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The Function of Carbohydrates in Our Life

Carbohydrates are called carbohydrates because the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen they contain are usually in the formation ratio with the general formula Cn(H2O)n. Plants use sunlight (photosynthesis) to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen.

Carbohydrates are classified into mono, di, tri, poly and heterosaccharides. The smallest carbohydrates are monosaccharides such as glucose, but polysaccharides such as starch, cellulose and glycogen can be large and irregular in length.

Carbohydrates: Mainly sugars and starches, together make up one of the three main types of nutrients used by the body as sources of energy (calories). Carbohydrates can also be defined chemically as neutral compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Carbohydrates come in simple forms such as sugar and in complex forms such as carbohydrates and fiber. The body breaks down most sugars and starches into glucose, a simple sugar that the body can use to feed its cells. Complex carbohydrates are made from plants. Dietary intake of complex carbohydrates can lower blood cholesterol when they are substituted for saturated fat.

Carbohydrates are classified into mono, di, tri, poly and heterosaccharides. The smallest carbohydrates are monosaccharides such as glucose, but polysaccharides such as starch, cellulose and glycogen can be large and irregular in length.

Main Functions of Carbohydrates

  • When your body needs energy, it first looks to carbohydrates.
  • If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your body will look to other sources of energy, such as the proteins found in muscle tissue. However, proteins are sources of energy for the body.
  • Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for all organisms.
  • They provide energy and serve as a form of energy storage.
  • Carbohydrates such as glucose, fructose, starch, glycogen, etc. provide energy for the work of living organisms.
  • Carbohydrates also maintain your muscles and help regulate the amount of sugar circulating in your blood so that all cells get the energy they need.
  • Carbohydrates are involved in cellular functions such as cell growth, adhesion and fertilization.

Food Sources of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple and complex. Both are made up of sugar units. The difference is how many sugar units they have, and how they bond together.

Examples of simple sugars from food include fructose (found in fruits) and galactose (found in dairy products). Double sugars include lactose (found in dairy), maltose (found in some vegetables and beer) and sucrose (table sugar). Honey is also a double sugar, but unlike table sugar, it contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals.

  • Complex carbohydrates release energy slowly and usually contain fiber. These “healthy” forms of carbohydrates include whole wheat bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, whole grains, and fruits.
  • Simple carbohydrates are sugars that give you instant energy and usually have no nutritional value. Simple carbohydrates that contain vitamins and minerals are found naturally in: fruits, milk and milk products, vegetables. Simple carbohydrates are also found in processed and refined sugars* such as: candy, table sugar, syrups (not including natural syrups such as maple), regular carbonated drinks.

* Refined sugars provide calories, but lack vitamins, minerals and fiber. Such simple sugars are often referred to as “empty calories” and lead to weight gain. Also, many refined foods, such as white flour, sugar, and refined rice, are deficient in B vitamins and other important nutrients unless they are labeled “rich.” It is healthiest to get carbohydrates, vitamins and other nutrients in the most natural way possible – from fruit instead of table sugar.

Daily Use of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates usually make up 45 – 60% of your total calorie intake.

Allowable carbohydrate levels can vary depending on activity level. The daily amount is from 20 to 70 grams.

However, 70 grams per day is very generous and is usually only for those who do weight training in addition to cardio.

A normal amount of low carb for weight loss is 20 to 50 grams per day. You need to determine how strict you need to be; the best way is to experiment and discover how well it works for you as an individual.

There really isn’t a minimum daily requirement for carbs, but they have lots of beneficial phytochemicals and fiber, so eating some is fine (as long as they’re unrefined/unprocessed).

Food Security

If you eat too many carbohydrates and participate in little or no physical activity, these excess carbohydrates will be converted and stored in the body as fat – leading to weight gain and other health risks.

My next article titled “The Function of Protein in Our Lives” will explore the role of protein in good nutrition.

See you at the ends of the earth,

Kevin McNabb

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