One of the most commonly asked question by the people who want to keep fit is “what should I eat?” Protein, carbs, and fats! Is it that simple, no!! It’s not that straight – that you eat those three things, and your body gets all what it needs to get lean & strong body. Actually, it’s much more complex. There is lot of confusion about this subject, and so many questions come to your mind, such as:
(i) How many calories should you eat in day?
(ii) How much carbs, fat and protein should you eat?
(iii) What types of proteins (carbs & fat) are best?
(iv) Should you eat carbs after your workout? Or at night?
(v) What is this new theory, you need to eat fats?; And many more!
These questions are just few examples. There are in fact innumerable questions. The above list for example doesn’t include questions about any of the various diet plans: Paleo, Vegan, Elimination, Keto diets, and many more.
Before even selecting or designing your diet plan, you should have a basic knowledge of the three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats & protein. Understanding “what they are?” and “what do they do for you?” will help you in deciding which foods should you include in your diet plan and which you should not!
If you want to keep fit, read on here for a quick overview of Fat, Carbs & Protein – What should you eat & what you should not?
Let’s start with fats.
Are Fats Your Enemy?
For more than 50 years, diet experts, medical science, & even large pharmaceuticals have been advocating that fat is the enemy. Now, just think why then the fats are essentially present in your body.
So, what are fats & what do they do?
Fat is a great source of energy for human body, as it contains higher amount of calories than protein & carbs (9 kcal/gram in fat as compared to 4 kcal/gram in carbs & protein) and can also be stored in your body for later use. Need less to say, it’s that fat storage part that you need minimize.
There are a number of reasons to include fat in your diet for the efficient functioning of your brain. Neurons job is to transmit signals through your brain & nervous system. Fatty acids, which are derived from fats, assist to form & repair myelin sheath (protective coating) around neurons. Healthy protective coating (myelin sheath) enables quicker signals from the brain, which can make you act smarter & faster. Just imagine without myelin sheath (which is formed with fatty acids), how your brain will function.
Fats are also necessary for controlling/regulating hormones. Hormones help control/regulate body functions such as sleep, temperature, digestion, reproduction, cell growth & muscle function.
Now, it’s clear that human body requires dietary fats, but the pertinent question is what type of fats should you include in your diet and how much?
While choosing dietary fats, keep in mind that there are 3 healthy fats & 2 harmful fats. Here’s a brief review. Let us first consider the “good guys”.
(i) Omega-3 & Omega-6 the essential fatty acids (EFAs): They are known as essential fats as your body can’t make them. You must acquire them from food you eat. Whereas too much Omega-6 may enhance heart disease risk, but you require both for good health. EFAs are vital for brain function, cardiac health, vision, skin, hair health, & fighting inflammation. Fish such as salmon, tuna, & sardines, plus nuts & seeds and their oils are good sources of EFAs. Besides foods, supplements such as fish and krill oil that are rich in Omega EFAs are also an option.
(ii) Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs): They are available in a variety of foods & oils, such as avocados, peanut butter, nuts and olive oil. MUFAs help maintaining cell health & can keep the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol under control.
(iii) Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): These kinds of fats are found predominantly in plant-based foods & oils. They help improve your cholesterol profile, which cut back heart disease risk. There are also some research studies that support the view – PUFAs (primarily Omega-3 & Omega-6 EFAs) help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Harmful Fats (Bad guys) generally include:
(i) Saturated fat: Saturated fat foods include red meat, fatty cuts of beef, pork, dark chicken, poultry skin and high-fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream). A diet rich in saturated fat can increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels, increasing your risk for heart disease.
Note: However, recent research studies have created some uncertainty, regarding whether saturated fat & overall higher intake of fat is the real perpetrator.
Read here: Is Saturated Fat Bad For You
(ii) Trans fat: Broadly trans fats are of two types, naturally occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally occurring trans fats are present in the gut of some animals & foods made from these animals (e.g., meat products & milk) may contain small amounts of these fats. Artificial trans fats are manufactured by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.
