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What are carbohydrates for?
Carbohydrates give you energy!
The roles of carbohydrates in the body are numerous and their importance cannot be overstated. Carbohydrates are like building blocks for many of the body’s crucial functions, including:
- Energy! The main function of carbohydrates is to supply the body with energy. Energy is necessary to keep us alive and active in body and mind. Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for the body. Each gram of carbohydrate gives the body four calories of energy. Carbohydrates need to be supplied regularly and at frequent intervals in order to meet the energy needs of the body. Insufficient stores of carbohydrates in the body results in low blood sugar levels, which can lead to poor concentration and fatigue.
- Protein-sparing effect. One of the most important jobs of carbohydrates is to allow protein to keep to its primary functions such as muscle, hormone, and enzyme building. Protein is considered an “expensive” form of body fuel because it has more important jobs to do than provide energy. However, if there are not enough carbohydrates in the diet, the body is forced to convert protein to glucose in order to supply energy. If this process of “protein burning” continues for too long, the body eventually eats up muscle tissue along with body fat. Muscle helps with metabolism – we use our muscles for exercise and thereby to burn calories. It’s also good to remember that protein is used more efficiently when it's eaten in tandem with carbohydrates. In other words, a sandwich with a lean meat filling is better than just eating lean meat on its own.
- Fat metabolism. Carbohydrates are necessary for fat metabolism. If there are insufficient carbohydrates in the diet, larger amounts of fats than the body is equipped to handle are used for energy. Although the use of fats for energy might sound like a good idea to those who want to lose weight, it results in ketosis. Ketosis disturbs the body’s normal acid-base balance. This can lead to the loss of sodium & fluids, causing dehydration and sodium imbalance. The ketones produced by ketosis are actually toxic substances which can cause headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, bad breath and body odour. Large amounts of ketones can lead to kidney damage; and to coma and death for people with untreated diabetes.
- Brain food. Carbohydrates are the primary and most preferred source of energy for almost all of the brain. Without adequate carbohydrates the body is forced into ketosis to feed the brain. Ketosis is sometimes claimed to help with rapid weight loss, but it has many negative side effects including problems with clarity of brain function.
- The central nervous system. Simple carbohydrates in the form of blood glucose are also the main source of energy for the central nervous system. They alone maintain the correct functioning of the nervous system.
- Red blood cells. Red blood cells can only use glucose and other simple carbohydrate forms for energy. Forms of energy from other nutrients cannot be used by red blood cells.