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Section III b(1) The food requirements of humans

Functions of food

1. It serves as fuel to provide energy to support life processes.

2. It provides raw materials for growth and repair of tissues.
3. It regulates metabolism.
4. It protects the body against diseases.

Food substances

Human's food is made up of seven classes of food substances :

Food substance General functions Chemical nature

1. Carbohydrates
producing energy organic
2. Lipids ( fats & oils )
3. Proteins for growth and repair organic
4. Vitamins organic
5. Minerals for regulation and protection inorganic
6. Water inorganic
7. Roughage stimulating gut movement organic

 Information :
Organic compounds are those which contain carbon and hydrogen, they are usually more complex than inorganic

A. Carbohydrates (碳水化合物)
1. Carbohydrates are organic compounds which contain the elements carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). The
ratio of hydrogen to oxygen is always 2:1.

2. Carbohydrates are divided into three main groups :

Types Properties Functions Examples

1. Monosaccharides 單糖 soluble in water, for respiration to produce energy glucose 葡萄糖
( C6H12O6 ) reducing sugar fructose 果糖

2. Disaccharides 雙糖 soluble in water, for producing energy sucrose 蔗糖

( C12H22O11) reducing sugar maltose 麥芽糖
except sucrose lactose 乳糖
3. Polysaccharides 多糖 insoluble in water, as food reserve starch 澱粉
( C6H10O5)n n = > 1,000 non reducing as structural materials glycogen 糖原
cellulose 纖維素

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A diagram showing the relationship between different forms of carbohydrates

equations :

* Condensation is an anabolic reaction.

Hydrolysis is a catabolic reaction.

3. How the human body uses different types of carbohydrates ?

 Information :
1. In plants , the mesophyll cells in leaf produce glucose during photosynthesis. Excess glucose will be converted to
starch. In darkness, starch is converted to sucrose to be transported to different organs via the phloem.
In these organs, e.g., roots, sucrose is broken down to glucose and any excess glucose will be stored as starch.
( main idea : the starch stored in root cells actually comes from the glucose made by the leaf cells )

2. In animals, starch in food is digested to glucose and is absorbed into the blood and be carried to the liver and then to
the whole body.
Excess glucose will be converted to glycogen and is stored in the liver and the muscles.
Any further excess glucose will be converted to fat for storage under the skin.
This explains why eating a lot of starchy food will make a person fat.

3. Starch and glycogen are good for storage because

(a) they are insoluble in water and this will not cause osmotic problems to cells.
(b) they are large and will not diffuse out of cells and be lost.

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B. Proteins (蛋白質)

1. Proteins are organic compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. Sometimes sulphur and
phosphorus may be present.

2. A protein is a large molecule made from basic units called amino acids (胺基酸).

3. There are over 20 different types of amino acids existing in nature. In forming a protein molecule, different
number and types of amino acids first join together by condensation to form one or a few long chains called
polypeptides . The polypeptide then coils and folds up to form a protein molecule.

4. Proteins are denatured by high temperature, strong alkalis and acid.

* Note : Denaturation means the three dimensional structure of a protein is broken down, forming back the polypeptide
chain. As the function of a protein molecule depends very much on its shape, the protein can no longer carries
out its function after denaturation.

folding of a polypeptide chain to form

a three dimensional protein molecule

5. Functions of proteins :

(a) In general, proteins are important for growth and repair of body tissues.

(b) For making different kinds of proteins in the body , e.g., enzymes, haemoglobin for carrying oxygen, muscle
proteins, antibodies for body defence, hormones, etc.

* Important: The proteins in food will be digested first to polypeptides then to amino acids. The cells use the absorbed
amino acids to build various kinds of proteins mentioned in point (b).
Proteins are normally NOT used for energy production. They will be oxidized only when carbohydrates and
fats are not available ( e.g., during starvation )

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6. Animal foods are better sources of proteins because

(a) any one type of animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids. Plant proteins lack one or more essential
amino acids.
(b) they can be more easily digested and absorbed.

 Information :
1. Essential amino acids are those which cannot be made by the human body, they must be obtained from the diet.

2. Vegetarians are people who eat plant food only, they usually eat a large variety of vegetables and fruits in order to obtain
all the essential amino acid for healthy growth. Vegetarians usually supplement their diet with eggs or milk.

3. Vegans are strict vegetarian that eat foods of plant origin only. A strict vegetarian diet is not suitable for children and
teenagers, as some essential amino acids cannot be be provided in sufficient amount to support the active group of
children and teenagers.

7. Protein deficiency disease : Kwashiorkor

C. Fats ( lipids 脂肪)

1. Fats are organic compounds which contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen is
much greater than 2: 1.

2. A fat molecule is made up of three molecules of fatty acid (脂肪酸) and one molecule of glycerol (甘油).

3. Fats are insoluble in water but readily soluble in organic solvents (有機溶劑) such as alcohol, ether and

4. Functions of fats :

(a) As an energy reserve (儲備) of the body. When carbohydrates are in short supply, the human body can
oxidize stored fat to release energy.

