Learn More About Carbohydrate Formulas

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1. What are carbohydrates and where do they come from?

The basic building block of a carbohydrate is a sugar molecule, a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Starches and fibers are essentially chains of sugar molecules. Some contains hundreds of sugars. Some chains are straight, others branch wildly. Carbohydrates come from a wide array of foods - bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, corn, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms.

The most common and abundant are sugars, fibers, and starches. Carbohydrates were once grouped into two main categories. Simple carbohydrates included sugars such as fruit sugar (fructose), corn or grape sugar (dextrose or glucose), and table sugar (sucrose). Complex carbohydrates included everything made of three or more linked sugars. Simple sugars were considered bad and complex carbohydrates good. The picture is much more complicated than that.

The digestive system handles all carbohydrates in much the same way - it breaks them down (or tries to break them down) into single sugar molecules, since only these are small enough to cross into the bloodstream. It also converts most digestible carbohydrates into glucose (also known as blood sugar), because cells are designed to use this as a universal energy source.

Fiber is an exception. It is put together in such a way that it can't be broken down into sugar molecules, and so passes through the body undigested.

Other factors that influence how quickly the carbohydrates in food raise blood sugar include:

  • Fiber Content: Fiber shields the starchy carbohydrates in food immediate and rapid attack by digestive enzymes. This slows the release of sugar molecules into the bloodstream.
  • Ripeness: Ripe fruits and vegetables tend to have more sugar than unripe ones, and so tend to have a higher glycemic index.
  • Type Of Starch: Starch comes in many different configurations. Some are easier to break into sugar molecules than others. The starch in potatoes, for example, is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream relatively quickly.
  • Fat Content and Acid Content: The more fat or acid a food contains, the slower its carbohydrates are converted to sugar and absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Physical Form: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested, and so has a higher glycemic index, than more coarsely ground grain.

2. What do carbohydrates do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?

Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the human body. Chemically, carbohydrates are organic molecules in which carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen bond together in the ratio: Cx(H2O)y, where x and y are whole numbers that differ depending on the specific carbohydrate to which we are referring. Animals (including humans) break down carbohydrates during the process of metabolism to release energy.

Animals obtain carbohydrates by eating foods that contain them, for example potatoes, rice, breads, and so on. These carbohydrates are manufactured by plants during the process of photosynthesis, when they harvest energy from sunlight.

A potato, for example, is primarily a chemical storage system containing glucose molecules manufactured during photosynthesis. In a potato, however, those glucose molecules are bound together in a long chain. As it turns out, there are two types of carbohydrates, the simple sugars and those carbohydrates that are made of long chains of sugars - the complex carbohydrates.

Simple Sugars

All carbohydrates are made up of units of sugar (also called saccharide units). Carbohydrates that contain only one sugar unit (monosaccharides) or two sugar units (disaccharides) are referred to as simple sugars. Simple sugars are sweet in taste and are broken down quickly in the body to release energy. Two of the most common monosaccharides are glucose and fructose. Glucose is the primary form of sugar stored in the human body for energy. Fructose is the main sugar found in most fruits. Both glucose and fructose have the same chemical formula (C6H12O6); however, they have different structures.

Disaccharides have two sugar units bonded together. For example, common table sugar is sucrose, a disaccharide that consists of a glucose unit bonded to a fructose unit.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are polymers of the simple sugars. In other words, the complex carbohydrates are long chains of simple sugar units bonded together (for this reason the complex carbohydrates are often referred to as polysaccharides). The potato we discussed earlier actually contains the complex carbohydrate starch. Starch is a polymer of the monosaccharide glucose.

Starch is the principal polysaccharide used by plants to store glucose for later use as energy. Plants often store starch in seeds or other specialized organs; for example, common sources of starch include rice, beans, wheat, corn, potatoes, and so on. When humans eat starch, an enzyme that occurs in saliva and in the intestines called amylase breaks the bonds between the repeating glucose units, thus allowing the sugar to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the human body distributes glucose to the areas where it is needed for energy or stores it as its own special polymer - glycogen. Glycogen, another polymer of glucose, is the polysaccharide used by animals to store energy. Excess glucose is bonded together to form glycogen molecules, which the animal stores in the liver and muscle tissue as an "instant" source of energy. Both starch and glycogen are polymers of glucose; however, starch is a long, straight chain of glucose units, whereas glycogen is a branched chain of glucose units.

