Macro-nutrients are important to understand because they are the cellular level of the foods we eat. The base of the word ‘nutrient’ is a chemical organism needed to live and grow. A macro-nutrient is a chemical compound that provides energy to the human body. There are three macro-nutrients: Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates.
Protein consists of amino acids; organic compounds which catalyze metabolic reactions, replicate DNA, respond to stimuli, and transport molecules.
- Essential amino acids
There are nine essential amino acids: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Essential amino acids must be consumed through food sources. A lack of any amino acid can lead to fatigue, loss of muscle tissue, and a decrease in immune system function.
A complete protein source contains all nine essential amino acids among that one particular food. Examples of complete protein sources are poultry, eggs, meat and soybeans. A combination of foods can also be used to obtain all nine essentials. For example, when rice and beans are consumed, they contain all nine essential amino acids together.
- Non-Essential amino acids
There are twelve non-essential amino acids: Alanine, Arginine, Aspartate, Cysteine, Glutamate, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine, Asparagine, and Selenocysteine. Your body naturally produces these amino acids and they do not need to be consumed from food, although athletes may need to consume more amounts of specific amino acids, both essential and non-essential, for maximum performance.
Fat consists of triglycerides, which are compounds of glycerol and three fatty acids. Fat is a naturally occurring molecule that helps the body absorb vitamins, maintain a healthy balance of hormones, and maintain normal brain functioning (Your brain is made up of over 60% fat!). To keep this article simplistic, we will divide fat into two categories, based off of its effect on your cholesterol: Saturated and unsaturated fat.
- Saturated fat
Saturated fat comes from food sources such as animal fat, cheese, butter, meat, and processed foods. It raises low density lipoproteins and lowers high density lipoproteins.
- Unsaturated fat
Unsaturated fat comes from peanut butter, nuts, and oils. It has an inverse effect on lipoproteins. Unsaturated fat raises high density lipoproteins and lowers low density lipoproteins.
- High density lipoproteins
High density lipoproteins are often referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ because the particles remove cholesterol from within an artery and send it back to the liver to be utilized or excreted.
- Low density lipoproteins
Low density lipoproteins are often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ because they enable transporting of fat molecules within the water around cells. High amounts of low density lipoproteins (LDL) are often associated with cardiovascular disease.
Fat is a life essential. Without consuming fat, you would not live. Your brain is over 60% fat, and a fat deficiency will result in altered mood, metabolism, and brain functioning. Lowering your fat intake to miniscule levels in effort to lose body fat is not only detrimental to your weight loss, but also detrimental to your overall health.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in most diets. They are the most efficient source of energy and maintain glycemic homeostasis as well as maintain healthy gastrointestinal function (If you are diabetic, this will be the most useful part of this article). Glycemic homeostasis is achieved through carbohydrate intake by keeping your blood sugars at an adequate level. Glycemic homeostasis is achieved through eating slow digesting carbohydrates. We can divide carbohydrates into two sections, simple sugars, and complex carbohydrates. The difference between the two depends on the glycemic index, which compares foods and their release of energy throughout the body after consumption.
- Simple sugars
A simple sugar, found from pure sugar sources or refined foods, will simulate a ‘sugar rush’ due to their effect on blood sugar. Almost instantaneously after consumption, your blood sugar will begin to rise, and will wear off almost as fast as the rush began. These are found under the high GI section of the glycemic index.
- Complex carbohydrates
A complex carbohydrate comes from sources such as fruits and vegetables that are will slowly raise the blood sugar to an adequate level and keep it there over time. Complex carbohydrates are found under the low GI section because they raise the blood sugar levels much slower than a simple sugar. A diabetic can benefit from this knowledge by referring to the glycemic index and eating an adequate amount of low GI carbohydrates throughout the day to keep their blood sugar at an ideal level.
Understanding macronutrients will provide you with a base for a healthier lifestyle