Macronutrients: a Simple Breakdown of Macros

Macronutrients or macro’s for short, are the main nutrient that makes up the foods we eat. Our body needs macronutrients in large quantities in order to function properly. They provide us with the energy (calories) we need to carry out our daily activities. There are three categories of macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, and protein. In addition to providing us with energy, each macronutrient has a specific role in our body.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that makes up the most of our diet. Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for our body.

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that makes up the most of our diet. Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for our body. They are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. Carbs provide the fuel for our brain and the energy for our muscles1. Additionally, they influences our mood, memory, and digestive health. Finally, carbs help with fat metabolism.

Carbohydrates are classified as being either simple or complex. Simple carbs are smaller with only one or two sugar units. Their smaller composition makes them digest quicker, contributing to higher blood sugar levels. Fructose (Found in fruit), and galactose (found in milk products) have only one sugar. Carbs with two sugars are sucrose (table sugar), lactose (dairy), and maltose (beer or some vegetables). Candy, soda, and syrups also contain simple carbs. However, they have no nutritional value because they are processed and made with refined sugars.

Complex carbohydrates or polysaccharides have three or more sugars. These are found in starchy foods like beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, whole-grain breads, and cereals. In general, simple carbs are bad while complex carbs are good,

Good carbs

  • Low in calories
  • High in nutrients
  • No refined sugars
  • High in natural fiber
  • Low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol
  • Quinoa, Oats, Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Buckwheat

Bad carbs

  • High in calories
  • Contain refined sugars
  • High in refined grains like white flour
  • Low in nutrients and fiber
  • High in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol
  • White bread, Cakes, Cookies, White Rice, Soda, and Candy.

Carbs are stored in the body in two places: glycogen in the liver, and in the muscles. Your glycogen stores provide you with energy during your physical activity and are replenished after eating a carb rich meal. The majority of your caloric intake should come from carbs. It is recommended that 50% of your daily calories should be from carbohydrates2.

Fat

Fat is the macronutrient with the next highest consumption in our diets. Fat is the flavor carrier in our diets.

Fat is the macronutrient with the next highest consumption in our diets. Fat is the flavor carrier in our diets. They either come in solid (butter, coconut, or lard) or liquid form (plant and vegetable oils). Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans are the three families of fats. Saturated fats come from meat or dairy products and are solid at room temperature. They are most likely to increase your cholesterol levels. Fats that come from plants contain saturated fats which are liquid at room temperature. Finally, Trans fats are man made and are commonly found in commercially prepared foods or vegetable oils. Similar to saturated fats, they can increase your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and can raise your risk of heart disease3.

Source of Saturated Fats

  • Butter,
  • Lard
  • Fatty Meats (Beef, Bacon, Lamb)
  • Cheese
  • Full Fat Dairy Products

Source of Unsaturated Fats

  • Olive, Peanut, Canola Oils
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fish

Source of Trans Fats

  • Cakes, Cookies, Pies
  • Shortening
  • Microwave Popcorn
  • Frozen Pizza
  • Fried Foods

Your body needs unsaturated fats in order to regulate its metabolism and maintain the elasticity of its cells4. Unsaturated fats also improve blood flow and help with cell growth and regeneration. Finally, fats also are required to transport the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats should make up about 30-35% of your daily caloric intake. 20-25% should be unsaturated with a maximum of 10% from saturated fats.

Protein

Protein is the macronutrient that makes up the least amount of calories in our diet. Proteins are found in our muscles, bones, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part.

Protein is the macronutrient that makes up the least amount of calories in our diet. Proteins are found in our muscles, bones, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part. There are thousands of different proteins that each have their own jobs. Each individual protein is composed of a chemical building block called an amino acids. Amino acids are used to build and repair muscles, bones, skin, hair, and nails.

There are 20 different amino acids that can be put together to make different proteins. There are three categories of amino acids, essential, semi-essential, and nonessential. Our body does not store amino acids, we either make them from scratch or modify others. However, our body is incapable of producing essential amino acids. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are eating enough protein in your diet so that your body has access to the essential amino acids. The following is a table that shows the 20 different amino acids and their categories:

Essential Amino AcidsSemi Essential Amino AcidsNon Essential Amino Acids
Valine
Leucine
Isoleucine
Histidine
Lysine
Methionine
Tryptophan
Phenylalanine
Threonine
Cysteine
Arginine
Glutamine
Proline
Tyrosine
Glycine
Taurine
Alanine
Asparagine
Aspartic Acid
Glutamic Acid
Serine

Our muscles hold most of our protein. However, it is not used as energy like fat and carbs. Protein is used as a building block for other structures within the body. The following is a list of high protein foods:

  • Meat
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Milk and Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Grain products
  • Nuts
  • Soy products

You should consume about 1g of protein per kilo of your body weight5. If you are looking to build muscle mass you should increase your intake to 1.2 to 1.8g per kilo to see results.

Conclusion

The three macronutrients are crucial for our overall health. Food and its macronutrient composition can influence how full you feel, your metabolic rate, brain activity, and hormone production. Although calories supply your body with energy, the source of the calories affects your overall health. Carbs provide our energy, fat regulates our metabolism, and protein is the building blocks for our body. 50% of your calories should come from carbs, 30-35% should come from fat, and the remainder from protein. You should have 1g of protein for each kg of your bodyweight. A well balanced diet will provide your body with the right amount of macro and micronutrients.

References

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Carbohydrates — Good or Bad for You? – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Published 2020. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/carbohydrates–good-or-bad-for-you
  2. Slavin J, Carlson J. Carbohydrates. Advances in Nutrition. 2014;5(6):760-761. doi:10.3945/an.114.006163
  3. Houston M. The relationship of saturated fats and coronary heart disease: fa(c)t or fiction? A commentary. Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease. 2017;12(2):33-37. doi:10.1177/1753944717742549
  4. Lichtenstein AH, Schwab US. Relationship of dietary fat to glucose metabolism. Atherosclerosis. 2000;150(2):227-243. doi:10.1016/s0021-9150(99)00504-3
  5. Wu G. Dietary protein intake and human health. Food & Function. 2016;7(3):1251-1265. doi:10.1039/c5fo01530h

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