Functions of carbohydrates in the body

There are five main functions of carbohydrates in the body, even though some have debated with the belief that eating fewer carbohydrates is the way to optimal health, while others prefer higher-carb diets. Still, while others insist moderation is the right way to go.

It does not matter where you fall in this debate, the fact remains that carbohydrates play an important role in the human body.

This article highlights their main functions in the body, these functions include…

  • Energy production
  • Energy storage
  • Building macromolecules
  • Sparing protein, and
  • Supporting in lipid metabolism…

However, let’s look at what carbohydrates really mean…

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning they are one of the three main ways the body obtains energy or calories. The American Diabetes Association notes that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Furthermore, there are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. Macronutrients are essential for proper body functioning, and the body requires large amounts of them. All macronutrients must be obtained through diet;  because the body cannot produce macronutrients on its own.

Recommended Intake Of Carbohydrates:

The daily amount (RDA) of carbs required for adults is 135 grams, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH); however, the NIH also recommends that everyone should have his or her own carbohydrate goal.

Carb intake for most people should be between 45% and 65% of total calories. One gram of carbohydrates equals about 4 calories, so a diet of 1,800 calories per day would equal about 202 grams on the low end and 292 grams of carbs on the high end. However, people with diabetes should not eat more than 200 grams of carbs per day, while pregnant women need at least 175 grams.

Sources Of Carbohydrates:

Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates are important to a healthy diet. All plants contain carbohydrates, which typically represent a significant portion of people’s dietary intake

Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibres found in…

  • Fruits,
  • Grains,
  • Vegetables, and
  • Milk products…

Types Of Carbohydrates:

Scientists classify carbohydrates as either simple or complex, depending on how many sugar molecules they contain…

Simple Carbohydrates:

Simple carbohydrates have one or two sugar molecules and include glucose, fructose, sucrose, and lactose.

These simple carbohydrates naturally occur in…

  • Fruits
  • Fruit juices
  • Milk
  • Milk products

Complex carbohydrates:

Functions of carbohydrates in the body

Complex carbohydrates contain longer, more complex chains of sugars. They include oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Complex carbohydrates also contain fibre and starch.

Examples of complex carbohydrates include…

  • Whole grains, including some types of bread, cereal, pasta, and rice
  • Peas and beans
  • Vegetables and fruits…

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are foods that have gone through processing that removes some of their ingredients, such as fibre and minerals.

These carbohydrates include sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup, which manufacturers often add to processed foods.

Examples of refined carbohydrates include:

  • White bread, pasta, and rice
  • Processed breakfast cereals
  • Cakes, sweets, and baked goods
  • Sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup…

The Functions Of Carbohydrates In The Body:

Here are how carbohydrates function’s in the human body…

The First Functions Of Carbohydrates In The Body Is Energy Production:

The first main functions of carbohydrates are to supply energy to all cells in the body. Many cells prefer glucose as a source of energy versus other compounds like fatty acids.

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Some cells, such as red blood cells, are only able to produce cellular energy from glucose. The brain is also highly sensitive to low blood-glucose levels because it uses only glucose to produce energy and function (unless under extreme starvation conditions).

About 70 per cent of the glucose entering the body from digestion is redistributed (by the liver) back into the blood for use by other tissues. Cells that require energy remove the glucose from the blood with a transport protein in their membranes.

The energy from glucose comes from the chemical bonds between the carbon atoms. Sunlight energy was required to produce these high-energy bonds in the process of photosynthesis. Cells in our bodies break these bonds and capture the energy to perform cellular respiration.

Cellular respiration is basically a controlled burning of glucose versus an uncontrolled burning. A cell uses many chemical reactions in multiple enzymatic steps to slow the release of energy (no explosion) and more efficiently capture the energy held within the chemical bonds in glucose.

The first stage in the breakdown of glucose is called glycolysis. Glycolysis, or the splitting of glucose, occurs in an intricate series of ten enzymatic-reaction steps. The second stage of glucose breakdown occurs in the energy factory organelles, called mitochondria. One carbon atom and two oxygen atoms are removed, yielding more energy.

The energy from these carbon bonds is carried to another area of the mitochondria, making the cellular energy available in form cells can use.

The second Functions Of Carbohydrates In Body Is Energy Storage:

If the body already has enough energy to support its functions, the excess glucose is stored as glycogen (the majority of which is stored in the muscles and liver).

A molecule of glycogen may contain over fifty thousand single glucose units and is highly branched, allowing for the rapid dissemination of glucose when it is needed to make cellular energy.

The amount of glycogen in the body at any given time is equivalent to about 4,000 kilocalories—3,000 in muscle tissue and 1,000 in the liver. Prolonged muscle use (such as exercise for longer than a few hours) can deplete the glycogen energy reserve.

Remember that this is referred to as “hitting the wall” and is characterized by fatigue and a decrease in exercise performance. The weakening of muscles sets in because it takes longer to transform the chemical energy in fatty acids and proteins into usable energy than glucose.

After prolonged exercise, glycogen is gone and muscles must rely more on lipids and proteins as an energy source. Athletes can increase their glycogen reserve modestly by reducing training intensity and increasing their carbohydrate intake to between 60 and 70 per cent of total calories three to five days before an event.

The liver, like the muscle, can store glucose energy as a glycogen, but in contrast to muscle tissue, it will sacrifice its stored glucose energy to other tissues in the body when blood glucose is low.

Approximately one-quarter of total body glycogen content is in the liver (which is equivalent to about a four-hour supply of glucose) but this is highly dependent on activity level. The liver uses this glycogen reserve as a way to keep blood glucose levels within a narrow range between mealtimes.

