What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the fuel that powers a vast number of systems in the body. In science, the term carbohydrate refers to a class of molecules composed of individual carbon rings with attached hydroxyl groups. As the world's most abundant biomolecule,[1] carbohydrates are one of the body's primary sources of fuel.

Carbohydrates are divided into two broad categories. The first is the simple carbohydrate, which includes both monosaccharides and disaccharides.

Simple Carbohydrates

The fundamental component of all carbohydrates is the monosaccharide, a class of sugars that cannot be broken down into simpler sugars.

Glucose and fructose are common monosaccharides and have rings composed of six carbon atoms.[3] Even though the two compounds share a molecular composition (C6H12O6), the different orientations in which the two molecules are structured affect how the molecules interact with the body.[4] Think of these two sugars as house keys.  They may be made of the exact same type of metal, but unless the shapes of the keys are identical, they will not fit the same lock.

A disaccharide is a molecule formed when two monosaccharides are joined together. Sucrose, the compound that the FDA defines as table sugar,[5] is a common disaccharide.

Soylent contains three disaccharides:

  • Isomaltulose
  • Trehalose
  • A small amount of sucralose

Even though they are in the same carbohydrate subfamily, due to their unique shapes, the ways in which isomaltulose, trehalose, and sucralose interact with the body are completely different. On nutrition labels, the FDA requires that all disaccharides be labeled as sugars despite the different ways that the disaccharides function.[6]

In Soylent, a very small amount of sucralose is used to mask the flavor of the vitamin blend. Due to its shape, sucralose cannot be broken down by humans. For more information on sucralose, visit this page.

Isomaltulose, which is composed of a glucose molecule bonded to a fructose molecule, is broken down and digested by the body.

In addition to isomaltulose, Soylent contains trehalose. Trehalose is an extremely stable disaccharide that isn't reduced by hydrolysis and can't be broken down by alpha glucosidase, an enzyme involved in the breakdown of many carbohydrates. The trehalose used in Soylent is produced industrially, but the compound is also found naturally in some types of honey, fungi, and certain insects.[9]

The inclusion of isomaltulose and trehalose within the total blend of carbohydrates in Soylent is designed to provide an even energy release.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, which are also known as polysaccharides, are divided into two groups - storage polysaccharides and structural polysaccharides.

On food labeling, the term carbohydrate refers to storage polysaccharides. Historically, these are provided via whole-grain breads, starches, and other grain-derived products.

Storage polysaccharides are important because they are the source of medium to long-term energy. Subsequently, storage polysaccharides have an overall lower glycemic index, which is a measurement of the rate at which the body breaks them down into glucose.

From a human nutrition standpoint, the key difference between a structural polysaccharide[11] and a storage polysaccharide[12] is that the bond geometry of a structural polysaccharide is not in a shape which can be broken down by the human digestive system.[13]


Which Polysaccharides, if any, are in Soylent products?

Energy Production

Humans derive nearly all energy from carbohydrates, fatty acids and to a lesser extent protein.[14], [15],[16]

The process by which the body extracts energy from carbohydrates is very complex, but on a fundamental level, energy is collected by pulling hydrogen atoms off monosaccharides' carbon rings. Hydrogen atoms have a single valence electron, a minute electrical charge, which is stored in a battery-like compound known as adenosine triphosphate.

The collective electric charges of quadrillions of ATP molecules provide the energy which powers the roughly 37 trillion cells in the body.[17]

Soylent serves as an entire meal that includes this very important balance of energy. Many diets try to cut out carbohydrates completely, which is dangerous as they are vital to so many systems in the body.


[1] Nelson, David L., and Michael M. Cox. "Carbohydrates and Glycobiology." In Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry. 6th ed. New York: W.H. Freeman, 2013. 243.

[2] A hydroxyl group is a hydrogen atom covalently bonded to an oxygen atom.

[3] Monosaccharides with six carbon atoms are also known as hexoses.

[4] Glucose and fructose are examples of structural isomers.

[5] http://plk.tn/fdascrs

[6] http://plk.tn/fdalabe l Search "disaccharides" on the page to view the excerpt which defines a sugar as a mono- or disaccharide.

[7] http://plk.tn/1DFFYAo

[8] Jentjens, R.L.P.G., Jeukendrup, A.E. "Effects of pre-exercise ingestion of trehalose, galactose and glucose on subsequent metabolism and cycling performance." European Journal of Applied Physiology 88 (2003): 459-65. http://plk.tn/1I6dnE5

[9] Richards, A.B., Krakowka, S., Dexter, L.B., Schmid, H., Wolterbeek, A.P.M., Waalkens-Berendsen, D.H., Shigoyuki, A., Kurimoto, M. "Trehalose: a review of properties, history of use and human tolerance, and results of multiple safety studies." Food and Chemical Toxicology 40 (2002): 871-98. http://plk.tn/1eLPyI2

[10] Although it is not found in humans, chitin is another common structural polysaccharide.

[11] Structural polysaccharides are listed as "Dietary Fiber" on a food product's nutrition facts.

[12] The amount of storage polysaccharides is calculated by subtracting "Dietary Fiber" and "Sugars" from "Total Carbohydrate" on a food product's nutrition facts.

[13] Structural polysaccharides or fiber, are not broken down by the body. A small amount of fiber is broken down by bacteria in the intestines.

[14] In 1.4, 43 percent of the energy of Soylent (calories) comes from carbohydrates, 40 percent of the energy comes from fats and 17 percent of the energy comes from protein.

[15] The end product of most carbohydrate digestion is glucose, but fructose and galactose are produced as well.

[16] Stipanuk, Martha H., and Marie A. Caudill. "Carbohydrate Metabolism: Synthesis and Oxidation." In Biochemical, Physiological, and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition, 209. Third Edition ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, 2013.

[17] http://plk.tn/1D3MPAY

[18] A watt hour is the total power consumed at the rate of one watt for one hour.

[19] http://plk.tn/1EoLsyT

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