A carbohydrate (//) is a biomolecule consisting of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms, usually with a hydrogen–oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 (as in water) and thus with the empirical formula Cm(H2O)n (where m may or may not be different from n). However, not all carbohydrates conform to this precise stoichiometric definition (e.g., uronic acids, deoxy-sugars such as fucose), nor are all chemicals that do conform to this definition automatically classified as carbohydrates (e.g. formaldehyde and acetic acid).
The term is most common in biochemistry, where it is a synonym of saccharide, a group that includes sugars, starch, and cellulose. The saccharides are divided into four chemical groups: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides and disaccharides, the smallest (lower molecular weight) carbohydrates, are commonly referred to as sugars. The word saccharide comes from the Greek word σάκχαρον (sákkharon), meaning "sugar". While the scientific nomenclature of carbohydrates is complex, the names of the monosaccharides and disaccharides very often end in the suffix -ose, which was originally taken from glucose, from Ancient Greek γλεῦκος (gleûkos, “wine, must”), and is used for almost all sugars, e.g. fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (cane or beet sugar), ribose, amylose, lactose (milk sugar), etc.
Carbohydrates perform numerous roles in living organisms. Polysaccharides serve for the storage of energy (e.g. starch and glycogen) and as structural components (e.g. cellulose in plants and chitin in arthropods). The 5-carbon monosaccharide ribose is an important component of coenzymes (e.g. ATP, FAD and NAD) and the backbone of the genetic molecule known as RNA. The related deoxyribose is a component of DNA. Saccharides and their derivatives include many other important biomolecules that play key roles in the immune system, fertilization, preventing pathogenesis, blood clotting, and development.
Carbohydrates are central to nutrition and are found in a wide variety of natural and processed foods. Starch is a polysaccharide. It is abundant in cereals (wheat, maize, rice), potatoes, and processed food based on cereal flour, such as bread, pizza or pasta. Sugars appear in human diet mainly as table sugar (sucrose, extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets), lactose (abundant in milk), glucose and fructose, both of which occur naturally in honey, many fruits, and some vegetables. Table sugar, milk, or honey are often added to drinks and many prepared foods such as jam, biscuits and cakes.
Cellulose, a polysaccharide found in the cell walls of all plants, is one of the main components of insoluble dietary fiber. Although it is not digestible, insoluble dietary fiber helps to maintain a healthy digestive system by easing defecation. Other polysaccharides contained in dietary fiber include resistant starch and inulin, which feed some bacteria in the microbiota of the large intestine, and are metabolized by these bacteria to yield short-chain fatty acids.