Carbohydrates are the first and most efficient source of energy for vital processes in the body. Chemically, carbohydrates are a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. These are naturally manufactured in plants by a process called photosynthesis in the presence of air, water, sunlight and chlorophyll.
Carbohydrates consist of two types:
- Simple carbohydrates: These are readily digested and absorbed after being consumed. They are mostly found in fruits and refined products like candy. They consist of glucose, galactose, and fructose.
- Complex carbohydrates: These are found in all plant-based foods and take longer to digest. They include starch and cellulose.
Functions of Carbohydrates:
- Carbs are the least expensive source of energy in the body. Each gram of carbohydrate provides four calories of energy. At least 55%-60% of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates. However, it often ranges between 50%-70% in a typical person’s daily diet.
- Starches and sugars provide readily accessible energy for physical performance.
- Every nutrient plays its own role in providing nutrition to our bodies. When carbohydrates are adequately provided in the diet, they are utilized to fulfill basic energy needs. When the amount of carbs in your diet is not adequate, dietary protein is used as a source of energy. If this situation continues for a long period, muscle protein is also utilized and this process will put a lot of stress on the kidneys. The digestion of proteins also leads to the formation of ketone bodies which then accumulates in the blood and causes ketosis which may result in renal problems.
Therefore, carbohydrates spare proteins from being used as the source of energy and this is known as the “protein sparing action”. It occurs mostly during prolonged dieting, starvation, etc. Other functions of carbohydrates include:
- They helps in the metabolism of fats.
- The heart, which is a muscle, mainly uses glucose as the primary source of energy.
- Lactose (milk sugar) promotes the growth of desirable bacteria, some of which are useful in the synthesis of vitamin B-complex. It also enhances calcium absorption.
After carbohydrates are consumed they are converted to glucose, which is absorbed in the bloodstream and provides the body’s cells with energy for metabolic and physical activity. The extra amount of glucose is stored in the liver and muscle cells as glycogen, which provides extra energy when required. Any leftover glycogen is turned into fat globules and is stored in adipose tissue (body fat). A steady excess intake of carbohydrates in the diet will be converted into body fat.
A brisk walk for more than 30 minutes per day will help utilize glycogen which then targets the fat reserves for energy. So, a 45-60 minute brisk walk daily is great for losing weight!
The Effects of Cooking on Carbohydrates
Cooking facilitates the breakdown of starch granules and makes the digestion process easier in the small intestine. Raw starch from cereals is digested slowly. Raw starch from a banana (mainly unripe) and a potato passes 90% undigested through the small intestine.
Normal blood glucose levels are important for the brain and central nervous system, which depend on blood glucose for energy. After eating a meal containing carbohydrates, blood glucose levels (80-100mg/dl of blood) normally rise to 130-140mg/dl in one hour. However, after two hours after eating a meal, normal fasting blood glucose levels return. If the blood glucose levels fall to 30-50mg/dl, the condition called “hypoglycemia” occurs in which the brain is deprived of energy and the person experiences fatigue, irritation, sweating, headaches, etc. If the levels drop extremely low then fainting, coma and ultimately death may follow. So maintaining normal blood glucose levels is critical! The liver is the key organ in this process. Even when there are no carbohydrates in the diet, the liver along with the kidneys, undergoes a process called “gluconeogenesis” and converts non-carbohydrate substances into glucose.
Fiber is derived from plant cells which cannot be digested by the human body. Soluble fiber obtained from fruits and vegetables provides benefits like healthy skin and hair. Insoluble fiber obtained from legumes and whole wheat grains provides these benefits:
- Acts as a natural laxative.
- Gives the feeling of fullness.
- Prevents digestive disorders.
- Aids in intestinal movements.
- Bulks up the stool and makes it softer.
Excess Fiber in The Diet Can Lead To:
- Excess gas
- Can interfere with mineral absorption such as that of calcium and iron.
A balanced diet should contain around 15-25 grams of fiber per day.
Requirement of Carbohydrates
The minimum requirement of carbohydrates is 100 grams per day. However, in a balanced diet, 60% of total calories should come from carbohydrates.
Sources of Carbohydrates
Fruits, honey, sugar, malt products, milk and milk products, beans, processed foods, legumes, whole grains and bran are all good sources of carbohydrates. Here are some interesting facts about carbs:
- Pure sugar is an almost 100% carbohydrate source.
- Syrups, jellies and jams contain 65-80% carbohydrates.
- 100 grams of rice contains 78 grams of carbohydrates.
- 100 milliliters of skim milk powder has 51 grams of carbohydrates.
- 100 grams of potatoes has 23 grams of carbohydrates.
As you can see from the information above, carbohydrates are a very essential part of our daily diet and should be included in appropriate amounts to ensure enough energy supply and proper functioning for our body. It’s important to include more complex carbohydrates in your diet from nutrient dense sources like fruits and whole grains to prove your body with long-lasting energy!