Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, are composed of simple sugar units in long chains called polymers. Three polysaccharides are of particular importance in human nutrition: starch, glycogen, and dietary fiber.

Starch and glycogen are digestible forms of complex carbohydrates made of strands of glucose units linked by alpha bonds. Starch, often contained in seeds, is the form in which plants store energy, and there are two types: amylose and amylopectin. Starch represents the main type of digestible complex carbohydrate. Humans use an enzyme to break down the bonds linking glucose units, thereby releasing the sugar to be absorbed into the bloodstream. At that point, the body can distribute glucose to areas that need energy, or it can store the glucose in the form of glycogen.

Glycogen is the polysaccharide used to store energy in animals, including humans. Like starch, glycogen is made up of chains of glucose linked by alpha bonds; but glycogen chains are more highly branched than starch. It is this highly branched structure that allows the bonds to be more quickly broken down by enzymes in the body. The primary storage sites for glyco-gen in the human body are the liver and the muscles.

Another type of complex carbohydrate is dietary fiber. In general, dietary fiber is considered to be polysaccharides that have not been digested at the point of entry into the large intestine. Fiber contains sugars linked by bonds that cannot be broken down by human enzymes, and are there-

enzyme: protein responsible for carrying out reactions in a cell nutrition: the maintenance of health through proper eating, or the study of same glycogen: storage form of sugar fiber: indigestible plant material that aids digestion by providing bulk

Pastas and whole-grain breads contain complex carbohydrates, which are long strands of glucose molecules. Nutritionists recommend that 55-60 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, and especially complex carbohydrates. [Photograph by James Noble. Corbis. Reproduced by permission.]

fore labeled as indigestible. Because of this, most fibers do not provide energy for the body. Fiber is derived from plant sources and contains polysaccharides such as cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, gums, mucilages, and lignins.

The indigestible fibers cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin make up the structural part of plants and are classified as insoluble fiber because they usually do not dissolve in water. Cellulose is a nonstarch carbohydrate polymer made of a straight chain of glucose molecules linked by beta bonds and can be found in whole-wheat flour, bran, and vegetables. Hemicellu-lose is a nonstarch carbohydrate polymer made of glucose, galactose, xylose, and other monosaccharides; it can be found in bran and whole grains. Lignin, a noncarbohydrate polymer containing alcohols and acids, is a woody fiber found in wheat bran and the seeds of fruits and vegetables.

In contrast, pectins, mucilages, and gums are classified as soluble fibers because they dissolve or swell in water. They are not broken down by human enzymes, but instead can be metabolized (or fermented) by bacteria cellulose: carbohydrate made by plants; indigestible by humans insoluble: not able to be dissolved in water molecule: combination of atoms that form stable particles bacteria: single-celled organisms without nuclei, some of which are infectious present in the large intestine. Pectin is a fiber made of galacturonic acid and other monosaccharides. Because it absorbs water and forms a gel, it is often used in jams and jellies. Sources of pectin include citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, and carrots. Mucilages and gums are similar in structure. Mucilages are dietary fibers that contain galactose, manose, and other monosaccharides; and gums are dietary fibers that contain galactose, glucuronic legumes: beans, peas, and related plants acid, and other monosaccharides. Sources of gums include oats, legumes, guar, and barley.

Dieting Dilemma and Skinny Solutions

Dieting Dilemma and Skinny Solutions

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