What are carbohydrates and sugars?
Our body needs carbohydrates in order to generate energy for the brain. Our brain cells depend exclusively on glucose consumption and even when we do not exercise any physical activity, our brain consumes more than 2/3 of the carbohydrates in the bloodstream.
It is, however, crucial to know what the carbohydrates are made of and when they are healthy for us. I used to hear that I should eat chocolate snacks when I am under stress, or want to boost brain energy and concentration. For many people carbohydrates equal sugar, which equals candy bars. The truth is somehow different.
We can find carbohydrates in almost everything – vegetables, fruits, wholegrain food, cakes, pasta, juice. Carbohydrates are also known as saccharides. There are three main types of saccharides: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides are the smallest sugar unit, the name comes from the Greek “monos” meaning single, and “sacchar” meaning sugar. They can be glucose, galactose (found in dairy products) or fructose (found in fruits). The only monosaccharide that is used to supply energy to our cells is glucose.
Disaccharides are carbohydrates that are formed from two monosaccharides. Examples of monosaccharides are:
table sugar or sucrose = fructose + glucose
sugar in milk or lactose = galactose + glucose
Polysaccharides are formed by three or more monosaccharide molecules. One such example is glycogen. Each glycogen molecule may contain 60,000 glucose units joined together.
Glycogen is stored carbohydrate. It is hard to use immediately all of the consumed carbohydrates and therefore, the unused are stored in our liver or muscles. However, our storage space is limited, as the muscles and liver can only process and store a certain amount of glycogen. Everything above that amount is stored as fat.
In short, the main function of carbohydrates is the supply of energy in the form of glucose to our cells. When the primary monosaccharides are absorbed from the intestine, they are transported to the liver. Since we need only glucose to form glycogen storage, after the glycogen reserves meet the requirements of liver, the remaining monosaccharides are converted into fat. Only limited amounts of fructose could be converted into glucose.
Therefore, we should be careful with sugar consumption. We don’t need excessive fructose since it could not be converted into energy for our cells.*
*Fructose is to be found in food sweetened with sugar, natural sweetener as just fructose, high-fructose corn syrup and many others.