You’ve probably heard the term “MACRO” short for macronutrient. Maybe you knew what it meant, maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t, excellent! I will explain them. If you did, maybe you’ll still learn something from this piece.
Macronutrients are considered basic nutrients that everyone needs to sustain life. These nutrients contain the energy our bodies need to grow and live each day. The exception to this would be alcohol. Yes, alcohol can in fact be considered a macronutrient as it contains calories; approximately 7 calories per gram but it’ not required like carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Our main focus will be on Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat.
Let’s keep it simple, starting with the basics of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat
Carbohydrates provide the body with energy in the form of sugars. These sugars are the main source for blood glucose which is the fuel for all our cells. Carbohydrates are found almost exclusively in plant food (like fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals and pastas) with the exceptions being milk and milk products. Animal milk conatins lactose sugar, a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates can be broken down into SIMPLE cand COMPLEX carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are simple sugars such as fructose (fruit suagrs), sucrose (white table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Fruit is a rich source of simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are still simple sugars but they are strung together into larger chains. You can find complex carbohydrates in vegetables (such as sweet potatoes) and beans. Fibre and starches would be considered complex. Fibre is unique because it’s not digested fully by our bodies. Fibre provides the “roughage” our body needs to keep our system moving.
Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. If you are eating a food with 30g of carbohydrates, this would mean 120 of the calories in that food are coming from carbohydrate.
Protein builds our body and helps us grow. When we eat protein, we break it down into amino acids; the building blocks of protein. Some amino acids are essential which means we have to source them from food. There’s no other way to acquire these nutrients. Non-essential amino acids can be manufactured by our bodies from other amino acids. Amino acids build our hair, nails, muscles, enzymes, tissues and more.
Proteins can also be divided into two groups, complete protein and incomplete protein. Complete proteins like those found in animal products contains all the essential amino acids.
Incomplete protein, from plant sources, do not contain all the essential amino acids. If you combine incomplete proteins, you can create a complementary protein; one that contains all essential amino acids. You can do this by combining brown rice with nuts, seeds and beans.
Proteins contain 4 calories per gram. If you are eating a food with 20g of protein, this would mean 80 calories in that food are coming from protein.
Despite some popular beliefs, NOT all fats are bad for you.
It’s the type of fat that’s most important. Fats make up ALL of our hormones, our cholesterol, our cell membranes and our BRAIN! Fats are made up of fatty acids which can be saturated, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Without going into too much science, saturated means there are no double bonds; every carbon atom has 4 hydrogen atoms attached. Poly and Mono unsaturated fats mean there are less hydrogen atoms.
Saturated fats (most often) come from animal sources where poly and mono come from plant sources. Poly fats can further be classified into omega 3’s and omega 6. Multiple posts can be written just about these types of fats. For now, it’s important to know that omega 6’s (in high amounts) could be pro-inflammatory and inflammation can be traced to the root of all disease. You would find these in plant oils like safflower, canola and soybean. While you might not cook with these oils, they are found in almost all processed/packaged foods.
Fats are a significant source of energy, containing 9 calories per gram. More than double that of proteins and carbohydrates.
I hope this very basic lesson left you with a little more information than you previously had!