I am committed to nutrition. I don’t just want to make it easier and more accessible but to also get you excited about connecting with your body. To truly get the most out of food I think it helps to know why you’re eating it and enjoy every moment.
I remember growing up in school they taught about the 4 food groups or the food pyramid. But some of that information has become outdated. With a lot of the health issues associated with obesity, processed and genetically modified foods, and the growing popularity of different diets like gluten-free, vegan, keto, and paleo diets it’s important to find a simple way of looking at things.
One approach to looking at foods and nutrition that’s growing in popularity is looking at Macros or Macronutrients. This is not only a simpler way to look at food, nutrition, and your diet. It’s also based on science and how our body breaks down food.
What are Macronutrients or Macros?
The body is made up of trillions of cells, each with its own specific structure and function. These cells make up our body’s tissues, which then make up our organs which make up our organ systems which make up us.
Meanwhile, nutrients need to get to these cells. We eat to fulfill our hunger. We chew our food and digest it so that our organ systems can break down our food into the parts our body uses and the parts it does not.
Macronutrients are the larger nutrients. They are named because they can be broken down into smaller micronutrients. You know when you taste a piece of bread or sweet potato and it gets sweeter in your mouth? That’s because your saliva will break down some of the carbohydrates into sugars. Those carbohydrates are macronutrients and the sugars micronutrients.
Our body is a beautiful machine with organ systems that work together to help the body maintain homeostasis. That’s your body’s natural state of equilibrium. Keeping your body cool, your blood pumping and your cells alive requires proper fuel and resources from our diet. Our digestive system is one of the body’s major organ systems. It breaks down our food into fuel for our trillions of cells so that our systems, organs, tissues, and cells can all be fed.
The major macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Other macronutrients that our body processes include water, alcohol, and fiber. Simply put, a macronutrient is a larger nutrient that can be broken down into smaller nutrients. So what our body breaks down on a molecular level.
What are the Macronutrients Your Body Needs?
Monitoring and balancing your macronutrients or macros can help you better understand your body, lose fat, and maintain muscle. In the same way, the 4 food groups became the food pyramid. Counting macros can give you a clearer picture than just counting calories. It helps you understand what your body needs. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommend adults generally focus their diets on getting 10-35 % of their calories from protein, 45-65 % from carbs, and 20-35 % from fats. Now counting macros is a whole other system. If you’re interested in learning more let me know in the comments and I can break it down.
This information isn’t too far off from what a lot of diets say. Some say your protein should be the size of your palm, or that there’s the “perfect” ratio of protein to carbs to vegetables. A lot of finding the perfect diet for you is about trial and error, knowing what your body needs medically and holistically, and being mindful of what you eat.
I am a big believer in connecting with your food. I created Culinary Alchemy to help clients and anyone out there get the most energy, enjoyment, and excitement from food without having to put their health at risk. Part of that is knowing how your body works.
Science, but make it Sexy
In this next section, I’ll explain the major macronutrients and a little of the science behind them. I promise it won’t be boring. Plus, I think part of helping your body get the most of your food is knowing on some level what it does. That’s why I like to share as much about nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source. This can generally be the largest part of someone’s diet. The carbs we eat get broken down into glucose which is one of the most simple sugar. From glucose, our body metabolizes that into ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This is a type of cellular energy used to fuel everything in our body: physical movement, brain function, and cellular process. There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates break down relatively quickly providing the body with a quick boost of energy when they’re 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 baked 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 individual amino acids. They then 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!)
Since our bodies need to get some amino acids from food this means even vegans can need some amino acids they cannot easily get. This is why many vegans use plant-based sources of amino acids like nutritional yeast or Coconut Aminos. Nutritional yeast is an amazing sub for cheese and has a yummy healthy unctuous cheesy flavor. Liquid aminos and coconut aminos can taste like soy sauce and are a way to sub out soy and sodium for aminos your body needs.
If your body does not get enough dietary protein, it will start to take it from your muscles so make sure you are getting what you need based on your weight. Be sure to prioritize protein every day.
A simple equation to check how much protein you need in your diet is: Your Weight in kilograms (kg) x .8 = Your Estimated Recommended Protein Each Day
Fats, also known as “lipids” are very important in our diet. People worry about consuming fats because they think it will instantly affect your body weight or if it will be bad for your cardiovascular health. Healthy fats are essential for important functions in our body, including actually promoting a balanced weight and cardiovascular health. Fats promote a healthy brain and help us 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 our bodies. 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 are found in animal-based foods (meat and dairy) and in tropical oils, like coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats should be consumed in moderation, and remember not all saturated fats are created equal.
Trans Fats are 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! Trans fats are the fats that have given fat a bad name. Trans fats have been removed from many processed foods because of their impact on your health.
Choose Healthy Macros
The most important thing to remember is that not all carbohydrates, protein, and fats are created equal. Look for the most nutrient-dense options. Nutrient-dense foods mean you get more bang for your buck. You want to fuel your body with quality nutrients that your body can absorb and use while also giving you more vitamins, nutrients, and health benefits. When filling your plate with the macronutrients focus on QUALITY look for good-for-you carbs like legumes, fruits, and whole grains. High-quality, clean protein sources include beans, legumes, or lean pasture-raised animal protein or fish. Look for fats like omega-3 fats like extra-virgin olive oil and avocado.
I hope meeting these macronutrients and seeing how they work helps you feel more engaged with your food and can connect with your body and what it’s absorbing.
XO – Serena