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When the liver’s glycogen supply is exhausted, glucose is made from amino acids obtained from the destruction of proteins to maintain metabolic homeostasis.

The Third Is Building Macromolecules:

Although most absorbed glucose is used to make energy, some glucose is converted to ribose and deoxyribose, which are essential building blocks of important macromolecules, such as RNA, DNA, and ATP.

Glucose is additionally utilized to make the molecule NADPH, which is important for protection against oxidative stress and is used in many other chemical reactions in the body.

If all the energy, glycogen-storing capacity, and building needs of the body are met, excess glucose can be used to make fat. This is why a diet too high in carbohydrates and calories can cause weight gain.

The Fouth Is Lipid Metabolism:

As blood-glucose levels rise, the use of lipids as an energy source is inhibited. Thus, glucose additionally has a “fat-sparing” effect. This is because an increase in blood glucose stimulates the release of the hormone insulin, which tells cells to use glucose (instead of lipids) to make energy.

Adequate glucose levels in the blood also prevent the development of ketosis.

Ketosis is a metabolic condition resulting from an elevation of ketone bodies in the blood.

Ketone bodies are an alternative energy source that cells can use when glucose supply is insufficient, such as during fasting. Ketone bodies are acidic and high elevations in the blood can cause them to become too acidic.

This is rare in healthy adults but can occur in alcoholics, people who are malnourished, and individuals who have Type 1 diabetes. The minimum amount of carbohydrate in the diet required to inhibit ketosis in adults is 50 grams per day.

The Fifth Functions Of Carbohydrates In The Body Is To Spare Energy:

In a situation where there is not enough glucose to meet the body’s needs, glucose is synthesized from amino acids. Because there is no storage molecule of amino acids, this process requires the destruction of proteins, primarily from muscle tissue. The presence of adequate glucose basically spares the breakdown of proteins from being used to make glucose needed by the body.

Between The Bad And The Good Carbs:

Bad carbohydrates rarely have any nutritional value, Carbs usually considered good are complex carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. These are not only processed more slowly, but they also contain plenty of other nutrients.

According to the Pritikin Longevity Center offers an insight in determining if a carbohydrate is “good” or “bad.”

Good carbs are:

  • Low or moderate in calories
  • High in nutrients
  • Devoid of refined sugars and refined grains
  • High in naturally occurring fiber
  • Low in sodium
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Very low in, or devoid of, cholesterol and trans fats…

Bad carbs are:

  • High in calories
  • Full of refined sugars, like corn syrup, white sugar, honey and fruit juices
  • High in refined grains like white flour
  • Low in many nutrients
  • Low in fiber
  • High in sodium
  • Sometimes high in saturated fat
  • Sometimes high in cholesterol and trans fats…

The Importance Of Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are critical to support life’s most basic function—the production of energy. Without energy none of the other life processes are performed.

Although our bodies can synthesize glucose it but comes at the cost of protein destruction. As with all nutrients though, carbohydrates are to be consumed in moderation as having too much or too little in the diet may lead to health problems.

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Benefits Of Good Carbs:

The right kind of carbs can be incredibly good for you. Not only are they necessary for your health, but they carry a variety of added benefits.

Mental health:

Carbohydrates may be important to mental health. A study published in 2009 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people on a high-fat, low-carb diet for a year had more anxiety, depression and anger than people on a low-fat, high-carb diet. Scientists suspect that carbohydrates help with the production of serotonin in the brain.

Carbs may help memory, too. A 2008 study at Tufts University had overweight women cut carbs entirely from their diets for one week. Then, they tested the women’s cognitive skills, visual attention and spatial memory. The women on no-carb diets did worse than overweight women on low-calorie diets that contained a healthy amount of carbohydrates.

Weight loss:

Though carbs are often blamed for weight gain, the right kind of carbs can actually help you lose and maintain a healthy weight. This happens because many good carbohydrates, especially whole grains and vegetables with skin, contain fiber. It is difficult to get sufficient fiber on a low-carb diet. Dietary fiber helps you to feel full, and generally comes in relatively low-calorie foods.

Heart health Is One Of The Functions Of Carbohydrates In The Body:

Fiber also helps to lower cholesterol, said Kelly Toups, a registered dietitian with the Whole Grains Council. The digestive process requires bile acids, which are made partly with cholesterol. As your digestion improves, the liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to create more bile acid, thereby reducing the amount of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, we all know what bad cholestral mean to the heart”

How Good Carbs Impact Your Disgestation:

functions of carbohydrates in the body

Fiber, a carbohydrate found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is essential for healthy digestion.

There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, both of which are in most plant-based foods, eating a variety of high-fiber foods will help you receive the most health benefits according to MayoClinic.

Fiber is known for moving everything through our digestive tracks because, unlike proteins, fats and other carbohydrates, it’s indigestible and passes through our systems mostly intact adding roughage to your bowels while keeping you full, regular, and satisfied after eating.

Impact Of Carbohydrates Deficiency:

Not getting enough carbs can cause problems. Without sufficient fuel, the body gets no energy. Additionally, without sufficient glucose, the central nervous system suffers, which may cause dizziness or mental and physical weakness, according to Iowa State University. A deficiency of glucose, or low blood sugar, is called hypoglycemia.

Summary: Making good healthy lifestyle choices is key to staying healthy, if we know the foods we eat and their impacts on our health it will help us to always avoid unhealthy foods loaded with bad carbs and trans–fats.

Make sure to include fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grain in your diet to gain all the required nutrients for your optimal health.

Do share your thought with us…

References: 

LiveScience

Pressbook

Thelittlepine

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