The dictionary (www.freedictionary.com/carbohydrate) defines carbohydrates as, "any of a group of organic compounds that include sugars, starches, cellulose, and gums and serves as a major energy source in the diet of animals. These compounds are produced by photosynthetic plants and contain only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, usually in the ratio 1:2:1." It further says, "…it is an essential structural component of living cells and source of energy for animals; includes simple sugars with small molecules as well as macromolecular substance; are classified according to the number of monosaccharide groups they contain."
Carbohydrates are a broad category of sugars, starches and fiber that our bodies (and the bodies of animals) use to make energy. Carbohydrates are classified into two major categories, i.e. simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. The simple carbohydrates are glucose (the smallest form of carbohydrates), fructose (from fruit and vegetables), sucrose (sugar cane and beetroot), and lactose (from milk). The complex carbohydrates consist of large glucose molecules and generally come from fiber (legumes and whole grains).
As per the above classification, the carbohydrates are compartmentalized into mono carbohydrates, di-carbohydrates, poly-carbohydrates and heterosaccharides. The latter is sub-divided into monosaccharides (which are also the smallest carbohydrates) and polysaccharides, which have no pre-determined measurements. It is interesting to note that the term carbohydrates comes from putting together the elements that these consist of, i.e. carbon and the hydrogen-oxygen composition of water, H2O. The formula of the carbohydrates is Cn(H2O)n.
What Is The Role Of Carbohydrates In Our Bodies?
The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy to the body. The body uses the carbohydrates after transforming them into glucose, a compound that can be absorbed in the blood and then fed to the various body tissues as required for their function. When the body is faced with an excess production of glucose, it stores the extra glucose in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscle cells. Once the storage capacity is filled up, the left-out glucose is transformed into fat.
People who exercise use the glycogen stored in the reserves of the liver and muscles first. If and when the exercises require more energy than that fuelled by the glycogen available in body store houses, the fat available in the body is used to keep the activity going. Hence, vigorous exercise helps our body loose its fat content.
Where are Carbohydrates Found?
The most obvious source of carbohydrates is definitely sugar. This element is generally ingested through a number of foods that we take, such as candy, ice cream, cakes, aerated drinks, jams, tea, coffee, etc. In rare cases, people take sugar directly.
You will find a number of foods that are rich in carbohydrates:
Natural sugars or sugar carbohydrates: These types are generally found in natural food humans consume, such as milk, fruits, sugar cane, and even vegetables.
Starch carbohydrates: These types would be found in cereals, tubers, roots, etc. Examples of starch carbohydrates are rice, bread, pasta, noodles, potatoes, tapioca, and yams.
Fiber carbohydrates: these types of carbohydrates are of two types, i.e. soluble (starch) and insoluble (fiber) types. You will find these mainly in whole grain cereals, most plant food (fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc).
What Are The Carbohydrates You Should Avoid?
Carbohydrates form a critical part of our diet. Contrary to the popular belief, one does not put on weight simply because they consume carbohydrates. In fact, carbohydrates contribute less to the fat build up in our body than other types of foods, for example alcohol or fat. Weight gain occurs when the carbohydrates are consumed in excess, and as all excesses, this one too is bad for your health.
The carbohydrates that should be avoided are the refined sugar carbohydrates. You will find this type of carbs in foods such as soft drinks, ice creams, cookies, syrups, etc. The sugar that we consume in our day-to-day life is one of the most refined sugars, and refined sugar is very bad for our health.