The relative contribution of nutrition-related chronic diseases to the total disease burden of the society and the health care costs has risen continuously over the last decades. Thus, there is an urgent necessity to better exploit the potential of dietary prevention of diseases. Carbohydrates play a major role in human nutrition - next to fat, carbohydrates are the second biggest group of energy-yielding nutrients. Obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipoproteinaemia, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease and cancer are wide-spread diseases, in which carbohydrates could have a pathophysiologic relevance. Correspondingly, modification of carbohydrate intake could have a preventive potential. In the present evidence-based guideline of the German Nutrition Society, the potential role of carbohydrates in the primary prevention of the named diseases was judged systematically. The major findings were: a high carbohydrate intake at the expense of total fat and saturated fatty acids reduces the concentrations of total, LDL and HDL cholesterol. A high carbohydrate consumption at the expense of polyunsaturated fatty acids increases total and LDL cholesterol, but reduces HDL cholesterol. Regardless of the type of fat being replaced, a high carbohydrate intake promotes an increase in the triglyceride concentration. Furthermore, a high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus, whereas a high dietary fibre intake, mainly from whole-grain products, reduces the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipoproteinaemia, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer at varying evidence levels. The practical consequences for current dietary recommendations are presented.