Biomolecules are macromolecules that are present in living organisms. Here are four major classes of biomolecules: carbohydrates, proteins, nucleotides, and lipids. Carbohydrates, or saccharides, are the most abundant of the four.
Carbohydrates are found extensively in both healthy and unhealthy foods such as bread, beans, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, milk, popcorn, potatoes, corn, and cherry pie. They also emanate in a variety of forms, but the most common and abundant forms are starches. They have numerous roles in every living organism, including energy transportation, in addition to being structural components of plants and arthropods.
Four major biomolecule classes
Carbohydrates (saccharides) consist of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. They are a major food source and a key form of energy for most organisms. When combined to form polymers (chains), carbohydrates can function as long-term food storage molecules, as protective membranes for organisms and cells, and as the main structural support for plants.
Lipids (fats) – Molecules consist of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. They are the main constituents of membranes in all cells (cell walls), food storage molecules, intermediaries in signaling pathways, vitamins A, D, E, and K, and cholesterol.
“Saccharides” is another term used for “carbohydrates.” They are sugars or starches. Saccharides consist of two basic compounds: aldehydes (double-bonded carbon and oxygen atoms, plus a hydrogen atom), and ketones (double-bonded carbon and oxygen atoms, plus two additional carbon atoms).
There are various types of saccharides, including monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides: When we talk about blood sugar we are referring to glucose in the blood; glucose is a major source of energy for a cell. In human nutrition, galactose can be found most readily in milk and dairy products, while fructose is found mostly in vegetables and fruit.
Disaccharides: Disaccharides are two monosaccharide molecules bonded together. Examples of disaccharides include lactose, maltose, and sucrose. If you bond one glucose molecule with a fructose molecule, you get a sucrose molecule.
Sucrose is found in table sugar and is often formed as a result of photosynthesis (sunlight absorbed by chlorophyll reacting with other compounds in plants). If you bond one glucose molecule with a galactose molecule, you get lactose, which is commonly found in milk.
Polysaccharides: Polysaccharides are a chain of two or more monosaccharides. The chain may be branched (the molecule looks like a tree with branches and twigs) or unbranched (the molecule is a straight line). Polysaccharide molecule chains may be made up of hundreds or thousands of monosaccharides.
Carbohydrates and nutrition
Foods rich in carbohydrates include bread, pasta, beans, potatoes, bran, rice, and cereals. Most carbohydrate-rich foods have high starch content. Carbohydrates are the most common source of energy for most organisms, including humans.
Carbohydrates are not classed as essential nutrients for humans. We could get all our energy from fats and proteins if we had to. However, our brain requires carbohydrates, specifically glucose. Neurons cannot burn fat.
• One gram of carbohydrate contains approximately 4 kilocalories
• One gram of protein contains approximately 4 kilocalories
• One gram of fat contains approximately 9 kilocalories
Proteins are used in both forms of metabolism – anabolism (building and maintaining tissue and cells) and catabolism (breaking molecules down and releasing/producing energy). So, the consumption of protein cannot be calculated in the same way as fats or carbohydrates when measuring our body’s energy needs. Not all carbohydrates are used as fuel (energy). A lot of dietary fiber is made of polysaccharides that our bodies do not digest.
Most health authorities around the world say that humans should obtain 40-65 percent of their energy needs from carbohydrates – and only 10 percent from simple carbohydrates (glucose and simple sugars).
High-carb versus low-carb
Every couple of decades, some ‘breakthrough’ appears which tells people either to ‘avoid all fats,’ or ‘avoid carbs.’ Carbohydrates have been and will continue to be, an essential part of any human dietary requirement.
The obesity explosion in most industrialized countries and many developing countries is a result of several contributory factors. One could easily argue for or against higher or lower carbohydrate intake and give compelling examples, and convince most people either way. However, some factors have been present throughout the obesity explosion and should not be ignored:
• Fewer physical activity.
• Fewer hours sleep each night. A study published in the journal SLEEP identified an association with duration of sleep and obesity in both children and adults.
• Greater consumption of junk food.
• Higher consumption of food additives, coloring, taste enhancers, artificial emulsifiers, etc.
• More abstract mental stress due to work, mortgages, and other modern lifestyle factors.
A study by scientists from the United States and Slovakia revealed that neuropeptide Y (NPY), a molecule that the body releases when stressed, can ‘unlock’ Y2 receptors in the body’s fat cells, stimulating the cells to grow in size and number.
In rapidly developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil, and Mexico, obesity is rising as people’s standards of living are changing. However, a few decades ago when their populations were leaner, carbohydrates made up a much higher proportion of their diets.
