How the Body Uses Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a major component of most diets across all cultures. They are found in many types of foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. Along with amino acids, nucleic acids, and fatty acids, carbohydrates are considered a building block necessary for biological life. The body utilizes carbohydrates as a primary source of energy and to construct biological molecules that act as structural components or biochemical markers.

Types of Carbohydrates

All carbohydrates are constructed from basic sugar units. Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrates consisting of only one unit. Oligosaccharides contain 2-10 sugar units linked together. Polysaccharides are long chain carbohydrates that contain greater than 10 linked units. Food sources usually contain a combination of different carbohydrate types in varying amounts.


Monosaccharides include glucose, which is the primary form of carbohydrate found in the blood stream. Glucose serves as biological fuel and is the most accessible form of energy for organs, tissues, muscles, and cells. Dietary glucose is rapidly absorbed and utilized by the body. Individuals with high metabolism or highly active often require larger amounts of dietary carbohydrates.


Oligosaccharides are comprised of between 2-10 basic units. Since they are linked, dietary oligosaccharides require chemical separation before they can be converted to glucose. Sucrose which is found in many foods is one example of an oligosaccharide.


Polysaccharides are long chained carbohydrates found in starches and plant fibers. Dietary fibers are not absorbed in the body but remain in the intestine absorbing water and toxins until they are excreted. Dietary fiber has been shown to have beneficial effects in heart disease, diabetes, and intestinal conditions. Excess glucose that is not currently utilized by cells can be linked together and stored in the form of glycogen. The links are easily broken and glycogen serves as a quick source of glucose in times of biological need.

Diabetes and carbohydarets

Diabetes is a medical condition that often requires patients to restrict the intake of dietary carbohydrates. As blood glucose levels elevate, insulin is produced by the pancreas to drive glucose into cells. Diabetes is a condition that results in a lack of insulin production or an impaired cellular response to insulin. As a result, glucose remains in the bloodstream where long term exposure to high blood sugars can lead to diabetic complications.

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