We live in the era where “you are what you eat” and carbohydrates have been termed as the ultimate evil, if present in meals. We have, therefore, found the perfect alternatives to foods rich in carbohydrates. But the real question is, what are carbohydrates, and even more importantly, are they even that bad? Here’s a complete breakdown for all your questions related to carbohydrates.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, or what we commonly call them, carbs, in the most basic sense, are simply hydrated carbons. That’s right, just carbon and water. But these biological molecules are not as simple as they sound. They form long chains, called polysaccharides, and attached to the same basic chain structures are certain reactive organic molecules (reactive group), that give these chains distinct properties, and hence, make it a different type of carbohydrate.
And lets not forget the very basic, they’re known to be sweet.
Types Of Carbohydrates:
Based on the number on units present in the chain of carbohydrate, they can be divided on monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides are the most basic and simplest forms of carbohydrates, consisting of a single unit. The most common example of this is Glucose, which is the main source of energy for cell.
Disaccharides, as the name suggests, consist of two units of carbohydrates. Common examples of disaccharides are sucrose, which is present in the normal table sugar, and lactose which is present in milk.
Polysaccharides are composed of more than two units of carbohydrates. These may or may not have a branched structure. They are present in different forms in plants and animals. Common example is cellulose, of which wood, paper and cotton are made.
Functions Of Carbohydrates:
So, now that we know what carbohydrates are, and what are it’s types, lets shed some light on what function do they exactly serve.
The most important function of carbohydrate in the human body is that it is an important source of energy for all the body cells. Not only in humans, carbohydrates are the basic requirement for energy in all living beings, it is only in it’s absence that the body starts breaking down fats for energy.
Carbohydrates also play a structural role, and are an important component of the cell wall present in plants in the form of celllulose. It is also present in the animal cell wall, but in comparatively lesser quantities.
Carbohydrates are also stored in the body as reservoirs of energy, to be utilized when the body needs more energy, in plants, animals and humans alike.
What Foods Contain Carbohydrates?
Given the fact that carbohydrates are a structural component of cells, most, if not all, of the food that we eat contains carbohydrates. But the amounts in which it is present, varies greatly.
Most of the food items have very efficiently been classified into carbohydrate rich foods and those with lower carb content.
Carbohydrate rich foods include dairy products, fruit, grains, legumes, starchy vegetables and sweet sugars. All these contain a high amount of carbohydrate.
On the other hand, food items rich in protein and fat such as cheese, meat, fish, egg and green vegetables are all low carb foods.
However, it should be kept in mind that certain carbohydrates such as cellulose and some other complex carbs, are not digested by the human body, and their presence in the food being consumed does not have any nutritional value.
To Eat, Or Not To Eat?
Now here lies the most important question. Should we or should we not include carbohydrates in our diet in equal proportions.
For the longest periods of time, carbohydrates have been associated to diabetes and obesity. But with the evolution of science and researches on the given conditions, it has been proved that carbohydrates alone can not be blamed for either of the conditions. Both, diabetes and obesity have various predisposing factors, and carbohydrates are only one of the many and that too in excessive amounts.
That’s that, but, it can’t be said that the continued intake of carbohydrates in such cases will have no effect on the existing condition. Once a person falls under the category of obese or diabetic, the carbohydrate intake must be reduced , often from excessive amounts, to lesser than normal in order to attain and maintain proper health.
But intake of carbohydrates cannot be entirely be stopped. That is due to two main reasons. The most important one being the fact that our brain needs glucose. In the absence of carbs, the rest of our body cells can burn fat and protein for energy, but our brain cells are not capable of doing so, and therefore require carbohydrates for their proper functioning. The second important reason is that the undigested carbohydrates play the role of dietary fibre in our body. They make the stool soft and prevent constipation.
To conclude, all of us require atleast some amount of carbohydrates in our diet. So the answer to our question “To Eat, Or Not To Eat” is “Eat, but the right way.”
The Right Way?
Nothing, when used within limits, is a bad thing. The very same can be applied to carbohydrates. They are as essential to our body as any other component of food. It is infact a very important part of a balanced diet, which is necessary for a healthy life.
Any healthy individual, who hasn’t been advised otherwise by their doctor, should intake carbohydrates in normal quantities. Normal is the keyword here. Excessive intake of carbs should be avoided at all costs for a healthy lifestyle. That includes frequent consumption of junk food and a lot of sweets. A sweet tooth once in a while is acceptable as long as the extra consumed carbohydrates are burned by an active routine and workout.
In case of a medical condition, such as diabetes or obesity, a strict check must be kept on the intake of carbohydrates, but it should also be simultaneously remembered that absolute restriction is never the answer.
To summarize, carbohydrates are not the evil. The excessive intake is. Which can be applied to not only carbs, but all other components of your meal such as fats and proteins. So what needs a check is not the food being eaten, but more importantly, the quantity.