In this second part of the introduction to nutrition, we will talk about what are macronutrients and their basic understanding.
Macronutrients are one of the nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients) that body needs in large amounts to provide energy, maintain metabolism, and other body functions. In other words, macronutrients can be defined as the chemical elements (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur) or the classes of chemical compounds (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, and atmospheric oxygen). Let's break down three major components of macronutrients.
Carbohydrates are one of the more famous macronutrients, No matter what reputation you have heard, when consumed from healthy sources, carbs are essential, especially when you are physically active. All carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars, starches, and fiber in food, and all carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules and in the body are broken down in the digestive system to glucose. Glucose is the main fuel that provides energy and powers all of the body's functions. Glucose is also called blood sugar.
The main role of carbohydrates is to fuel the body during high-intensity exercise, fuel for the central nervous system, and spares protein to preserve muscle mass during exercise.
Classification of carbohydrates
Monosaccharides - simple sugars such as glucose, fructose and galactose which are the smallest unit and cannot be broken down.
Oligosaccharides - short-chain compounds which on hydrolysis yield a limited number of monosaccharides units (sucrose, lactose, maltose).
Polysaccharides - complex polymers that contain large numbers of monosaccharide units. They may be composed of only one type of monosaccharide, as in the case of starch, glycogen, cellulose, and dextran, or of two or more different monosaccharides as in the glycosaminoglycans (starch, glycogen, and cellulose).
Sources of carbohydrates
Grains (choose mostly whole grains for added benefits)
Dairy (choose low-fat or non-fat most often)
Fruit (choose whole fruits more often than fruit juices)
What are good carbs and bad carbs?
The two terms that different diet promoters have made popular. The good carbs contain high fiber amount and it takes longer to be broken down by the body and used for the energy. As mentioned, they are found in whole-grain bread and cereals, products made from whole wheat flour, vegetables, and fruits. On the other hand, the bad carbs are those that contain refined carbohydrates with a low fiber amount, mainly white flour and sugar. This is an easy example of how to think about good nutrition although these are not any specific scientific terms. It is just the way you think and makes your health and diet-related choices. For example, imagine boiled potatoes and triple deep-fried fries. You already know.
Good carbs are:
Low or moderate in calories
High in nutrients
Devoid of refined sugars and refined grains
High in naturally occurring fiber
Low in sodium
Low in saturated fat
Very low in, or devoid of, cholesterol and trans fats
Bad carbs are:
High in calories
Full of refined sugars, like corn syrup, white sugar, honey and fruit juices
High in refined grains like white flour
Low in many nutrients
Low in fiber
High in sodium
Sometimes high in saturated fat
Sometimes high in cholesterol and trans fats
Recommended Daily Allowance Of Carbohydrates Divided By Level Of Activity
Sedentary Individuals - 40-50% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates
Exercises Regularly - 60% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates
Athletes or persons involved in heavy training - 70% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates (3.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight)
Deficiency in carbohydrates intake causes the body will utilize protein and fats as a source of energy. You may know a very popular ultimate low-carbohydrate diet called the ketogenic diet, this diet is based on drastically reducing carbohydrate consumption to 5 to 10 percent of the daily calorie intake, which causes ketosis that makes the body to use protein and fat as a main source of energy. However, this diet is definitely long-term and is not definitely easy to follow, especially for beginners or physically active people. Long-term low intake of carbs causes that metabolism to slow, fat storage builds, and the risk of fatigue, dehydration, and muscle aches increases. For this reason, individuals who exercise regularly shouldn't follow a diet that severely restricts carbohydrates. If they don't eat enough of these foods, they won't have the energy to do their workouts.
Excessive intake of carbohydrates and especially refined carbohydrates and added sugars, can be a reason for your excess calories and also can lead to weight gain and negative health effects such as type 2 diabetes, dental caries, obesity, poor metabolic health, or increased risk of heart disease.
A protein is a naturally occurring, extremely complex substance that consists of amino acid residues joined by peptide bonds. Proteins are present in all living organisms and include many essential biological compounds such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies.
Protein has multiple roles in the body. Protein is required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and organs, muscles, hair, skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and blood plasma, and is involved in metabolic, transport, and hormone systems. Each protein has unique functions.
Proteins are made up of linked chains of amino acids; the human body contains a total of 20 different amino acids. Amino acids fall into 3 categories: essential, semi-essential, and nonessential. The human body isn’t capable of producing sufficient essential amino acids, therefore you have to make sure you are getting enough from this group in your diet.
Sources Of Protein
Animal products - (such as chicken, beef, or fish and dairy products) have all of the essential amino acids and are known as 'complete' protein (or ideal or high-quality protein).
Soy products, quinoa, and the seed of a leafy green called amaranth - (consumed in Asia and the Mediterranean) also have all of the essential amino acids.
