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Carbohydrates are the most abundant organic compounds in the plant world. They act as a storehouse of chemical energy. Carbohydrates are major compounds in foods accounting for more than 90% of the dry matter of fruits and vegetables and providing for 70-80% of human caloric intake world wide. Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen primarily in the skeletal muscles and the liver. During high intensity physical activities muscle glycogen stores are the primary source of energy.

Carbohydrates come in essentially two forms, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are mono and disaccharides or "sugars". Carbo means "carbon" and hydrate means "water", thus giving a hint as to how these molecules are formed. The simplest of carbohydrates in terms of molecular structure, the simple sugars, exist in arrangements of one or two molecules.


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"Carbohydrates are defined as polyhydroxy alcohols with free aldehyde or keto groups". Carbohydrates are made up of sugars, starches, cellulose and lignin. The main energy nutrients found in animal rations are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are chemically composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates also produce the body heat that helps to keep the animal warm. The extra carbohydrates are converted to fat and stored in the body.

Carbohydrates are sugar chains linked together. Generally the shorter the sugar chain the more processed or refined the carbohydrate. The more refinement or processing that goes into the carbohydrate, the less fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants the carbohydrate contains. Long chain carbohydrates are whole foods with little or no refinement or processing. Carbohydrate is the body's main energy or fuel source. Carbohydrates also provide the body with valuable fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in the brain and nervous system.


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Carbohydrates are basically classified into two main types simple and complex.
  1. Simple carbohydrate is just that simple sugars. The body doesn't have to work very hard to get the energy from this source and therefore it is pretty easy to overeat these types of carbohydrates and have the body kick it into storage, which increases fat stores and potentially leads to weight gain and obesity. Simple sugars are found mostly in refined foods. Simple carbohydrates include natural and added sugars. The sugars found in fruits, vegetables, milk, honey, corn syrup and table sugar are all simple carbohydrates.
  2. Complex carbohydrate is well a bit more structurally complex. These carbohydrates make the body work just to digest them, therefore burning more calories even in the digestion process. Complex carbohydrate also has many added benefits and include other nutrients. Complex carbohydrates are starches and fiber. Grains such as rice, corn and wheat all contain high amounts of starch. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugars with a molecular formula of Cn(H2O)n, where n ranges from 3 to 9. The most common monosaccharides are hexoses, such as D-glucose and D-fructose and pentoses such as D-arabinose and L-arabinose. Monosaccharides having the same molecular weight but different molecular structures as well as different chemical and physical properties, are isomers to each other. Monosachharides are chiral compounds, as they contain asymmetric tetrahedral carbon atoms, which give rise to stereoisomers.

Three monosaccharides are important in nutrition: glucose, fructose and galactose. All three monosaccharides have the same number and kinds of atoms but in different arrangements. The structure of monosaccharides is shown below.

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In disaccharides pairs of single sugars are linked together. Three disaccharides are important in nutrition; maltose, sucrose and lactose. All three have glucose as one of their single sugars. These carbohydrates and all the other energy nutrients are put together and taken apart by similar chemical reactions condensation and hydrolysis. Disaccharides are glycosides formed from the linking of two monosachharides. The most important disaccharides are maltose, cellobiose, lactose and sucrose.

The two monosaccharides combine to form a single organic molecule, the product is called disaccharide. The reaction to make a disaccharide is a condensation involving hydroxyl groups from each of the two monosaccharides. The product contains two monosaccharide units linked by an oxygen atom.

The bridging oxygen and the adjacent bonds are called a glycosidic linkage and this linkage is analogous to the peptide bond that links amino acids in a protein. The structure of some of the disaccharides are shown below.



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The polysaccharides contain many glucose units and in some cases a few other monosaccharides strong together. Three types of polysaccharides are important in nutrition glycogen, starches and fibers. Glycogen is a storage form of energy in the body; starch is the storage form of energy in plants and fibers provide structure are built of glucose units; fibers are composed of a variety of monosaccharides and other carbohydrate derivatives.

Polysaccharides are polymers in which monosaccharides are the monomers. In homopolysaccharides only one type of monomer is present. Two or more monosaccharide monomers are present in heteropolysaccharides. Storage polysaccharides serve as structural elements in plant cell walls and animal. The polysaccharides are classified into two groups; storage and structural. The former is polysaccharides which are generally considered to be food reserve materials example, starch and laminaran whereas the latter are those which are structural elements of the cell walls. The example for polysaccharide that is cellulose is given bellow.


Simple Carbohydrates

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Simple carbohydrates are small molecules of sugar. They are very different from the long chains in complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly. Consuming simple carbohydrates increases the chances of sugar converting rapidly to stored fat if the simple carbohydrate have not been burned for energy.

Simple carbohydrates are absorbed by the body fairly quickly and so they can elevate the blood sugar level very rapidly. In fact simple sugars are the only nutrient that can be absorbed by the tissues inside the mouth because they don't require any digestion. Simple carbohydrates also contribute to the absorption of water in the body and therefore play a vital role in hydration.

Complex Carbohydrates

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Complex carbohydrates are sugars bonded together in a chain. Enzymes are used during digestion to break the chain down into individual sugars to be absorbed through the intestines. This is a long and slow process which provides a steady supply of energy from these sugars and limits the amount converted into stored fat.

Complex carbohydrate consists of many sugar units strung together to form long, complex chains. As with simple carbohydrates some complex carbohydrates are better choices than others. Refined complex carbohydrates, such as white flour and white rice have been processed, which removes nutrients and fiber. But unrefined grains still contain their original vitamins and minerals.


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Carbohydrates are essential for our diet, providing fuel for muscles and important nutrients for brain. simple sugars are found in honey, sugar, milk and some sweet ripe fruits like grapes, apples and tomatoes. Complex carbohydrate or starches occur in grains, breads, cereals, pastas, vegetables, legumes such as peas and beans and rice.

Both kinds are necessary to a healthy functioning body.examples of carbohydrates to avoid include white bread, white pasta, white rice, cookies, cakes, deep-fried foods, fruit drinks, sodas, conventional and processes milk products, fried potato/ corn chips, candies and all types of junk food.