[ kahr-boh-hahy-dreyt, -buh- ]
/ ˌkɑr boʊˈhaɪ dreɪt, -bə- /
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any of a class of organic compounds that are polyhydroxy aldehydes or polyhydroxy ketones, or change to such substances on simple chemical transformations, as hydrolysis, oxidation, or reduction, and that form the supporting tissues of plants and are important food for animals and people.
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Origin of carbohydrate

First recorded in 1865–70; carbo- + hydrate

OTHER WORDS FROM carbohydrate

non·car·bo·hy·drate, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a carbohydrate?

A carbohydrate is an organic compound that is made of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Most carbohydrates have twice as much hydrogen as oxygen and carbon.

In chemistry, a compound is a pure substance of two or more elements stuck together. An organic compound is a compound that contains hydrogen and carbon (hydrocarbons).

Carbohydrates are extremely important to life and neither plants nor animals would be able to survive without them. Fortunately, carbohydrates are abundant in nature.

Both the cell walls of plants and the tissues of animals are made partly out of carbohydrates. Additionally, both plants and animals use carbohydrates to produce and store energy. Without carbohydrates, neither plant nor animal cells could function and both would quickly die.

Carbohydrates come from green plants as a product of the process known as photosynthesis in which plants combine carbon dioxide and water. Typically, animals get their carbohydrates by eating the plants, eating the fruits and vegetables of the plant, or eating other animals.

It is very common in nutritional discussions to shorten carbohydrates to carbs.

Why are carbohydrates important?

The first records of carbohydrate come from around 1865. It combines the combining form carbo-, which indicates something contains carbon, and the word hydrate, which indicates something contains or was made from water.

A healthy consumption of carbohydrates is an important part of nutrition. The right amount of carbohydrates varies from person to person, but when you take in the right balance, you’ll give your brain energy to think with, you’ll help ease digestion, and you’ll protect your body against diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

In regions where healthy foods are plentiful, people don’t usually have to worry about getting enough carbohydrates in their diet because many different foods contain them, including rice, beans, potatoes, milk, and oranges. Instead people often have to worry about eating too many carbohydrates or getting carbohydrates from too many foods with high amounts of fat and sugar, either of which can lead to many health problems, including excessive weight gain.

For example, both an orange and a three-layer chocolate cake contain carbohydrates, but one of these foods contains a large number of carbohydrates and saturated fats (hint: it isn’t the orange). For most people, the occasional piece of chocolate cake is a yummy treat, but eating oranges regularly is the healthier choice.

Did you know ... ?

You can usually recognize which foods you eat contain carbohydrates by checking if there is an -ose word in the ingredients. Glucose, fructose, and lactose are some common carbohydrates that are found in foods such as fruits or milk. We often use the words sugar, starch, and fiber to refer to the types of carbohydrates found in our foods.

What are real-life examples of carbohydrates?

This tweet shows some common foods such as bread, rice, and beans that contain a significant amount of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are in many of the foods we eat, and we need them to survive.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

When eaten in the right amounts, carbohydrates are an important part of nutrition.


How to use carbohydrate in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for carbohydrate

/ (ˌkɑːbəʊˈhaɪdreɪt) /

any of a large group of organic compounds, including sugars, such as sucrose, and polysaccharides, such as cellulose, glycogen, and starch, that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with the general formula C m (H 2 O) n : an important source of food and energy for animalsInformal term: carb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for carbohydrate

[ kär′bō-hīdrāt′ ]

Any of a large class of organic compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, usually with twice as many hydrogen atoms as carbon or oxygen atoms. Carbohydrates are produced in green plants by photosynthesis and serve as a major energy source in animal diets. Sugars, starches, and cellulose are all carbohydrates.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.