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Simple & Complex Carbohydrates: Dietary Needs

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  • 0:02 A Healthy Diet
  • 0:35 Nutrients and Calories
  • 1:53 Different Types of…
  • 3:57 Complex Carbohydrates
  • 5:51 How Many Carbs Should…
  • 6:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will explore the many different kinds of carbohydrates found in food. You'll learn about monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides, and much more!

A Healthy Diet

Eating too many doughnuts, too much red meat, and too many fatty potato chips is a great way to get your nutrients. You heard that right. A great way to get your nutrients - in a manner of speaking, of course. All of those terrible things provide your body with nutrients. Maybe not in the right proportions, but this lesson won't be so much about the right amount of stuff you need to eat but the kind of stuff that you can eat. Namely, we'll focus in on the sugar you eat as this lesson's nutrient of choice.

Nutrients and Calories

Nutrients are substances in food that are important for the production of energy, repair, and growth.

The different kinds of nutrients for your body are like the different kinds of oil for a car. There's oil that helps the car function properly, known as engine oil. There's crude oil that's converted to gasoline to give the car energy. There are also all sorts of crude oil products that are used to repair the car if it's broken down, due to something like rust.

Like gasoline gives our car energy to drive, some nutrients provide our body with energy by way of calories. A calorie, is the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree C. In common language, and that of food labels, a calorie (sometimes called a large Calorie) is equivalent to the term kilocalorie, or kcal, which is actually equal to 1,000 of the smaller calories.

So, if you see a food label especially in a country outside the U.S. as having 500 kcal for a tasty treat, that's actually the equivalent of 500 calories in U.S. parlance.

Different Types of Carbohydrates

The three important nutrients that provide you with calories are known as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Carbohydrates are the major source of readily available energy for the body which are made up of units of sugar molecules that are sometimes called saccharides. Yes, carbohydrates are made of sugar molecules. But there are different types of carbs.

Some of them are simple sugars called monosaccharides, like glucose, fructose, galactose. Meaning, there's only one sugar unit in simple sugar because 'mono', like in 'monorail', stands for the word 'one'.

Another type of simple carbohydrate is known as a disaccharide, meaning there are 'di-', or 'two' sugar (or saccharide) units in a chain. Table sugar, also called sucrose, is a type of disaccharide.

The other type of carbohydrate is a polysaccharide, where 'poly-' stands for many. So, if we have a chain of something like twenty sugar units, we're dealing with a polysaccharide. A polysaccharide is commonly referred to as a complex carbohydrate. This stuff includes starches and dietary fiber, like that found in vegetables, bread, and cereal.

With the exception of fiber, almost all other types of carbohydrates are eventually digested or converted by our body into glucose. However, because the simple sugars are naturally so much smaller, they're either already made of glucose or are quickly broken down to it. That's why simple sugars found in table sugar or honey are so tasty to our tongue. It's because they're a very ready source of energy and our body has learned to recognize and crave it. This is unlike the complex carbs found in oatmeal, which doesn't taste nearly as good.

Complex Carbohydrates

The reason foods rich in complex carbohydrates, especially when plenty of fiber is within them, are healthier for you is mainly three-fold. First, fiber slows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. This lessens the severity of unhealthy sugar spikes within your body. Secondly, fiber makes you feel fuller, minimizing the intake of too many carbs.

The other reason complex carbs are healthier is because they often contain other nutrients, like vitamins and minerals. Simple carbs found in table sugar, soda, doughnuts, and so on do not. That's why they're called empty calories. It's because they provide you with little true nutritional content other than pure energy. Excess energy from too many carbs is stored in your body as fat. Too much fat leads to obesity, which leads to everything from arthritis to heart disease.

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