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What are Carbohydrates?

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, also known as 'carbs', are the energy source for the human body. This article elaborates on its composition, types, and various food items it can be found in.
Amruta Deshpande
Our body requires a constant supply of essential nutrients for growth and development. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins form the principal components that are essential for the functioning of the body. All these nutrients enter the body through our diet and are responsible for several important functions. Deficiency or excess of these nutrients can create an imbalance, resulting in health problems.

Carbohydrates are a class of chemical compounds found in living organisms. They form the principal source of energy for the human body, as they can be easily broken down into glucose, which is readily absorbed in the blood stream. Glucose is transported to different parts of the body and serves as a fuel for performing numerous functions.

Composition of Carbohydrates
They are polyhydroxy organic compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Their general chemical formula is Cm(H2O)n. They comprise sugars, starches, and cellulose. Sugar or saccharide is the fundamental unit of carbohydrates. During the process of metabolism, they are broken down into their basic units to release energy. This energy is used by the cells to perform various functions.

They are classified into two main types based on their chemical structure - simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates
They consist of just one or two sugar units, and hence are known as simple carbohydrates or simple sugars. They are sweet in taste and are easy to digest. They are further classified into monosaccharides and disaccharides according to the number of sugar units they contain. Monosaccharides are individual sugars like glucose, fructose, and galactose, and contain three to six carbon atoms. Disaccharides consist of two covalently joined sugar units. Some examples of disaccharides are lactose, sucrose, and maltose. Here is a list of food items containing monosaccharides and disaccharides.
  • Milk
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup
  • Table sugar
  • Candy
  • Yogurt
  • Chocolate
  • Fruits
  • Biscuits
  • Soft drinks
  • Sweets and Snack bars
  • Pizzas
  • Cakes
Complex Carbohydrates
These are long chains formed by simple sugar units bonded to each other by covalent bonds. They take longer time for digestion, as they have to be broken down into simpler sugar units by the digestive enzymes. This results in slower absorption of sugars, which provides a steady supply of energy. Here is a list of food containing complex carbohydrate foods.
  • Oatmeal
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Radish
  • Artichokes
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Plums
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruits
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Brown rice
As mentioned earlier, they are the main source of energy. They are broken down into glucose which is required by body cells in daily activity. The brain solely depends on it for energy, and hence, it is very important to consume them in adequate quantities. When energy is not required, they are stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. When the glucose level is low, the stored glycogen is broken down and energy is supplied to the cells. If the body does not have glycogen reserve, energy will be obtained at the expense of proteins that are present in the muscle tissues. Carbs also participate in the synthesis of lipids, nucleic acids, and some co-enzymes. They play a significant role in the metabolism of amino acids. Complex ones provide a steady supply of energy, and hence, are an excellent source of fuel for the muscles, especially during exercises.
Raw Potatoes