Slim people also consumed much less junk food, moved around more, tended to consume more natural foods, and slept more hours each night. Saying that a country’s body weight problem is due to too much or too little of just one food component is too simplistic – it is a bit like saying that traffic problems in our cities are caused by badly synchronized traffic lights and nothing else. Current diet promoters of either high or low carb regimes in North America, Western Europe, and Australasia have not addressed those contributory obesity factors properly. Most of them promote their branded nutritional bars, powders, and wrapped products which have plenty of colorings, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives – basically, junk foods.
In a case where consumers are still physically inactive and not sleeping properly, they may gain some temporary weight loss, but will most likely be back to square one within 3 to 4 years.
However, it is true that many carbohydrates present in processed foods and drinks tend to spike glucose and subsequently insulin production, leaving you hungry sooner than natural foods would.
The Mediterranean diet, with an abundance of carbohydrates from natural sources plus a normal amount of animal/fish protein, have a much lower impact on insulin requirements and subsequent health problems, compared with any other widespread Western diet.
Dramatically fluctuating insulin and blood glucose levels can have a long-term effect on the eventual risk of developing obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions. However, for good health, we do require carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates that come from natural, unprocessed foods, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and some cereals also contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and key phytonutrients.
Blood sugar levels
Our digestive system breaks some of the carbohydrate food we eat down into glucose. This glucose enters the blood, raising blood sugar (glucose) levels. When blood glucose levels rise, beta cells in the pancreas release insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that makes our cells absorb blood sugar for energy or storage. As the cells absorb the blood sugar, blood sugar levels start to drop.
When blood sugar levels drop below a certain point, alpha cells in the pancreas release glucagon. Glucagon is a hormone that makes the liver release glycogen – a sugar stored in the liver.
In short – insulin and glucagon help maintain regular levels of blood glucose for our cells, especially our brain cells. Insulin brings excess blood glucose levels down, while glucagon brings levels back up when they are too low.
If blood glucose levels are rising too rapidly and too often, the cells can eventually become faulty and not respond properly to insulin’s “absorb blood energy and store” instruction; over time, they require a higher level of insulin to react – we call this insulin resistance.
The glycemic index
Carbohydrates enter the bloodstream as glucose at different rates – high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates enter the bloodstream as glucose rapidly, while low GI carbohydrates enter slowly because they take longer to digest and breakdown.
A meal with lower GI carbohydrates will raise your blood glucose levels more slowly, and over a longer period – this is better for long-term health and body weight control.
People who are relatively physically inactive (sedentary), and don’t sleep at least 7 hours every night are especially vulnerable to the long-term detrimental effects of regular consumption of high GI carbohydrates.
Low GI carbohydrates have the following benefits:
• Blood cholesterol levels will most likely remain healthy.
• Heart disease risk is lower.
• It will take longer to become hungry after a meal.
• Individuals are less likely to put on weight.
• Better diabetes control.
• Physical endurance will improve.
Switching to low GI lifestyle
• If eating cereals for breakfast, switch to oats, barley, or bran. Make sure the oats are as natural as possible; milling or grinding can increase their GI dramatically.
• If eating bread, only consume whole grain bread.
• Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
• Substitute fruit juice for fresh, whole fruit.
• Cut out all junk foods, processed foods, foods with too many additives.
Milling and grinding of foods always raise their glycemic index. Unfortunately, the processes often eliminate other nutrients, such as minerals, vitamins, and dietary fibers, leaving what is often no more than starchy endosperm (the inner part of the seed/grain, mainly starch). Slow carbs matter much more than low carbs. A well-balanced diet consisting of good quality foods is as important as physical activity and adequate sleep.
If you want to lose weight, focusing on slow carbs is worthwhile. A well-balanced and nutritional diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, plus healthy sleep and plenty of physical activity, is much more likely to lead to long-term success and good physical and mental health.
We all love to eat sweets but are unaware of the fact that how much it can harm us. We consume a lot of calories every day from sugar without even knowing that it can cause various health problems such as- diabetes, headaches, migraines, and mood disorders to impairment of liver and kidney disorder. Other common side effects of consuming excessive sugar include- tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, many types of cancer and poor cognitive functioning. Quitting sugar can be a bit difficult, but, to our relief, there are natural sweeteners that are healthy and contain far fewer calories (1). Artificial sweeteners may not be much better with research now linking them to unbalanced gut bacteria and a host of health problems. Perhaps it’s time to consider natural sweeteners? We’ve put together a list of the healthiest and best natural sweeteners for your coffee, tea or indeed anytime when you might consume refined sugar.
