The most evil nutrient of them all. Well the least we can do is feel sorry for the people who believe what I just said to be true. In my opinion carbs are the most important macronutrient from an emotional wellbeing standpoint. I really don’t know how carbs have taken all the slack out of the three macronutrients. Is it because “they make people fat?” Is it because “they cause diabetes?” or is it because you envy people who enjoy carbs and don’t get fat? It could be all of the above, definitely the latter, but as you may think otherwise it is most definitely not the first two, but society will want you to think that it is. You give yourself diabetes, you make yourself fat. Don’t blame a nutrient for your lack of self-control and poor decision making. Yes in the rare genetic cases such as leptin deficiency you may be hyper sensitive to carbs. But even then, it’s not the carbs to blame, it’s the lack of leptin flowing through your bloodstream.
Now bear with me for a few moments as you may find them a tad boring, but I feel it is imperative that you understand at least the bear minimum about what carbs actually are. Because in all honesty, majority of the gurus out there cannot differentiate between a monosaccharide and polysaccharide. I know right, pathetic.
So let’s break it down for you so you can begin to understand how carbohydrates actually work. The dietary carbohydrate family includes the following saccharides; Monosaccharides which are as you may have guessed, single sugars. Disaccharides, well done, these are sugars composed of pairs of monosaccharides. And then there are polysaccharides, these are large molecules composed of large chains of thousands and thousands of monosaccharides.
The monosaccharides consist of Glucose, Fructose, and Galactose, and are all extremely important in nutrition and vary in palate sweetness. Fructose is the sweetest of the lot and is actually what makes honey naturally so sweet.
GLUCOSE is probably the most tremendously important of all the saccharides. I’m going to assume that you have heard the term “blood sugar”? Well blood sugar is glucose. And glucose is the body’s main and preferred source of energy especially when it comes to training efficiency and performance. It is also the brains primary energy source, before you shut me down, yes the brain can use fats out of desperation as a last resort, however there are certain parts of the brain that rely solely on glucose and cannot function off anything else.
FRUCTOSE as mentioned is the sweetest of all the sugars and occurs naturally in fruits and honey. It is also used to sweeten the wide array of processed foods and drinks that are available to us. Although it is a single sugar, it is digested through facilitated diffusion giving it a lower glycemic load, however over consumption can result in insulin sensitivity, but over consumption compounded over many years of poor decision making that is.
GALACTOSE is only present in very few foods but is an important factor in the formation of the disaccharide lactose otherwise known as milk sugar.
The disaccharides are pairs of the three monosaccharides mentioned above. Now remember how important glucose is? Well one of the reasons is that it occurs as one of the monosaccharides in all three of the disaccharides.
The three Disaccharides are Maltose, Sucrose, and finally the most commonly known one, Lactose. Maltose, most notably present in barley consists of two glucose units and is produced whenever starch is broken down during human digestion.
Sucrose consists of a glucose and a fructose unit and Lactose is the combination of glucose and galactose and is often referred to as milk sugar.
Now for the “good’ carbs, the Polysaccharides. Glycogen and Starches. These carbohydrates are made up of many glucose units unlike the other saccharides that are composed of only one or two and are digested and absorbed easily. Glycogen is not necessarily a compound found in foods, as a matter of fact it is not present in food at all, besides a tiny amount in meat. Glycogen rather works as a storage unit for glucose molecules. Glycogen is only found in two places in the human body, the liver and muscle cells, and is made up of many glucose molecules linked together in highly branched chains. When energy release hormones arrive at glycogen storage sites, they rapidly attack the glycogen chains making a surge of glucose available to be used up to perform your specific activity and keep you energized throughout the day.
Starches are different. They are what glycogen is to the human body but for plants, a storage unit for glucose molecules. Hundreds of thousands of linked glucose molecules form the starches in many of grains and root vegetables that we consume and usually provide large amounts of fiber to our diets. These highly condensed large starch molecules are extremely tightly packed together within the starch containing foods that we consume and are a source of sustainable energy.
This information is utterly pointless if you don’t have a basic understanding of how the molecules are absorbed by the body. Now just because they are from the same family does not mean that they are all used in the same way. Absorption of glucose actually starts in the lining of the mouth but for the most part absorption takes place in the small intestine. Glucose and galactose pass through the cells of the small intestine through active transport meaning that it can enter the bloodstream rapidly. Whereas fructose is absorbed through facilitated diffusion, meaning that it needs a carrier molecule to help it pass through the cells of the small intestine making its entry into the bloodstream much slower. And as mentioned previously, fructose is the main sugar in fruits, so anyone that tells you to cut out fruit because it is full of sugar is 100% correct. But they lack the knowledge to know how fructose is absorbed in the body. Besides the fact that fruit has amazing benefits. Once the molecules have been absorbed they travel via the portal to the liver, where fructose and galactose are metabolized and glucose is stored or sent into the bloodstreams for use by many of the cells in the body.
In total, the liver stores around 1 third of the body’s total glycogen and facilitates the release of glucose into the blood stream as needed. Now yes, the muscles store the other 2 thirds of glycogen in the body, but they are hoarders of glycogen. They do not hydrolyze it and release it for other functions in the body, they use it solely for their own activity such as exercise. The brain also has the ability to store small amounts of glycogen in the case of severe glucose deprivation such as low carb diets. Glycogen stores in the body can only provide energy for relatively short periods of time, about a day at rest and up to only a few hours during activity. Therefore it is imperative to keep the body fueled with a combination of different carbohydrate sources to ensure that your body is able to function at maximum capacity.