Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

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Overview

Carbohydrates are made up of a collection of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. Sugars, starches, and fibers are all considered carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are typically classified by their general chemical structure and divided into three general groups of saccharides (from the Latin saccharum, or sugar) based on their level of complexity: monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.

Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrates since they contain only one sugar group. Oligosaccharides are short chains of monosaccharide units linked together in the form of disaccharides, trisaccharides, etc. The most common oligosaccharides are the disaccharides including maltose, sucrose, and lactose:

Maltose = glucose + glucose

Sucrose = glucose + fructose

Lactose = glucose + galactose

Polysaccharides are long, complex chains of linked monosaccharide units, which can be either straight or branched. Typically, when we refer to starches, glycogen, or fiber, we’re referring to polysaccharides.

Carbohydrate digestion breaks down more complex forms of carbohydrates (oligo- and polysaccharides) into the monosaccharides glucose, fructose, and galactose, for eventual release into the bloodstream in the form of glucose.

Importance

Glucose is essential to life. The brain and central nervous system prefer glucose for fuel and benefit from a continuously available supply.

Food Sources

Carbohydrate dominant foods include:

Deficiencies

Since carbohydrates provide the body with energy, a deficiency can make you feel tired and sluggish.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Muscle loss
  • Physical weakness/lack of stamina
  • Poor immunity (you may find yourself getting sick a lot)
  • Delayed healing of wounds
  • Feelings of sadness/irritability/depression
  • In extreme cases, malnutrition or starvation.

However, your individual response could be different. If you suspect a health problem or deficiency in certain nutrients, please see your primary health care provider (doctor, naturopath, etc). They can help unravel the complexity of your physiology.

Excess/Toxicity

Eating a surplus of carbohydrates can make you feel tired and sluggish, ‘foggy’ and unfocused, and/or even depressed.

Repeatedly eating too many carb-dense foods can put your body at risk of hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes. In addition, you may experience weight gain, difficulty losing weight, or even obesity.

However, your individual response could be different. If you suspect a health problem or an excess of certain nutrients, please see your primary health care provider (doctor, naturopath, etc). They can help unravel the complexity of your physiology.

Recipe

For recipes rich in carbohydrates, check out any of the Encyclopedia of Food entries that fall into the above listed food categories!

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At a Glance

Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. Sugars, starches, and fibers are all considered carbohydrates. Our digestive system breaks down carbohydrates and eventually releases them into the bloodstream in the form of glucose. Glucose is essential to life: it provides fuel for the brain and central nervous system. Carbohydrates are commonly found in vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.