The Science Behind Carbs (And the Reasons We Need Them)

Carbohydrates (or carbs for short) are one of the top sources for energy, actually they are the primary energy source.  They are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (1:2:1 ratio).  There are four chemical groupings in carbs; monosaccharides, disaccarides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.  Now for those that remember their highschool science, you might remember what mono, di and poly mean.  But we will get into it a bit more here:

Monosaccharides (mono meaning one) are the simplest or smallest fuel sources and building blocks.  They include things like glucose, fructose and deoxyribose (check your ingredients list on packaged products).

Disaccharides (di meaning two) are formed when 2 monosaccharides are joined together by dehyrdation synthesis.  They include sucrose, lactose and maltose.

Oligosaccharides (oligo meaning a few) are short chains of monosaccharides (3-10) linked together as polymers commonly found on the plasma membrane where they play roles in cell recognition (I know, very sciency).  They include fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).

Polysaccharides (poly meaning many) are longer chains of monosaccharides (10 or more) linked together as polymers.  They make ideal forms of storage due to their insolubility and stability.  They include glycogen, starch and cellulose.

Saccharide of course means sugar.  Sugars come from plants through the process of photosynthesis (now that’s a flashback to grade 8 science!).  Plants use sugars to supply it’s energy requirements.  When we harvest and consume them, our bodies are able to utilize the plant’s stored energy as fuel.  Pretty cool right?

Carbs can do only 1 of 3 things:  they can support health and homeostasis, they can have a neutral effect on health and homeostasis, or they can upset health and homeostasis.

All carbs are NOT the same.  Four questions to ask yourself; what type is it, how much is consumed, what is it consumed with, and when is it consumed?  There are 2 key distinctions of carbs as well, which I’m sure we all know; there are carbs from whole natural foods and those derived from them and there are carbs from refined, processed foods.

What Type Is It? – The form that something is consumed in really does matter, i.e. whole fruit as opposed to fruit juice.  The considerable fiber content in whole fruit will cause the simple carbs to be absorbed much slower.

How Much Is Consumed? – When too many carbs are consumed they will either replace foods that provide needed proteins and fats or be consumed in addition to them.  If they replace the foods then there’s a danger of creating deficiencies and imbalances.  If they are eaten in excess and in addition to those foods, you will gain body fat and develop other health challenges.

What Is It Consumed With? – Everything is held back and the sugars ferment in the acid of the stomach which has a negative impact on the digestion of protein leading to a degree of putrification.  Everything gets “dumped” into the small intestine prematurely (due to elevated pH from the interaction) which means the digestion of protein has been compromised.

When Is It Consumed? – Growth hormone (GH) levels generally decline as one ages.  GH is secreted at night.  Insulin suppresses the release of GH so the worst thing a person could do that wants to enhance their body’s natural release of GH is to consume something sweet at night or just before bed.  As a hormone critical for the health and well being of all humans, Growth Hormone is needed in precise amounts for the optimal functioning of a number of physiological processes and growth of body tissues, including muscle.

The bottom line is for every gram of protein, you should consume between 0.5 to 1.0 grams of good quality complex carbs.  There are three general categories to help you determine how much you should be consuming.

  1.  Category 1 – If you have significant health challenges, are significantly over your ideal weight or body fat percentage, or have certain lab values out of the optimal range, aim to get 0.5 grams of carbs per gram of protein
  2.  Category 2 – If your weight and blood sugar are good, and you are feeling great, then you will likely do well on 1-2 grams of carbs, depending on personal sensitivity and activity level.
  3.  Category 3 – For those expending considerable amounts of energy (due to a great deal of exercise, physical work or temperature regulation) higher amounts of carbs are beneficial based on what is needed to maintain one’s weight, energy and performance.

As you can see, carbs are an essential part of anyone’s diet.  Get creative in the kitchen and enjoy!


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