What the Heck am I Eating? (Part 1)
By Samuel W. Ascioti, DC
Thanksgiving is over. Turkey sandwiches are the norm, leftover cranberry sauce is a perfect sweet late-night snack, and the mashed potatoes get clumpy and hard. This is all well and good, but do you actually know what your food is made of? In this month’s article, we’ll be talking about some basic nutritional facts. For your health!
Simply put, food nutrition can be broken down into two different umbrella groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are essentially the fuel (aka, calories!) that runs the machine that is the human body, and we need them in large amounts, hence the term macro . Micronutrients, on the other hand, can be described as the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids that help the body run more efficiently. These are usually consumed in much smaller amounts, which is why they are referred to as micronutrients. For optimal health, the human body needs adequate amounts of macro- and micronutrients.
Dr. Ascioti loves snacking on carrots and hummus!
We’ll be breaking this down into two parts. This month we’ll talk about the macronutrients.
The Three Macronutrients
There are three major and very different types of macronutrients that comprise the majority of our diet: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbohydrates are arguably the most important of the three, as they provide fuel for the central nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord. Carbohydrates are among the first sources of energy to be consumed during exercise, which spares proteins from being utilized – this ultimately preserves muscle mass during exercise, because the last thing anyone would want is to lose muscle while working out because the body is starved of energy! Additionally for athletes, carbohydrates provide fuel during high intensity exercise, such as sprinting or engaging in workouts like CrossFit.
Carbohydrate Food Sources:
- Grains – bread, pastas, rice, quinoa, etc. Choose WHOLE grains for increased fiber! AVOID WHITE RICE, WHITE BREAD, ETC.
- Fruits – fruits contain lots of sugars, the simplest types of carbohydrates. Be careful to stick with whole fruits rather than juices; again, fruit juices are high in sugars, which can be detrimental to overall health.
- Dairy – milk, yogurt, etc. are all decent sources of carbohydrates; I would recommend choosing low-fat or non-fat items, but if neither are available, have no fear! Fat is essential to a healthy diet (in limited amounts, of course).
How Many Carbohydrates Should I Eat?
- For those who do not exercise much or at all, about 40-50% of daily calories should be from carbs.
- If you exercise regularly (2-4 times per week), your carbs should be 60% of daily calories.
- Athletes or individuals who engage in heavy training need way more carbohydrates to fuel the body, so carbs should make up about 70% of calories. For these individuals, about 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight should be consumed.
Proteins make up a portion of the structures of all the tissues in our body. Everything from blood plasma, tendons, ligaments, muscles, skin, hair, nails, and organs are made up of proteins and need adequate amounts of protein to stay fully functional and healthy. Proteins also make up a part of a cell’s plasma membrane, which is very important at the microscopic level since the plasma membrane is the protective barrier that surrounds the cell. Proteins help regulate our body’s metabolism by forming the essential enzymes that will help regulate this process.
Additionally, proteins are involved in the base/acid balance that occurs inside the body to provide a neutral pH environment for our innards.
Protein Food Sources:
- Animal meat (preferably lean white meat and fish)
- Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa
- Soy products (tofu)
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
A typical sedentary individual should eat 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, a 150-pound person should consume 54 grams of protein per day. If you’re an active person, the recommendation would be about 0.60 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Again, if you weigh about 150 pounds, that means you would eat about 90 grams of protein per day.
Don’t be intimidated by tofu! It’s a great source of protein and tastes great!
Ahhhh, fats, the “evil” macronutrient that everyone worries about. Despite popular opinion, fat is VERY important for the diet, although it needs to be in limited amounts. A meal with an appropriate amount of fat will increase feelings of satiety, meaning you’ll feel more full for a longer period of time. Fats play an important role in the body, as they act as an emergency energy reserve when the body runs out of other sources of energy to utilize. Fat also provides insulation and helps keep the body warm, and cushions all the important organs. At a microscopic level, fats help transport vitamins that are only soluble in fat, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
How Much Fat Should I Eat?
Fats should be no more than 20-35% of the daily calorie intake. More importantly, less than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats, such as butter, coconut and palm oil, cream cheese, etc. Preferably, priority should be given to polyunsaturated fats (the good fats!) such as olive oil or the fats found in avocados. Polyunsaturated fats can help improve cholesterol and heart health!
Fat Food Sources:
How many calories do carbs, proteins, and fats have?
- 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Washington State University. (n.d.). Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://mynutrition.wsu.edu/nutrition-basics/