The Power of Macronutrients

The Power of Macronutrients

Haylee Dussault MPH, RD

 

Macronutrients are the building blocks of a healthy diet and are composed of dietary carbohydrates, protein and fat. Each of these unique macronutrients provides our body with energy while also playing a vital role in our overall health. As a guideline, the USDA recommends that adults should consume 45-65% of their daily calories as carbohydrates, 10-35% as proteins and 20-35% as fats. Consider working with a Registered Dietitian for personalized guidance as individual needs may vary. 

Carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are an essential and important piece of our diet that are found in a variety of healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and dairy products. Carbohydrates or ‘carbs’ are broken down into glucose which is the preferred source of energy for the body. We depend on carbs to fuel us and ensure that we have enough energy available to participate in all of our daily activities. 

Dietary carbohydrates are broken down into two categories: Simple and complex. The former, simple sugars, tend to contribute less nutrient value than complex carbohydrates and are digested more quickly, resulting in an immediate rise in blood sugar. However, there are always exceptions as sugars can be either naturally occurring or added to enhance the taste and texture of a product. Natural sugars found in fruit and dairy (fructose and lactose) are examples of simple sugars that do provide essential vitamins and minerals. The latter, complex carbohydrates, release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly and often contribute more vitamins, minerals and fiber to our diet than simple sugars. Dietary fiber is found in plant-based carbohydrates and adds bulk to our food causing it to move through our digestive system more slowly. Fiber functions in improving both heart health and digestion. For these reasons and many more it is important to focus on consuming a healthy amount of carbohydrates to ensure adequate energy, optimal digestion and improve heart health.

Protein. Protein is often referred to as our bodies’ ‘building blocks’ because they help to maintain and repair our cells, tissues and muscles. Protein is found in both plant and animal sources in the diet such as: Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, low fat and fat free dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds. Protein sources high in saturated fats, including fatty meats, fried foods and high fat dairy products, should be eaten only in moderation as they can have adverse effects 

on heart health. Opting for more lean protein sources is one way that we can maintain a healthy heart through the diet. 

Protein needs can vary substantially depending on certain factors including age, sex, level of activity and an overall health. It is often misconceived that consuming protein in excess of the recommendation will increase the bodies’ lean muscle mass. However, the body is unable to store protein, and any excess protein the body cannot use will be stored as fat until it can be used later as energy. Protein is an essential piece to our diet and is vital for cell, tissue and muscle repair and maintenance as well as maintaining optimal health. 

Fat. Fat is the final piece to the macronutrient puzzle. There is often the misconception that dietary fat should be avoided as it can lead to adverse health effects, however this is not the case. Dietary fat functions in cell growth, cholesterol control and nutrient absorption. Without dietary fat we would be unable to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E and K). Although there are dietary fats that should be eaten in moderation (saturated fats) and dietary fats that should be avoided altogether (trans fats). As with protein, we should opt for unsaturated fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados) over saturated fats (animal fat and high fat dairy products)  as often as possible to maintain our heart health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a great example of an essential dietary fat that must be consumed in the diet because it cannot be produced by the body. These fatty acids are important in brain and nervous system function as well as reducing inflammation and can be found in: Fatty fish, walnuts, seeds (chia, hemp, flax) and eggs.  Another important source of fat are  monounsaturated fats, often found in nuts, olive oil and seeds, which are essential in removing excess cholesterol from our bodies by increasing our ‘good cholesterol’ levels or HDL ,. Dietary fats are vital in vitamin absorption, brain and nervous system function, cholesterol control and much more. We should focus on consuming more unsaturated fats than saturated fats to maintain optimal health. 

 

Macronutrients are an essential and vital part of our diet, each playing a key role in our overall health. If you have questions specific to your individual macronutrient needs please consult your Dietitian as needs may vary.

 

References:



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19. Gordon, B. (2019, June 5). What is cholesterol? EatRight. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/heart-and-cardiovascular-health/what-is-cholesterol.

 

 

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