What are polysaccharides and why are they important to my health?

Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that play a vital role in human health. They are found in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, and they provide a range of benefits to the body.

A polysaccharide (poly- meaning ‘many’ and saccharide meaning ‘sugar’) is a long chain of linked sugar molecules. It is a complex carbohydrate made up of multiple simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, linked together. Polysaccharides are found in many plants and are an important source of energy for living organisms. They play important structural and metabolic roles in cells, and store energy.

There are several different types of polysaccharides, including:

Starch: found in plants and is a complex carbohydrate that is used as a source of energy

Cellulose: found in the cell walls of plants and is the most abundant natural polymer on Earth

Chitin: found in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans and is a major component of fungal cell walls

Glycosaminoglycans: found in the extracellular matrix of animals and are important in the formation of connective tissues

Beta-glucan: found in certain mushrooms, like Reishi mushroom and are known to have health benefits, including immune-enhancing properties.

One of the key benefits of consuming polysaccharides is their ability to provide sustained energy. Starch, which is found in foods like potatoes, rice, and pasta, is slowly broken down into glucose, providing a steady source of energy over a long period of time.

Polysaccharides promote digestive health. Fiber, which is an indigestible polysaccharide, helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity. Soluble fibre, found in foods such as oats, barley, and apples, forms a gel-like substance in the gut that helps to slow down the absorption of glucose, reducing spikes in blood sugar levels.

Some polysaccharides have heart and cardiovascular health benefits. For Beta-glucans, which are found in oats, barley and some mushrooms, reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

Chitin, is found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects and has potential health benefits, including supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation.

In conclusion, consuming a diet rich in polysaccharides has a wide range of health benefits. From providing sustained energy to promoting digestive health and potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, incorporating foods that are high in different types of polysaccharides into your diet can help to support overall health and wellness.