrate which is indigestible by animals, and has multiple roles. It forms the primary structure of plant tissue, including foliage and tree wood.

It's also part of the food chain, in more ways than one. Cellulose can be broken down by fungi and bacteria. Millions of tons of cellulose are processed in this way every year. This results in recycling huge amounts of carbon and water, and is the main organic basis of the carbon cycle which with other natural chemical cycles provides the basis for life on Earth.

Cellulose breakdown also releases a lot of organic materials back into the environment, providing habitat and growth mediums for plants and animals. Fertile topsoil is the result of generations of recycling and depositing of plant and animal materials.


Carbohydrates with a special place in organic chemistry, sugars are essential sources of energy for all forms of life on Earth. Sugars are organically produced carbohydrates, which as part of diet form a quick energy conversion source, being easy to break down in metabolism. The 'sugar rush' is no myth.

Sucrose, fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose are the most commonly available dietary sources of sugar. Crystalline sugar as we now know it was developed in India from sugar cane juice. It's an indication of the spread of technology that Alexander the Great had never tasted it before arriving in India. It was developed as a cash crop by Islam in the era before the Crusades, and was introduced into medieval Europe as 'sweet salt'. The European colonial era saw sugar spread globally by trade, as sugar cane became a common cultivar.

Sugar is one of the most important of all carbohydrates in economic terms. It's used in all forms of food, as either a primary food or an additive. Millions of tons of sugar are produced and processed daily.

Common forms of sugar include:

White (refined) sugar- Pure carbohydrate with some potassium
Brown (semi-refined) sugar: Carbohydrates with trace elements including minerals and vitamins. This form of sugar is closer to the natural form of plant sugars.
Raw (unprocessed) sugar: A crystalline form of plant sugar, with all trace elements.

Examples of Carbohydrates: