Below is a video extracted from a group coaching program that TK and I do together. It is a good introduction to the topic of macronutrients. The video has an assignment at the end that is intended for that group (not this one). So, you do not have to do the assignment suggested in the video (although you could certainly give it a try sometime). Just watch the video for the content – not the assignments.
Underneath the video, you will see a written summary about Protein, Carbs & Fat. Read through that and just use this information as a foundation. We will get into the nitty gritty together over the next few weeks. 🙂 Since, ‘protein, carbs and fats’ are words that can mean so many different things in today’s world, I just want us all speaking the same language before we dig in.
Protein, Fat and Carbs
Food can be broken down into 3 main macro-nutrient categories: protein, fat and carbohydrates.
I am sure you are very familiar with these – especially when it comes to diets & losing weight. There’s the low fat diet, low carb diet, high protein diet. And there are a bazillion books and opinions on what is the best diet. But, as you know, there is no one specific formula that will work for everyone. We are all unique individuals with different nutritional requirements.
Let’s look at these three macro-nutrients individually and get the basics down. From there you can start to figure out what combination is ideal for you.
- % Fat + % Carbohydrates + % Protein = Total Calories
(This is a long one, but don’t worry. There will be no test at the end. It starts to get complicated in the middle of the lesson, but I promise, we make it super simple again, so just hang in there.)
Fat has been probably been one of the most demonized macro-nutrients. Back in the early 80’s, we all went on the Low Fat Diet. Obesity was on the rise and we thought it was because of too much fat in our diets. As a result, the food industry started creating all kinds of low-fat foods. What happened as a result of our low-fat focus? Well, we got fat and sick. We are fatter and sicker today than we were before we went on this low fat diet. This is because we reduced the total fat in our diet, but simultaneously increased the carbohydrates in our diet (see formula above).
As it turns out, fat is not bad. We need fat in our diet to be healthy. The key is that the types of fat we consume need to be well balanced and in the SAD (Standard American Diet) that is not the case.
There are basically three types of fats – unsaturated fat, saturated fats and trans fats.
Unsaturated fats (better known as the good fat) can improve our blood cholesterol levels. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated.
- Monounsaturated fats can be found in things like olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
- Polyunsaturated fats – can be found in things like sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and fish.The famous Omega-3 fat is a polyunsaturated that the body cannot produce. It can be found in things like fish, walnuts, flax seed, and chia seed.Omega-6 is also a polyunsaturated fat and is required through food. Omega-6 can be found in things like corn oil, canola oil, soy oil, hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) fats, margarine, shortening.. these oils and fats are commonly found in our processed foods. In the SAD (Standard American Diet), we over-consume Omega-6 fat in relation to Omega-3. I have read everywhere from 11-50 Omega-6 to 1 Omega-3. Most experts say the ideal would be a 1-1 (or even 5-1) ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.
Saturated fats (better known as the bad fat) can be found in higher concentrations in butter, animal fats, and tropical oils. There is a lot of controversy over the role of saturated fat in cardiovascular disease. I think you can find science that argues both sides of this controversy.
However, I think all science will agree that most health problems cannot be traced back to a singular nutrient, but rather nutrition as a whole. Having said that, most of the research I have read agrees that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is out of balance. It is heavy in saturated fats (and refined carbohydrates, which we will talk about in the next section) and low in unsaturated fats (with the exception of the Omega-6, which is way high compared to the Omega-3). The general theme now is NOT to strictly lower saturated fats in the diet, but to replace them with unsaturated fats to create a better balance in our total fat profile.
Trans fats (who need no introduction) I think we are all aware that we should stay away from these. Trans fats are created by heating vegetable oil with hydrogen and a catalyst. This is called hydrogenation. It makes the oil very stable and less likely to spoil. Trans fats are bad because they increase our bad cholesterol and lower our good. This is the exact opposite of what we want our cholesterol to do. Partially hydrogenated oils can be found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snack foods, processed foods, french fries, and other fried foods prepared in restaurants. So read your labels and make sure it does not contain any “partially hydrogenated oils”. The bottomline on fats….
- Get your fats in better balance
- Start choosing more foods with healthy fats & less foods with unhealthy fats
- Avoid the trans fats
Carbs are another macronutrient that has gotten a bad rap. Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers in our diet. Just like not all fat is bad, neither are all carbohydrates. When you restrict all carbohydrates from your diet, you are also eliminating the good ones your body needs.
Having said that, there are some bad carbohydrates that should NO ONE should be eating. Those are the refined carbohydrates (or easy digestible carbs). These are things like:
- white bread
- white rice
- white pasta
- white flour
- and things along these lines
In fact, most all diet plans limit these types of foods. This is because these are a problem for our bodies. The more we process a carb, the more it should be avoided. We are finding out now that these may, in fact, be the bigger culprit in the obesity epidemic and not so much the fats in our diet. The struggle is that these are the types of foods we love and can be addicted to, which is one of the reasons it is a challenge to avoid them.
A better choice of carbohydrates is whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, whole oats, bulgur), whole vegetables, fruits, and legumes. These types of carbohydrates are closer to their original form in nature (meaning less processed) and, because of this, our body will assimilate them much better and they will provide much more nutrition to our bodies.
Managing blood sugar and insulin levels is an important way to improve body composition and health. The goal is to keep your blood sugar in a very narrow and constant range throughout the day. This will help keep your energy levels constant by providing your body with a more even flow of fuel throughout your day. The reason carbohydrates get picked on is because they (specifically the refined carbohydrates) can spike blood sugars very quickly causing insulin production. Not only does insulin stimulate fat storage, but over-exposure to insulin on a regular basis can cause insulin resistance and a host of problems for your body — the obvious being Type 2 diabetes and then the related suite of issues called the Metabolic Syndrome.
Again another very confusing topic. We are always worried about getting enough protein. But, the SAD (Standard American Diet) is hardly lacking in protein. In fact, we are probably over-consuming protein.
Dietary protein is made up of amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids that join together to make all types of protein. Some of these amino acids cannot be made by our bodies. These are known as the “essential” amino acids. There are about 8 essential amino acids, which we have to get from our food.
A protein source that contains all of the essential amino acids is considered a complete protein. Animal foods like meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources. Other foods, such as amaranth, buckwheat, hempseed, soybeans, quinoa, and spirulina also are considered complete protein foods.
A protein source that is lacking one (or more) of the essential amino acids is considered an incomplete protein. Two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids are considered complementary proteins.
According to the ADA (American Dietetic Association), complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal (but rather over the course of the day).
So how much protein do we need? It depends on the individual and your goals. The general rule of thumb is .8 grams per kilogram of body mass. So 1 kilogram = about 2.2 lbs The formula would be something along the lines of this:
- (YOUR WEIGHT / 2.2) x .8 = daily grams of protein required
For most of us that will be between 40 – 70 grams per day. Now, depending on your individual situation and goals, this may vary, but at least you have a ballpark idea.
Most people think the only place you can get protein is from meat, dairy and eggs. However, there is protein in a lot of plant foods as well. In fact, calorie per calorie, there is as much protein in spinach as an egg. Of course, you would have to eat a lot of spinach, but the point is that you can get all the protein you need from a variety of foods and not solely meat, dairy and eggs.
When considering your protein sources it is important to consider what your protein comes packaged with. For example, protein can come packaged with healthful fiber and micronutrients as it does with beans, nuts, and whole grains. Or protein can come packaged with unhealthy fat, like marbled beef or whole milk.
The general recommendation is to eat a variety of protein sources each day, including beans, peas, nuts, seeds (and, of course, whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables). For meat eaters, fish and poultry are the best choices.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
So now we know all of this stuff on a high level about fats, carbs and protein. Okay, this is a lot of ‘nutrition education’. Don’t worry too much. Just let this information sit in your mind for now. We will be covering it in more detail over the next few weeks. I just wanted you to have some of the basics as a foundation for discussion.