Every food you eat is broken down into 3 macronutrients, namely, protein, carbohydrates and fat. All foods are not created equal – while most foods have some combination of all the 3 macros, but some foods have only 1 or 2.
Read on to find what role the three macronutrient (Protein, Carbs & Fat) play in your body and the best food types & sources for each of these 3 macros.
Three Macronutrient – Protein, Carbs & Fat
Following are the three macronutrients:
Every tissue of your body is made up of protein – whether skin, muscles, bones, organs or hair – so much so even hormones and enzymes that catalyze reactions in your body are formed of protein. Protein contains 20 amino acids, known as the building blocks. The amino acids are divided into 2 groups:
(i) 9 Essential amino acids, which can not be created by your body – so must be obtained from the foods you eat; and
(ii) Nonessential amino acids, which your body can create from other amino acids.
Protein can be obtained from both plant & animal sources. As the animal foods such as fish, eggs, poultry, beef, and dairy contain all 9 essential amino acids, so are termed as complete proteins. Plant sources of protein such as beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains & vegetables are missing at least 1 essential amino acid, so are termed as incomplete proteins. There are only a few plant sources (such as soy, quinoa & amaranth, the latter 2 are seeds) that have all 9 essential amino acids. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, make sure to eat a wide variety of plant foods so as to get all of the necessary amino acids, including the 9 essential ones.
Most food sources of protein also contain other macronutrients. For instance, beans, seeds & nuts contain carbs & fat along with protein. A half-cup of beans has about seven grams of protein, which is the same as one ounce of chicken. But beans also have twenty grams of carbs in that same serving. So, you need to be careful and count the beans toward your carbohydrate intake as well. Now let us take the case of other protein source such as nuts & seeds – they have more fat than protein, so again make it sure to count them towards your fat intake as well – so much so many people consider them as a fat source than a protein.
A high protein source food typically contains seven grams of protein per ounce.
The leanest food sources for protein include fish (particularly omega-3-rich varieties), eggs, poultry, low-fat dairy, lean beef and pork, soy (tofu, tempeh, soy milk), beans and legumes.
After you eat food, its carbohydrate contents are broken down in to glucose. The glucose gets absorbed into your blood stream and transported through the energy pathway to be used as fuel. Some of the glucose is shuttled into the cells with the help of insulin. If your body has more glucose in the blood than what it can use or needs as energy, then the excess is stored in fat tissues.
Carbohydrates are classified as follow:
(i) Simple: They and contained in foods such as sugar, juice, fruit, and milk; and
(ii) Complex: They are contained in foods such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
Another way to classify carbohydrates is as follow:
(i) Refined: Processed food items – they are stripped of their fiber as well as majority of the other nutrients – so contain only a few nutrients with no or just small amount of fiber. Examples are white bread, white pasta, white rice, white sugar, fruit juice.
(ii) Unrefined: The intact food items such as whole grains, unpolished/brown rice, and vegetables. They may be processed, but retain most of the fibrous content of the grain and appear in a different form such as whole-grain bread/cereal.
Refined carbs produce a larger upsurge in blood glucose level, which in turn places a greater strain on the pancreas to produce insulin (insulin helps to reduce glucose level). To decrease the stress on the pancreas and help manage insulin levels, it is recommended that you choose unrefined carbs-rich foods and avoid the foods containing refined carbs.
So, try to include in your diet the carbohydrates that are unrefined and complex because they are the most nutritious ones.
Most foods that are rich in carbohydrates such as beans, grains, vegetables and dairy – also contain some amount of fat as well as protein. You need to take these into consideration while counting amounts of your macros intake.
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Fat is needed for various essential functions in a human body. The brain’s composition is mainly fat; so fat plays an important role in keeping your brain in a healthy state.
Cholesterol and sex hormones are made from fat.
The vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, so dietary fat is needed to absorb them properly.
Ingesting sufficient dietary fat makes your skin & hair appear and feel healthier.
Fat takes longer to digest, so provides satiety and prevents spike in blood glucose level because it allows blood glucose level to rise slowly.
Fat can be classified broadly in three types – each with different health benefits and implications.
(i) Saturated fats: These are solid types at room temperature and include butter, coconut oil & lard. Saturated fat has been defamed for many decades as a major cause for heart disease. But recent research studies now suggest that saturated fat is neutral in regards to heart-disease risk.
Particularly coconut oil has been of special interest during the past few years. Though it is a saturated fat, but is formed mainly of medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which human body metabolizes in a different way than the long-chain fatty acids that are present in most of the fats in the food we generally consume. MCTs are metabolized by our liver for fuel. According to the American Heart Association no more than seven to 10 percent of total calories should come from saturated fat.
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(ii) Unsaturated fats: This type is in liquid form at room temperature, such as oil. Unsaturated fat can be further divided in two categories, monounsaturated & polyunsaturated.
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs): This type is contained in olive oil, avocado, almonds, cashews, pecans, flax seeds & sesame seeds and is considered as heart-healthy & anti-inflammatory.
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs): They are further sub-divided into omega-6 and omega-3 fats. As compared to omega-6, omega-3 fats are considered favorably because of their strong anti-inflammatory properties. Research studies are divided on omega-6 fats – some diet experts consider certain omega-6s as pro-inflammatory & others as anti-inflammatory. A typical American diet is high in omega-6 fats, which are contained in sunflower, safflower, grape seed, soybean and corn oils. Omega-3s sources include fatty fish (such as wild Alaskan salmon, wild Pacific halibut, mackerel, sardines), walnuts and chia seeds.
The American standard diet is very rich in omega-6, resulting into unhealthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 – greater than 40:1. The recommended ratio is of not more than 4:1. So, you should try to deliberately include more foods that are rich in omega-3 and limit omega-6 oils & foods to achieve a healthier ratio.
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3. Trans fats: This is the 3rd, final type. This type of fat is formed by heating a liquid oil under high pressure & adding hydrogen molecules to convert it into a solid, giving it a look like that of saturated-type fat. These fats are harmful for your heart as they increase LDL-cholesterol level (bad cholesterol) & triglycerides and lower good HDL-cholesterol levels. This type of fat includes shortening and margarine. Store-bought baked products such as pastries, doughnuts, cake, pies, cookies and crackers contain trans fat because it increases shelf life and enhance texture. You should try to eliminate trans fats totally from your diet.
You should keep your diet balanced with protein, carbohydrate and fat. Each meal & snack should contain each of the three macronutrients in the right proportion to ensure optimal nutrient intake with long-lasting energy. Choose whole, unprocessed, good quality food to cut down the risks for life-style diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.