Plant proteins - (beans, lentils, nuts, and whole grains) usually lack at least one of the essential amino acids and are considered 'incomplete' proteins. Therefore, people who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet need to choose a variety of protein plant sources to get enough protein intake and essential amino acids.
Recommended Daily Allowance Of Protein Divided By Level Of Activity
Sedentary Individuals - 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Recreationally Active - 0.45-0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Competitive Athlete - 0.54-0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Teenage Athlete - 0.82-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Body Builder - 0.64-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
When restricting Calories - 0364-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
The maximum amount of protein the body can utilize: 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Fats are the last group of macronutrients, they are found in most food groups while they give the foods we love the flavor, texture, and make them enjoyable. Fats are triglycerides made up of a combination of different building blocks; glycerol and fatty acids. Depending on their structure, fats are classified as saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or trans fats.
Some fats are essential for health and wellbeing even though fats have received a bad reputation in relation to heart diseases and weight gain. The human body needs unsaturated fats to regulate metabolism and also to maintain the elasticity of cell membranes. Unsaturated fats also improve blood flow and are important for cell growth and regeneration, provide the body with valuable fatty acids, they also deliver the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Animal fats provide the human body with cholesterol, which is synthesized through exposure to sunlight to form vitamin D in the skin. As well as cholesterol plays a significant role in hormone production. However, the human body needs only some cholesterol, and a diet rich in high-cholesterol food is not recommended due to the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Saturated fats are usually called 'bad fats', it is because they raise our LDL (bad) cholesterol level which from a long-term perspective increases and causes cardiovascular diseases due to poor solubility issues (buildup in arteries). Therefore, the intake of saturated fats should less than 6% of your total daily calories. These fats can be found in animal products, such as butter, whole milk, cream, fatty meats, and as well as different types of energy-dense foods (takeaways, fast foods, etc...) and commercial products (biscuits, pastries). However, saturated fats can be found in some healthy and plant foods such as some fat-reduced dairy products, lean meats, coconut, and palm oil. These foods have other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals and therefore can be important foods to include in our diet.
Polyunsaturated fats are considered healthy fats and along with monosaturated fats are categorized as unsaturated fats. This type of fat can be found in plant and animal foods, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and trout, vegetable oil such as sunflower, corn, soybean, or flaxseed oil, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.
Polyunsaturated fats (as well as monounsaturated fats) can lead to certain health benefits, but eating too much can lead to weight gain. It is important to think that fat has 9 calories per gram, which is two times more than carbs and protein. (To learn more about counting macronutrients and orientation read the article here.)
Within polyunsaturated fats, we will find two subcategories of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential for the human body and our body can get them only from nutritious food.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefits
Reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.
Reduce the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
Slow the buildup of plaque, a substance comprising fat, cholesterol, and calcium, which can harden and clog your arteries.
Slightly lower your blood pressure.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids Benefits
Control your blood sugar
Reduce your risk for diabetes
Lower your blood pressure
Monounsaturated fats are another option of healthy fats. They are found in olive, peanut, or canola oil, avocados, nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, pumpkin, and sesame seeds.
Benefits Of Monounsaturated Fats
Help develop and maintain your cells.
Also, help decrease the level of LDL cholesterol, plaque, and substance comprising fat, which can harden clog your arteries.
Or in other words, trans fatty acids tend to behave like saturated fats in the body. It is because they raise blood LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Trans fats are rare in nature as they are only created in the stomach of cows and sheep because of this, trans fats are naturally found in small amounts in milk, cheese, and meat. Mainly trans fats are known from processed foods such as pastries, cakes, biscuits, pies, and deep-fried meals, and processed snacks. Processed trans fats are these we should be aware of as they are usually contained in energy-dense and unnutritious meals.
Trans Fats Cause
Increased LDL cholesterol level and decreased HDL cholesterol levels.
Increased inflammation, which is implicated in coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Contribution of insulin resistance.
Recommended Daily Allowance
You should get no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories from fats.
You should limit saturated fat to less than 6-10% of your daily calories.
You should limit trans fat to less than 1% of your daily calories. For someone with a 2,000 calorie a day diet, this is about 20 calories or 2 grams per day.
It is important to remember that just adding foods high in unsaturated fats to a diet filled with unhealthy foods and fats is not enough. Always think about the bigger picture of your diet and make smart choices but overall, eliminating saturated and trans fats is twice as effective in lowering blood cholesterol as increasing polyunsaturated fats.
In this overview, you did learn basic information about macronutrients, and no matter what your fitness goal is, this information will help you to understand nutrition, improve your dieting system, and therefore help you to achieve your goals faster and smarter. Because if you know your daily calorie intake, you should adjust your macronutrient intake by your goal. Also, remember that this information will always be individual as each person is different and has different needs.