What are polysaccharides?
Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates composed of 10 or up to several thousand monosaccharides arranged in chains. Think of these as simple sugars linked by glycosidic bonds. When it comes to nutrition, polysaccharides play a very important role in the body. Polysaccharides have two functions: some, like starch or glycogen, help to store the energy that we obtain when consuming food.
Others help with cell structure. The most common monosaccharides in polysaccharides are glucose, fructose, galactose, and mannose. Polysaccharides are critical when it comes to proper nutrition because they comprise complex carbohydrates that, for many, serve as the body’s primary energy source .
5 examples of polysaccharides
- Starch (storage polysaccharides)
A source of energy from glucose units that are widely obtained from plants.
Many starches are cereals, bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, potatoes, wheat, oats, rye, rice, and yams, to name a few. They are a source of polysaccharide energy when digested in the body.
- Glycogen (storage polysaccharides)
It acts more like a long-term storage option. Glycogen is produced primarily by the liver and muscles, but it can also be produced during a process called glycogenesis, which occurs in both the brain and the stomach.
A small amount of glycogen is found in shellfish and the liver of animals.
- Cellulose (structural polysaccharides)
A structural polysaccharide in plants that, when consumed, acts as a dietary fiber.
Cellulose is the most abundant organic molecule on earth, as it is the main component of plant cell walls. Wood, paper, and cotton are the most common forms of cellulose.
- Chitin (structural polysaccharides)
Like cellulose, chitin is a structural polysaccharide consisting of many thousands of glucose monomers combined into long fibers. The only difference is that, in chitin, the glucose monosaccharides have been modified with a group that contains more carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. The side chain creates a dipole, which increases hydrogen bonding.
While cellulose can produce tough structures like wood, chitin can produce even harder structures such as shell, limestone, and even marble when compressed.
- Pectins (structural polysaccharides)
They consist of a group of polymers in which galacturonic acid predominates, which gives these polysaccharides anionic properties. Due to their negatively charged nature, peptic substances are involved in various physiological and mechanical processes during cell growth and differentiation.
In addition to acidic polymers, pectins also comprise a few neutral polysaccharides, such as arabinans and arabinogalactans , which often interconnect anionic moieties.
Benefits of polysaccharides
Every bodily function relies on carbohydrates for energy. But, while the body can produce some energy, it is certainly not enough to sustain itself.
Polysaccharides can help a person overcome fatigue , maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugar, promote a positive mood, calm irritation , support immune function, promote cardiovascular health, and even increase libido.
- The indigestible polysaccharides such as starch, are decomposed in the mouth and small intestine in several steps that ultimately produce glucose, which is absorbed. They are a source of energy; They provide about 4 calories per gram. They also provide carbon atoms for the synthesis of fats, proteins, and other substances in your body.
- The indigestible polysaccharides or dietary fiber, such as cellulose, promote the passage of food through the intestine and, therefore, help to maintain bowel regularity . None of the polysaccharides are essential nutrients, you do not need to consume them to be healthy.