Welcome to Carbology 101, your beginner course on carbohydrates.
Why you should care: Obesity in large is associated with diminished ability to handle carbohydrates, which develops into type II diabetes. If you have any goals in terms of body composition, fat loss, or weight loss, you best learn how to use carbohydrates properly.
What are carbohydrates?
Cabohydrates, often termed as sugars or starches are all comprised of the same 3 molecules. Glucose, galactose, and fructose are the base molecules (mono-saccharides) that make up all carbohydrates. Each molecule itself is already a carbohydrate, but combinations of the above are what make up the other carbohydrates in our diet. Lactose, the sugar in milk is a disaccharide (glucose and galactose attached to each other) where as sugar:( sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and cane juice) are disaccharides of one glucose + fructose. They can also consist of just many of the same molecule. Maltose is just 2 glucose molecule bound together. Carbohydrates that are made of more than 2 molecules are called polysaccharides, which we usually refer to as starch. These polysaccharides or starches are considered complex carbohydrates.
No matter what the carbohydrate is, it is broken down into it’s mono-saccharide parts through digestion. Your body makes enzymes that break down large carbohydrates, and then your liver processes the non glucose carbohydrates. You liver converts galactose into glucose, and it can use fructose to increase liver glycogen. Glucose does not need to be converted in the liver and is thus the most useful and healthy form of carbohydrate for your body. Glucose is basically the carbohydrate fuel of life. Glucose can feed every cell in your body, and has no negative effects when consumed in the proper portions.
Where do we get carbohydrates from?
The easy answer is from our diet. Carbohydrate rich foods like grains, fruits, and starches provide a large amount of carbohydrates. Vegetables and nuts also contain carbohydrates, but a smaller amount that usually has an insignificant effect on blood sugar. The other way we get carbohydrates is a process called guconeogenesis in which the liver creates carbohydrates from non carbohydrate sources like protein. This is an important process in regulation blood sugar because several metabolic process needed for life require carbohydrates. The brain is a great example of an organ that is very sensitive to carbohydrate levels. If blood sugar gets to low or high, usually seen in diabetics, they can become disoriented or even lose consciousness.
It’s important to not that your dietary intake is not what manages your blood sugar levels though. Your body produces hormones in response to what you eat and your current blood sugar level to regulate this. For many, their ability or inability to do this will have a significant impact on their health and body composition. If you are healthy and eating enough protein, you don’t need to eat carbohydrates to have carbohydrates available because your body will make them as needed through gluconeogenesis. In fact many primitive cultures thrived on very low carbohydrate diets. If you are not healthy, this process might not work as well for you, and you may have poor function on lower carbohydrate diets.