Carbohydrates – types and functions

All carbohydrates are not equal. The 2 main groups are starch and sugars. Starch are good for energy, fibers and vitamin B, that release the energy and help the body. What all have in common is that they are produced by plants during photosynthesis.
Simple and complex carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are divided into simple or sometimes called fast carbohydrates and complex or slow carbohydrates. The simple carbs contain 1-2 sugars and the complex 3 and above sugars.


  • Monosaccharides (1 sugar)
    • Glucose: A product of photosynthesis and a major source of energy.
    • Fructose: Found in fruits and beverages.
    • Galactose: Not normally found in nature.
  • Disaccarides (2 sugars)
    • Sucrose: Made by plants such as sugar beets (Glucose+Fructose).
    • Maltose: Found in alcoholic beverages (Glucose+Glucose).
    • Lactose: Milk sugar (Glucose+Galactose).


  • Olgiosaccharides (3-10 sugars)
    • Raffinose: Found in legumes, lettuce, brussel sprouts, onions, broccoli, cabbage and whole wheat.
    • Stachyose: Found in legumes, lentils, cauliflower, onions, broccoli, cabbage and whole wheat.
  • Polysaccharides (made up of many other sugars >10 sugars)
    • Starch (Amylose – straight and Amylopectin – branched structure): Found in grains, roots, and legumes.
    • Glycogen: Found in animals rather than plants – also highly branched in structure. But we don’t eat them, they break down by enzymes after slaughter.
    • Most fibers (Pectin, Beta-glucan, Gums, Cellulose, Hemicellulose): Fiber is indigestible stuff, i.e. they pass through the body.
      • Dietary fiber: Nondigestibles intact in plants including lingins – i.e. they stay in the plant. No proven benefit to humans.
      • Functional fiber: Nondigestibles from plants or animals that have a beneficial physiological effect. They can be isolated and extracted or synthesized.
      • Total fiber: Dietary + functional fiber.


Soulable and insoluble fibers
Insoluble fibers are now called nonfementable and / or nonviscous or structural fibers
These include:

  • Cellulose – the main component of the plant cell wall
  • Hemicellulose – surround cellusose in plant cell wall
  • Lignin – noncarbohydrate found in the woody plant cell wall

Soulable fiber is referred to as fermentable and / or viscous or cellular fibers. Fermentalble is stuff the bacteria in the colon can degrade into fatty acids and gas. Viscous means the fibers turn into a gel-like consistency.
These include:

  • Hemicellulose – surround cellulose in plant cell walls
  • Pectin – found in cell walls and intracellular tissues in fruit and berries
  • Beta-glucans – found in cereal brans
  • Gums – viscous, usually isolated from seeds

Fibers make us feel full and help digestion. Soluble fibers can help lower cholesterol, this is how: Bile breaks down fat. Bile comes from cholesterol. When you consume fat your body need to produce more bile. To eat more fiber binds the bile and it excretes. To obtain cholesterol to make more bile salts, the liver increases the production of LDL receptors. These pull cholesterol out of LDL molecules in the bloodstream. So, the more bile salts that are made, the more cholesterol is pulled out. By eating fiber you use up a lot more cholesterol. Complicated? Well, all you need to remember is to eat more fibers.

Sugar alcohols (sugar replacements, or sweeteners) containing calories

  • Xylitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol

Alternative to sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, neotame, acesulfame potassium, socralose, tagatose – contain no or few calories. Stevia is a natural plant from South America and can’t be classed as artificial.


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