Trans fats are contained in a variety of foods such as fried foods, like doughnuts, and baked products including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, microwaveable breakfast sandwiches and margarines & other spreads as well.
Regarding how much fat should we eat?
It all depends on the nutrition plan you are considering. Ketogenic, Low Carb, and even Paleo plans call for higher percentages of total calories from fat than other plans.
However, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended in it’s (2015 edition) limiting saturated fat to 10% of total calories.
Carbohydrates – Whether Good Or Evil?
Carbs have lately become the nutritional bad guy. But just like fats, your body needs carbs, also! Some people believe, the quality of carbohydrate matters more than the quantity. But most of the diet experts claim that quality as well as quantity, both matter. Which ones & how much to eat depends on your goals.
Though there are a variety of forms, but for us, the most important carbs are:
(i) Sugars – They are the simple carbs. Foods contain the following common types of sugars: fructose (fruit sugar,) sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (milk sugar).
(ii) Fiber – Complex carbs, they come in soluble & insoluble types. Both play important role for digestion & cardiac health.
(iii) Starches – Complex carbs created by binding many sugars together to form longer “chains”. They are slower to digest & absorbed into your bloodstream as compared to simple sugars.
Carbs are needed as they supply glucose to the body, the main fuel for physical functions. There are two kinds, healthy & unhealthy sources of carbs. The healthy ones not only provide energy & fiber, but also offer a variety of micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, & phytonutrients. The unhealthy carbs provide energy only (empty calories), with accompanied risks of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Here are some examples of both healthy and unhealthy carbs:
(i) Healthy Carbs -Whole grains quinoa, rye, wheat & barley. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and lettuce. Veggies like broccoli, zucchini cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes & cucumbers. Fruits like berries, apples, pears, oranges and melons. Healthy starches like brown rice, wild rice, sweet potatoes, and beets. Dairy products like yogurt, milk & cottage cheese are also healthy carb sources.
Read here What Are Good Carbs To Eat?
(ii) Unhealthy Carbohydrates -White bread & other bakery products like pastries, biscuits. Other common foods like desserts, candy and drinks like sodas; even most of the sports drinks are unhealthy variety of carbs that one should stay away from.
Read here: Are Carbs Good Or Bad For You?
Now the Protein
In fitness industry, people think of protein generally as the building blocks for muscles. However, there’s much more to it than that. Protein is not merely for muscles size & growth. It’s also needed for healthy bones, skin, nails, hair, nails and blood – so mush so, it’s present in each cell in your body.
While your body can store fat and carbohydrates, it doesn’t have any system to store protein. You need to get it daily from food for your everyday requirement. If your aim is to be lean, strong and fit, you need to get adequate amount of (and of high quality) protein. Here are some rich sources of high quality protein:
(i) Seafood/Fish – Salmon, swordfish, tuna, halibut, shrimp, clams, mussels
(ii) Animal meats – Beef, pork, turkey, chicken, lamb
(iii) Poultry – Eggs
(iv) Dairy -Yogurt Milk, cottage cheese, milk
(v) Plant sources – Beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, nuts, seeds
(vi) Supplements -Whey or casein protein
When selecting proteins, an important factor is that most protein sources come with “extras”. For example, some potions of beef, pork & lamb have comparatively higher saturated fat content. On the other hand plant-based proteins come with good amount of fiber. Some fish and seafood protein sources provide you a good dose of scarce omega fatty acids. Whey proteins offer ease of preparation, convenience and portability. So, you can choose a source of protein as per your body specific needs.
Whereas the people who don’t exercise generally may not really have to increase their protein intake, but in case of the individuals who exercise need to pay attention to their protein intake amounts. If you strength-train, the most believed dictum is to aim for a minimum intake of 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight everyday. But the real gauge is whether your muscles are recovering, making steady progress and gaining lean mass and/or losing body fat. If this is happening, it would mean your protein intake is enough.