Carbohydrates: The Body's Glucose Suppliers
Plants create carbohydrates as a by-product of the photosynthetic process. Carbohydrates are considered the most abundant organic compound found in nature. Dietary carbohydrates consist of sugars or simple carbohydrates found in white sugar, fructose, honey, and molasses; and complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Chemically speaking, carbohydrates are organic compounds composed of carbon atoms attached to hydrates such as water molecules. Dietary carbohydrates supply the primary source of energy for all physiological processes including the digestion and assimilation of all macronutrients. They are by far, the body's favorite energy source and provide glucose for the body which is its primary fuel source.
Eating an excess of simple carbohydrates is one of the single most destructive dietary habit of Western societies. Diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, hypoglycemia and nutritional depletion have all been linked to eating too much sugar or simple starches. While we absolutely must have carbohydrates, the type of carbohydrates we choose to eat makes a profound difference in how our bodies will react. The key to health lies in how much and what kind we choose to eat.
Carbohydrates are classified according to their chemical structure. Monosaccharides are single (or simple) sugars; ogligosaccharides are multiple sugars; and polysaccharides are complex molecules made of several simple sugars. Monosaccharides have three to seven carbon atoms each. It is the hexoses or six carbon atoms sugars that we are most interested in. Listed below are different hexose sugars or simple sugars that we ingest on a daily basis.
Fructose (levulose, fruit sugar) is found in honey, ripe fruits and some vegetables. It has a much sweeter taste than cane sugar, easily dissolves without crystallization and cannot be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. This may help to explain why people who are sugar sensitive may get the sugar shakes after eating a bowl of frosted corn flakes (sucrose) but not after eating a whole apple.
Glucose (also called dextrose, corn sugar, or grape sugar) is the chemical form of sugar after it has entered the bloodstream. Glucose is another name for blood sugar and is the carbohydrate used on a cellular level to drive virtually every metabolic process. Dietary glucose is water soluble, crystallizes readily and is less sweet than cane or white sugar.
Galactose is a monosaccharide sugar that is produced during the digestion of lactose (milk sugar).
Mannose, xylose and arabinose are all pentose (five) carbohydrate compounds that are produced when certain meats and fruits are digested. Ribose is another pentose produced during digestion; it is also synthesized by the human body. Ribose is a constituent of riboflavin (a B-complex vitamin), ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
Lactose (milk sugar) is the only nutritionally significant carbohydrate that comes from an animal rather than plant source. Cow's milk has a significant amount of lactose.
Sucrose (common table sugar) is derived from sugar cane, sugar beets, molasses, maple sugar or sorghum. Some vegetables and many fruits contain at least some sucrose. Sucrose is consumed in excessive amounts in typical Western diets because of its addition to prepackaged foods, pop, and candy.
Maltose (malt sugar) is found in malted snacks, beer and some breakfast cereals.
Starch is a polysaccharide composed of long chains of glucose units. It is commonly found in a number of plants like potatoes.
Dextrins are shorter chains of glucose units that are the intermediate products of the hydrolysis of starch.
Glycogen, also called animal starch, is produced in the liver and mu