What Are Macronutrients? Everything You Need To Know!
What are the three macronutrients?
What are the different functions + sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fat?
Why is the quality of each macronutrient so important?
What are Macronutrients?
As we know, the body is made up of trillions of cells, each with their own structure and function, and all of our cells make up our bodies tissues, which then make up our bodies organs + organ systems. Our organ systems work together to help the body maintain homeostasis (the body’s state of equilibrium) and this requires the proper fuel and nutrition from our diet. Particularly our digestive system is one of the body’s organ systems that helps turn food into fuel. In the simplest terms, macronutrients are nutrients that we need in large amounts. These include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source and this is generally the largest part of someone’s diet. The carbs we eat are broken down into glucose, which is metabolized into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is a type of cellular energy used to fuel everything from exercise, brain function, and cellular process. There are two main types of carbohydrates - simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are small compounds that break down relatively quickly providing the body with a quick boost of energy when consumed. There are 2 types of simple carbs - monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are simple sugars that break down to glucose, fructose and galactose. Disaccharides are made up of two monosaccharides. Simple carbs include bread, pasta, and bakes goods.
Complex carbohydrates consist of at least one chain of monosaccharides and because they are larger than simple carbs they require a longer time to be broken down in the body. Complex carbs include foods like whole grains, beans, legumes, and certain fruits and vegetables.
Proteins help with everything from synthesizing hormones, cell structure, and creating antibodies that support immunity. Proteins are made up of amino acids - there are twenty one amino acids in the human body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the body can synthesize some of these amino acids, but “essential amino acids” we need to get from our diet. When you consume protein, your body breaks it down into these individual amino acids to serve a variety of essential functions in the body. Animal-based proteins contain all the essential amino acids and these are called “complete proteins” Plant-based proteins tend to lack one or two amino acids - called “incomplete proteins” so it is important to supplement accordingly if you are plant-based (which is totally doable!) If the body is not getting enough dietary protein, it will start to take it out of the muscles so make sure you are getting what you need based on your weight so make sure you prioritize protein every day. A simple equation to check how much you need is: Estimated daily protein needs = weight in kg x .8
Fats, also known as “lipids” are very important in our diet. People still have a fear of consuming fats because of its negative/false reputation from the past, but we now know that healthy fats are essential for important functions in our body, including: promoting weight balance and cardiovascular health, promoting a healthy brain, and helping us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. There are three main classifications of fat: unsaturated, saturated, and trans.
Unsaturated Fats - Come in two forms (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) and are considered heart healthy. Polyunsaturated fats are essential to include in our diet because they cannot be made in the body. Monounsaturated fats help to support healthy cholesterol. Healthy sources of unsaturated fat include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids like avocados, olive oil, nuts + seeds, and fatty fish.
Saturated Fats - Found in animal based foods (lard and dairy) and in tropical oils, like coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats should be consumed in moderation, and remember that not all saturated fats are created equal.
Trans Fats - Associated with heart disease and are highly inflammatory. Trans fats are used to help extend the shelf life of food so you can find them in many packaged foods. TIP: the word “hydrogenated” on foods usually means there are trans fats within and should be avoided!
The most important thing to remember is that not all carbohydrates, protein, and fat are created equal, so make sure you opt for the most nutrient-dense options. You want to fuel your body with quality nutrients that your body can absorb and use. Fill your plate with the macronutrients we just discussed and focus on QUALITY - the good-for-you carbs like legumes, fruits, and whole grains; high-quality, clean protein sources like beans, legumes, or pasture-raised animal protein; and omega-3 fats like extra-virgin olive oil and avocado.
XO - Serena Poon