Carbohydrates Part 1: Our Energy Source

Many of us have heard the term micronutrients, which are more commonly referred to as vitamins and minerals. They are required in trace amounts for the body to function normally. While most of us are familiar with the "big three" we may not have heard them referred to as macronutrients. The three macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.  In this article we are examining carbohydrates.  

Carbohydrate Facts

Carbohydrates are organic compounds and are commonly categorized as sugars (simple), starches (complex), and fiber. Carbohydrates are primarily used by our bodies for energy. 

While proteins and fats are used to build tissue and other bodily functions, carbohydrates are primarily used for energy. If they are not used initially as energy in the body, then they are stored. First, a small amount of carbohydrates are stored as glycogen, and glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles. It is stored in a state that is readily accessible for use. When exercising, it is glycogen that is used first for energy. While a small amount of our excess carbohydrate consumption is stored as glycogen, the rest is stored as fat. Carbohydrates have a unique fact: proteins and fats are essential for the body to live, but we can live without carbohydrates.


Two kinds of carbohydrates: 

Simple Carbs

Simple carbohydrates are simple sugars. Most food that taste sweet contains a combination of glucose and fructose, which are the two main sugars we consume.  A monosaccharide is a single simple sugar unit and includes glucose (blood sugar), fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose (milk sugar). Disaccharides are combinations of two monosaccharides that include sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar), and maltose (malt sugar).

These are refined sugars that have almost no nutritional value and are digested very quickly. We should only consume these in small amounts. Some examples of simple sugars are: table sugar, corn syrup, and fruit juice, among many others. 

Complex Carbs

Complex carbohydrates are complex in that they are made up of a chain of three or more sugars. Many complex carbohydrates are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. As complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, they are better for our consumption. The vast majority of carbohydrates we consume should be complex. Some examples of complex carbohydrates are certain vegetables, fruits, beans and grains like spinach, zucchini, cabbage, celery, apples, pears, plums, potatoes, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, buckwheat, barley, oats and others. 

Fiber is organically the structure in leaves, stems and roots of plants. Fiber is the indigestible part of plants and plant foods that travel through our digestive system. Fiber has no effect on blood sugar and at the end of our digestive system binds with waste to escort it out of the body.

The difference as to what is healthy and not healthy is determined by where the sugar comes from, or the sugar's source.  Complex carbohydrates come from plant-based foods and these are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.  Those products with simple sugars are typically man-made, and they are “empty calories”, meaning that we don’t get any additional nutrients when we eat products with these types of sugars and mostly the calories are stored as fat. 

One Last Carb Thought

The closer you get to nature the better the carbohydrate is for you. Or to say it another way, the more humans handle food and work with it, the less healthy it is for you. The simple carbohydrates mentioned above are made by people while the things produced in nature are better for human consumption.