Classes of Carbohydrates

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Classes Examples

Monosaccharides Simple sugars (galactose, fructose, glucose)

Disaccharides Sucrose, lactose, maltose

Polysaccharides Digestible starch, dextrins, indigestible starch

If healthy population groups around the world are studied, there are relatively few illustrations of toxic effects associated with carbohydrate intakes. If sufficient food is available, population groups whose diets consist mostly of carbohydrates do not suffer adverse effects. Some short-term effects such as intestinal problems and diarrhea can be attributed to marked changes in the amount or form of ingested carbohydrate, e.g., high-fiber foods.

On the other hand, there are subpopulations prone to significant adverse effects associated with carbohydrates, which include individuals with abnormal tolerances or intolerances (glucose, lactose). Milk sugar intolerance is prevalent in populations from the Far and Middle East and Africa. These individuals have difficulty digesting lactose, and, when they do ingest lactose, they experience gastric distress, cramping, and diarrhea. The intolerance is because such individuals lack the enzyme lactase to break down lactose to monosaccharides for absorption. Thus, the lactose remains in the GI tract, leading to osmotic catharsis and eventually fermentation to lactic acid in the colon, producing more diarrhea and gastric problems. Other forms of disaccharide intolerance as congenital defects, particularly in infants, exist in various subpopulations.

The popular notion is that dental caries is due to sucrose consumption. However, the etiology of dental caries is much more complex and multifactorial in nature, involving the susceptible teeth of the host, presence of viable microorganisms, lack of fluoride exposure, poor oral hygiene, and duration of time of exposure to media for the bacteria.

Natural foods with high carbohydrate levels can be carriers of naturally occurring toxicants. For example, honey can contain materials toxic to humans because of the varieties of plants the honey bees may visit. Honey producers take extreme care to see that their bees avoid potentially problematic plants and do not become contaminated with toxicants.

Lipids

These are organic compounds that usually contain a fatty acid or a fatty acid derivative. Lipids are a highly diverse and varied class of compounds soluble in organic solvents. Fat is obtained in the diet from either animal or vegetable sources as triglycerides. Triglycerides are composed of molecules of glycerol and three fatty acids. The fatty acids may be saturated, unsaturated, or contain multiple unsatura-tions (polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs). In addition, lipids contain sterols, ste roids, and fat-soluble vitamins. The steroid cholesterol is found in animal fats and plays an important role in health.

A number of plants used for natural foods may harbor lipids that can adversely affect consumers. Examples include erucic acid found in the oils obtained from a number of plants, such as rapeseed oil and mustard seed oil. Erucic acid has been shown to cause heart damage in experimental animals. Traditional rapeseed oil contains 20 to 55% erucic acid, whereas processed oil, i.e., canola, contains less than 2% of the fatty acid.

The primary toxicity issue for lipids is their role in chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Heart disease is not only the dominant factor of death, but also a primary cause of permanent disability and reduced ability to be active. It leads to more days of hospitalization than does any other disorder. The relationship between fat and cholesterol and heart disease has led to many recommendations to make dietary changes.

Protein

Protein, found in all living organisms, provides essential amino acids needed by the body for growth and tissue repair. Based on some 20 different amino acids, infinite combinations and arrangement possibilities explain the wide variety and characteristics of proteins in living organisms. Protein is a major constituent of enzymes, which in turn are required in a variety of metabolic reactions. Amino acids are essential because such compounds are not stored or made by humans. In a normal dietary intake of animal protein together with plant protein, individuals can easily obtain the required amounts of protein, as long as it is good-quality protein.

As in the case of other macronutrients, food safety problems are not generally associated with excessive intakes of natural sources of protein, the exceptions being those occurring because of allergic reactions or hypersensitivity. The wide availability of protein in the U.S. has led to higher consumption, well in excess of daily recommendations. Fad diets and misinformation about benefits of high-protein diets have further led to increased protein consumption. Regardless of the overt symptoms of protein toxicity, nutrition experts express caution. Animal studies have shown that excessive ingestion of protein can lead to liver and kidney hypertrophy. Studies on humans have shown that the ingestion of high-protein diets increases calcium excretion.

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