A nutritious diet is essential for our physical and mental health. Many nutrients are essential for this. Carbohydrates are one of these essential elements. It is useful for our health in many ways. This article is about carbohydrates only. Carbohydrates functions are important and you should not consider them as a bad and useless nutrients. In this article, we will learn about Carbohydrates, their Sources, Functions, and Benefits.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates provide energy to the body for mental and physical work throughout the day. Digesting or metabolizing carbohydrates breaks down foods into sugars, also called saccharides. These molecules start getting digested in the mouth. They are used throughout the body for everything from normal cell function to cell growth and repair. Some carbohydrates are called “good carbs”, while others are called “bad carbs”.
Types of Carbohydrates
To understand carbohydrates functions you need to know the atomic structure and different types of carbs. Carbohydrates are mainly divided into 3 parts. These include monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides are made up of only one polyhydroxy aldehydic or polyhydroxy ketonic unit. Glucose, galactose, or fructose are the major monosaccharides. The most plentiful monosaccharide is D-glucose, also called dextrose. Glucose is the principal origin of energy for cells. Galactose is found in milk and dairy products, and fructose is readily available in most vegetables and fruits.
Two monosaccharide units are found in a molecule of a disaccharide. Examples of major disaccharides are lactose, maltose, and sucrose. One molecule of galactose and glucose unite to form lactose. Lactose is commonly found in milk. Sucrose is produced naturally by plants through the process of photosynthesis.
Various forms of polysaccharides act as food stores in plants and animals. Polysaccharides serve as the structural unit of the plant cell wall and the outer skeleton of insects. A molecule of a polysaccharide consists of a chain of hundreds or thousands of monosaccharides. The major polysaccharides are glycogen, starch, cellulose, etc.
Glycogen is primarily stored in the liver and muscles of humans and animals. Some rich sources of starch are potatoes, rice, and wheat. Starches are not soluble in water. In humans and animals, amylase enzymes are used in the digestion of starch. Cellulose is a significant component of the structural parts of plants.
Simple and complex carbs
Monosaccharides and disaccharides are simple carbohydrates, whereas polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars. It provides energy with intensity and for a short time.
Complex carbohydrates consist of a long chain of sugar molecules. The fiber present in whole grains is a complex carbohydrate.
Both simple and complex carbs are transformed into glucose. A simple carb contains one or two sugar molecules, while a complex carb contains three or more sugar molecules. On the other hand, fiber is found in healthy carbs, but it is not digested. It is considered good for heart health and weight management.
What are the sources of carbohydrates?
Good sources of complex carbohydrates include:
- whole grains
- Masur lentils
Fiber is found in various healthful carbs such as:
- Fruits (apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries etc.)
- Vegetables (broccoli, beet, green peas etc.)
- whole grains
- beans etc.
Consuming fiber-rich, complex, and simple carbs can protect you from disease and help maintain a balanced weight. These carbs include most vitamins and minerals. At the same time, you should stay away from processed and refined carbohydrates as they are high in calories and low in nutrition. It can even contribute to the development of obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What are carbohydrate-rich foods?
Here are some carbohydrate-rich foods to include in your diet for good health:
- Brown rice
- Kidney beans
Carbohydrate serves as a structural unit of organisms. It is an essential nutrient for every living being and plant. Carbohydrates functions may include:
- Essential for lipid metabolism.
- Acts as a long-term food storage molecule (ATP) or energy product.
- Plays an important role in protein conservation.
- Carbohydrates can be converted by the liver into fatty acids and triglycerides, which are essential for health.
- It helps to provide shape to cells, tissues and organs.
- As the structural unit of RNA and DNA, in the form of ribose and deoxyribose, possesses genetic characteristics.
- Works as the principal fuel source for the huge energy demand of the brain.
- Acts as a protective membrane for organisms and cells.
- Contributes to the basic development of plants.
Benefits of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. They help feed your vital organs like the brain, kidneys, heart muscle, and nervous system. For example, fiber is a carbohydrate that aids in digestion and controls cholesterol levels in the blood. When you do not take enough carbohydrates in your diet, you can get many diseases. A diet deficient in carbohydrates can cause fatigue, headache, difficulty concentrating, weakness, nausea, vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the body.
Disadvantages of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate is the principal source of energy for our body. Its limited intake is necessary for a person to remain healthy. But excessive consumption of carbohydrates has the opposite effect on health. Consuming irregular amounts of carbohydrates can pose a variety of risks, including:
- Simple carbohydrates can increase the risk of obesity in individuals with a lack of physical activity and a high intake of junk food.
- Excessive consumption of carbohydrates can also cause diabetes. When a person consumes carbohydrates, it is broken down through the digestive system into glucose. This glucose enters the blood and increases the level of blood sugar or glucose. If glucose is produced in excess, the insulin released by the pancreas is unable to absorb the glucose levels. Due to which the problem of diabetes arises.
- A high carbohydrate diet or refined grains can lead to obesity problems. Therefore, an increase in fat can increase the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and stroke.
- Excess intake of carbohydrate or sugar-rich diet helps in increasing the triglyceride level in the body. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the body’s adipose tissue and bloodstream. Therefore, high amounts of triglyceride can increase the risk of heart disease.
Part of the Diet for Weight Loss Editorial Team 2021