In the quest to lose weight, the first thing most of us end up cutting from our diet is carbohydrates. Unfortunately, we make a grave mistake by limiting the amount of this essential dietary requirement.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the four major classes of organic compounds in living cells. They are produced during photosynthesis and are the main source of energy in plants and animals. Carbohydrates are something that we should consume on a daily basis, but the nutritionist’s advice on this is varied. While some nutritionists advise ingestion of a large amount of carbohydrates, some are of the view that only a moderate amount of carbohydrates should be consumed. While carbohydrates are not the only means of getting the fuel to produce energy, it is considered the most efficient dietary component and the most preferred source of energy. Our 80% energy requirement is met by carbohydrates.
Classification Of Carbohydrates Chart:
Carbohydrate chart is classified as Simple and Complex carbohydrates. This classification is dependent on the chemical structure of the food and how quickly it gets absorbed by the body. Simple carbohydrates have single or double sugars in their chemical structure while complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars.
1. Simple Carbohydrates:
Simple carbohydrates have a simple molecular structure and are made up of 1 or 2 sugar molecules. These are carbs laden foods that can be digested easily by the system due to their simple structure. On consumption, these sugars are quickly absorbed by the body in the form of glucose. Glucose provides instant energy as soon as it reaches different parts of the body through blood. Although simple carbohydrates provide instant energy, they are needed to be consumed in moderation to prevent elevation in blood sugar level. They also increase the amount of fat in the body, which if not burnt or used can lead to obesity and other health issues.
Simple carbohydrates are also referred to as bad carbohydrates. These provide fewer nutrients like vitamins and minerals. These carbohydrates are obtained from refined and packaged sugar, honey, milk and fruit juices.
2. Complex Carbohydrates:
Complex carbohydrates comprise of a long chain of sugar molecules. These take a comparatively longer time to convert into sucrose and glucose, hence they require more time for digestion compared to simple carbohydrates. This slow breakdown process provides us with energy for a longer duration of time. Since these carbohydrates require more time for conversion, they are in constant use in the body.
These carbohydrates are called good carbohydrates. They release energy into the body steadily and provide more than what each of us needs from our daily diet. Foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, oats and pastas provide us with the good carbs. Complex carbs are healthier than simple carbs and should take up a major part of our diet.
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Chemical Composition of Carbohydrates:
Based on the chemical composition, there are four major classes of carbohydrates:
Mono refers to single and saccharides refer to sugar. These are the basic compounds of cyclic structure and consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio 1:2:1. The common monosaccharides include glucose, fructose and galactose.
Glucose is the main sugar which is metabolized by the body to produce energy. Galactose is identical to glucose in structure except for one hydroxyl group of carbon atom. Galactose is found in small quantities and combines with glucose to form lactose with milk. Fructose has the same chemical formula as glucose but has a completely different 3 dimensional structure. The difference is that fructose is a ketone in its linear form while glucose is an aldehyde. Fructose is absorbed and converted into energy in the same manner as lactose on consumption.
Disaccharides are commonly found in nature and are formed by a condensation reaction where one molecule is released during the joining of two sides. Disaccharides ideally come under oligosaccharides but due to their comparatively simple structure, they are classified as a different class of carbohydrates. They include lactose, sucrose, trehalose, cellubiose and maltose.
Oligosaccharides are carbs with two or more basic types of sugar molecules and are between 3 to 10 basic units. They are composed of repeating units of glucose, fructose and galactose and hold nutritional importance as well. These cannot be metabolized by the small intestine. They are often metabolized by bacteria in the large intestine to form unwanted gaseous by-products. Their main role is to store glucose. The two types of Oligosaccharides are raffinose and stachyose.
Polysaccharides are monomers and consist of more than 3000 units of sugar molecules. They are used for storing large amounts of glucose. Ingestible form of polysaccharides is known as dietary fiber. It comes in many forms like pectin, gum, cellulose and hemi cellulose. Cellulose is the cell wall material which is not digested by humans. It provides roughage in the diet.
Recommended Daily Allowance of Carbohydrates:
A normally healthy adult requires around 130 – 200 gms of carbohydrates per day. The RDA should be increased in case of sportsmen, lactating mothers, mountaineers and labourers. It is advisable to get 40% to 60% of calories from carbohydrates, preferably from starches and natural sugars.
This number can vary depending on your diet. Based on the 40 – 60% rule of calorie requirement from carbs, a woman following the 1600 calorie diet needs 130 gms, while one following the 2000 calorie diet needs 225 gms, and so on.
To increase your intake of complex carbohydrates, include foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grain rice, wheat, breads and legumes like beans, lentils and peas in your diet. Avoid foods that are processed like refined sugars and syrups which provide very less nutrition and are high in calories.
List Of Carbohydrate Sources:
Food contains 3 types of carbohydrates that include sugar, starch and dietary fiber.
Starch is a complex carbohydrate which is made up of a long complex chain of simple sugars. It is necessary for starch to be broken down by the body before the body can use it as a glucose source. Starch has a higher glycemic index than sugar. People who are sensitive to sugar should avoid starchy foods since most starchy foods are broken down into sugar. Starch is found in certain vegetables like potatoes, beans, corn’s cereals and breads.
