Carbohydrates: What are they and how are they stored?

I have a lot of people ask me what a carbohydrate is, what is a protein, what is a fat is and what kinds are good and bad. I’m trying my best to share the knowledge that I have with those people and at the same time, sharing it here online, with you.

Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about carbohydrates – what they do, how they’re stored and how our bodies use them.

What is a Carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates, by definition are large biological molecules that are comprised of Hydrogen, Carbon and Oxygen atoms. You might know carbohydrates better as the molecule that provides your body with energy and can be found in grains, and vegetables.

Carbohydrates play various roles in the human body. They provide energy, play key roles in your immune system, blood clotting, development and fertilization.

What do Carbohydrates do and how are they stored?

After carbohydrate is eaten, it is broken down into smaller units of sugar (including glucose, fructose and galactose – any word that ends in -ose is a sugar!) in the stomach and small intestine. These small units of sugar are absorbed in the small intestine and then enter the bloodstream where they travel to the liver. Fructose and galactose are converted to glucose by the liver. Glucose is the carbohydrate transported by the bloodstream to the various tissues and organs, including the muscles and the brain, where it will be used as energy.

If the body does not need glucose for energy, it stores glucose in the liver and the skeletal muscles in a form called glycogen. If glycogen stores are full, glucose is stored as fat. Glycogen stores are used as an energy source when the body needs more glucose than is readily available in the bloodstream (for example, during exercise). The body has limited storage capacity for glycogen.

Carbohydrate spares the use of protein as an energy source. When carbohydrate consumption is inadequate, protein is broken down to make glucose to maintain a constant blood glucose level. However, when proteins are broken down they lose their primary role as building blocks for muscles. In addition, protein breakdown may result in an increased stress on the kidneys, where protein byproducts are excreted into the urine.

Carbohydrates are essential for the body’s function. It is, however, good to limit the amount of carbohydrates taken in as we do not need nearly as much as are usually consumed by society. Be aware of what you eat and how your body processes it. As always consult with your doctor or dietitian before starting a new diet.

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