The first step to understanding what is a macronutrient is to look at it in its simplest tense: macro means large, so macronutrients are the nutrients that your body needs in larger amounts to properly function on a daily basis.
Macros are often misunderstood, and weight loss regimes can make dangerously misleading claims about them. Our health experts want to help debunk some of these myths so you can better understand what macros are and how to incorporate them into your balanced diet.
There are 3 types of macronutrients:
Many diets claim that avoiding carbs can help you increase your metabolism to burn fat naturally, but unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Your body needs carbs—they supply us with lasting energy and essential nutrients which we need to maintain a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates give us energy by converting into glucose (natural sugars) through digestion. They are especially important for healthy brain function, as our brains cannot digest other energy sources such as proteins and fats.
Types of Carbohydrates:
- Simple Carbohydrates include sugars found in foods that are easily converted into energy. These are commonly found in sources such as fruit, honey, and dairy products.
- Complex Carbohydrates are more commonly known as starches. Scientifically, they are longer chains of molecules that take more time to break down into energy. Complex carbs include grains, pasta, bread, rice, peas, potatoes, and gourds (e.g. pumpkin, squash, winter vegetables).
The bottom line? Carbs turn into natural sugars, which give you energy. Whether this sugar is released into your bloodstream quickly or over a longer period of time depends on the molecular structure (simple vs complex). While maintaining healthy sugar levels is important for weight loss and preventing health concerns such as diabetes, limiting your carb intake can damage your body by restricting its main energy source.
Proteins are macromolecules formed by amino acids (organic constructs that are fundamental for proper growth and development). Your body needs 20 different types of amino acids to function, with nine of them being classified as essential. Interestingly, your body can’t produce any of these nine, so you need to consume them through complete protein food sources.
Health Benefits of Amino Acids
- Produce energy and regenerate muscles
- Maintain natural serotonin levels to regulate your mood, sleep, and appetite
- Allows you to absorb essential minerals and detoxifies your metabolism
- Boost your immune system by strengthening enzymes and neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine)
- Increases collagen and tissue repair to fight the effects of aging
The most commonly mentioned high-protein foods are animal-sourced (e.g. meat, eggs, dairy products), but they are certainly not your only options! Examples of plant-based protein sources include legumes, beans, nuts, soy, and grains such as quinoa or buckwheat.
Most plant-based protein sources are considered incomplete as they don’t contain all nine essential amino acids. So if you have a plant-based diet, just make sure to eat a variety of proteins in order to nourish your body with all the essential nutrients.
We recommend consulting a nutritionist or medical professional before switching to a plant-based diet in order to establish a nutrition plan that best works for you and your lifestyle.
Fats may be the least understood of them all. Our society has vilified fats for so long that even the name makes it sound unhealthy, when in reality fats are essential nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis. As medical forums have been advising for years, it helps if you understand the separation between “good” and “bad” fats.
There are 3 types of fats, with their own respective subsections:
- Unsaturated fats
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
Unsaturated fats can be easily identified as fats that become liquid when held at room temperature. These are beneficial for your health because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, diminish inflammation, stabilize heart palpitations, and perform multiple other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
There are 2 types of “good” unsaturated fats:
- Monounsaturated fats found in foods such as olives, canola oils, avocados, nuts (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and seeds (e.g. pumpkin, sesame)
- Polyunsaturated fats found in foods such as fish, corn, soybean, flaxseed oils, nuts (e.g. walnuts), and seeds (e.g. sunflower, flax). Omega-3 fats are a particularly important source of polyunsaturated fat—like amino acids, your body cannot naturally produce Omega-3 and relies on your diet for consumption.
Saturated fats are seen as one of the “bad” fats, but only because they are less healthy in large sums compared to unsaturated fats. All food products have a mix of different fats, and most food items that contain fat will have a certain percentage of saturated fats.
What’s important is that you regulate your intake of saturated fats when combined with other substantial nutrients. For example, foods like chicken, nuts, and coconut oil all contain saturated fats, but are healthier for you than cookies, ice cream, and cheese because they can provide other essential nutrients. The bottom line is that reducing your intake can be good for your health if you replace saturated fats with good fats, especially polyunsaturated fats. Doing so will increase your level of good-to-bad cholesterol (HDL-LDL cholesterol ratio).
Trans fats are classified as the “worst” kind of fat—but again, only in relation to unsaturated and saturated fats. There are natural trans fats that are not harmful to your health, but the vast majority of the trans fats we consume come from “industrial trans fats,” especially partially hydrogenated fats. These occur when vegetable oils are chemically altered to stay solid at room temperature, which gives them a much longer shelf life.
Think of food frying oils, like margarine or shortening. These fats are very hazardous to our health and show little-to-no signs of beneficial nutrients. Delicious, but extremely unhealthy.
Trans fats are highly correlated with heart disease and are not recommended under any health regime.
What is a Macronutrient Split?
A macronutrient split is the recommended split between proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in your diet. The acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDR) set forth by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommend that people get:
- 45–65% of their calories from carbs
- 20–35% of their calories from fats
- 10–35% of their calories from proteins
However, we cannot emphasize enough that your personal macronutrient split is dependent on your body, lifestyle, food preferences, and health goals. It is always best to consult a medical professional or certified nutritionist before establishing a new nutrition plan.