Another important polysaccharide is cellulose. Cellulose is yet a third polymer of the monosaccharide glucose. Cellulose differs from starch and glycogen because the glucose units form a two-dimensional structure, with hydrogen bonds holding together nearby polymers, thus giving the molecule added stability. Cellulose, also known as plant fiber, cannot be digested by human beings, therefore cellulose passes through the digestive tract without being absorbed into the body.

Some animals, such as cows and termites, contain bacteria in their digestive tract that help them to digest cellulose. Cellulose is a relatively stiff material, and in plants cellulose is used as a structural molecule to add support to the leaves, stem, and other plant parts. Despite the fact that it cannot be used as an energy source in most animals, cellulose fiber is essential in the diet because it helps exercise the digestive track and keep it clean and healthy.

Don't Forget Fiber! Fiber is an important kind of carbohydrate that comes only from plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains.

The two types of fiber are soluble and non-soluble. Soluble fiber helps control blood sugar and may also lower cholesterol. Non-soluble fiber doesn't appear to lower blood sugar or cholesterol but may help reduce the risk of colon cancer. It also helps maintain bowel function.

When choosing packaged breads, grains and cereals, use food labels to determine how much fiber a food contains. The fiber content of manufactured foods is listed on the Nutrition Facts label.

Adults need between 20 and 35 grams of fiber every day, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The organization reports that Americans currently are only eating between 12 and 17 grams a day.

Good sources of soluble fiber include:

  • Oat bran
  • Oatmeal
  • Beans and Legumes
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Rice Bran
  • Barley
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas

Good sources of non-soluble fiber include:

  • Whole-Wheat Breads
  • Wheat Cereal
  • Wheat Bran
  • Brown Rice
  • Barley
  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Turnips
  • Cauliflower
  • Fruits and Vegetables With Skin

There have been hundreds of studies over the years on carbohydrates, simple and complex, and their effects on living organisms, whether it be human or animal.

3. Who needs carbohydrates and how much should be taken? Are there any side effects or symptoms of deficiency?

First are foremost, EVERYONE needs carbohydrates. Without them, the human body could not survive. So let's clear the air right away on that one. Everybody's body differs regarding how many carbohydrates a day you need. This formula should help clear up some confusion regarding what your daily intake should be. Most medical experts say that 60 percent of the calories you eat every day should come from carbohydrates.

To find out how many carbohydrates daily you need, multiply the number of calories you need by .6. For example, if you need 2,000 calories per day, 2,000 multiplied by .6 = 1,200. So you know you need 1,200 calories from carbohydrates. There are 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate. Take your 1,200 calories and divide by 4 = 300 grams. Knowing the calories and the carbohydrate grams you need will help you when you are reading a food label.

You can use the carbohydrate guideline above as a very good reference for carb intake, but you should also keep in mind that for anyone that works out with weights or exercises should consider taking in between 30-60 grams complex carbs a half hour to a hour before their workout. That gives the body time to convert it into the much needed energy you will use to get you through your workout!

4. What Are Some Good Carbohydrate Supplements Available?

There are many types of good, quality carb supplements available to use. Take, for example, protein powder. Protein powder, along with being extremely convenient and easy to use when you don't have time to sit down and make a meal, is generally very high in the complex carbs you need to fuel workouts!

A new carbohydrate that is getting everyone excited is waxy maize. Waxy maize is named because of the way it appears under a microscope. It is a type of corn that contains nearly 99% amylopectin in its kernels. Amylopectin is basically the plant equivalent of glucose, and it is water soluble. Amylopectin is a very dense polysaccharide(carbohydrate) and therefore it quickly bypasses the stomach and enters the small intestines where it is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. Once it is in the bloodstream it provides sustained energy to the muscles and helps restore lost glycogen (stored energy). Waxy maize does not cause an insulin spike. It is a quickly and easily absorbed carbohydrate that provides sustained energy maintenance and replenishment.

You can also use protein and energy bars, which are great for energy and quite often, have an extra boost of some caffeine or other energy source to really light a fire! Last, but not least, you can even use supplements specifically designed just for carb-loading purposes!

Published with permission, original © 2007.

References:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates.html
http://www.visionlearning.com/library/module_viewer.php?mid=61
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=12081850
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creatine
http://www.lifeclinic.com/focus/nutrition/carbohydrate.asp?printpage=true

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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