Biology

Functions, types and uses of carbohydrates

Functions, types and uses of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are molecules that are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that make up their short name CHO. Here Hydrogen and Oxygen are present in the same ratio as found in water (H2O). It is a form of macronutrient that is found in food items in different forms, including sugars, scratches, and soluble or insoluble fiber.

Our body takes in carbohydrates and utilizes them in the form of glucose, which is the main energy source for many of our bodily functions. Some of the glucose obtained by the body is used really to provide energy, but some of it is stored in the liver to be used later when the body is in need of glucose but isn’t provided from an outer source. So the body utilizes the stored form of glucose.

Since glucose is used to provide energy to the body, it is also commonly known as blood sugar. 

Complex and simple carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are usually divided into two main types that are complex and simple. Basically, the main difference between these two is the body’s ability to digest them differently. It takes a bit more time for the body to digest the complex carbohydrates, and it causes less rise in blood glucose. On the other hand, simple carbohydrates are more readily absorbed by the body, but these are known to cause an immediate rise in blood sugar levels. 

Complex and simple carbohydrates

Monosaccharide:

Simple carbohydrates that only have one molecule of sugar in their structure are known as monosaccharides (Mono: one - Saccharide: sugar). Examples of these carbohydrates include glucose, fructose, and galactose. 

Disaccharide:

These are the type of simple carbohydrates that contain two different types of sugars in their molecule hence the name disaccharide (Di: two - Saccharide: sugar). 
Examples include lactose (which contains glucose and galactose), sucrose (which contains glucose and fructose), and maltose (which contains two molecules of glucose)

Polysaccharide:

These are the type of carbohydrates that contain more than two forms of sugars present in them. It might have chains of either the same type of sugar (Homopolysaccharide) or chains of different types of sugars (heteropolysaccharide). 
Examples include starch, cellulose, and fiber.

Sugar:

It is a simple type of carbohydrate, and since it is easily and readily broken down by the body to be consumed, sugars are known to alleviate the blood sugar levels at a more rapid rate than other forms of carbohydrates.
These are the fundamental blocks of carbohydrates. These occur in the foods we consume either naturally, like fruits and vegetables, or milk in the form of fructose and lactose, or they can be added artificially to the foods like candies. Sugar consumed in any form is broken down to glucose in the body to be consumed or stored.

Starches

These are complex types of carbohydrates. Since it takes longer for the body to break down the starches into glucose to be absorbed and consumed, this keeps the stomach full for a while, and this is why after eating starches, we are left with a feeling of fullness for a longer time period. These are usually found and foods including potatoes, cereal, pasta, and whole grains.
Since starch is also broken down to glucose and our main food portions are starchy foods, most of our energy for body functions comes from starch.

Fiber

These are the types of complex carbohydrates that are found mostly in plants, and most of the fiber can not be digested by the body. It is simply passed down to the large intestine, and then it goes out of the body, taking some toxins with it as well. It has many health benefits because it makes the stomach feel full for a longer time period, so we don’t overeat. Its presence in the body helps to keep the blood sugar level in a normal range hence preventing diabetes and heart disease. It also helps to keep the bowel movement normal and provides relief in constipation by adding bulk to the stool.
It is found in several plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.

Functions of carbohydrates in the body

Carbohydrates are one of the most important parts of the daily meal. There are several functions that are performed by the carbohydrates, as mentioned below:
  • It is one of the main sources of energy for the body. Most carbohydrates that we consume are then converted into glucose that is used by the body for energy. 
  • They provide energy in the form of stored energy. The excess glucose in the body that is not to be utilized right away goes to the liver to be stored up to the point when it is needed by the body.
  • When we consume carbohydrates in the form of fiber, it proves to be very beneficial for digestive health. It improves the movement of waste products in and from the body. 
  • When glucose is converted into ribose and deoxyribose, it is used in this form to make up DNA and RNA. In this way, they are used as building blocks of these components.
  • Almost all sugars vary in the amount of sweetness that they offer. Some sugars are sweeter than others. In this way, when we want to add a sweet taste to the food we are consuming, we can add a form of carbohydrates like fructose to that.
  • They provide the feeling of fullness and satiety for a longer time period, and in this way, consuming carbohydrates can help in lowering excessive eating patterns to moved towards a healthy diet.

What is a glycemic index?

