Carbohydrates are usually seen as the enemy when trying to lose weight. A lot of diets revolve around reducing carbohydrate intake, and while it does somehow affect weight, it is important to remember its essential functions to our body. There is more to carbs than being an additional pound or two. In this Ultimate Guide to Carbohydrates, we will dive deep to what carbohydrates are all about so you can further understand what it is all about.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, also known as ‘saccharides’ and ‘carbs’, are biomolecules that serve as a macronutrient in our body. It is one of our main sources to generate and transport energy, along with proteins and fats. Most foods and beverages contain these macronutrients in different proportions to sustain our body’s needs.
Although most people only associate carbs to bread and pasta, this food group is actually more complex than you might think. It has different types that provide different sustenance and function. Not all carbs are bad — it’s just a matter of knowing how to properly integrate them into your diet.
Key Functions of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have a bad reputation, however, most people seem to look past its benefits and primary functions. While many diets advocate for eliminating carbohydrates in your daily food intake, it is still important to know that these are vital for our body to properly function. Here are some of the key functions that carbohydrates play in our daily lives.
Provide and store energy
Carbohydrates provide and store energy for our body. Carbohydrates are broken down and our cells convert it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — known as fuel molecule — through a complex process called cellular respiration
Our body stores excess glucose in the form of glycogen in our liver and muscle. These stored molecules are released into our blood to provide energy and maintain sugar levels between meals. Additionally, stored glucose helps us function and get through rigorous activity and high-intensity exercise. Beware, though, as fats come in when there is too much glucose. This is the bad side of carbohydrates that most people know about, so make sure that you are aware of taking in carbs in moderation.
Prevents muscle loss
To make sure that we function properly, our body stores broken down glucose. Once we don’t have enough glucose in our system, our body tends to break down our muscles into amino acids. These amino acids are then further converted to glucose and other compounds to compensate for the energy that we are lacking. Having carbohydrates in our system would help us eliminate this scenario, letting us keep our muscle mass and still have enough energy to get through the day.
Help our digestive system
As we will discuss further, one type of carbohydrates is fiber, which promotes a healthier digestive tract. Soluble fiber, usually found in oats and legumes, helps in softening our stool making our bowel movements much easier. Some of its reported benefits include the improvement of stool consistency and the increase of the frequency of bowel movements. On the other hand, insoluble fibers found in whole grains and seeds of fruits and vegetables, are helpful to relieve constipation and make digestion move a little quicker in our digestive tract.
Types of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates consist of different types and do not only refer to what we usually associate with (starches and bread). Here are the major types of carbohydrates and what they look like:
Commonly referred to as “complex carbohydrates”, starches are made up of long chains of glucose, which are broken down by our body to produce energy. Some food that includes a lot of starch is corn, potatoes, lentils, and grains like oats and rice.
Usually referred to as “simple carbohydrates”, sugars are made up of one molecule (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide). Glucose, fructose (found in fruits like bananas, apples, and more), galactose (found in dairy), and sucrose are examples of such. Our body can get sugar either naturally or through added sugar that is included during the production of food. Because it is easily absorbed by the body, it is also commonly called a fast-acting carbohydrate.
Usually found through plant-based food like vegetables and nuts, this type of carbohydrate is found in the cellulose of a plant. Fiber is not digested or absorbed by our body and it simply passes through our intestines. However, it plays a huge role in our digestive system, helping us to feel full and satisfied after eating. It also helps our bowel movements become regular. Some great sources of fiber are grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates
When dietitians talk about carbohydrates, you may often hear “simple” and “complex” carbs. The main difference between simple and the complex carb is usually the amount of time it takes for our body to digest and absorb these carbohydrates, as well as its main chemical structure.
Carbohydrates are also known as “saccharides” — monosaccharides (one molecule) and disaccharides (two molecules) are simple carbs, while polysaccharides (multiple) are complex.
In simple terms, monosaccharide and disaccharide are sugars, which are consist of only one or two molecules. This means that simple carbs are a rapid source of energy, providing us an immediate surge of strength, but we also lose it quickly. This makes us eat more often, yet only feel energized in short bursts. Some samples of food that are simple carbohydrates are sugar, white bread, white rice, and candies.
On the other hand, long chains of glucose make up complex carbs. This means that eating this type of food will fill you up for longer periods of time. If you want to eat healthier, this is a great way to do so, as complex carbs are usually filled with vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Samples of this type of carbohydrate are vegetables, fruits, and wholemeal items.
Carbohydrates, despite its bad reputation, is not really detrimental for our body. In fact, it’s actually a vital food group that we have to regularly take. This way, we can make sure that we are properly energized, our body has enough nutrients to keep us going, and we have taken a good amount to properly function through our days.
While it is important for our body, we cannot discount the fact that it can also results in weight gain and complications, especially when we take too much simple carbs/sugar. As with everything, carbohydrates are good for us as long as we take it in moderation, and we do our best to choose better options on where we get our carbs.
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