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Importance of Carbohydrates

Importance of Carbohydrates

The incorporation of carbohydrates into our diet is extremely important. Let's try and understand why they are so necessary for the body.
Loveleena Rajeev
The most common source of energy in living things, carbohydrate, is an organic compound comprising carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, with a general formula Cm(H2O)n. Carbohydrates can be derived from any food that is particularly rich in starch and/or sugar. Although extremely important for our bodies, carbohydrates have gotten themselves a bad name as the 'thing to avoid to lose weight', giving rise to a whole lot of diets from zero-carbs to no-carbs. But the fact remains that we need carbohydrates, as they provide the body with energy needed for physical activity as well as proper organ functioning. The only difference here lies in the types of carbohydrates one consumes, and more importantly its source.

Types of Carbohydrates
There are two types of carbohydrates―simple and complex, and both are needed in adequate proportion to maintain good weight and optimum health.
  • Simple Carbohydrates: Simple carbs are made up of basic sugar. Simple sugars can be found in milk, molasses, fruits, and table refined sugar. Sugar gets converted (breaks down) to glucose immediately on consumption, providing instant energy to different parts of the body via the blood.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbs contain starches, and take a longer time for break down into energy, hence, providing the body with constant energy for a longer duration. Complex starches can be found in whole grain products, as well as refined products. But refined products are generally devoid of all nutrients and fiber.
As with simple carbohydrates that break down immediately, complex carbs take a longer time and do not get stored over a period of time. This is not the case for simple carbohydrates, which get stored, and when not burned adequately, cause health problems. But this is not to say that simple carbohydrates are not healthy. Both types are needed―it is just a matter of personal choice from where we source it.

Why are Carbohydrates Necessary?
Glucose is the primary source of energy, which is constantly replenished through simple carbohydrates. However, when there is a shortage of glucose, the body digs into its glucose energy reserve to ensure adequate levels of blood sugar. Glucose is stored mostly in the liver, and in smaller amounts in the muscles as a molecule known as glycogen. Glycogen is broken down and released into the bloodstream. As the body continues to use its reserves, it does so at the expense of proteins in the muscles, weakening them by damaging the muscle tissues, depriving the brain of its glucose requirement, and reducing levels of glucose in the red blood cells.

Fiber from carbohydrates keeps the bowel functioning smoothly, and reduces the risk of digestive system complications. Preventing ketosis is another important reason to include them in the diet. Ketosis is a very serious condition that occurs when our diet is very low in carbohydrates, resulting in raised levels of chemicals called ketones in the blood, as the body turns to fat for energy. Carbohydrates also aid in consumption of other nutrients.

In a gist, carbohydrates primarily ensure proper levels of energy in our body. There is no fixed recommended dietary allowance (RDA) earmarked for carbohydrates. However, most nutritionists recommend a diet that comprises at least 45 to 70 percent to stay healthy, which should be primarily sourced from fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, and whole grain cereals and its products.
Raw potatoes in a basket
Red and yellow new potatoes