Carbohydrates, Simplified

- By Ishrath Shaik

What do you think of when you hear the word carbohydrates? Is it a bowl of rice or a loaf of bread? Well, you’re right. But did you know that even fruits, dairy products, vegetables, and even sweets are also carbohydrates? They are the most abundant organic molecule in nature. Carbohydrates or more lovingly called carbs are in most of the food we eat. It’s one of the main 6 groups of nutrients we need, and of all nutrients, in a balanced diet, 40% of our caloric needs should come from carbohydrates.

What is a carbohydrate in the first place? Simply put, they are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates mean ‘hydrates of carbon’. They can also be referred to as saccharides derived from Greek. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy. They serve as the storage form of energy as well, in a form called glycogen.

We can divide these carbohydrates into two groups: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars, like glucose (glucon-D), sucrose(table sugar), fructose (fruits and honey), and lactose (found in dairy products). These simple sugars are easy to digest and give you energy almost immediately. This is why drinking Glucon-D and eating candy gives you energy quickly.

Complex carbohydrates are harder to digest. They include starches, glycogen, and cellulose. As they have more complex structures than simple sugars, which is why it takes longer for energy to be released from, hence these complex carbohydrates give you energy in the long run.

You can also differentiate these carbohydrates into the ones who are used by the body and the carbohydrates not used by the body. Carbohydrates not used by the body are also called dietary fiber. Dietary fiber prevents constipation, make you feel full for a long time, and can even decrease the chance of cancers of the digestive system. You can add dietary fiber in your diet by eating fruits, leafy vegetables, and whole grains.

Carbohydrates can come from several sources, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Which kind of foods should we be eating? Complex carbohydrates are much better than refined sugars (for example, sweets and candy). These simple sugars are not as healthy, as they only suffice for a while before you have to eat again. This can lead to overeating, and in the long run, obesity. Foods with high fiber content, like fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, make you feel more full. Eating carbohydrates along with proteins and fats can also make you feel full for longer. This reduces your caloric intake and should be preferred for consumption.

All this sounds great in theory, but the truth is sweets and candy tastes better than rice with palak. This is why we should always find a balance and eat everything in moderation. I hope this helped you out!


Biochemistry, U. Satyanarayana and U. Chakrapani

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About the Author

Ishrath is a medical student. She believes in life long learning and constantly strives to try to make small changes in this big, big world. Her life mantra is "compassion at all times, especially in times of trouble, with yourself and the the people around, ultimately leads to be being content".