A Glycemic index is a tool or system that is created to manage the sugar levels in a certain food. A particular number is allotted to the foods that contain carbohydrates. The number is an indication of how much blood sugar level will be raised after consuming this food. Some foods have a low glycemic index. 
It helps to keep the sugar level of food in check. It is a very important tool, especially for people who want to take lower levels of sugar in their food, like people with diabetes. They can avoid or lessen the intake of food if the glycemic index of that food is high.

Levels of glycemic index

The GI has three main levels, and these are formulated on the basis of sugar present in a food.

LOW GI:

This level includes food that has a glycemic index between 1 to 55. Examples of foods in this category are Broccoli, legumes, peas, and strawberries.

MEDIUM GI:

This level includes foods that have a glycemic index between 56-69. Examples of foods in this category are Pineapples, bananas, sweet corn, and oats.

HIGH GI:

This is the final and highest level of GI, with the foods that alleviate the blood sugar level at maximum. It includes food with a glycemic index above 70

HIGH GI

RDA for carbohydrates

Although there is not a set amount of RDA for the carbohydrates that fits all categories alike, there are several things that are kept in consideration while allocating a certain amount of RDA for carbs for a person. Some people require fewer carbs in their diet, like those with diabetic conditions or those trying to lose weight, while some require more, like those who are trying to gain weight. Based on gender, disease, age, and some other factors, RDA for carbohydrates varies from person to person.
Generally, it has been declared that from an overall diet plan, 45-65% of the portion should come from carbohydrates in any form since they will break down to glucose in the end. 
Other than this, the brain requires 130g of glucose daily, so it should be ensured that 130g of carbohydrates are being taken in.

RDA for carbohydrates

How can carbohydrates cause diabetes?

Whenever sugar enters our body in the form of glucose, the pancreas is signaled by the body to release insulin that is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar levels. 
A few recent pieces of research have revealed that consuming a lot of carbohydrates in the diet can be a risk factor for the development of diabetes in a person. 
Although the root cause for this chronic disease either lies somewhere in genetics or other health conditions like obesity, too many carbs, especially the diet that has carbohydrates more in the form of sugars other than fiber, are also considered a cause of diabetes. 

When we consume too many carbohydrates, the body is compelled to release more insulin, to a point when the cells that release insulin are destroyed, and they get ruined due to constant release. When the cells are damaged, and insulin is not released in response to spiked levels of blood sugar, then it eventually leads to diabetes. Hence, carbohydrate consumption in an unmonitored form can lead to diabetes in some people.

Limiting the risk factor

Usually, the problem arises when the carbohydrates are taken in the wrong amount and in the wrong formation. The main thing that matters is that you have added the right amount to your daily diet. Try to eat those forms of carbohydrates that contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals so that a balanced diet order can be created. These can include foods from different food groups like fruits, vegetables, cereals, and whole grains. 
Consuming carbs in wrong form can lead to other diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
You can follow a Mediterranean diet that is actually plant-based; hence it includes carbohydrates in a form that is not so harmful to the body, yet it provides the body with enough amount of glucose to provide it with the energy it requires. So the best way to limit the risk factor of consuming carbohydrates is to make sure that you consume the right form and right amount of the foods.

Low-carb diets

People usually go for a low-carb diet to cut down the consumption of carbohydrates in the diet. The reasons could vary, like weight loss or diabetes management. Even with variations in the reason, this change in the mode of carbohydrate consumption should be monitored so that you do not cut it down more than the required amount. A specific amount of carbohydrates are still required for energy utilization, and that is provided by the diet. If we are not taking the required amount of carbohydrates, we might be deprived of the required energy sources. 
We can switch the sources of carbohydrates in our diet, like switching from white bread to brand bread and adding more healthy sources like fruits and vegetables that includes dietary fiber.

Are low carb diets safe?

Although there is no high risk in the low carb diet and sometimes it can even prove to be good in some conditions, it is still advised to contact a health professional before starting a low carb diet.

Conclusion

Carbohydrates are made up of three main components, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. There are basically three main types of carbohydrates, including monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. Different types of carbohydrates provide different functions to the body, but the major purpose of carbohydrates in the body is to provide it with energy in general and in the form of stored energy. If you want to learn about carbohydrates in detail, our expert private tutors can help you gain a better understanding of the topic.

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With over 3 years of experience in teaching, Chloe is very deeply connected with the topics that talk about the educational and general aspects of a student's life. Her writing has been very helpful for students to gain a better understanding of their academics and personal well-being. I’m also open to any suggestions that you might have! Please reach out to me at chloedaniel402 [at] gmail.com

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