How the Body Uses Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins

Dice with Fat, Carbs and Protein

Your body uses three main sources of nutrients to fuel itself and provide you energy throughout the day. These three sources, carbohydrates, fats and proteins, all contribute to providing fuel to your brain, muscles and organ systems. Your body, however, prefers to break down these sources in different ways that can affect how you process food and how you gain energy. Generally speaking, your body will first process carbohydrates, then fats, then proteins. Understanding how this process works will help you manage your weight and make healthy food choices.

Carbohydrates, the first to be used, are found in two forms. Simple carbohydrates are found in many processed foods and enter the blood stream quickly, providing a quick burst of energy. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in vegetables, take longer to process. Carbohydrates are important to the function of your body, but particularly to your brain cells, which use twice as much energy as other cells in your body. This is often why hunger can be accompanied by sluggishness, tiredness or an alteration in mood.

If carbohydrates are not available, your body will burn fats next. Fat can be stored indefinitely in the body as an energy reserve. Many people pursuing weight loss find better results from exercise early in the day as it can trick the body into burning fats while carbohydrate resources are still low. While weight loss is certainly an important goal for many, some healthy fats and oils in your diet are also an important part of maintaining your health.

Lastly, your body will burn protein last. High-protein diets and snacks can help reduce hunger as they take the body longer to break down and process. Still, carbohydrates are necessary to the diet as well. The important fact in any healthy eating plan is to ensure that you have a balance of all three nutrient types.


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