organic compound that consists only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen

Carbohydrates are chemical compounds that contain only oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. They are made up of joined-up sugars. Sugars have the general formula Cm(H2O)n, and are also known as saccharides.

A diagram of the structure of fructose

Certain carbohydrates are an important storage and transport form of energy in most organisms, including plants and animals.


There are four types of carbohydrates, named by the number of sugar molecules they contain.

  1. Simple saccharides with one or two sugar molecules
    1. Monosaccharides: single sugar e.g. glucose , fructose
    2. Disaccharides: two saccharides. e.g. sucrose, lactose
  2. Longer chain saccharides:
    1. Oligosaccharides (shortish chains), often linked to amino acids or lipids. They play a special role in cell membranes.
    2. Polysaccharides (long chains) are complex carbohydrates, with linear chains of sugars or branched clusters. Their function is either energy storage (starch, glycogen) or building structures (cellulose, chitin).

Nutrition and foodsEdit

Carbohydrates are the most common source of energy for the human body. Protein builds tissue and cells in the body. Carbohydrates are very good for energy, but, if a person eats more than needed, the extra is changed into fat.

If necessary, humans can live without eating carbohydrates because the human body can change proteins into carbohydrates. People of some cultures eat food with very little carbohydrates, but they still remain healthy.

Research in the United States and Canada have shown that people get about 40% to 60% of their energy from carbohydrates. However, studies suggest that some people get at least 55% to 75% of energy from carbohydrates.[1] It may depend on the amount of physical work done by people: the harder the work, the more energy they need. The other need for energy is body temperature. Living in a cold climate means a person needs more energy.

Some foods have high levels of carbohydrates including bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals, rice etc.


  1. "The role of carbohydrates in maintenance of health". 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2013.