Food is not just food. What do I mean by this? Well, I’m sure you have heard the term “food is fuel” and although this is technically true, there’s much more to it.
All the food that we eat is broken down into chemical compounds that our bodies use to carry out different bodily functions. Some food is converted to energy and used as “fuel”, while other foods are converted are broken down and stored as fat. So which foods are more likely to be converted to fuel and which foods are more likely to be stored as fat? Before we dive deep let’s first breakdown the different macronutrients, or ‘Macros’.
What are Macros?
Macronutrients are energy providing chemicals that we require as humans in large amounts. All the calories from the foods we consume in our diets are categorized into different macronutrients based on how they’re broken down by our bodies and the purposes they serve once absorbed.
There are three primary macronutrients in our diets; proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. All three of these macronutrients are essential for life, as they’re responsible for everything from growth and development to proper brain function.
Each macronutrient has a unique and specific role in the body. Weight loss, hormonal balance, development, immune system, etc., are all affected by macronutrients in some way.
Protein provides 4 Calories per gram and is composed of different amino acids, which are commonly referred to as the “building blocks of the body”. Protein is found in muscles, bone, skin, hair, and all throughout the rest of the body. It makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and also assists in the making of hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood. However, not all sources of protein are created equal.
When you’re eating foods for protein, you’re also eating everything that comes along with it: dietary fats, fiber, sodium and more. Here’s an example:
- 4 oz of grilled salmon contains about 30 grams of protein, is naturally low in sodium, with only one gram of saturated fat. Fatty fish is also an excellent source of omega-3 fat which is especially good for your heart and joints.
- 4 oz of broiled sirloin steak contains about 33 grams of protein. But it also contains about 5 grams of saturated fats.
When choosing protein sources it’s important to consider the complete “package” of protein rather than just the amount. Choosing healthier protein packages is what’s ultimately going to make a difference in your health.
How much protein do I need?
Everyone is going to have a different protein intake based on different considerations including body type, activity level, and goals. The National Academy of Medicine typically recommends about 7g for every 20lbs of bodyweight. They also offer a wide range for acceptable protein intake – about 10%-35% of total calories per day.2
For active individuals we typically recommend an intake of anywhere from 0.75-1.0g per 1lb of bodyweight. So for a 150lb person anywhere from 112g-150g of protein per day, and for a 200lb person anywhere from 150g-200g of protein per day.
Fats provide 9 Calories per gram and are needed in smaller amounts than protein and carbs. They are going to give you energy, help your body absorb vitamins, and also play a major role in cholesterol levels. Dietary fats also help support cell growth, protect organs, and help keep your body warm. Fats are definitely essential and needed in our diet. However, along with proteins not all fats are the same.3
There are four major dietary fats in food we eat:
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
Each of the four types of fat contain different chemical structures and physical properties. The ‘bad’ fats are saturated fats and trans fats, and these raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) in our blood. The ‘good’ fats are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and these help lower bad cholesterol and are beneficial to our bodies.
Consuming high amounts of saturated and trans fats can lead to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. This is why it’s important to look at not only the amount of dietary fat in food, but the sources of those fats as well. Health experts recommend trying to stick with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats while still maintaining a well rounded diet.
Carbs are not the enemy. Read that again. There’s so much talk about limiting carbs or even eliminating carbs all together in order to lose weight and although that may work for some, it won’t work for most people. Our bodies need carbs!
READ MORE: Carbohydrates, The Ultimate Fueling Food
The amount of carbs in your diet is less important than the quality of carbs in your diet. Carbs are found in a wide range of both healthy and unhealthy foods and they come in a variety of forms. The most common forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.
Carbohydrates contain 4 Calories per gram, the same amount as protein and are a very important part of a healthy diet. Carbs provide your body with glucose, which is used as energy. Carbohydrate quality is important. Some types of carbohydrate-rich foods are better than others:
- The healthiest sources of carbs – unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans, deliver vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important phytonutrients that promote good health.1
- Unhealthy sources of carbs include white bread, soda, sweets, and other highly processed or refined foods. These types of carbs are easily digestible and may lead to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.1
Remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to carbohydrates. Make sure you’re eating mainly minimally processed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and stay away from soda, popcorn, candy, cookies, sports drinks, etc.
Macronutrients are essential for supporting bodily functions and physical activity. Aim for a well-balanced diet containing all three major macronutrients from minimally processed, whole food sources. Remember that each macronutrient serves a different purpose and we need a mixture of all three in order to feel and perform at our best.
I hope you learned something new from this article and if you have any further questions or want me to dive deeper, shoot me an email at gable [at] 2020nutritionco.com!
- Carbohydrates by Havard School of Public Health
- Protein by Harvard School of Public Health
- The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between by Harvard Health Publishing
Ever since I first started working out to get stronger for sports, I developed a passion for fitness and nutrition. Once I got to college I started studying exercise science and began to really understand how the mind and body work together synergistically. Once I gained more knowledge I began to help my friends and family with everything fitness related, but had a true passion for nutrition. Nothing makes me happier than helping people reach their goals. Seeing someone’s true happiness when start to lose weight they never thought possible, is an indescribable feeling. Now, I manage 20Twenty Nutrition in Ames, Iowa and get to do what I love every day, and that’s help people.