If you’re geared towards health and fitness, then you’re probably already familiar with the importance of nutrition and its essential role to reaching your goals. There exists a plethora of information readily available to the average person; whether it is on the internet, in a book, a magazine or through the words of a friend – your options and decisions are based on some outside, (usually) biased source. So how do we avoid the slew of misinformation that is pointedly handed to us? Well to start, it’s imperative to know the biggest players in your nutrition, macronutrients.
Macronutrients are a complex of smaller building blocks that have important nutritional roles. The McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois at Urbaba-Champaign describes macronutrients as nutrients that provide calories or energy. These nutrients are substances vital for growth, metabolism and other bodily functions. The word “macro” means large and as such macronutrients are required in large amounts. Available to us are three primary macronutrients:
The required intake amount varies among individuals based on their dietary needs, activity levels, gender, weight and overall lifestyle goals. It is vital to your bodily functions to maintain a healthy balance of macronutrients. Otherwise, according to the NCMHD Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics an unbalanced intake of any of the three major macronutrients often contributes to the development of severe chronic diseases.
A rather common display of an unbalanced intake of macronutrients exists in individuals who follow fad diets. These diets are usually very unbalanced and although it produces results such as weight loss, it is often times short-term and only instills bad eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.
This brings us back to the goals you have to lead a better life. Your body not only uses macronutrients derived from your meals for fuel, but also to repair cells and build new muscle. So to better understand why your eating patterns matters and how you can harness the power of your food, we’ll take a closer look at the science of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. After delving into macronutrients you’ll understand just how important these major nutrients are for you. If you are looking for an anti-candida diet, please look at Designing a Candida Diet.
“Carbohydrates are the most abundant biomolecules on our planet and in our food supply”, says Kevin M Connolly, PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology. They are essentially the energy, the fuel that keeps you going through your workout and that keeps burning until the end of the day. Carbohydrates fall into two categories: simple and complex.
Simple carbs are nothing more than sugar – which broken down are glucose and fructose. Glucose is your body and brain’s main energy source and can be stored in your muscle and liver and reserved for later use. When an excess of carbohydrates and glucose is consumed however, the free glucose is converted into a form that the body can later use when it really needs it – that’s fat. Fructose on the other hand is found naturally in fruits – but has also been added to processed foods. Because of this, a lot of the fructose that should be processed through your liver is being sent to your belly because that is where excessive fructose is stored.
Complex carbs are sources of extended energy, such as starch and fiber. These cars can be found in pasta, potatoes, brown rice, sweet potatoes and bread. Starches are essential bundled forms of glucose that are held together by a weak chemical bond, meaning when necessary your body will break down starches to provide you with more energy. Fiber on the other hand, cannot be easily digested by the body and instead functions to help escort other foods and calories out of the body.
Carbohydrates are broken down into even more specific categories based on the glycemic index. This index is a scale that displays how quickly the energy from your food will hit the bloodstream. The faster it reaches the bloodstream, the higher it appears on the index. The energy source or food you choose depends on your situation. For example, if you need a quick pick me up during a workout session, a sports drink will usually do the trick. However, if you’re day is going to be spent out on a long hike, then you’re better off your sustained energy from foods like brown rice or sweet potatoes.
Out of all the macronutrients, protein is the super fuel our body needs. It has the most diverse roles in metabolism such as forming connective tissues, comprising a significant portion of our bones, and the major component of muscle fibers. Additionally, protein forms the thousands of enzymes that carry out critical chemical reactions throughout our body, transporting nutrients, forming antibodies in our immune system and directing hormones for our growth. Because of its universal natural, proteins can be found in most whole food sources. Muscle meats such as chicken, beef and fish are the primary sources, as well as milk and eggs. If meat isn’t your first option, there are other sources such as nuts, seeds and legumes. Vegetables are an option for protein sources, but they unfortunately do not contain all the essential amino acids our muscles need. So if you’re goal in life requires you to depart from meat entirely, it is highly recommended to do sufficient recent on proper protein intake when consuming vegetables. Studies have shown that vegetarians are commonly afflicted with protein deficiency due to poor dietary habits.
As with anything, protein must be consumed in moderation. That body is capable of only processing so much in one day – about one gram per pound of body weight, according to Health Education at Brown University. If you are consuming large portions of protein, be sure to compensate with an equally large water intake. Water is helpful in aiding your kidneys that process the protein and flush our any excess nutrients.
Fats are the notorious evil brother of the macronutrients groups. Fat’s bad reputation has been recognized for years due to its connection to weight gain and other chronic diseases – but as it turns out, it’s actually an essential part of our survival. Now before you start consuming every ounce of fat in sight, recognize that moderation is another key part of fat digestion and that the only approvable fats are the ones that start with dietary (dietary fats). The Dietary Reference Intakes suggests that fats should take up 20% to 35% of your daily calorie intake.
Dietary fats are important for healthy growth and development, as the body’s most concentrated source of energy, for absorbing vitamins and minerals, providing cushioning for organs, maintaining cell membranes and providing taste, consistency and stability to foods. Fats can be found in meat, poultry, nuts milk products, butters, oils, fish and grain products. It is categorized into three categories: saturated fats, unsaturated fats and trans fats.
Right off the bat, we’re throwing trans fat out the window, because not only is it found in the worst foods possible (aka: processed food and those cookies), but they provide no nutritional value and are the forefront for most of our modern chronic diseases. The only fats that matter and can be considered dietary are saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats have been pinpointed to cause heart disease and failure, but according to a recent study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, no conclusive evidence was found that dietary saturated fats were associated with increased risk of heart disease. Instead, it turns our saturated fatty acids are actually good for you heart and aid in the upkeep of your immune system and cellular functions. Again moderation is key, so don’t think just because we said it’s good – that you can good off and eat a tub of lard.
Unsaturated fats are the healthiest form of fatty acids and can be found in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and canola oil. They have been shown to clear out the arteries and veins and help aid in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Unsaturated fats also come in the form of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, the two have been connected to boosting bran function, protecting against heart disease, fighting inflammation and erasing wrinkles.
Macronutrients are very essential for our dietary and therefore our survival needs. They are however, not the only things necessary for us to function at our optimal levels, water is also an important part of a good diet as well as small amounts of vitamins and minerals that are not completely available in the food you eat. Your understanding of macronutrients however provides you with the knowledge of a cornerstone of nutrition. Once you are aware of what you’re eating and think about your goals your body and act and feel accordingly and you’ll know when you’re on the fast track to a healthy lifestyle.