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All about carbohydrates

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Carbohydrates (saccharides) are compounds containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and they are produced by photosynthesis. Carbohydrates have key importance in supplying the body with energy: they provide between 50% and 70% of energy intake. The word saccharide comes from Greek, and it means “sugar”. Grape sugar (glucose), fruit sugar (fructose), beet sugar (saccharose), starch, and cellulose are all examples of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates for workout

Complex carbohydrates are glucose polymers, which has an essential role in glycogen synthesis (glycogen is a complex carbohydrate which is stored as energy reserve by the liver and muscles). At first, the blood sugar which is derived from foods is utilized. During a long and intensive workout, the body quickly uses up blood sugar, thus it needs to substitute it with sugar stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Filling up the liver and muscles with glycogen is not only possible by full meals, but also by simple carbohydrates.

Dextrose

Glucose – also known as grape sugar– is a monosaccharide, more precisely an aldohexose. It has key importance in biological processes; cells use it as a source of energy and metabolite. In living organisms, only the D enantiomer of glucose can be found, which is called dextrose. In nature, it can be found in free form in certain fruit such as grapes. Dextrose directly gets into the bloodstream without digestion. For this reason, it is called the quickest carbohydrate. In fact, it is the same as blood sugar which is produced by our body so via blood it immediately reaches its destination. Among many, dextrose plays an important role in filling up muscle glycogen stores.

Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin is a moderately sweet polysaccharide; it is used as an additive in foods. It is derived from starch. Maltodextrin is widely used in the production of sport nutrition supplements, because it has the same caloric content as dextrose, but it is not sweet, so a relatively high amount of carbohydrate can be “pushed into” a product.

Waxy maize

Waxy starches are carbohydrates derived from rice, barley, and corn. The main characteristic of waxy starches is that they contain a large amount of highly branched starch called amylopectin. Waxy starches contain amylopectin in the majority; the remaining is comprised of amylose which is a less branched starch. The reason behind their fast absorption is that enzymes have better access to glucose molecules in the highly branched starches.

Carbohydrates in the kitchen

Carbohydrates (saccharides) are compounds containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and they are produced by photosynthesis. Carbohydrates have key importance in supplying the body with energy: they provide between 50% and 70% of energy intake. The word saccharide comes from Greek, and it means “sugar”. Grape sugar (glucose), fruit sugar (fructose), beet sugar (saccharose), starch, and cellulose are all examples of carbohydrates.

Table sugar

Saccharose (sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, maple sugar) is a disaccharide, which is a combination of glucose and fructose molecule parts. Beet sugar made from sugar beet and cane sugar made from sugarcane are known as table sugar. A wide range of products are produced from table sugar, such as granulated sugar, sugar cubes, and powdered sugar. Furthermore, various sweets contain it. In Europe, the production of table sugar is the cheapest, for this reason, this is the most common form. In warm climate regions, cane sugar is more widespread; in northern countries maple sugar is also known which is prepared from the sap of sugar maple trees. All the three types of sugar are the same chemically; they only differ in the remaining contaminants of their production. It is also worth mentioning fruit sugar (fructose), which is extracted from fruit, and lactose, which is a component in milk and used in the production of infant formulas.

Fructose

Fructose or fruit sugar is the sweetest form of sugar whose natural sources are fruit and honey. The monosaccharide, ketohexose is widespread in its free form in nature. It is a component of saccharose and it occurs in high amount in the juice of fruits and in honey. Biologically, fructose is an important carbohydrate just like glucose. In the body, fructose is converted into glucose under enzymatic effect. Thus, fructose is utilized; its consumption raises blood sugar level more slowly than glucose’s. Fructose is used independently of insulin; fructose selectively fills up the glycogen stores of liver, when the stores are filled up, triglycerides are produced from them so they are converted to fat.

Sucrose (Saccharose)

Saccharose (sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, maple sugar) is a disaccharide, which is a combination of glucose and fructose molecule parts.

Brown Sugar

It is produced by the same procedures as refined white sugar but with the addition of molasses. Molasses is a thick syrup, which is the by-product of the refining of sugar beet or sugarcane into sugar. Approximately 50% of the molasses of sugar beet is sugar, mainly saccharose, but it contains glucose and fructose as well. For this reason, contrary to popular belief, brown sugar is not healthier than white sugar.

Cane Sugar

Cane sugar is an unrefined product; during its production the aim is to preserve the original molasses content of cane sugar. This is the main difference, which ensures the special flavour and distinctive colour of cane sugar. The molasses of cane sugar is from young, green sugarcane which is treated by sulfur dioxide. Without the sulfur dioxide treatment, it can be extracted only from ripe sugarcane.

Honey

Honey bees collect nectar and store it in their second stomach. They digest the raw nectar, during which the raw nectar undergoes chemical transformation. The produced raw honey, which has high water content, is spread in the hexagon honeycomb cells as food source. In the hive, bees fan their wings, creating a strong draft which enhances evaporation of water from the raw honey, thus making it thicker and preventing it from fermentation. Honey contains the mixture of glucose and fructose (saccharose) in 70% to 80%, but it also contains antioxidants and enzymes.

Xylitol (Birch Sugar)

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which can be derived from the aldopentose, called xylose. Xylitol is used as a sweetener. It can be found in fruit, vegetables, and even the human body can produce it. In high quantities, it is produced from plant fibers containing hemicellulose. It is also known as birch sugar. It refers to the fact that xylitol was first extracted from birch, but despite its name it is made from corn fiber. Its absorbing carbohydrate and calorie content is lower than sugar. Furthermore, it does not increase blood sugar level either (its glycemic index: 7). Using xylitol instead of sugar can help keep the blood glucose level healthy. In the body, xylitol has to be converted into sugar before absorption, which is a more complex procedure than the utilization of simple carbohydrates. During conversion and absorption, approximately 50% of xylitol is utilized which means that 50 grams carbohydrate get in metabolism from the 100 grams of xylitol.

Palatinose (Isomaltulose)

Isomaltulose is the mixture of two substances which chemically belong to sugar alcohols. It is half as sweet as sugar (saccharose). For the utilization of isomaltulose, human metabolism does not need insulin. Its energy density is approximately 2,4 kcal/g which is a bit lower than sugar’s. It is a refractory and acid-proof sugar substitute which harmonizes well with other sugar substitutes and sweeteners. Isomaltulose is manufactured from saccharose via a multi-step chemical reaction.

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