Difference Between Carbohydrates and Lipids

Key difference - carbohydrates vs. lipids

Macronutrients are the nutrients that are needed in large quantities in food. They can be divided into three categories. They are carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. A carbohydrate is made up of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms, usually with a hydrogen to oxygen atomic ratio of 2: 1 (like in water). Carbohydrates are further divided into three groups, including monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. Both monosaccharides and disaccharides are water soluble, while polysaccharides are not soluble in water . In contrast, lipids are a diverse group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others. All of these compounds are not soluble in water. This is the main difference between carbohydrates and lipids. Both carbohydrates and lipids act as the main fuel and energy store in the human body. The biochemical metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids is closely related, but these macronutrients serve different purposes. In this article, let's discuss the difference between carbohydrates and lipids in terms of their purpose, chemical and physical properties. Difference Between Carbohydrates and Lipids - Infographic

What are carbohydrates

A carbohydrate is a macronutrient made up of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms. Similar to a water molecule, it has a hydrogen-oxygen atomic ratio of 2: 1 and its empirical formula is C m (H 2 O) n . Carbohydrates are also known as carbohydrates and are mainly found as polyhydroxyaldehyde and ketones . The concepts of the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load were developed to characterize high-carbohydrate eating behavior during human digestion in order to determine the rate and extent of their effects on blood sugar levels.

Difference Between Carbohydrates and Lipids

What are lipids?

Lipids are macronutrients that are mainly made up of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O). It is a hydrophobic or small amphiphilic molecule that is not soluble in water. Biological lipids come from two different types of biochemical subunits known as ketoacyl and isoprene groups.

Key difference - carbohydrates vs. lipids

Difference Between Carbohydrates and Lipids

The differences between carbohydrates and lipids can be divided into the following categories. They are;

Categories and examples

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are divided into the following subgroups;

  • Monosaccharides - glucose, fructose , galactose, xylose
  • Disaccharides - sucrose, lactose, maltose, trehalose
  • Polyols - sorbitol, mannitol
  • Oligosaccharides - maltodextrins, raffinose, stachyose, fructooligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides - amylose, cellulose , amylopectin, modified starch, hemicellulose, pectins, hydrocolloids

Lipid: Lipids are divided into the following subgroups;

  • Fatty acids - arachidonic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid
  • Glycerolipids
  • Glycerophospholipids - Phosphatidylcholine, Phosphatidylethanolamine, and Phosphatidylserine
  • Sphingolipids - Sphingomyelins, Cerebrosides, and Gangliosides.
  • Sterol lipids - testosterone and androsterone
  • Prenollipids - Quinones and Hydroquinones
  • Saccharolipids
  • Polyketides - Erythromycins, Tetracyclines, Avermectins

Calorie content

Carbohydrates: 4 calories of energy per gram of energy are generated in human cells when carbohydrates are broken down.

Lipid: 9 calories of energy per gram of energy are generated in human cells when lipids are broken down. Lipids provide more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates.


Carbohydrates: Most carbohydrate groups (except for polysaccharides) are water-soluble and hydrophilic in nature

Lipid: Lipids are insoluble in water because they are naturally hydrophobic

Digestion and absorption

Carbohydrates: Digestive enzymes from saliva, pancreas and small intestine act directly on sugar and starch in food and break down carbohydrates into simple sugars, so-called monosaccharides, which are absorbed into the bloodstream for distribution to organs and tissues. The cells absorb the simple sugar with the help of the hormone insulin.

Lipid: Lipid has a complex digestive process. The gallbladder releases the bile acid into the small intestine after food is ingested, and the bile helps break down large globules of lipid into microscopic droplets, which are then digested by pancreatic enzymes. Then the lining cells of the small intestine take up the digested fat particles and are transported by carrier proteins.

Important digestive enzyme

Carbohydrates: The most important digestive enzyme is α-amylase.

Lipid: The main digestive enzyme is lipase.

Primary functions in living organisms

Carbohydrates: The main functions of dietary carbohydrates are as follows;

  • Provision of energy for body organs and tissues
  • Development of structural components in animals and plants (e.g. cellulose in plants and chitin in arthropods)
  • Synthesis of coenzymes (e.g. ribose in ATP, FAD and NAD) and the backbone of the genetic molecule known as RNA
  • Function in the immune system, fertilization, prevention of pathogenesis and blood clotting
  • Synthesis of carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water through photosynthesis in plants

Lipid: The primary functions of dietary lipids are as follows;

  • Store energy in the cells
  • Facilitating the absorption and distribution of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Provides structural stability for cells and cushions vital organs such as kidneys, liver,
  • Cell signaling mechanisms
  • Synthesis of reproductive hormones

Primary functions in industry

Carbohydrates: The main functions of carbohydrates are as follows;

  • The complex carbohydrate starch used as the main ingredient in the manufacture of baked goods, noodles, and pasta
  • Starch is used as a thickener in sauces
  • Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, used in beverages, sweets, jams, and desserts

Lipid: The primary functions of lipids are as follows;

  • Used for cosmetics production
  • Wax production
  • Used as a lubricant in many industrial applications
  • Used for making emulsions
  • Production of edible oil and spreads

Natural sources of food


  • Wheat, corn, rice and barley contain starch (polysaccharides)
  • Fruits contain fructose and fiber
  • Milk contains lactose


  • Nuts such as peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts
  • Fruits like avocado
  • Seeds such as sunflower, flax and rapeseed
  • Legumes (soy)
  • fish and seafood

Health effects


  • Excessive consumption of refined sugar is linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity
  • Eating fiber such as cellulose, hemicellulose, pectins, and hydrocolloids can reduce the risk of colon cancer, constipation, type II diabetes, and obesity


  • High consumption of saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol and your risk of heart disease, as well as your risk of type II diabetes and obesity
  • Unsaturated fats have been linked to various health benefits, including reducing the risk of developing cancer, preventing cardiovascular disease, platelet aggregation, and high blood pressure. They have anti-inflammatory properties and lower levels of inflammation in the blood. However, some unsaturated fats have both anti-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties.

In summary, carbohydrates and lipids are primarily essential macronutrients and provide important nutrients for the daily diet. Carbohydrates are considered to be a simple source of fuel for cells, while lipids can store energy in adipose tissue for future use. However, excessive consumption of these macronutrients can be linked to harmful health effects.


Carbohydrates in the Human Diet - Chapter 1 - The role of carbohydrates in the diet. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO

Hunt SM, Groff JL, Gropper SA (1995). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Belmont, California: West Pub. Police officer. 98. ISBN 978-0-314-04467-9.

Joint WHO / FAO Expert Consultation (1998), Carbohydrates in the Human Diet, Chapter 1. ISBN 92-5-104114-8.

Maton, Anthea; Jean Hopkins; Charles William McLaughlin; Susan Johnson; Maryanna Quon Warner; David LaHart; Jill D. Wright (1993). Human biology and health. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall. Pp. 52-59

Vance JE, Vance DE (2002). Biochemistry of lipids, lipoproteins and membranes. Amsterdam: different. ISBN 978-0-444-51139-3.

About the author: Geesha

Geeshani holds a BSc (Hons) degree in Food Science and Technology and a Masters degree in Food and Nutrition. She is currently a PhD student at the Massey Institute of Food Science and Technology. Sharing what she has learned is one of her passions and she enjoys writing.