Your Perfect Guide To Macronutrients
Do you remember flipping through the pages of your E.V.S. book as a child and coming across a colourful pie chart made up of grains and fruits in one slice, meat and eggs in the other and as well as oils and nuts in the last part?Your teacher must have explained how important it was to have a balanced intake of these three slices and today, we are here to just reiterate the crucial role it plays in our health. Macronutrients refer to the group of nutrients which are essential for the functioning of our body. From as basic as cellular growth to the production of energy required by our body to function, these macronutrients are responsible for the overall maintenance of the bodily structures and carrying out essential functions. These nutrients are ‘macro’ in nature because our body shall acquire relatively larger amounts of these nutrients to function smoothly and they function as building blocks for our bodily structures.The food we consume is largely constituted of three macronutrients namely- Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats. We all are familiar with these macronutrients in some or the other way but in order to incorporate them correctly in our lives, let us take an in-depth look at what they provide us with, how much should we consume and what sources to turn to for each of them.
CARBOHYDRATES: Carbohydrates are responsible for distributing energy to the muscles, red blood cells and the central nervous system. It is advised that about 45-65% of our calories should be received from carbohydrate rich food for proper functioning of the body. A prime function carried out by carbohydrates is breaking down amino acids or the building blocks of protein. Acquiring fibre (a type of carbohydrate) rich food facilitates in the digestion process, ensuring smooth functioning of the intestinal cavity. Eating fibre rich food also gives the feeling of being full for longer duration therefore, shall be integrated in our diet. Carbohydrates are divided into two forms- simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple Carbohydrates:Single or double sugar molecules are simple in nature. They are relatively easy to digest and get absorbed faster in the bloodstream. Simple carbohydrates break down quickly into glucose for immediate use as in instant energy boost but can also be stored for future use as glycogen. Some healthy sources of simple carbohydrates include sweet fruits such as apples, bananas, mangoes, dairy products like milk and yogurt, as well as honey. Unhealthy sources of simple carbohydrates include highly processed foods containing sugars like high-fructose corn syrup.
Complex Carbohydrates: A longer chain of 10 or more than 10 sugar molecules together make complex carbohydrates. As they are relatively difficult to break down into glucose, they are solely stored as glycogen for extensive and strenuous physical activity in the future, thus being a sustainable source of energy. Some healthy sources of complex carbohydrates include foods rich in fibre and starch like vegetables, whole grains or beans and legumes etc.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates provide with all the goodness of fibre, minerals, phytochemicals and vitamins for building a healthy body whereas, if one depends on the unhealthy sources regularly, it might lead to issues such as diabetes, weight gain or prevalence of heart diseases.
PROTEINS:Proteins are made up of amino acids which come together to carry out various functions of the body. From building muscle tissues to maintaining and repairing them, weaving structures for cell membranes, organs, skin, nails and hair as well as the central nervous system, producing enzymes and hormones (like the melatonin hormone responsible for sleep) which assist in various functions of the body, balancing the pH environment of the body, transporting oxygen and other essential nutrients throughout the body to maintaining the metabolic system of the body, all the essential functions fall under this macronutrient. Amino acids can be essential (9 amino acids acquired through consumption of protein rich foods) or non-essential (11 amino acids produced by the body).
One should acquire about 10-35% of their calories from protein rich foods in their daily intake. Dietary Reference Intake report suggests 0.36 grams of protein per pound of an individual’s body weight. Although protein requirements fluctuate on the basis of physical activity performed by an individual.
Sources of protein are diverse as one can meet their protein requirements from complete proteins such as dairy products, eggs, red meat, poultry, quinoa, sea food etc. Processed meats although high in protein, are also high in saturated fats, therefore likely to cause more harm than good. Therefore, other sources of protein such as incomplete sources of protein can be used as supplementary sources of protein. Beans and legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains and soy products such as tofu, all are excellent sources of protein if carefully incorporated in meals.
FATS: Although fats have a bad reputation as being unhealthy for the body, this macronutrient is just as essential as the other two. Carrying out crucial functions like storing energy, absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K, acting as a component for the cell membrane and a cushion for the organs, insulating the body as well as fuelling the brain comes under this macronutrient. Supporting a high caloric value, a smaller percentage of fat rich foods are enough for proper functioning of the body.
Trans Fats:Fats which do more harm than good, increasing LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol levels which might lead to conditions such as obesity, diabetes and occurrence of cardiovascular risks. Red meat and dairy products contain trivial amounts of trans fat but processed foots contain large amounts.
Saturated Fats: Fats which remain healthy if consumed in a controlled way. Saturated fats usually stay solid at room temperature. Lamb, pork, beef, cheese, cream, butter and other high fat content products contain saturated fats.
Unsaturated Fats: Most beneficial out of the three, unsaturated fats are responsible for improving blood cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms and provide an array of benefits. Unsaturated fats are divided into Polyunsaturated Fats and Monounsaturated Fats. Polyunsaturated fats help in blood clotting and muscle movement whereas monosaturated fats help in reduction of bad cholesterol levels, aiding in the decreased chances of heart stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. Omega-3 rich sources such as fish, walnuts, soybeans etc, are a source of polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds are some sources of monounsaturated fats. About 20-35% of our calories should be consumed through healthy fats rich diet. Trans fat should be explicitly avoided and saturated fats should not be made up more than 7-10% of the diet. Unsaturated fats should be generously included through healthy sources.
An optimum intake of these macronutrients mentioned above fuel the body with energy which can be sustained for extended durations and allows the individual to achieve healthy and active functioning in a holistic sense- physically, mentally and emotionally. The three macronutrients pose as the building blocks for health thus, depriving oneself of even a single macronutrient can result in serious health risks. Therefore, remember to incorporate these three pillars of strength in your meals for a healthier and fulfilling lifestyle!