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Interconversion of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat


Carbohydrates, fats and oils and proteins are the major constituents of the foods that we eat. Their main purpose of food is to provide energy for the basic processes of life ( respiration, circulation, and metabolism), for the mechanical work performed by muscles, for growth, maintenance of body warmth, and for making good the wear and tear brought by daily activity. Body tissues are in a dynamic state of breaking down (catabolism), and regeneration (anabolism). Foods consumed in our daily diet supply the essential raw materials for growth and repair as well as the energy needed for the chemical reactions involved. In this respect carbohydrates, fats and proteins can be interchanged as sources of energy. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a versatile source of energy. It can be generated by oxidizing several metabolic fuels, although carbohydrates and fats are especially important for the purpose. ATP is used in innumerable metabolic reactions and physiological functions in all forms of life, including humans. The primary objective of metabolism is to maintain a steady supply of ATP as readily utilizable energy source for normal everyday processes of life.

Interconversion of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat Introduction Carbohydrates, fats and oils and proteins are the major

Fig: Food for the life process



Carbohydrates made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms are classified as mono-, di-, and polysaccharides, depending on the number of sugar units they contain. The monosaccharides— glucose , galactose, and fructose. Carbohydrates are widely distributed in both plant and animal tissues. In plants they are produced by photosynthesis and include the cellulose of the plant framework as well as the starch in the plant cells. Starch is the important food source of carbohydrate and is found in cereals, potatoes, legumes and other vegetables. Glycogen is often referred to as animal starch, and is the polysaccharide of animal tissues. Both starch and glycogen are long-chain polysaccharides formed of units joined together by glycosidic bonds. The size of the glycogen molecule varies with the nutritional status of the host, being larger in the fed state and progressively getting smaller in between meals. The three most common products of carbohydrate digestion are glucose, galactose and fructose. The energy stores of most animals and plants are both carbohydrate and lipid in nature. Carbohydrates are generally available as an immediate energy source, whereas lipids act as long term energy resource and tend to be utilized at a slower rate. Glucose, the free sugar circulating in the blood of all higher animals is the main energy currency. It is essential to cell function, and proper regulation of glucose metabolism is of paramount importance for survival.

Proteins contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sometimes other atoms. They form the cellular structural elements, are biochemical catalysts, and are important regulators of gene expression. Nitrogen is essential to the formation of twenty different amino acids, the building blocks of all body cells. Protein can be found in a wide range of food. The best combination of protein sources depends on

the region of the world, access, cost, amino acid types and nutrition balance, as well as acquired tastes. Meat, products from milk, eggs and fish are animal sources of protein. Within vegetable sources of protein, there are whole grains and cereals. However, these tend to be limiting in the amino acid lysine or threonine, which are

available in other vegetarian sources and meats.

Vegetarian sources of proteins also

include legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, some of which are called pulses

in certain

parts of the world, have higher concentrations of amino acids and are more


complete sources of protein than whole grains and cereals. Proteins of vegetable origin usually have lower nutritive values because they have suboptimal amounts of one or more essential amino acids. However, when vegetable proteins are combined in the diet the overall amino acid combination is improved. Most animal proteins have high biological value since they can be utilized by humans for tissue repair and growth. Another advantage that foods of animal origin have is the presence of nutrients like vitamin B12, iron and retinol. Proteins are polymers of amino acids. Eight amino acids are essential. They are required but cannot be produced by the body. These amino acids are: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine (which can be partly replaced by cystine), phenylalanine (which can be partly replaced by tyrosine), threonine, tryptophan, and valine. In some situations histidine appears to be essential. These amino acids are not all required in the same amount each day. For example, leucine is required most and tryptophan least. Because amino acids are not stored in the body they will be most efficiently used when a complete assortment is supplied at about the same time. Tissue synthesis requires the presence of all essential amino acids. If any one of them is present in sub-optimal amounts the process of tissue deposition will be proportionately compromised. Proteins constitute the soft tissue of the lean body as well as the hundreds of enzymes involved in biochemical activity. These proteins are in a state of flux, being continually broken down and re- synthesized at various rates.

Fats contain mostly carbon and hydrogen, some oxygen, and sometimes other atoms. The three main forms of fat found in food are glycerides (principally triacylglycerol [triglyceride], the form in which fat is stored for fuel), the phospholipids, and the sterols (principally cholesterol) Fats comprise a large group of water insoluble substances predominantly made up of glyceryl esters of fatty acids (triglycerides). Fats are distinguished from oil only by their different melting points. At room temperature fats are solid and oils liquid. The term ‘fat’ is used to refer to the whole group, and is synonymous with lipids. It includes not only visible fats (like butter and margarine), cooking fats and oils but also ‘invisible fats’ which occur in foods like cheese, biscuits, nuts and other animal and vegetable foods. They are a more concentrated form of energy than carbohydrates, and are the form in which energy reserves of animals and some plants as well as seeds are stored. Dietary fat consists primarily (98%) of triacylglycerol, composed of one glycerol molecule combined


with (esterified) three fatty acid molecules, and remaining 2% or so made up of

phospholipids and sterols. Except for the brain and red blood cells all other tissues of the body use fatty acids as a ready source of energy. The brain can use ketones derived from fatty acids as energy source. Fatty acids are chains of hydrocarbons that

contain a methyl (-CH3) and a carboxyl

(-COOH) end. Fatty acids vary by the

number of carbon atoms in the chain and by the presence and position of double bonds.

