Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients in our diet, along with proteins and fats. They are essential for providing energy to the body, especially to the brain, nervous system, and muscles. Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
1. Simple carbohydrates: Simple carbohydrates, also known as sugars, are made up of one or two sugar molecules. They are easily and quickly digested and absorbed by the body, which can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Some common sources of simple carbohydrates include table sugar, honey, fruit juice, and soda.
There are two types of simple carbohydrates:
- Monosaccharides: Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrates and are made up of one sugar molecule. Examples of monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
- Disaccharides: Disaccharides are made up of two sugar molecules. Examples of disaccharides include sucrose (table sugar), lactose (found in milk), and maltose (found in beer and some cereals).
2. Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides, are made up of many sugar molecules linked together. They take longer to digest and absorb than simple carbohydrates, which can help to provide a steady source of energy over a longer period of time. Some common sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.
There are two types of complex carbohydrates:
- Starches: Starches are complex carbohydrates found in foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread. They are made up of many glucose molecules linked together in long chains.
- Fiber: Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the body. It passes through the digestive system largely intact, helping to promote healthy digestion and bowel regularity. Some common sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Function of carbohydrates
The functions of carbohydrates in the body include:
- Energy production: Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. They are broken down into glucose, which is used by the body’s cells to produce ATP, the energy currency of the body.
- Brain function: The brain depends on glucose as its primary source of energy. A lack of glucose can cause mental fatigue, dizziness, and confusion.
- Regulation of blood sugar: Carbohydrates are important in regulating blood sugar levels. They are broken down into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream, and insulin helps to transport glucose into the cells for energy production.
- Digestive health: Fiber, a type of carbohydrate, is important for digestive health. It helps to regulate bowel movements, prevent constipation, and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Sources of carbohydrates
Sources of carbohydrates include:
- Grains: Grains such as wheat, rice, oats, and barley are rich in complex carbohydrates. They provide energy and are also a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Fruits: Fruits are a good source of simple carbohydrates, such as fructose. They are also a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Vegetables: Vegetables are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Legumes: Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans, are a good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.
- Dairy products: Milk and other dairy products contain lactose, a type of simple carbohydrate.
- Sugars and sweeteners: Table sugar, honey, maple syrup, and other sweeteners are simple carbohydrates that are often added to foods and beverages for flavor.