Factfile: Importance of Carbohydrates

Factfile: Importance of Carbohydrates


Known as energy foods, carbohydrates are basically sugar. They are the body’s main fuel, which is broken down to glucose and transported via blood circulation to different parts of the body. Through cell metabolism, glucose is burned to create what is needed for work and play – energy.

Carbohydrates are classified by the number of sugar units. Saccharide, from the Latin word that means “sugar”, refers to a single sugar unit. Thus, monosaccharides have one sugar unit, disaccharides have two, and polysaccharides have many sugar units.

Because monosaccharides and disaccharides are simple, one- and two-unit structures, they are also called simple carbohydrates, which do not require digestion. Instead, they are easily absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream, furnishing the body immediately with energy.

On the other hand, polysaccharides are known as complex carbohydrates, due to their long intricate chains of sugar units. They take longer to digest; thus, they don’t result in a sudden spike in blood sugar, unlike simple carbohydrates.

[pq]Polysaccharides, such as starch, provide the body with sustained energy over a longer period of time.[/pq]


Many of them also contain non-digestible dietary fiber, which does the wonder of limiting the body’s absorption of fats and cholesterol. Given these health benefits, complex carbohydrates should be the primary carbohydrates in your kids’ diet.

Functions of carbohydrates

  1. Main energy supplier. The body runs on carbohydrates, the principal fuel needed for physical activities and cell work. Each gram of carbohydrate produces 4 kcal of human energy. Kilocalorie – kcal for short – is the standard unit of measurement for human energy.
  2. Regulator of protein and fat metabolism. If enough carbohydrates are present in the body, protein is freed up to do what it is best designed for – building and repairing tissues – instead of supplying energy. In the same way, adequate carbohydrates spare fats from f=generating considerable energy. When large amounts of fats are broken down rapidly, the body’s normal acid balance becomes seriously destabilized.
  3. Central-nervous-system fuel. The brain, the headquarters of the central nervous system, is highly dependent on a sustained supply of glucose from the blood. Insufficient blood sugar causes, at best, a sense of sluggishness and, at worst, brain damage when critical level is reached and prolonged shock sets in.

Sources of Carbohydrates



Glucose, also called dextrose, is ingested carbohydrates broken down to their simplest form. It circulates in the bloodstream, providing cells their chief source of fuel. The body gets its main supply of glucose from the digestion of starch.

Fructose, as its name connotes, is found mostly in fruits. The riper the fruit, the higher the amount of fructose it contains, due to the conversion of starch to sugar. Interestingly, fructose – also present in honey – is the sweetest sugar in the simple-carb family.


Sucrose is common table sugar – white, brown or granulated. They all come from sugar beet or sugarcane; thus, their byproduct molasses also contains plenty of sucrose. This simple double sugar is made up of glucose and fructose.

Lactose, the sugar in milk, is the only simple sugar that is animal-based. Produced by the mammary glands, it not only helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, it also promotes the growth of good bacteria in the intestines.

Maltose is used as a sweetener in processed foods. Other than that, its presence in the diet is limited. The body primarily gets its supply of maltose from the digestion of starch, before it is ultimately reduced to glucose.



Starch, the most important carbohydrate in the diet, is found in grains and grain products such as rice, corn, pasta, cookies, bread, baked goods, and cereal. Other great sources of starch include legumes, potatoes, and other vegetables, particularly root vegetables. Because of its long structure of sugar units, starch takes time to digest. But by grinding or cooking it, it can more quickly generate energy for the body.

Dietary fiber, which are the cell walls that give plants their structure, have virtually no significant nutritive value, yet it remains to be an important element in a healthy diet. Because it cannot be digested, it helps move the ingested food in the intestines and stimulates the stomach muscles. It also holds water, provides bulk in one’s diet, creates the sensation of being full, and promotes regular bowel movement. One popular type of dietary fiber is cellulose, which is found in fruits and their skins, and vegetables, specifically in the leaves and stems.

Recommended carbohydrate intake

While your kids need both simple and complex carbohydrates, the latter should comprise the greater bulk of their carbohydrate intake, for health reasons previously discussed. Dietary guidelines call for a daily carbohydrate intake that provides about 55 percent to 70 percent of the body’s total kilocaloric needs.

At least half of the intake should come from complex carbs. The Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intake (RENI) for Filipinos formulated by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (2002) says that the total daily energy intake for kids are the following: for boys and girls between 7 to 9 years, 1600 kcal; for boys 10 to 12 years, 2140 kcal; and for girls 10 to 12 years, 1920 kcal.