with (esterified) three fatty acid molecules, and remaining 2% or so made up of phospholipids and

Fig: Sources of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat


The interrelationship of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is well illustrated by the following diagram. The ability of each to replace measurably one or both of the others is also shown. When proteins are eaten they are in part transformed into tissue, in part directly catabolized, and in small part transformed into carbohydrate matter and fat. When fats are eaten they are in small part stored in the tissues as fat; in large part they undergo combustion directly. A part of the stored fat of the system that may be consumed in case of need is derived from the proteins and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates for the most part undergo direct combustion.


Fig: Interrelationship of food Carbohydrate containing foods such as starch are digested to glucose, which is

Fig: Interrelationship of food Carbohydrate containing foods such as starch are digested to glucose, which is then absorbed into the blood. Once a glucose molecule has passed from the blood stream into a cell it gets metabolized in a controlled way through several biochemical steps controlled by enzymes, some of which need co-factors derived from vitamins.

Fig: Interrelationship of food Carbohydrate containing foods such as starch are digested to glucose, which is

Fig: Fate of Glucose


If a body cell needs energy and glucose is available, then the glucose will be oxidized by the glycolytic pathway and the citric acid cycle with the formation of ATP. If, however, there is surplus glucose then the capacity of the citric acid cycle in the mitochondria gets overwhelmed. Glycolysis is inhibited and the excess glucose is channeled towards formation of glycogen. The process is called glucogenesis.

Dietary protein is digested in the gastro-intestinal tract to release its 20 constituent amino acids. Unique pathways are followed by the catabolism of each of the amino acids. Depending upon the body’s requirement some amino acids may be utilised immediately for body tissue synthesis.Those that are surplus to immediate requirement are used for energy production after de-amination. Amino acids which are not immediately utilised for tissue synthesis are broken down to yield carbon skeletons that can enter the citric acid cycle for energy production. Those amino acids that enter through the pyruvate gateway are referred to as glucogenic since they can be withdrawn and used of gluconeogenesis.

If a body cell needs energy and glucose is available, then the glucose will be oxidized

Fig: Fate of amino acids

The digestive process acts to increase the surface area of the lipids, which being hydrophobic are insoluble and aggregate together. It also must solubilize the products of digestion for ease of absorption. Digestion begins with the action of the lingual lipase acting inside the stomach. It converts triglycerides into free fatty acids, and mono and triglycerides. Gastric peristalsis helps to churn up the fat into small particles which aids the action of the lipase. The main part of fat digestion occurs in the small intestine under the concerted action of pancreatic


lipase and bile. After digestion fat travels to peripheral tissue like muscle or adipose tissue in the form of chylomicrons. These are large triglyceride rich particles that also contain phospholipids, cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins, and other protein molecules like apoprotein A. Inside the tissues epithelium bound lipoprotein lipases liberate the fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins.

lipase and bile. After digestion fat travels to peripheral tissue like muscle or adipose tissue in

Fig: Lipid Metabolism

Finally the carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism are unified by the Krebs

cycle, TCA cycle or the Citric acid cycle.

The Krebs Cycle is the central

metabolic pathway in all aerobic organisms. The cycle is a series of eight

reactions that occur in the mitochondrion.

These reactions take a two carbon

molecule (acetate) and completely oxidize it to carbon dioxide. In reality, the

Krebs Cycle is not only part of the pathway for the breakdown of glucose but also for the breakdown of all metabolites, including other sugars, amino acids and fatty acids. Each of these groups of molecules has a pathway that leads into the Krebs Cycle. For example, carbohydrates are converted into acetyl CoA by the

process of


while fatty acids are converted into acetyl CoA by


the beta oxidation pathway .

betaoxidation pathway.

In each case, the molecules are converted into

products that enter the Krebs Cycle. In addition, intermediates from the Krebs Cycle can go the other direction and be used to synthesize molecules such as amino acids and fatty acids. For example, acetyl CoA can be used to synthesize fatty acids.


Fig: Involvement of Carbohydrate, Protein and fat in TCA cycle Conclusion: The macronutrients needed for our

Fig: Involvement of Carbohydrate, Protein and fat in TCA cycle


The macronutrients needed for our survival; namely Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat are derived from various sources. The sources vary according to geography, culture, customs, norms etc.

As a result, the rules of a balanced diet is not always maintained. For example, The ratio of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate intake is not always maintained properly. The macronutrients can convert into one another, but not at a sufficient amount. This usually results in malnutrition.


Although Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat have different sources and characteristics, both physical and chemical, they can be converted into each other. Ultimately, they also share a common pathway in the end.



To promote health education about nutrition. Promotion of health programs concerning nutrition To increase awareness about different types of nutrients and the proper amount to take each.



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