Carbohydrates or saccharides are generally understood to be a large group of “sugars”. Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The name means “carbon atoms enriched with water” and comes from the Greek word “hydros” (=water). Carbohydrates appear as a component in all living things. They are a product of photosynthesis and account for about two thirds of the world’s biomass.
Carbohydrates occur in different chain lengths. They are divided into mono-, di-, tri-, oligo- and polysaccharides. The monosaccharides (single sugars, such as grape sugar or fructose), disaccharides (double sugars, such as household sugar or lactose) and oligosaccharides (multiple sugars, such as raffinose) are mostly water-soluble and have a sweetish taste. In contrast, polysaccharides (multiple sugars, such as starch or cellulose) are usually not water-soluble and tend to be tasteless.
Together with fats and proteins, carbohydrates are the main component of our diet. They are an important source of energy for our body. When we consume carbohydrates through food, the following happens: Before the carbohydrates enter the blood, the ingested carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose molecules, which are then taken up by the cells and used to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Adenosine triphosphate serves as an energy supplier for numerous metabolic processes.
In addition, carbohydrates are a building block of many cell structures in the body. Carbohydrates also play a central role in biological signalling and recognition processes.
Both the quantity and the quality of the carbohydrates consumed in the diet have an influence on the blood sugar level and the blood lipids in our body. If we frequently consume large amounts of short-chain carbohydrates, such as those found in sweets or white flour products, this can increase the risk of developing diabetes, because a high intake of low-fibre carbohydrates can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. However, if you eat fibre-rich foods (carbohydrates in the form of polysaccharides) frequently, this has a positive effect on heart health and can even reduce the risk of diabetes. Fibre helps to keep blood sugar levels constant.