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Macronutrients are nutrients that we must get from our diet, and they are essential for supplying the body with adequate energy for bodily functions. Carbohydrates, proteins (including essential amino acids), fats (including essential fatty acids), macrominerals, and water are macronutrients. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins can all be used by the body as a source of energy; with some becoming more important than others given our physical state.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates that we get in our diet, increase our blood glucose levels when consumed which is converted to supply the body with energy. Dietary carbohydrates can be classified as glucose or other monosaccharides. Simple carbs (refined sugars, white breads, pastries) are composed of smaller molecules and increase our blood sugar levels rapidly, while complex carbs (whole grains, brown rice etc.) are composed of larger molecules that increase the blood sugar levels gradually with more time. If we need to understand how a type of food is going to affect our blood sugar levels, we reference the glycemic index, which measures and assigns a value from 1 (slower increase) to 100 (fastest increase) to all foods. When we consume foods high on the glycemic index or a diet high in refined sugar, this can lead to insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, diabetes, weight gain and other blood sugar related issues due to problems with insulin. However if we consume foods lower on the index, our blood sugar levels are likely to remain stable over time, we experience more satiety and less hunger from fiber-rich foods, and may be less likely to consume calories in excess.

Proteins

Our body needs protein for a wide range of functions including tissue maintenance and repair, proper functioning, and growth. Protein also serves as an energy reserve for the body in the event we are not consuming adequate fat or carbohydrates to supply the energy it needs. There are 20 amino acids, and 9 are essential because they cannot be made by the body, we must obtain them from our diets. Knowing how much protein you require is individual to each person and should be calculated based on body weight and growth rate if dealing with a child. Although popular culture leads us to believe we need excessive amounts of protein to build and maintain muscle mass, the truth is the requirements are very similar to the normal protein requirements. Because most Americans actually consume too much protein it’s important to monitor your intake, and ensure that you are always getting a large portion of fruits, vegetables, fats etc. to maintain a good dietary balance. Besides animal products there are many great plant sources of protein such as: legumes, nuts, sprouts, hemp, quinoa (which contains all essential amino acids), and more.

Fats

An adequate amount of fat is needed for tissue growth, hormone production, and as another source of potential energy. Saturated fats especially from animal sources, are usually solid at room temperature, while fats that are from plants tend to be liquid oils with the exception of coconut oil and palm oil. Plant-based saturated fats contain high levels of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids. The basic four types of fat include: saturated fats, from animal fat and tropical oils, monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil, polyunsaturated fat, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and trans fats, such as margarine.

Trans fatty acids are made by partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fatty acids usually vegetable oils which are used for a great deal of the processed foods like cookies, crackers, and chips you see at your local grocery store. High consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary artery disease, and may elevate bad cholesterol while lowering good.

The Essential fatty acids (EFAs) include: omega-6, and omega-3 fatty acids. A few good sources of healthy fats include: olives, olive oil, coconuts, coconut oil, butter from grass fed organic milk, nuts, organic pastured egg yolks, avocados, grass fed meats, palm oil, unheated organic nut oils. Consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease the risk for coronary artery disease. Some good plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: avocados, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.

References:

USDA.gov. (n.d.). Macronutrients. Retrieved July 25, 2018, from https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/macronutrients