By composition, carbohydrates is a term used to describe molecules or compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in specific ratios. For a while now, there have been different views on the consumption of carbohydrates. Some believe eating fewer carbohydrates is the key to attaining optimal health. On the other hand, some say eating lots of carbohydrates is the correct way, while some insist carbohydrates should be taken in moderation. Irrespective of where you stand on this debate, it’s important to note that carbohydrates play a very essential role in the human body. Below are some of the importance and benefits of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates provide energy for bodily functions
The provision of energy is regarded as the primary function of carbohydrates. Most carbohydrates taken into the body are first broken down into glucose and then absorbed into the bloodstream. The glucose is then taken up by the cells and used to produce a fuel molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate, ATP. The formation of adenosine triphosphate from glucose is a complex process known as cellular respiration. ATP is used to carry out some metabolic processes.
They provide stored energy
At some point, your carb intake would’ve provided enough glucose to take care of all that your body needs. Any additional glucose can be stored for later use. A stored form of glucose, glycogen, is commonly found in the liver and muscles. The liver can house up to 100 grams of glycogen. The stored glucose is then released into the bloodstream when there’s a shortage of glucose, usually in between meals. Liver glycogen can be used by cells from all parts of the body.
However, unlike liver glycogen, muscle glycogen can only be used by the muscle cells. This glycogen is very vital for the muscles, especially during long high-intensity exercises. The amount of glycogen stored in the muscle varies, but it’s approximately 500 grams. There are cases where you’ll have an abundance of glucose, and your glycogen storage is already full. In such cases, your body converts carbohydrates into triglycerides molecules and stores them as fat.
They improve digestive health
Compared to sugars and starches, dietary fibers are not broken down into glucose. This type of carbohydrates goes through the body undigested. It is divided into two: soluble fibers and insoluble fibers. Soluble fibers are found in beans, peas, oats, barley, apples, and citrus fruits. Soluble fiber, during digestion, absorbs and dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that increases your stool’s bulk and makes your bowel movements easier. Insoluble fibers, on the other hand, don’t dissolve when digested. Sources of insoluble fiber are brown rice, wheat, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, celery, courgettes, cucumbers, nuts, seeds, and beans. Insoluble fibers help alleviate constipation.
They help improve heart health and diabetes
This is a very tricky notion. Eating excess carbohydrates can be detrimental to one’s health. Excess carbs can cause heart problems and increase blood sugar levels, increasing the chances of getting diabetes. But how does eating carbohydrates improve heart health?. Carbohydrates high in dietary fiber can benefit the heart and blood sugar levels. Once the gel-like substance formed from the mixture of soluble fiber and water passes through the small intestine, it binds with bile acids preventing them from being reabsorbed. In addition, fibers reduce blood sugar levels by delaying the absorption of carbs in the digestive tract.
Carbohydrates help preserve muscles
Glycogen storage is one of the ways our body makes glucose available. When glucose from carbohydrates is lacking, the body can convert muscle cells into amino acids that are then converted to glucose or any other energy-generating compound. However, this isn’t a very pleasant scenario since muscle cells are crucial for the movement of body parts. Severe losses of muscle mass are one of the effects of carbohydrate deficiency. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to consume enough carbohydrates. Having enough carbohydrates in the body can help preserve muscle mass.
Carbohydrates perform several functions, including those listed above. They are the primary fuel source of the body. Carbohydrates are mainly divided into three parts, simple sugars, starches, and then fiber.
- Simple sugars are the most basic form of carbohydrates. They can be in the form of natural sugars like those found in fruits and vegetables. They can also be in the form of added sugars like those in desserts, candies, and sodas.
- Starch is a complex carbohydrate that is usually made up of a chain of simple sugars. They’re found in bread, pasta, and cereals. Your body has to break down starch into simple sugars before it can be used as energy.
- Fibers are also complex carbohydrates. Most fibers are difficult to break down, so eating them helps you feel full and less likely to overeat. They also improve heart health and reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Fibers, as stated above, improve digestive health.