Carbohydrates are among the macronutrients. They are the most abundant in terms of quantity and are considered our main source of energy. One gram of carbohydrates contains four calories, just as many as one gram of protein.

What is the structure of carbohydrates?

Basically, you can think of a carbohydrate as a chain of individual molecules. These are sugar molecules that occur either as single sugars (monosaccharides), double sugars (disaccharides) or multiple sugars (oligo- and polysaccharides). During digestion, the carbohydrate chains are broken down into individual parts by enzymes until single sugar molecules remain. The length and structure of the chains determines how complex the carbohydrates are. The rule here is: the more complex, the better!

Complex carbohydrates

... are carbohydrates that occur in combination with dietary fiber, e.g. in vegetables, legumes or whole grain products. Unlike refined carbohydrates, which lack fiber. You can think of dietary fiber as a net or cage that wraps around the carbohydrate chains. This makes complex carbohydrates slower to digest, so you're fuller longer and your blood sugar doesn't spike as much. Another advantage is that they are found in foods that bring many other valuable nutrients. These include whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits.

The functions of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have many functions in addition to providing energy:

  • Energy storage in the liver and muscles (glycogen stores).
  • Component of our DNA through synthesis
  • Protect protein from degradation through synthesis of non-essential amino acids
  • Component of our cells and participation in the central nervous system
  • Involved in the formation of connective tissue and bone substance

The digestion of carbohydrates

The digestion of carbohydrates begins already in the mouth by an enzyme contained in saliva (amylase). The breakdown of the carbohydrate chains into individual molecules is important, as the structures are too diverse to be absorbed/resorbed. Digestion then continues in the small intestine. Here, after cleavage, the individual molecules are transported into the blood via transport proteins in the intestinal wall.

Carbohydrate-rich foods

How many carbohydrates can I eat?

The amount of carbohydrates you eat naturally depends on your preferred eating style. For example, if you consciously eat a low-carb diet, you will consume significantly fewer carbohydrates than in the classic balanced diet. In this case, the recommendations take into account the individual energy needs on the one hand and the protein and fat

protein and fat requirements. This results in a share of carbohydrates in the total energy intake of 50%. Ideally, complex carbohydrates are preferred to refined ones, so that the latter account for a maximum of one third of all carbohydrates consumed.