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  • Writer's pictureCathy Dyer

Understanding Macros

What the heck is a macro anyway?

There are three macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. 

Each plays a vital role in your body's functioning and, as a result, your health and well-being.

Everything we eat contains micronutrients and macronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. They are in our body in small quantities, yet are very important. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are macronutrients.

Carbohydrates  4 calories/gram

Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for your brain, muscles and nervous system. Glucose is the body's preferred fuel source and powers almost every cell in your body. Your brain uses approximately 20% of your energy from glucose. Carbs include sugars, starches, and fiber and can be complex or simple. 

Complex carbohydrate foods include whole grains, vegetables, peas and beans. They are made up of long chains of glucose (sugar) molecules that your body must work to break down before they are absorbed. Complex carbohydrate foods also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and small amounts of healthy fats and protein. Because complex carbs are broken down slowly, they promote stable blood sugar levels and keep you feeing full longer.

Simple carbohydrates are made up of smaller groups of glucose molecules, are broken down quickly, and are much easier to absorb. They don't keep you full for very long and lead to rapid blood sugar spikes. Processed carbs, juices, and refined sugar are very low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Processed carbs are absorbed extremely quickly into your bloodstream. Fruit contains simple carbohydrates, but also contains fiber that slows digestion, plus vitamins and minerals. 

Starches are long, branched chains of glucose molecules. Legumes, grains, and root vegetables are starchy foods.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate with a unique molecular structure. Fiber is long chains of glucose molecules, but our body doesn’t have an enzyme that can break the bond between the glucose molecules. Fiber passes through your digestive system without being broken down, therefore, you do not absorb calories from fiber.

Thermic Effect of Food: Your body burns 5-10% of the carbohydrate calories you consume during digestion and absorption.

Fats  9 calories/gram

Fats are essential for cell function, organ protection, temperature regulation, hormone production, and absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. They can be categorized as saturated or unsaturated. 

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are primarily found in animal products, including butter, fatty cuts of meat and cheese. 

Unsaturated fats are most commonly found in plant foods, including oils, avocados, nuts and seeds. 

The American Heart Association recommends consuming more unsaturated fats than saturated fats, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.

Thermic Effect of Food: Your body burns 0-3% of the fat calories you consume during digestion and absorption.

Proteins  4 calories/gram

Proteins are very large molecules when compared to carbohydrates and fats and require a lot of time and energy to digest and absorb. Proteins build your muscles, skin, hair, nails, bones, and enzymes. They are made up of amino acids, nine of which your body can't produce on its own and must be consumed through food. Animal sources of protein include meats, dairy products and eggs. Plant sources include beans, nuts, seeds and tofu. Most animal protein foods contain all nine essential amino acids, while most plant sources do not. If you consume a variety of plant sources throughout the day, they can function as complementary proteins. Complementary proteins are different incomplete proteins—proteins with only a few, but not all, essential amino acids—paired together to make a complete protein.

Protein is the single most important nutrient for weight loss. A high protein diet will boost your metabolism and reduce your appetite while preventing muscle loss.

Thermic Effect of Food: Your body burns 20-30% of the protein calories you consume during digestion and absorption.


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