Nutrient Basics Macronutrients
Without food, the human body has no fuel. But many people get confused about what is good and bad fuel for your body. When it comes to nutrition understanding macronutrients is an essential first step. It’s also the healthiest way to think about food.
Pop culture treats food as a reward, a temptation, or an obsession. But food is fuel. Fuel to think, work and play. For optimal health, you need to understand the three vital macronutrients. It’s important to keep in mind that, contrary to what many fad diets preach, your body needs all three macros.
As I write this, carbophobia has taken over many parts of the world. There are decades of scientific studies showing the importance of carbohydrates. Contempt and suspicion cloud this whole category of macronutrient. Low-carb diets are all the rage now. Some of these diets even advocate carnivorous diets excluding all carbohydrates.
The basic source of energy for everyone is carbohydrate. Your body breaks down carbs into glucose and fructose. This supplies your immediate energy needs. Any glucose not used immediately gets converted into glycogen. The glycogen is then put into short-term storage in your liver.
Eating more carbohydrates than short-term storage will hold turns into fat. Because of this many fad diets limit carbs claiming they make you fat. If you look at the longest lived societies in the world though, high carbohydrate diets are the norm. Many eat upwards of 70-80% of calories in the form of carbohydrates.
Not all carbohydrates are good, and this is where the confusion comes in. Beans, all vegetables, and whole grains are all carbohydrates. White bread, white pasta, and soft drinks are also carbohydrates. It’s easy to see the former are healthy and the latter, processed junk marketed as food.
I will discuss carbohydrates in more detail in coming articles.
Protein is the building blocks of the body. Amino acids make up protein. Your muscles, organs and every other cell in your body need amino acids to build and rebuild cells. It’s important to have enough protein, especially after a workout. Muscle repair and recovery depend on it.
The amino acids your body needs can only gotten from food. Both vegetable and animal sources of protein contain complete protein. There was a myth started that vegetable protein wasn’t complete. Research into this has completely dismissed this notion. While individual plants may lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids, our bodies store them. They are available for later use, and even better, the body recycles protein. The American Heart Association changed their stance in 2002. “ a vegetarian diet based on the AHA guidelines of 5 to 6 servings of whole grains and 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit would, in fact, supply all of the amino acids necessary for health.” (Mcdougall, J., 2002).
The recommended amount of protein for adults is 0.31 to 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. That would mean about 66 grams of protein for a 200 pound person! The average American gets well over that every day. (Berryman, Lieberman, Fulgoni, & Pasiakos, 2018). There is some evidence that too much protein is bad for your health. Stay tuned for more articles on this.
The final macronutrient is fat. Fats have received a bad reputation in recent years. The body requires fat for proper functioning. Fats are a necessary element in long-term energy storage. Fats also provide insulation and protection for vital organs.
There is some dissension in the plant based community about fats. Some experts, like, Greger, McDougall, Ornish, and Esselstyn, strive for a very low fat diet. Less than 10% of calories from fat. Evidence exists, especially for those with heart disease and other health problems, that this may be optimal.
There are also those who don’t see fat as all bad. Dr. Joel Furhman recommends nuts and seeds along with avocado. There is some evidence that the average healthy person needs more fat than 10%.
All the whole food plant based doctors do have one thing in common and that is the elimination of oil. Oil isn’t a whole food. It’s a processed food and a source of empty calories.
While many people argue that extra virgin olive oil is healthy, the studies don’t bear that out. . Not when you look at them in depth. The studies have so far only compared oils to animal fats. They substitute olive or other oils, for animal fat and show a health benefit. That only shows how animal fats are even worse.
This isn’t a vegan site per se, but I would caution you to limit the your animal based saturated fats. Dairy products and red meats in particular. Stay from trans fat foods; most baked goods, fried fast foods and vegetable shortening.
Eat whole foods and mostly plants, are the best. Strive for perfection, but don’t give up if you aren’t there yet. Every change you make is better for your health, and the environment.
Mcdougall, J. (2002). Plant Foods Have a Complete Amino Acid Composition. Circulation,105(25). doi:10.1161/01.cir.0000018905.97677.1f
Berryman, C. E., Lieberman, H. R., Fulgoni, V. L., & Pasiakos, S. M. (2018). Protein intake trends and conformity with the Dietary Reference Intakes in the United States: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001–2014. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,108(2), 405-413. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy088
Buckland, G., Travier, N., Barricarte, A., Ardanaz, E., Moreno-Iribas, C., Sánchez, M., . . . Gonzalez, C. A. (2012). Olive oil intake and CHD in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Spanish cohort. British Journal of Nutrition,108(11), 2075-2082. doi:10.1017/s000711451200298x