Carbohydrate As A Macronutrient

Lanu Pitan

Although carbohydrate is not an essential macronutrient, it is nevertheless a good choice.

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Carbohydrates are sugars (fructose, glucose and lactose), fibre and starches found in foods. In food science, it is a neutral compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates are one of the three ways the body obtains its fuel (energy) from. The other two sources of energy are proteins and fats.

Carbohydrates are obtained from food as the body is unable to make it.

Classification Of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are plenty in grains, fruits, some milk products and vegetables. They are classified as either simple or complex depending on how quickly it is digested and absorbed.


Monosaccharides are the most common form of simple carbohydrates (sugar) and are those from fruits, honey and vegetables (fructose) and some milk products (galactose). They are easily absorbed into the body when consumed.

Examples of rich sources of fructose are honeydew melon, mangoes, pawpaw (papaya), pineapple etc.

It is advisable to get your simple sugars from fruits because they are easily absorbed, contain some minerals and vitamins, antioxidants and the fibre that slows that the body absorption of the sugars.

Galactose — on the other hand, is a component of lactose, which are found in dairy products, legumes, and figs. It is metabolised (processed) in the liver until needed before being transported to the body as energy. Examples of foods containing galactose are kiwi fruits, celery, cherries, avocados and beetroots etc.


Disaccharides are still simple sugars with two molecules and are found in sucrose (table sugar), maltose (from barley, malt, beer and some vegetables), and lactose (from dairy).

Sucrose is produced mostly in plants. It is made up of glucose and fructose. Sucrose is refined to give the table sugar found in most ready meals, candy, and fizzy drinks. They are sugars devoid of nutrients and are the most cause of weight gain.

Maltose — or malt sugar. It is two bound glucose molecules. Also found in some plants and seeds. It does not exist in the natural form until the seeds or foods are processed. For instance in cooked sweet potatoes, canned fruits, and in bread made from wheat, barley or rye.

Lactose — is two smaller molecules of glucose and galactose. Lactose cannot be absorbed in the gut until broken down into glucose and galactose. Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance is common in people who are unable to digest it. These people always go for lactose-free products.


Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that contain three or more molecules. They are classified according to their functions in the body. They are either storage or structural.

Storage polysaccharides store starch to be used as energy when needed. The three polysaccharides related to nutrition are a form of glucose:

Starch — energy source from plants. Examples are in most cereals, grains, wheat, barley and oats or food processed therefrom.
Cellulose — a structural polysaccharide in plants (mainly dietary fibre)
Glycogen — a storage polysaccharide in human liver and muscles and shellfish.

Polysaccharides are further divided into digestible and non-digestible polysaccharides.

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Digestible Polysaccharides — undergo digestive processes until broken down into absorbable glucose. Glucose is a source of energy for the body, especially for the heart, as it needs glucose to keep pumping. Glucose also provides carbon atoms for the synthesis of fat, proteins and other essential substances in the body.

Non-digestible Polysaccharides — are mainly cellulose from dietary fibres. They support gut health by promoting the passage of food through the intestine (which is thirty-two feet long), thereby preventing constipation.

Some non-digestible polysaccharides like ‘’INULIN’’ may help support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

None of the polysaccharides is essential nutrients for good health

This is because the body can synthesis all the carbohydrates it needs including glucose from protein and fats. This is the basis of a Keto diet. Although, not that essential, but can be a good choice.

What’s The Need For Carbohydrates?

If carbohydrate is not an essential nutrient, why then do we have to take it at all? This is the question most ask.

Carbohydrates consist of starch, sugars and fibre, which are mainly from grains, fruits, dairy and vegetables. The body breaks down the starch into these into glucose, which the body uses as fuel for energy.

The heart, for example, needs constant stream of glucose to keep pumping. The brain also needs glucose for fuel. The brain needs a large and uninterrupted flow of glucose to function, especially the area of the brain that regulates concentration.

The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily allowance of carbohydrate to be forty-five to fifty-five per cent of total calories

Advice On Taking Carbohydrates

Actually, little carbohydrate is needed, and ensure they are from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Avoid ready meals that usually contain added refined sugars, as well as heavy starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes.

Typically Good Carbohydrates are:

From Fruits & Vegetables — legumes, pear, apples, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower), most berries (blueberries, cherries, raspberries, goji berries, acai-berries etc) and honeydew lemon.

From Grains — Whole grains of oats, pasta, brown rice, wheat, and barley. Also, foods made from these are good too.

From Dairy — cottage cheese, yoghurt, cheese.

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