Carbohydrates are one of the core food groups that are essential for a healthy life. By definition, carbohydrates are fibers, starches, and sugars that are found in four main food products, namely, milk products, fruits, vegetables, and grains. This class of foods is called “carbohydrates” because it contains three chemicals that are essential for the body, namely, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are one of the three ways through which our bodies obtain calories or energy, and for that reason, Carbohydrates are macronutrients. In fact, carbohydrates act as the main source of energy for our bodies. However, it is important to note that there are bad and good carbohydrates. Bad carbohydrates are found in sodas, white bread, highly processed foods and pastries. Good carbohydrates are found in vegetables, legumes, beans and whole grains.
Carbohydrates can be classified into two classes, namely, simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple and complex carbohydrates vary in their chemical structure and the speed by which the sugar is digested and absorbed in the body. In simple terms, the sugar in simple carbohydrates is absorbed and digested faster than complex carbohydrates. Regarding chemical composition, simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugars. For example, a simple carbohydrate may contain galactose and fructose which are found in milk products and fruits respectively. Simple carbohydrates are also found in processed foods such as syrups, soda or candy. It is, however, important to note that these foods are made of refined sugars and lack minerals, fiber, vitamins and calories and may cause weight gain. A carbohydrate with a single sugar is known as a monosaccharide.
Carbohydrates can also contain a combination of two sugars such as maltose (found in vegetables) lactose (found in dairy products) or sucrose (found in table sugar). A carbohydrate with two sugars is known as a disaccharide. There is another class of carbohydrates that has three or more sugars, and this class of carbohydrates is called polysaccharides. This class of carbohydrates is composed of starchy foods that include peas, potatoes, cereals, lentils and peas. While both simple and complex carbohydrates provide energy to the body, the speed of giving energy is not the same. Simple carbohydrates provide energy more easily because they are easily digested and absorbed, and this can spike the sugar levels in the body. Complex carbohydrates are slower to burst their energies, but they provide a more sustained energy than simple carbohydrates.
While in the body, carbohydrates are broken down into smaller sugar units. Examples of these sugars are fructose and glucose. These smaller units are absorbed in the small intestines and enter the bloodstream. The blood transports them to the liver where they are converted to glucose which then enters the bloodstream and converted to energy to aid in the basic functioning of the body. If the body does not need energy at the time when the glucose is released, the liver stores the energy in the liver in the form of glycogen. The body can store up to 2000 calories. When the storage area for glycogen is full, the body stores carbohydrates in the form of fat.
Now that carbohydrates are the main sources of energy in our body, there are recommended levels that we need to take to maintain the right level of carbohydrates in our bodies. The recommended amount of carbohydrates for an adult is 135 grams a day although a person can set their standards. It is important to maintain this standard of carbohydrate intake because it is responsible for 45% to 65% of the total calories found in our bodies. A gram of carbohydrate has four calories. A normal adult requires at least 1800 calories a day, which translates to 202 grams and 292 grams of carbohydrates on the upper and lower side respectively. However, as said above, people with special needs may set their standards of carbohydrate intake due to medical reasons. For example, diabetic people and pregnant women are required not to exceed more than 200 grams and 175 grams of carbohydrate respectively in a day.