Top of our natural sweeteners list is stevia. It is extracted from the stevia rebaudiana plant; stevia is one of the best low-calorie natural sweeteners. It can be helpful in lowering down the blood pressure levels. Stevia has no calories or carbohydrates. The main components of stevia that is Rebaudioside and Stevioside are a hundred times sweeter than the refined sugar. It is available in the form of tablets, drops, packets, and baking blends. Stevia might have a bitter aftertaste. This is why it is not widely used by people. However, it is considered one of the best natural sweeteners for people with diabetes as it does not affect blood sugar levels. The stevia sweetener side effects are non-existent after extensive testing and reported stevia dangers are so far unproven. However, some people have been known to be allergic to the plant, so caution is warranted. Raw Honey is also a commonly used healthy substitute for artificial sweeteners. It consists of phosphorus, antioxidants, vitamin B6, enzymes, potassium, zinc, iron, riboflavin, calcium, and niacin. Honey can easily neutralize free radicals and promote good bacteria growth in your digestive system. A tablespoon of honey provides you with very fewer calories in comparison to other sweeteners. Try not to cook honey, rather add it directly on the top of your salads and cereals.
Out of all the natural sweeteners, dates are the most nutritious option. They are filled with copper, vitamin B6, fiber, iron, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. It helps in metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Dates also reduce the LDL cholesterol in the body and decrease the risk of stroke. Make a paste out of dates and add it your food. The date paste can be prepared by soaking them in hot water until soft and then make a paste by grinding it.
3. Coconut Sugar
These days coconut sugar is very commonly used by many people as a natural alternative to the refined sugar. Coconut sugar is loaded with nutrients like zinc, polyphenols, potassium, iron, calcium, phytonutrients, and, antioxidants. The sap of coconut blooms is extracted, heated, and then evaporated to make sugar crystals. It is up-front to add coconut sugar to your recipes because it is resistible to heat.
4. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners available all around the world. It is 100% natural, pure and unprocessed as it is boiled down directly from tree sap. This syrup is rich in various minerals like calcium, manganese, and potassium. It reduces the oxidative damage and neutralizes free radicals damage as well.
5. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses can turn out to be the healthiest step you have taken in a while. Blackstrap molasses has antioxidant properties and has great amounts of calcium, copper, manganese, iron, vitamin B6, potassium, and selenium. It is prepared by boiling raw cane sugar, and hence all its nutrients are retrieved in it. Having a unique flavor of its own, blackstrap molasses can be used while baking, and preparing marinades.
6. Banana Puree
Banana is rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C and can make your food sweeter in a nutritious way. All you have to do is, grab the ripe bananas and make a puree of them in a blender. The measurement of banana puree to be put in the food is same as that of refined sugar. Do not allow banana puree stay too long unused because it may turn brown when exposed to air.
7. Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is prepared by the fermentation process of brown rice. It can act as a perfect replacement for the recipes that include corn syrups. Easy to digest and healthy to consume, it is easily available at any nearby stores and can be used while preparing granola bars, sweetened nuts, and fruit pies. Ensure that you buy gluten-free brown rice syrup.
8. Palm Sugar
Palm sugar is obtained from the sap of the flowering buds of the palm tree. It can be used as a sweetening agent in many dishes. Palm sugar is full of various useful minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients such as vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6, zinc, iron, potassium, etc. It has low glycemic content which makes it one of the best natural substitutes of synthetic sugar. Also, it has a taste like butterscotch, so you won’t have to compromise with your taste buds too.
9. Agave Nectar
Also known as ‘Gift of God’- agave nectar has been used for over a thousand years. It is derived from the same plant as that of tequila and can be added to any dish you are preparing. Comparable to the sweetness and texture of honey, it can be used by the people who do not like the honey’s taste. As it contains fructose instead of glucose, agave nectar is considered to be diabetic-friendly. We think this is the best sweetener for coffee as it tastes very close to molasses sugar, often used in coffee. It is much sweeter than sugar so less is needed and it has a little aftertaste which can often spoil the coffee aroma. Don’t consume agave nectar in high amount as its high fructose amount can turn out to be dangerous for your health.
Superior to white processed sugar in every way possible- sucanat is one of the superfoods. It is raw sugar, which has an equal amount of glucose and fructose. Sucanat is rich in potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, and calcium and low in the number of calories found in white sugar which makes it a nutrient-rich substitute of white sugar. To use it, you have to choose any recipe, and replace the sugar with sucanat with the same measurements.
Applesauce is nothing, but a healthy alternative to sugar which not only provides sweetness but also substitutes fat in food preparation too. Widely utilized in England, North America, and Germany, it can be used as a topping or added in dishes. It is available in almost every supermarket or can be prepared too.
Note: Applesauce can be used as a home remedy for diarrhea as well.
If nothing else works, choose raisins over artificial sweeteners. It is filled with antioxidants and fiber (18) (19), raisin puree can be your best friend for preparing sweet dishes. Soak raisins in a jar overnight and the next day, blend them properly. Once it is done, you can store it and use whenever you like to. Rapadura is also like getting sugar but with all the minerals intact. Yes! Rapadura sugar is an unrefined form of cane sugar that has the natural caramel flavor of the sugar. It is very high in many minerals than other sugar forms. Use it in the same ratio as that of sugar.