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Carbohydrates


Carbohydrates (also known as carbs and sugars) are simple organic molecules whose basic role in the body is to provide energy, because they represent the easiest and fastest way to get the required energy. The combustion of 1 g of these compounds releases 4.1 calories.

From the aspect of human nutrition, plants carbohydrates are of particular interest as nutrients. Vegetables and fruits are especially rich in these compounds while there are very low levels in animal tissues.

The most important roles of these compounds in the body are as follows:

  • Providing energy
  • Construction of glycoproteins and other important molecules
  • Providing protein binding to specific receptors through a process called protein glycosylation
  • Providing molecules necessary for metabolic processes

To better understand these compounds, we need to know their classification as well.

Carbohydrates are divided into the following groups:

  • Monosaccharides (contain only one molecule or one sugar, for example, glucose and fructose)
  • Disaccharides, which contain two molecules (e.g., lactose).
  • Oligosaccharides, which contain 2-10 molecules.
  • Polysaccharides, which contain more than 10 molecules (e.g. starch).

From the nutritional point of view, most important carbohydrates are monosaccharides and polysaccharides.

Monosaccharides (also known as simple sugars) are characterized by the fact that when they are entered through food, they are very fast and easily absorbed or used for energy production. While this sounds good (fast and easy providing of energy), this is actually the main reason for obesity.

The explanation is as follows.

By entering simple sugars, which are mostly found in almost all sweets, your body creates from them a large amount of energy (calories). However, since body cannot use all of that energy at once, it converts excess carbohydrates into fat, and deposits them. How much simple sugars release energy can be seen from the fact that if you eat only one little cake (of only 30 grams) you have to run as many as 4 miles to spend all the energy created from the cake. Simple sugars only provide energy and have no other benefits to the organism, and they are popularly called "empty calories".

Therefore, all nutrition guides and food pyramids recommend minimum intake of simple sugars.

Simple sugars are divided into two groups:

  • "Intrinsic" sugars, which are natural components of cells, especially of fruits and vegetables, such as fructose.
  • "Extrinsic" sugars, which are free in food or they are added to it (e.g. honey).

All sweets are counted as simple sugars. Some desserts (chocolate, ice cream, cakes and others) are favorite because they improve mood so you will easily get used to their regular intake. However, these concentrated sugars lead to a sudden jump in glucose levels, which causes a reaction of the body, and the recurrence of hunger very quickly. So, you will again reach for food and enter a vicious circle.

On the other hand, plant sources of carbohydrates are primarily rich in polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates (they are also called "good" carbohydrates). There are two groups of polysaccharides that are commonly found in plants:

  • Starch
  • Non-starch polysaccharides

Starch is the main carbohydrate in human nutrition and is created exclusively by plants. It consists of thousands of glucose molecules, and, in the body, by gradual decomposition under the influence of a number of enzymes, starch is decomposed into glucose, which is then used for energy production. Polysaccharides provide much less energy than monosaccharides and therefore food intake should be based on taking polysaccharides and avoiding monosaccharides.

Of non-starch polysaccharides, the most popular are dietary fibers which mainly originate from the plant cell wall. They have great importance for proper nutrition and good food digestion.

Recommended carb intake

Current recommendations include:

  • Complex carbohydrates should provide 55-70% of the required energy, while simple carbs should not be taken at all.
  • The upper limit for intake of simple carbs is 5% of the total energy requirements.
  • Dietary fibers should be taken in an amount of at least 30 g per day.

Therefore, it is important that you enter these compounds on a daily basis as they need to provide you most of the energy you need during the day, but it is important to eat complex carbs and to avoid simple carbs.