Sugar is simple carbohydrate which tastes very sweet. Common sugars are sucrose (cane sugar), glucose (grapes) and lactose (milk). All of these are ultimately broken into glucose which is transported to various parts of the body through blood. It is this glucose which is injected into blood to give instant energy. Excess of glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and as fats in body sugars.
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Dietary fibers are carbs that cannot be digested by us. They pass through the body without being broken down into sugar. They are low in calories and help to carry out the digestion process smoothly. Even though our body does not get any energy from fiber, it is anyway essential to keep us healthy. Dietary fiber is also required to regulate blood sugar levels. It also lowers the cholesterol level and promotes proper digestion. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grain foods.
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Healthy and Unhealthy Carbohydrates:
Healthy carbohydrates include natural sugar in fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, dietary fiber, starches in whole grain foods, beans, peas and corns.
Unhealthy carbohydrates include corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose, lactose, maltose, honey, sugar, brown sugar, molasses, and malt syrup. You should also limit your intake of potatoes as our body rapidly digests starch and can raise the blood sugar level in the body.
Uses of Carbohydrates:
- One of the most important functions of carbohydrates is to supply energy and ensure proper functioning of the body. It also helps other essential nutrients like proteins and vitamins to perform their function properly. Carbohydrates help to produce both sucrose and glucose. These absorb and convert energy in the body, especially to the brain and nervous system. An enzyme known as amylase helps to breakdown the carbohydrates into glucose which is further used as energy by the body.
- Carbohydrates are very important for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. For this function, it uses blood glucose as its main fuel source. Glucose, the simplest form of carbohydrates, is used rapidly during mental activities. Mental activity and concentration drains glucose from the part of our brain which is associated with memory and learning. The brain is fuelled by carbohydrates which help a person to think, live and take action. Thus, it is crucial to maintain proper sugar level for normal brain functioning. Carbohydrates are also required to monitor and regulate the nerve tissues which are connected to the brain.
- Carbohydrates act as a bio fuel for the body. Glucose is broken down by carbohydrates to produce water and carbon dioxide, and the energy released during this process governs the functioning of the cells.
- Carbohydrates are great anti-coagulants. They prevent the body from intravascular clotting, which is a serious form of clotting. The glycoprotein and sugar released in the breakdown of carbohydrates ensures a smooth flow of this process. The glycoprotein released during this process makes the blood immune to several diseases and ailments. This is mainly due to the oligosaccharide properties of the protein that aids in this process. Thus, carbohydrates also function as an antigen.
- An increased intake of carbohydrate rich foods ensures fertility in women. Carbohydrates control and regulate hormones such as Follicle Stimulating Hormones and luteinizing hormones. These are imperative components in the reproduction process. It also ensures proper ovulation and a healthy urine system. Thus, it helps in increasing the chances of conceiving in women.
- Carbohydrates also aid in the proper functioning of gastro intestinal areas. The lactose which is released promotes the growth of a type of bacteria in the small intestine which brings about the synthesis of certain B complex vitamins. Lactose also helps in proper absorption of calcium in the body. Calcium, combined with fiber, ensures that the gastro intestinal areas function properly. Cellulose provides fiber and bulk, which helps in the stimulation of peristaltic movement of the gastrin tract.
- Carbohydrates also have an important impact on proteins. They are known as “protein sparing.” This means that carbohydrates protect the proteins from being converted into glucose to serve as an energy source when glycogen and plasma glucose level decrease in the body. Instead, energy is derived from carbohydrates and fatty acids. This process is called gluconeogenesis. This is turn leads to the release of hormone glucagon.
- A proper supply of carbohydrates prevents hypoglycemia, commonly known as blood sugar.
- Complex carbohydrate sources like vegetables and whole grains are a good source of fiber too. Dietary fibers like cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin and mucilage are important carbohydrates for several reasons. The consumption of soluble and non-soluble fibers makes the elimination of waste much easier.
- Carbohydrates are also required for fat oxidation. Fats tend to burn in the carbohydrate fire. In the absence of carbohydrates they cannot be oxidized by the body to yield energy. Thus, breakdown of oxalacetic acid is essential for the oxidation of acetate (which is the breakdown of the fats).
- Adequate consumption of fiber reduces the risk of developing coronary diseases, improves cholesterol levels and maintains weight. People who include fiber rich foods in their diet are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, oral, throat, and colon and lung cancers. This can be made possible if a regular supply of restricted carbohydrates is provided to the system.
- Carbohydrates add to the taste, variety and appearance of the food, making the dish more tempting and mouth-watering. Since they are non-irritant and easily digestible when cooked, they form the staple food of human beings.
- Carbohydrates not only serve nutritional function but play an equally important role in cellular recognition process. Many immunoglobulin’s and peptide hormones contain glycoprotein sequences. These sequences are composed of amino acids that are linked to carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are essential to every living being and are mandatory to maintain the proper balance of the body. They have often been accused of being associated with weight gain and unwanted glucose in the body. The negative effects can often be minimized if you can correct the consumption pattern.
Diabetic patients are advised to avoid over consumption of carbohydrates. Decrease the consumption of starchy foods like breads and pasta. Alternatively, increase the intake of fresh vegetables. This will help to keep the blood sugar level under control while still providing plenty of energy producing material for the body to work with.
Do not cut off carbohydrates from your diet completely. Make sure you follow this food list of carbohydrates and consume them in the prescribed amount to stay healthy and fit!
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