Carbohydrates: what they are, the types and characteristics of these molecules

Carbohydrates, carbohydrates or carbohydrates are molecules of biological origin which owe their name to their chemical composition, as they are mainly composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.

From a nutritional standpoint, along with fat and protein, it is an essential macronutrient in any diet. To get an idea of ​​its effectiveness, professional sports associations estimate that an athlete should ingest 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. Of course, we are dealing with nature’s most efficient cellular fuel.

However, the world of carbohydrates has many more secrets than you might expect at the beginning: of the types, functions, pathologies due to the lack of input to certain statistical data, today we teach you everything that you need to know about carbohydrates. carbon.

    What are carbohydrates: a source of vital energy

    To begin with, we must stress the importance of carbohydrates from an ecological and economic point of view. these biomolecules they represent over 90% of the dry weight of vegetables, which is why they are the most abundant nutrients on Earth, Representing approximately 75% of the total organic matter of our planet. That is why they are considered to be the most efficient and essential components when it comes to storing energy and acting as intermediaries in metabolic reactions in living things.

    However, its functionality doesn’t end there. Carbohydrates they are part of our own genetic code that defines us as species and individualsSo, in effect, each of the pentoses that give rise to DNA and RNA nucleotides is a carbohydrate.

    On the other hand, they are also part of the cell wall of many bacteria and plants or as an integral part of the exoskeleton of various groups of arthropods. The functionality of carbohydrates on living structures is virtually endless, just like these they associate with lipids and proteins, forming complex compounds which guarantee life on our planet.

    An essential role in the global economy

    Carbohydrates have functions beyond biological structures and our own genetic code, which is called soon. From an economic point of view, multiple advantages are also reported.

    To give a quick example, it is estimated that to produce half a kilogram of lentils (20 grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams) requires a total of 25 liters of water, while the most expensive cereal, rice, requires 1700 liters. for the same amount.

    On the other hand, about 2400 liters are needed to make a serving of hamburger meat, and it does not contain carbohydrates. Of course, each food has its own nutritional benefits, so we put food choice issues aside and leave them for another chance. We are simply documenting the cost of producing this type of food cheaply.

    Beyond food soil, carbohydrates they are present everywhere in human society as useful objects. An example of this is cellulose, an essential component of most of the sheets of paper we work with. Mention may also be made, as an example, of cellulose nitrate, which is used in the synthesis of plates and cements, among others. We believe that with all of these applications, the essentiality of carbohydrates in modern society is more than clear.

      Types of carbohydrates

      From a biochemical point of view, carbohydrates they can be divided into monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. The essential difference between these types of molecules is the number of monosaccharides that compose them. While this seems redundant, it should be noted that the monosaccharide is the basic functional unit and cannot be hydrolyzed into simpler compounds.

      On the other hand, polysaccharides are composed of 10 or more monosaccharides and can have complex structures in the form of branches. Beyond chemical formulas, we find it more useful to classify carbohydrates based on their food functionality. Let’s go.

      Sugars are generally monosaccharides or disaccharides, Since among them we find glucose, fructose or sucrose, for example. This type of carbohydrate is normally found in fruits and milk, but can also be added to desserts and other recipes by humans, as it is made into grains.

      Despite its nutritional importance, excessive consumption of simple sugars in the diet is not recommended, because during its processing at the cellular level, free radicals are generated which can adhere to DNA, lipids and proteins, damaging (this is called oxidation). Thus, excessive glucose intake has been correlated with faster cell aging.

      Starches, on the other hand, are complex polysaccharides made up of many monomers or sugars.. They are found in plants, because their essential function is the storage of energy in the plant world from here to specific organelles, the amyloplasts. It may be surprising to learn that starch is the main carbohydrate in the human diet, as it is found in breads, corn, grains, potatoes, some legumes, fruits, rice and vegetables. dairy products.

      Finally we have a fiber, a food substance made up of a set of heterogeneous biological compounds (Polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, lignin and other similar compounds). It is interesting to know that man cannot digest this carbohydrate, which is why it undergoes total or partial fermentation in the large intestine thanks to the intestinal flora (symbiotic bacteria).

      On the other hand, fiber cannot be considered a nutrient in the strict sense because it does not directly participate in human metabolic processes. However, it is an essential part of the physiological well-being of an individual, as it promotes peristaltic stool, promotes the growth and maintenance of intestinal flora, and can act as a physical barrier to mixing with water, as it forms a protective layer of the intestinal wall. For all these reasons, it is recommended that humans consume at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day.

      nutritional functions

      At this point, we think the functionality of carbohydrates matters almost on their own, but we still provide some final data that puts their role in the modern diet into perspective.

      It is estimated that carbohydrates they are the main source of energy in humans, as they generally correspond to 60% of a person’s daily energy expenditure. On the other hand, the concentration of carbohydrates in our own tissues is usually around 10 grams per kilogram of body weight.

      The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and WHO (World Health Organization) recommend that 55 to 75% of the energy of the diet comes from carbohydrates, but beware: a only 10% can correspond to the intake of free sugars, as its previously named oxidative potential is something to consider.

      Carbohydrate metabolism disorders

      Finally, we consider it essential to close all this terminology conglomerate with some information regarding carbohydrate-related diseases. People with this type of condition usually don’t have the right amount of enzymes needed to break down polysaccharides into the most basic monomer: glucose., Which can be carried in the blood and stored in the liver as glycogen.

      Yes, you guessed it. In this group we find the famous diabetes, a disease that is characterized by a lack of production or dysfunction of insulin. This hormone helps the monosaccharide get into cells so that they can use it as an energy source, so its ineffectiveness results in atypical blood sugar levels. 1 in 11 adults worldwide have some type of diabetesSo, we can say that carbohydrate metabolism disorders are the order of the day.


      As we have seen in this space, the carbohydrates they go well beyond bread and cereals. These biomolecules constitute a large part of the organic matter of the earth, form part of the genetic code of all living things, are an excellent food with high economic profitability and constitute a despicable part by gene of our physical structure.

      So, when we talk about these biomolecules, we have to keep in mind that even the leaves that we use to work are partly composed by them. These substances surround us at all times and compose us, which is why we cannot conceive of life without them.

      Bibliographical references:

      • How much water does it take to produce food? Collected October 9 at 20 legumes , kilo% 20de% 20lentejas% 2C% 2025% 20litros.
      • Carbohydrates, United States National Library of Medicine. UU. Retrieved October 9, from
      • Diabetes, US National Library of Medicine. UU. Retrieved October 9, from
      • Jeukendrup, A. (2013). Carbohydrates during exercise: research over the past 10 years. New recommendations. Remarks. Physical education and sports, 3 (113), 7-22.
      • The Functions of Carbohydrates in the Body, Collected October 9 from
      • Osorio, JH (2003). Pregnancy and carbohydrate metabolism. Colombian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 54 (2), 97-106.

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