Understanding Carbs

We’ve reviewed proteins and fats as energy sources. The final energy source seems to be the most controversial; carbohydrates. While some athletes load up on them, other fitness experts try to avoid them all together. Of course everyone is different and how you consume them should be in relation to your goals. In this post we will seek to understand the components of carbohydrates and how they function in the body.

Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are the body’s primary source of energy. When we think of carbs we often think of it as being the fuel for our body during exercise. Carbs also play a major part in providing the fuel for all of our bodily processes. This includes the functioning of the immune system, cardiorespiratory system, nervous system, body growth and blood clotting. Certain carbs such as fiber, play an important role in promoting the health and function of the gastrointestinal tract by supporting absorption, digestion and waste elimination. No wonder bread is the go-to after a hard night of drinking.[1]

Now let’s get into my least favorite subject and break down the molecules.

  • Carbs are made up of three neural molecules: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
  • Chemically they are organic compounds known as aldehydes or ketones and are grouped into three categories:
    • sugars, starches and cellulose.
  • They are either simple or complex [2]

We will be breaking down the foundation of carbs by analyzing the simple carbs and the complex carbs but before we do that, let’s briefly run through our sugar groups. There are 4 sugar groups: monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides, oligosaccharides.

Now onto Simple Carbs.

Simple carbs provide a fast source of usable energy and are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.



Monosaccharides are a form of simple carbs. They are found in most foods such as ripe fruit, honey and sugar cane. They are important for energy but overconsumption can result in a spike in the blood sugar level followed by an abrupt drop. This result in a rapid loss of energy is a condition called hypoglycemia and also diabetes mellitus. It is best to limit your intake of processed foods that have a high amount of monosaccharides such as Soda.

Types of monosaccharides:

Glucose is the primary sugar that contributes to the body’s source of fuel. Glykys means sweet in Greek and ose denotes a sugar. The primary function is to help sustain growth and development and functioning of all cells.

Fructose is the fruit sugar that absorbs more slowly into the bloodstream based off its complex makeup. It stores as glycogen in the liver rather than the muscle which can be dangerous in large amounts. One benefit is that it helps to increase mental alertness. Fructose can be found in honey, tree fruits, berries, melons, beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips and onions. It can also come from sucrose aka table sugar.[3]


Disaccharides are found in lactose, sucrose and maltose (formed from the breakdown of starch). They are used for quick energy and can be found in processed foods. They must be broken down into single unit sugars before they are fully digested. Each of these sugars has its own unique digestive enzyme for example sucrose breaks down sucrose.[4] Fun fact, many people do not have the lactase enzyme to break down lactose which makes them lactose-intolerant. Most stop producing it as they age. This is why some of you may have been able to stomach milk as a young child but found yourself getting sick from it as an adult. I personally have not had chocolate milk since I was a kid……I miss chocolate milk. Now I know that I don’t have the lactase to break it down.


The final simple carb are oligosaccharides. There is not a significant proportion of natural occurring oligosaccharides. Most are linked to lipids or to proteins. Others are hormones or enzymes.[5] There is the human milk oligosaccharide but most of us stop consuming that before we reach 2 years old. At least I hope.

That seems like a good place to stop. In our next post we will finish understand carbs by diving into complex carbs.



[1] Harvard. The Nutrition Source. Carbohydrates. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/
[2] Chemistry for Biologists: Carbohydrates. Retrieved from: http://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/carbohydrates.htm
[3] Nutrients Review. Monosaccharides or Simple Sugars. Retrieved from: http://www.nutrientsreview.com/carbs/monosaccharides-simple-sugars.html
[4] Britannica. Biochemistry: Disaccharide. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/science/disaccharide
[5] Nutrients Review. Oligosaccharides. Retrieved from: http://www.nutrientsreview.com/carbs/oligosaccharides.html



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