Carbohydrates are classified into two major types: simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are made up of a single, basic sugar unit. Simple carbohydrates are single sugars that are easy to digest. They can be found in food substances such as milk, honey, fruits, etc. Carbohydrates are further classified into monosaccharides or disaccharides.
Monosaccharides are often called single or simple sugars and are the simplest of all carbohydrates. They are the building blocks of all higher carbohydrates. Monosaccharides are aldehydes or ketones and generally contain two or more hydroxyl groups. They are the important fuel molecules needed by our body and cannot be hydrolyzed into smaller carbohydrates. All the monosaccharides have a general molecular formula: (CH2O)n.
Monosaccharides are further classified based on the number of carbon atoms in a molecule, into trioses, when the carbohydrate contains 3 carbon atoms, tetroses, when the carbohydrate contains 4 carbon atoms, pentoses, if the carbohydrate contains 5 carbon atoms, and so on. There is another system of classification of these compounds, which is based on the placement of its carbonyl group. The monosaccharide is called an aldose if its carbonyl group is an aldehyde, and it is a ketose if the carbonyl group is a ketone. These two systems are often combined and the monosaccharides are known as aldotriose, aldotetrose, ketotriose, ketotetrose and so on.
Disaccharides consist of two sugar units linked by covalent bonds. The covalent bond that holds the two sugars together is known as glycosidic linkage. It is formed by a condensation reaction that takes place between the two sugars, resulting in the loss of a hydrogen atom from one monosaccharide and a hydroxyl group from the other. Disaccharides are broken down into smaller monosaccharides, in the small intestine during the process of digestion.
Some examaples of common disaccharides are as follows:
- Sucrose = Glucose + Fructose
- Lactulose = Galactose + Fructose
- Lactose = Galactose + Glucose
- Maltose = Glucose + Glucose
- Cellobiose = Glucose + Glucose
Let us have a look at some other rare disaccharides:
Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrates and are used very quickly by the cells; however, a cell may not need all the energy at one time and may have to store it. This is done by first converting the monosaccharides into disaccharides by condensation reactions and then further into polysaccharides that can be stored in the body. These are then broken down by hydrolysis whenever energy is required.