McGrane, Mary M. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alexandria, Virginia.
Last reviewed:April 2018
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Any of the group of organic compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that includes sugars, starches, and cellulose. Carbohydrate compounds consist of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with the general chemical formula Cm (H2O)n [Fig. 1]; the hydrogen and oxygen are in a 2:1 ratio. As their name suggests, carbohydrates are hydrates (water-containing solid compounds) of carbon. In the forms of sugars, starches, and cellulose, carbohydrates play a vital role in the lives of plants and animals, both as structural elements and in the maintenance of functional activity. Approximately 50% of the total caloric intake in a typical human diet comes from carbohydrates. See also: Carbon; Cellulose; Hydrogen; Oxygen; Starch; Sugars (sweeteners)
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