We all need food to survive. Plants need food to grow and flourish; animals need food to survive and function properly; and fungi need food to multiply and thrive. In a human body, the food that is eaten is absorbed and used by cells to produce energy or to build new cells. All living organisms need food to live, but the amount and type of food they receive may vary according to their needs and their location on the planet.
Carbohydrates are the main sources of energy in our body. They are found in such items as breads, cereals, pasta, potatoes and pulses. Food is generally of plant, vegetable or fruit origin, and includes the main nutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, or other minerals. The carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables are broken down to glucose, which is the fuel used by the body to function properly.
The body uses energy, or ATP, from carbohydrates, to build muscles, bones and other organs. In order to do that, it needs amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex, which differ in their chemical structures. Both have their own functions, but the complex ones – such as those in beans, nuts, rice and wheat – are used more often as ingredients in diets, because they have more complete proteins and can be converted to energy more quickly than the simpler varieties.
Simple carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which can be used immediately by the cells. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates need to be broken down further to energy, before being converted to other nutrients. Examples of complex carbohydrates include vegetables, legumes, whole grain products, fruits, whole wheat breads and cereals. Because these foods contain different proportions of these nutrients (such as in the case of complex sugars), they all differ in nutrient quantity and quality, making it important to eat a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. The lack of nutrient density in a diet can make it feel bland and boring and contribute to weight gain and other health problems.
A balanced diet must contain both complex and simple sugars. In fact, the two types of sugars are usually classified as equal in importance, depending on their biological processes and metabolic stability. The difference lies in the storage properties and source. Simple sugars are rapidly digested, leaving them to enter the blood streams more quickly for energy. This makes them great for replacing simple carbohydrates in the absence of complex sugars.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals. They are absorbed slowly by the body and require more energy to break down into simple sugars. As a result, they usually take longer to be metabolized, leaving the body with a need for them on a constant basis. Some examples include complex carbohydrates found in sweet fruits and vegetables, such as pears, peaches, plums, and tangerines. Simple carbohydrates such as white rice, pasta, potatoes and sweet cereals are easily digested and leave the body with little need for them. As with simple sugars, the best sources of carbohydrates are from plant sources.