While I’ve already mentioned carbs, protein, and fats in previous blog posts, I feel like it might be helpful to take a step back and explain what each of these nutrients is and why they are important.
Macronutrients are the major nutrients that our bodies need to properly function. Most foods contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat but tend to have one dominant macronutrient.
- Provide us with energy. Breaks down to blood sugar which is the fuel that all of our cells run on for energy.
- Sources of carbs include grains, foods made from flour, starchy vegetables (corn, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, and potatoes), cereal, oatmeal, fruits, juice, milk, and anything made from sugar (honey, brown sugar, corn syrup, or maple syrup).
- Non-starchy vegetables (greens, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) are made up of carbohydrates, but have a lot of water and fiber, and therefore are not a large source of carbohydrates or calories. (They are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals!)
- Carbs are not “bad”. When people avoid them to lose weight, they are very likely to “binge” on them later since our body craves the energy that carbohydrates provide.
- Carbohydrates digest quickly, especially if they don’t have much fiber, protein, or fat. Having a lot of carbs at one time can make blood sugar and insulin spike.
- 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates.
- All of our body is made up of protein. Our body uses protein to build and repair itself, keep fluids and pH balanced, and can act as chemical messengers (hormones). Enzymes are a type of protein which helps with digestion, moving muscles, and clotting blood.
- Concentrated sources of protein include meat, fish, chicken, beans, tofu, tempeh, soy, milk, cheese, yogurt, and “veggie meat”.
- Protein digests slower than carbs and doesn’t make blood sugar rise as quickly.
- 10-35% of calories should come from protein.
- We use fat to help store energy, regulate body temperature, protect our organs, and send hormones throughout our body.
- Unsaturated fats are considered “heart healthy” and are more commonly found in plant sources and fish. These fats are liquid at room temperature and can be found in olive and canola oil, avocado, nuts, nut butter, and seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids are most commonly found in fish, flax, chia, and some algae.
- Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are associated with increasing risk of heart disease. This type of fat should be limited and examples include high fat dairy (butter, whole milk, high fat cheese), processed meat, fat you see on meat, and coconut or palm oil.
- Trans fats are created when unsaturated fats are chemically processed (hydrogenated) and turned into a solid fat. These fats cause the most damage to our hearts and have been taken out of a lot of foods in recent years. Sources can still be found in shortening, non-dairy coffee creamers, shelf stable cookies, pies, and pastries, fried foods, and some margarines and oils. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” on ingredient lists and avoid these foods as much as possible.
- 20-35% of calories should come from fat, with the majority coming from unsaturated fat.
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