Why does our body need carbohydrates

carbohydrates

What are carbohydrates?

From a chemical point of view, carbohydrates (saccharides) are sugars. They consist of a combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (= hydrates). You can tell whether a substance is a carbohydrate if you take a closer look at the Latin name: If there is an "ose" at the end, it is a sugar, for example lactose, maltose or sucrose.

Basically, depending on the number of sugar components and consequently the length of the sugar chains, a distinction is made between the following groups:

Simple sugars (monosaccharides)

A carbohydrate that consists of a single sugar molecule is called simple sugar or monosaccharide. There are three food-relevant monosaccharides:

  • Glucose (also called grape sugar), found in honey or fruits
  • Fructose (fruit sugar) is also found in honey and fruits
  • Galactose, part of milk sugar that is released during digestion.

Simple sugars pass almost directly from food into the organism, where they are quickly available as energy. However, this also means that they rise the blood sugar level rapidly, but drop it again just as quickly. Monosaccharides are good for short term, fast performance

Simple sugars are an important source of energy for the body. For example, glucose is necessary for the brain, red blood cells and kidney cortex to function.

Double sugar (disaccharides)

If two single sugars are connected to one another, one speaks of double sugars. The carbohydrates with two sugar molecules include, for example, milk sugar (lactose) or granulated sugar (sucrose), as used in baking. The usual table sugar is therefore a disaccharide. Disaccharides are also known as short-chain carbohydrates.

Polysaccharides (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides)

Multiple sugars are also known as long-chain carbohydrates; at least three sugar molecules are related to each other. Depending on the definition, oligosaccharides are compounds with three to ten sugar molecules. They taste sweet. Oligosaccharides are found in legumes such as peas or beans, for example. Their constituents raffinose, stachyrosis and verbascose cannot be digested in the upper intestinal tract, but have to be broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. This can cause the flatulence typical of legumes.

If more than ten sugars are linked, one speaks of polysaccharides. Their chemical properties are also slightly different - for example, the long carbohydrate chain is no longer as soluble in water and no longer tastes sweet. Starch as found in potatoes (60 percent starch) or cereals (75 percent starch) is one of the polysaccharides. It is the most important food carbohydrate. Since starch is rarely consumed in its pure form, starchy foods not only provide us with energy, but also nutrients and filling fiber.

The body has to break down these polysaccharides before it can use the sugar as an energy source. This means: the blood sugar rises slowly, falls slowly and there are no food cravings. This is why this type of carbohydrate is called “good”.

Use carbohydrates

Plants can produce sugar themselves with the help of photosynthesis, for example they build it into their cell walls in the form of cellulose or store it in the form of starch. People usually get their carbohydrate needs through diet. The carbohydrates migrate into the blood through the intestines. So that the human cells can access the carbohydrates floating in the blood as a source of energy, they need insulin. This hormone is made in the pancreas.

Carbohydrates that the organism does not burn immediately are stored in the form of glycogen in the liver (2/3) and muscles (1/3).