Food & Diet

All about Proteins and Carbs: Essential Nutrients Explained

By  | 

In order to get your body under control and become healthier, you should pay attention to what you are eating, and understanding the essential nutrients and what they do for you is a very important step.

Proteins and carbohydrates, alongside fats, are the nutrients that are the basis of everyone’s diet.

The difference in them is in the energy they provide and the way they are broken down in the intestine. The body uses all these nutrients to grow, and for maintenance and energy needed for physical and mental activities.

Read on to discover the world of proteins and carbohydrates and start understanding your diet and body better.

1. Proteins

Proteins are nutrients contained the most in foods such as meat, eggs, fish, dairy products, nuts and seeds, as well as some other plant sources. Proteins are complex organic molecules made up of amino acids (important for the body to function properly), which means your body needs a long time to break them down, which further means that their energy is slowly released and lasts longer (than, for example, energy provided by carbohydrates).

One gram of protein provides you with 4 calories, and according to the Dietary Reference Intakes published by the USDA, at least 10%, and at most 35% of all the daily calories we take in should come from proteins, if we’re aiming for a balanced diet.

If we wanted to put it in a simpler way – an adult person needs about 8 grams of protein per one kilogram of weight.

Protein is the main building block of the body and the main component in muscles, skin and connective tissue. A person who doesn’t eat enough protein usually doesn’t have much muscle, and those that they do have are weak. Without consuming enough protein, the skin stops being as elastic as it used to be, and people who are eating too little of this nutrient usually age faster than those that have an optimal intake. Moreover, as the body needs proteins and amino acids for the production of important molecules such as hormones, neurotransmitters and antibodies, without eating enough protein the body is unable to function well, according to Precision Nutrition.

Besides building cells in your body, protein also helps repair those that are worn out.


Protein can also help you lose weight (or, more precisely – get rid of fat and not lose any muscle mass) by increasing the levels of a hormone called glucagon in charge of controlling body fat, which is released when blood sugar levels decrease. Another good side of proteins is that they keep you feeling full for a longer time than carbohydrates do, and they maintain the optimal function of your immune system.

Finally, if you like eating a lot and not gaining weight, basing your nutrition on protein could be the way to go (with a small addition of carbohydrates and fats), because protein-rich foods usually don’t contain as many calories as carbohydrate-rich or fatty foods do, so you can eat larger amounts and never feel hungry.

2. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are organic molecules that are, according to their structure, classified into two types – complex and simple carbohydrates. Like proteins, 1 gram of carbohydrate (simple as well as complex) contains 4 calories, but the difference is in the way these nutrients break down.

Simple carbohydrates are those that are more easily processed in the intestine, and are usually called sugars as they consist of either 1 sugar molecule or 2 sugar molecules linked together.

These carbohydrates are very quickly released into the bloodstream after consumption and they provide you with instant energy, but their overconsumption can lead to gaining weight and having excess fat on your body. Simple carbohydrates are contained in foods such as fruit drinks, honey, maple syrup, table and brown sugar, pastries, etc.

These types of food should be consumed moderately and only occasionally, and this type of carbohydrates is usually called the ‘bad’ type.

When a diet is based on simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, which the body breaks down quickly and easily, the levels of blood triglycerides and bad cholesterol may rise, as well as insulin resistance – and that is definitely not what you want.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are usually consisted of 2 sugar molecules linked together and are rich in fiber which improves your digestion and keeps you regular.

These carbohydrates are broken down more slowly than the simple type and they keep you satisfied for a longer time. Complex carbohydrates will not provide you with instant energy as candy might, but they will maintain your energy levels over a longer period.

According to Precision Nutrition, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables are digested and absorbed slowly, thus helping control your blood insulin and energy levels, as well as your weight. These carbohydrates can also help lower bad cholesterol levels as well as triglyceride levels. Complex carbohydrates also have a much lower glycemic index (and have less calories) than simple carbohydrates, which means you can eat larger amounts for less calories.

An average adult person should have an intake of about 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, depending on the person’s height and weight, as well as the level of activity. Most of this intake should come from complex carbohydrates rather than the simple ones.