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How Does The Body Convert Carbohydrates Into Energy?

Carbohydrates are essential for the human body. They provide energy, manage blood glucose and insulin metabolism, contribute to cholesterol metabolism and help in fermentation.

Carbohydrates, together with protein and fat, are one of the three macronutrients in the human diet. They are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. [1]

When we consume foods rich in carbs or carbohydrates, the digestive tract proceeds to break down their particles into glucose to help provide us with the energy we need for daily functioning. An excess of glucose in the blood is stored in the liver and muscle tissue until it is needed again.

Carbohydrate is an umbrella term that includes sugar, fruits, vegetables, fibres and legumes. There are many types of carbs, however, only a fraction is beneficial to the human diet.

But how does the body transform carbohydrates into energy? Here is the answer.

Types Of Carbohydrates

There are four types of carbohydrates:

  • Simple carbohydrates: They include foods like fruit juice, candy and honey. Simple carbs contain one or two sugars which are quickly metabolised to provide us energy. It causes a rapid rise in glucose levels and insulin secretion.
  • Complex carbohydrates: They include foods like broccoli, unrefined whole grains, lentils and brown rice. Complex carbs contain three or more sugars and take longer to digest, thus slowly increasing the glucose and insulin levels.
  • Starches: They include foods like potatoes, wheat and chickpeas. They contain more sugar particles than complex carbohydrates and are also slowly digestible.
  • Fibre: It is a type of complex carb which is non-digestible by the body. It has functions like improving the gut microbiome and helping with constipation. It includes foods like potato skin, bran and seeds.

Metabolism of Carbohydrates

The breakdown of carbohydrates begins in the mouth, where saliva produced by the salivary glands begins the process. The enzymes in the saliva break the carbohydrates into small particles, which then travel through the food pipe and abdomen and enter the small intestine.

The small intestine breaks the carbohydrate particles further into monosaccharides, which are then taken into the bloodstream. Blood sugar levels rise as a result of carbohydrate consumption, prompting the pancreas to release insulin.

Insulin, produced by pancreatic beta cells, tells the cells in the body to absorb glucose for energy or storage. When blood glucose levels drop, the pancreas produces glucagon, which stimulates the liver to release stored glucose to provide us with energy.

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate and is healthy as well, but it cannot be digested by the body, and thus cannot help release energy. To mention, fibre provides other health benefits like thickening stool for easier excretion, preventing constipation, providing satiety and aiding other digestive problems.

To Conclude

Carbohydrates have benefits and side effects too. Though they help provide us energy, large amounts of carbs can also lead to dental caries and the development of diabetes. Include carbs in moderate amounts in your diet, especially fibre and complex carbs.

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