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Effect of Carbohydrates on Metabolism

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Effect of Carbohydrates on Metabolism

Our metabolism is a complex process that deals with how our body generates energy from carbohydrates, proteins, or fats and how it uses and stores that energy. When people talk about metabolism, they usually refer to their metabolic rate; or how much energy their body is burning in a specific period. The more energy your body produces, the quicker your metabolism is.

How Does Carbohydrate Metabolism Work?

Any form of carbohydrates has to be broken down into simple units during digestion to derive energy from it. When you consume carbohydrates-containing food, first, the enzymes in your mouth break down the chains of carbohydrates. As the acid in the stomach prevents its further digestion, this food travels to your small intestines, where several enzymes continue your digestion process by breaking down carbohydrates into monosaccharides of glucose or fructose. These simple sugars are absorbed into your bloodstream and travel to different cells, where they are used and stored for energy. This glucose is used for energy, which your body needs for every single function. The amount of energy gained varies with the different foods you eat and how your body digests them. Besides, different forms of carbohydrates affect your metabolism differently. 

In a nutshell, this whole process of producing and using energy is called metabolism. And interestingly, every step of carbohydrate (or any other food) digestion also needs energy. After the body exhausts its source of readily available glucose, it burns your fat, followed by muscle, converts it to glucose, and uses it to generate the required energy. So, once the amount of energy your body needs exceeds the amount obtained from the food you consume, you begin to burn stored fat to meet the energy requirements.

Different Forms of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are formed with long chains of individual units of simple sugars attached together. The carbohydrate category holds a plethora of different starches, sugars, and fibres, including legumes (beans and pulses), fruits, vegetables (potatoes), dairy, and grains. All these types of carbohydrates are digested differently and impact your metabolism distinctly.

  • Monosaccharides: This type comprises single units of sugar like glucose, galactose, and fructose
  •  Disaccharides: Two linked units of monosaccharides make disaccharides like sucrose (fructose and glucose).

Both the above forms fall into a category of simple carbs that enter our bloodstream almost instantly and can be effortlessly absorbed by our body and used as a source of energy. You burn negligible calories to use these carbs as fuel.

  • Polysaccharides: This type of carb is composed of tons of simple units and is predominantly found in starch, grains, vegetables, and legumes. Polysaccharides have to be processed or broken down into simple sugars before they can be soaked into your bloodstream and used by your body. So, your body uses more calories during the digestion of this type of carbs.
  • Fibre: It is a type that our human body finds very hard to digest and costs a lot of energy. Fibre intake increases your metabolism by delivering negligible or no energy towards the end of its digestion.‍

Impact of Low-Carb Diet on Your Metabolism

In a study, which compared the consumption of energy by the individuals on low-carb diets with those on high-carb diets, it was noted that those on a low-carb diet are associated with increased metabolism and burn a lot more energy.

Low-carb diets may help cut down your appetite and prevent fluctuations in your blood glucose levels. Besides, low-carb diets usually contain a high level of protein, which needs more energy for digestion, thereby helping you burn more calories and supporting your weight loss.

However, low-carb diets may not work for all, mainly because your metabolism depends on the quality or types of carbohydrates and your unique physiology. Every human body responds differently to foods containing the exact amount or type of carbohydrate.

Does the Quality of Carbs Matter? 

Usually, the foods we eat comprise complex structures that need to be broken down or metabolised by our body to derive the energy stored in them. Some foods (with smaller thermic effects) require less energy to process food, implying your body doesn't have to spend more energy to burn them. While other foods (with larger thermal effects) require more energy to burn, which means your body consumes more calories to process them. So, the quality of carbohydrates matters. For instance, to get the sugar from an apple, our body has to break down its fibrous structure first. In contrast, our body needs no effort if you just eat a spoonful of sugar.

Usually, the more refined or processed (low quality) the food is, the easier it is to digest it. So, precisely, consuming a diet comprising highly-refined carbohydrates like bread or white rice will provide you a lot more energy when compared to consuming the exact amount of carbohydrates from (high quality) sources of legumes, fruits, or whole intact grains.  

Everyone Has a Unique Metabolism

We all have unique genetics, microbiome, and response to food that differs for every person. Some of you can digest a specific food item effortlessly and crack the energy inside quickly, while others may need much more time, effort, and energy to digest the same food. So, if the same food impacts the metabolism of different people differently, whether you consume more energy on a high-carb diet or a low-carb diet is likely to be specific to you.

Bottomline

Although low-carb diets are highly recommended for better health and weight loss, they may not be advisable or successful for everyone. This is because how these diets impact your metabolism depends on several factors like the type of carbohydrates and how your body works. Some carbohydrates (like fruits, legumes, or whole grains) are difficult to digest and consume more calories to release the inner nutrients.

Likewise, foods containing lots of fibre or complex carbohydrates are those that your body needs to process before they can be used by your body, burning more calories. Such high-quality carbs are always a better choice to lose weight or help maintain your health. On the other hand, foods like refined grains or simple sugars are easy to digest, implying you burn less calories while digesting them. Besides, whether the food increases your metabolism and assists you in losing weight depends on your own unique biology.

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