Ensuring that you have the proper macronutrients in your diet is the basis for your overall health, and should always be considered in your dietary structure.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which are the three major categories of every diet. Maintaining a proper balance of these macronutrients, and consuming healthy types of each, is an important step towards controlling your health. These key dietary elements provide the raw materials for energy, hormone, and enzyme production, as well as the basic building blocks for every form of tissue in the body (amino acids). Fats are higher per gram in terms of calories, but they also serve a key role in the nervous system and cardiovascular health. Some people also include water as a macronutrient, since it is just as essential in a daily diet as these other three types.
The three primary macronutrient foods are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as mentioned above, but choosing foods within those categories can also be challenging.
Carbohydrates are the most readily accessible and easiest to process a source of energy for the body. These compounds can be broken down by the body into glycogen and glucose, which serve key energetic purposes in the body. Carbohydrates are categorized as simple or complex, based on how easy it is for the body to break down. Simple sugars are broken down rapidly, causing spikes in your blood sugar; these come from white bread, processed foods, and snacks. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, resulting in a healthier metabolism and better control of your energy production. Some of the best sources of healthy carbohydrates include the following:
- Beans and pulses
- Starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, bananas)
- Quinoa, chickpea, and buckwheat
- Regular vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots etc.)
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and contain the essential components our body needs to synthesize new muscle tissue – amino acids. There are some amino acids the body requires that it is unable to make for itself, so it is important to access them through the diet. Animal proteins and vegetable proteins are different, in the sense that few vegetable sources are “complete” proteins (possessing all nine essential amino acids), whereas complete proteins are more readily available in animal sources. In order to get all the protein and amino acids you need, eating a variety of the following foods is the best recommendation.
- Eggs and low-fat dairy foods
- Almonds, peanuts, and nut butter
- Lean meats (chicken, pork, and turkey)
- Tofu, tempeh, and soybean products
- Shrimp, seafood, oily fish, and shellfish
The most controversial of the three main macronutrients are the fats, as most people assume that fats are bad. In fact, fats are a key part of overall health, as they help to regulate the nervous system, balance the cardiovascular system, protect skin and hair health, and ensure proper hormone production. You want to increase your level of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fats while reducing levels of saturated fat and trans fat.
Word of Caution: Although the percentages of these three nutrient groups may fluctuate depending on your fitness goals, going too far in any one direction can be dangerous. Some extreme diets include reducing one of these categories completely, such as low-carb or low-fat diets. It is important to remember that there are good aspects about all of these macronutrient categories, provided you choose the right foods.