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What is Carbohydrate? – A Complete picture, Simple & Complex Types, Basics, Foods, Digestion

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Carbohydrates

Hello chums!👋🏼 In our daily lives, we hear every where about carbohydrates, like
“Cut your carbs”¬† and ‘High carbs – Low carbs’ slogans. Well, what are these carbs ( carbohydrates)? What do they do in our body? Do we really need to reduce their intake? Let me tell you all these,

Chemists explain carbs as

Carbon + Hydrogen + oxygen= Carbohydrates.

Chemically all nutrients are made up of elements.
You are right! Elements in our periodic table 😀

Some of these elements are really essential for living cells. Like Carbon(14), Nitrogen(7), Oxygen (8), Phosphorus (15), Sodium(11), Calcium (21)etc.

All these elements are made up of atoms and combine with others to form compounds.


Compounds with carbon are Organic and
without carbon are Inorganic

 

  • This is how we divide our wastes too. Waste of fruits, vegetables, bones all are biodegradable (Organic). Because, they emit carbon dioxide or methane when decomposed.
  • Where as wastes like bottles, sand are inorganic.

In a nutshell:

Carbohydrates are organic compounds or nutrients(macro) made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen that are essential for our body and is available in the food we eat.

Types of carbohydrates:

They are widely found in plant foods and divided into two main types.

  • Available carbohydrates
  • Non- available carbohydrates


What is the difference?

Carbohydrates are generally made up of small units like glucose or fructose. Basing on these units, available carbohydrates are divided into sugars and starches.

Sugars

Our table sugar and all sugar Containing foods are carbohydrates, containing two units. Sugar = 1 unit of Glucose(G) +1 unit of Fructose (F).

Sugar contains, only two units. So it is a Simple carbohydrate, which is easy to digest and raises blood glucose levels quickly.

 

Starches

When many units of glucose form a long straight chain or a branched Chain (structurally), is called a Starch.

As starches containing hundreds of single units, they are called as Complex carbohydrates.They take time to digest, slowly raise the blood sugar levels when compared to simple carbohydrates.

Now guess, what starches are?
All our daily foods like Wheat, Rice, maize are all starches.

  • These sugars and starches come under avalaible carbohydrates. As they are digestible in human digestive tract and can be available to body for its functions.
  • The second type of carbohydrates which is not digestible in human tract and is not available for body is called the Non-available carbohydrate also known as Fibre.

 

Carbohydrates Chart

Let me tell you again.

  • Carbohydrates like Sugar and Starches are digestible and available to our body, so called as available carbohydrates.
  • Carbohydrate like Fibre is not digestible and unavailable to our body, so called as Non-available carbohydrates.

Functions of carbohydrates

There are three major functions and Carbohydrates, in common refer to available type.

1. Energy production
2. Protein sparing action
3. Utilisation of fats

Will explain these, simply to you

  1. Energy production: This is the main function of them. If 1 gram of carbs is digested in our body, with the help of enzymes, it produces 4 kilo calories of energy. They are the best and cheapest way to get energy. Almost 60-70% of our diet must contain carbohydrates.
  2. Protein sparing action: This is nothing but, carbohydrates letting proteins, to do their function. A low carbohydrate intake leads to breaking of protein, in order to compensate energy production in the body. This is a loss to the body because, when protein is broken down for energy production, it cannot perform basic functions like growth and development of body. So a sufficient intake of carbohydrates helps in sparing protein functions.
  3. Utilisation of fats: Some amount of carbohydrate is needed for the utilisation of fats in the body. Low intake of carbohydrates leads to fat break down. Well, it may seem as a benefit, as fat is breaking down here. But the truth is, it is harmful.Breaking down of fat shouldn’t take place in such circumstances. Fat breakdown can also occur with required intake of carbohydrates and proper activity. But when it occurs in deficiency of carbs, it results in excess breakdown leading to accumulation of
    by-products of fat, Which is harmful to health.

To know the functions of fibre, Check here

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Mechanism of Carbohydrate Digestion:

The sugar or starches we take in, digest into simpler form called Glucose. This digestion starts from our mouth itself. The saliva in our mouth contains an enzyme called Amylase which can digest carbohydrates.

The more you chew in mouth, the more it gets digested. As there are no carbohydrate digesting enzymes in the stomach, Intestines digest the food, taking mylase from Pancreas. Further digestion takes place in the intestinal cells and break them into Glucose, Fructose and Galactose.

All these are broken into glucose in tissues and cells. Here they may enter into three different areas. They are:

  • Some amount of glucose remains in the blood and utilised when ever needed by cells.
  • The other amount of glucose left in cells is burnt into energy. This burning process is done by oxygen and so called as oxidation, which takes place in many steps.
  • The extra glucose which is not used for burning is stored into liver and muscles as glycogen.

 


Do you know? Only a limited amount of glucose can be stored as glycogen, when limit exceeds, it is converted into fat and stored in the body.

 

So now, Let’s quickly check at the foods where carbohydrates are found.

Food Sources of Carbohydrates:

Sugars> Cereals> Roots and Tubers > Fruits is the descending order of availability of carbs. Fruits are low in carbohydrates and rich in minerals and vitamins.


Do you know? Cane Sugar has 99.5g of carbohydrates per 100gms, Jaggery has 95g and honey has 79g. Wheat and rice contains about 70-80g of carbohydrates according to the nutritional value information by NIN.

 

List of Foods :
  • Cane Sugar, Jaggery, honey,
  • Cereals like rice, wheat,
  • Roots and tubers like potato, sweet potato, tapioca,
  • Fruits like bananas, sapotas, mangoes contain carbohydrates.
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Conclusion :

Carbohydrates are really essential for the energy production in the body with out which, we can’t even live.

But I met my patients, with overweight issues, cutting down all their carb intake. Which is really dangerous.

So the only solution is knowing what a balanced diet is.

Very important note: Diet differs with every human being. No two individuals have same health issues, same symptoms, same diet requirements, same family inheritance. It all differs with every being.

Knowing what your body needs is the best achievement you can ever think of. If you are in a plan to cut carbs, then go in a plan and don’t ever cut them blindly. Some foods that you are thinking to be dangerous may not be dangerous and viceversa.

I would really love to guide you guys in that aspect. Check out for Balanced Diet.

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