|Also known as: monosaccharides, disaccharides, polycaccharides|
|What is it?|
What they are: Put simply, these are sugars and starches. Body fuel. When runners bulk up on carbohydrates before a marathon, they know what they're doing. Our bodies run on carbs much the way cars run on gas. Complex carbohydrates (those in pasta, the runner's favorite, potatoes, rice, dried peas and beans, grains) are nothing more than fancy configurations of hundreds, often thousands of GLUCOSE (simple sugar) molecules. Our bodies don't break these down into usable form very fast, especially if fiber is also present. Nutritionally speaking, all carbohydrates fall into one of three basic groups:
Monosaccharides (simple sugars): These include fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose, often called blood sugar because it's what all carbohydrates are broken down into in the body. Only glucose circulates in the blood, providing energy to organs, glands, muscles, indeed to every cell. Finally, there is galactose, which rarely stands alone but does combine with other simple sugars, notably with glucose to form lactose (milk sugar).
Disaccharides (double sugars): Nothing more than bonded pairs of simple sugars. There is sucrose (table sugar), glucose plus fructose; lactose (milk sugar), glucose plus galactose; and maltose (malt sugar), two linked glucose molecules.
Polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates): Elaborate chains of glucose molecules, which from a nutritional standpoint are far and away the most important because they digest more slowly than simple or double sugars. Found in peas, beans, grains, potatoes and other starchy plants, they come freighted DIETARY FIBER, VITAMINS and MINERALS.
As far as calories are concerned, however, all carbohydrates are created equal. The monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides all weigh in at 4 calories per gram. Still, for all their pluses, too many carbs, like too much FAT or PROTEIN, will put on the pounds. Nutritionists commonly recommend 55 to 60 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates but recent research indicates that diabetes, heart disease and a myriad of other chronic degenerative diseases can be greatly reduced by consuming a greater ratio of proteins and fats and lesser amounts of carbohydrates.
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