Note : Fats can release twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates when they are oxidized.

(b) As an insulating layer - Fats are stored under skin as a layer of subcutaneous fat (皮下脂肪) to reduce
heat loss from the body.

(c) Fats surrounding organs act as a shock-absorber to protect them from damage.

(d) Fats are important for making cell membranes.

(e) Fats are useful for the absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.

D. Vitamins (維生素)

1. Vitamins are organic compounds. They are needed in very small amounts to control metabolic reactions and
for maintaining good health.

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2. They have no energy value, i.e., they cannot be used to provide energy.

3. Some vitamins are water-soluble, e.g., vitamins B and C.

Others are fat-soluble, e.g., vitamins A, D, E and K.

4. The human body can make two vitamins :

(a) The skin can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
(b) The bacteria in the large intestine can make vitamin K.

5. Some important vitamins and the corresponding deficiency diseases :

Vitamin Sources Functions Deficiency disease

A Fish liver oil, carrots, Needed for the formation of Night-blindness (夜盲)
green vegetables visual purple ( a pigment ) which
is important for vision at low light

C Green vegetables and  Formation of connective tissues Scurvy (壞血病)

fruits ( important for healthy gums ,
blood vessels and skin )
 For healing wounds

D dairy products such as  It enhances the absorption and Rickets (佝僂病)

milk, cheeze , fish-liver oil, use of calcium.
egg yolk  Important for making strong
bones and teeth

 Examination tips :
1. People suffering night-blindness cannot see things clearly under dim light conditions. ( NOT at night ! )
2. Vitamin C is rapidly destroyed by boiling and it is also lost through long-term storage.
3. For deficiency of vitamin D, you may state poor bone growth/ less hard, but never say bones become soft / weak.

E. Minerals (礦物質)

1. Minerals are inorganic substances which have no energy value. They are usually present as mineral salts.

2. Characteristics :
(a) They are needed in small amounts to maintain body health and to build up some body tissues.
(b) They have no energy value.

3. Some important minerals :

Mineral Best food sources Functions Deficiency diseases

1. Calcium (鈣) cheese, milk, fish 1. For making bones and teeth. 1. Abnormal growth of bones

2. For blood clotting. 2. Slow blood clotting

3. For muscle contraction.

2. Iron (鐵) Liver, beef, green For making haemoglobin (血紅素) Anaemia (貧血)

leafy vegetable in red blood cells

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F. Roughage ( dietary fibres 粗糙食物,纖維)

1. Roughage is mainly composed of cellulose fibres from the cell walls of plant tissues.

2. Humans have no enzyme to digest cellulose. In the gut, the undigested cellulose fibres absorb water and form a
large bulky mass. This stimulates peristalsis (蠕動) of the gut to push food along the gut.

3. Vegetables, fruits and cereals are rich in roughage. Insufficient roughage in the diet may lead to constipation
(便秘). This is because food will stay in the large intestine for a longer time, excess water will be absorbed from
the undigested food and faeces would become too hard to be egested.

G. Water

1. About 60 - 75% of our body weight is water.

2. Water is a vital food substance, it has no energy value but it serves many important functions in the human body :

(a) It provides a medium for chemical reactions to take place.

(b) It forms the bulk of blood plasma and tissue fluid, which are important for the transport of dissolved
substances within the body.
(c) It serves as a solvent to dissolve some chemical substances.
(d) It acts as a cooling agent and helps to remove heat from the body when sweat is evaporated.
(e) It has a high specific heat capacity so that much heat can be retained. This help us to maintain a constant body
(f) It dilutes waste products and poisonous substances, preventing them from causing harm to the body.
(g) It acts as a lubricant to reduce friction in many places, e.g., fluid in joints, fluid between the membranes in the
lungs and the brain.

A summary of common food tests

Food substances Food tests Procedure Positive result

1. Glucose Clinstix paper Add a drop of solution onto the paper It turns from pink to purple/ blue*

2. Reducing sugars Benedict's test Mix equal volume of solution with An orange precipitate is formed*
Benedict's solution and heat.

3. Starch Iodine test Add iodine solution to the unknown The solution turns blue-black

4. Proteins Albustix paper Add a drop of solution onto the paper It turns from yellow to green*

5. Lipids Grease spot test Add a drop of solution on filter paper A permanent translucent
(半透明的) mark is formed.

6. Vitamin C DCPIP test Add unknown solution to DCPIP The solution changes from blue to
Solution colourless

NB : For some tests, the colour change is not clear , depends on the concentration of food substances present
in the sample. e.g., In Benedict's test, when the concentration of reducing sugar is not high, the
resulting solution may be green , or brown, with some precipitates.
In Iodine test, a dark brown solution may indicate that there is some starch in the sample.
For clinistix paper and albustix paper tests, the deeper the colour, the higher the concentration.

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