What are macro-nutrients?
Fats, Carbohydrates and Protein all contribute to delivering a healthy diet.
Understanding how nutrients work, identifying the better ones and avoiding the others will help you achieve a better diet and a healthy body.
This content is intended to be educational; it should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a medical concern you should consult an appropriately licensed physician or health care worker.
Fats can be separated into saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats have been vilified for years as a causative factor for heart disease and obesity. Research is now showing that this is not true and that people that eat a high fat diet have no more chance of heart disease or obesity than those that eat less. Sugar has been found to be a causative factor for many of the diseases we used to blame on fat.
Saturated fat is an essential part of a healthy diet. It provides building blocks for membranes and hormones. It aids absorption of minerals like calcium. It acts as a carrier for vitamins A, D, E and K and is an optimal fuel for your brain.
Unsaturated fats can be further divided into mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated. Mono-unsaturated fats offer many health benefits including lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, assisting healthy insulin and blood sugar levels and reducing your risk of heart disease. Mono-unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, nuts, nut butters, canola oil, and avocados.
Poly-unsaturated fats can be split into omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Omega 3 fats can be found in fish oil, marine algae oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil and canola oil. Omega 6 fats are present mainly in plant oils like corn, soybean, sunflower and peanut oils. Although both omega 3 and 6 fats are essential an excess of omega 6, as found in the current western diet, can be inflammatory, speeding up the aging process and increasing risk of many diseases. For this reason it is important to include omega 3 oils in your diet on a daily basis, which are anti-inflammatory.
Trans fats are manufactured. They are unsaturated fats that have been chemically altered to harden at room temperature and are found in many fast foods, processed foods and baked goods. The body cannot properly breakdown trans-fats. They are the worst of the fats and have many negative effects on the body. For this reason they are currently being banned or regulated in many western countries. Reduce your intake of trans fats to a minimum.
Carbohydrates are both sugars, like glucose and fructose, and starches, which we find in foods like potato, wheat, corn and rice. When we consume these starchy foods they break down into sugar. Carbohydrates raise our blood sugar. We need very little sugar in our blood and when we exceed this amount insulin is produced. Insulin stores the excess sugar and fat in our cells and prevents our blood sugar from rising too high.
When blood sugar drops back to a normal level the production of insulin stops. Unfortunately after insulin production stops there is still some remaining insulin in our blood still storing away sugar and fat. This causes our blood sugar to drop below normal levels, triggering a sudden hunger. We then eat, raise our blood sugar again and the process repeats itself. This insulin spike is not only responsible for many of us overeating but it also causes destructive inflammation throughout our body. Insulin is the fat storage hormone. Excessive insulin production leads to obesity.
Low glycemic foods break down slower and therefore better maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Where possible consume your carbohydrates in the form of low-glycemic foods like above ground vegetables, apples, pears, carrots, nuts, grains, oats, long grain or brown rice, yoghurt and milk. Avoid high glycemic foods like chips, potato, rice cakes, white rice, sugar, white bread, processed cereals, chocolate bars, soft drinks, sweets and lollies.
Proteins make up every part of our body, from muscle, skin and blood to enzymes, hormones, genes, transporters and neurotransmitters. The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids. 9 of these are essential amino acids and they must come from our diet because we can’t make them. If a food provides all the essential amino acids it is known as a ‘complete protein source’. Complete protein sources include meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy. Plant proteins are lacking one or more amino acids and need to be combined with complementary protein sources to get all 9 amino acids. Although there is no upper limit for protein intake the recommended daily allowance is 0.8g of protein for every kg of body weight. Too much protein can unduly tax the systems within the body and has been implicated in some chronic diseases.