Elements Necessary for Life
Carbon is the fourth abundant element in the universe. It has an atomic number of 6 and can be found almost anywhere from your pencil lead, to the material making up your desk. Because it found in such a wide variety of things, it is broken up large carbon based molecules called organic macromolecules. These macromolecules are fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and nucleic acids.
Fats are energy storing molecules made from smaller glycerol molecules. Unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats because the fat molecules in saturated fats are more tightly packed together. Fats can be found in foods like cakes, biscuits, and sweets.
Carbohydrates are critical energy sources for most living organisms and can also function as food storage molecules in the body. Breads, grains, sugars and starches like potatoes are all carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that can be broken down into basic glucose, or fructose sugar rings. Cellulose is the tough, fibrous material found in plant materials and is the most abundant organic compound on earth. Humans can’t digest cellulose, but it’s still an important dietary element. Cellulose, also known as fiber, is found in many fruits, grains and vegetable and has many important functions in human health. Because it must be thoroughly chewed, it slows eating and contributes to feelings of fullness. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels and cleans the lining of the digestive system.
Proteins are found in meats, nuts, dairy products, grains and legumes. Protein is essential for nearly all of life’s functions. Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. These body proteins are constantly being broken down and replaced. The protein in the foods we eat is digested into amino acids that are later used to replace these proteins in our bodies. Protein consists of a carbon skeleton joined to differing arrangements of the 20 amino acids that form the building blocks for all proteins. Proteins are important in constructing our cells, starting and regulating our body’s chemical reactions, helping our immune systems function and allowing communication between our cells. Our hair, muscles and connective tissues like ligaments and tendons are made of proteins.
The fourth major group of macromolecules isn’t directly related to diet, but is critical for life. Nucleic acids are carbon skeletons joined to nucleotides, which are carbon-based sugars linked to a nitrogenous base. Nucleic acids are the basic building blocks of our DNA and RNA, which carry the genetic code responsible for all of the structures and functions of the body.