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6. What are carbohydrates?

The term carbohydrate includes a large category of organic compounds widely found in Nature. These compounds, together with proteins and fats, constitute the basic groups of nutrients both for humans and animals. The name «carbohydrate» resulted from an earlier observation that these substances contain molecules of carbon and water and is still used today, although it is now known that there are many carbohydrates to which this observation does not apply (eg. methyl pentoses) and other substances for which it applies but they are in no way related to carbohydrates (eg. acetic acid).

Carbohydrates can be classified as follows:

  • Monosaccharides or simple sugars: These are crystalline, water-soluble and sweet substances, such as for example fructose, glucose, etc.
  • Disaccharides: Carbohydrates in this category include sucrose, maltose, etc.
  • Polysaccharides: These include starch, glycogen, cellulose, etc.

Carbohydrates should be the main source of energy in the human diet. The main food groups containing carbohydrates are:

  • Cereals
  • Sweeteners with calories (sugar, glucose, etc.)
  • Root vegetables (eg. potatoes)
  • Pulses
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Dairy products

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