Macronutrients: Why it’s Important to Eat Protein, Fat and Carbs

Posted in: Diets, Nutrition

Quick Takeaways:

  • Eat protein, carbs and fat with each meal no matter what your health/fitness goals may be
  • Eat complete proteins with all essential amino acids
  • Increase healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats within the diet
  • Minimize saturated and trans fats for health optimization
  • Consume carbohydrates in the sources of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while minimizing refined carbohydrates and starches

Macronutrients are the fundamental building blocks of the foods we eat. The three macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates and are what fuel the body and provide energy. No matter what one’s health and/or fitness goals are, it is important to incorporate all macronutrients within the diet. This article provides insight into the basics of macronutrients and why each is needed in order to achieve optimal functioning.

Protein:

Proteins have several roles within the body including tissue repair, muscle growth, enzymatic reactions and more. Proteins are made from building blocks known as amino acids, which are further broken down into essential and non-essential amino acids. The non-essential amino acids are made in the body, whereas the essential amino acids must come from diet.

Currently, it is recommended that the average person eat about 0.8 grams of protein per every kilogram of body weight per day (1). However, if one is active or sick, this amount may increase or decrease. This recommendation is around 10-35% of calories each day, so one easy way to balance the diet is to make sure that each meal and snack is roughly 10-35% protein.

There are both animal and plant-based sources of protein. Animal sources of protein include meat, eggs, and dairy, whereas plant-based sources of protein include beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. If one follows a completely plant-based diet, it is important to combine proteins to create complete proteins and to intake all essential amino acids.

Fat:

Fats are commonly misunderstood, and many believe them to be unhealthy. While some fats should be minimized, there are good fats that are necessary for wellbeing. The beneficial fats are mono and polyunsaturated fats, which can help to lower disease risk (2) and benefit overall health through their anti-inflammatory, protective nature. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most beneficial types of unsaturated fats, as they are very anti-inflammatory and have been proven to benefit brain health (3)

Some fats to minimize are saturated fats, found in animal products and some plant oils, such as coconut oil. Saturated fatty acid intake is something to be mindful of, as it can increase the ‘bad’ or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. Secondly, trans fats should be minimized as much as possible as they do not have any beneficial action within the body. Trans fats are typically from partially hydrogenated oils, or oils that have been heavily processed, and can increase one’s risk of developing heart disease (2). Some foods that are high in trans fats include fried foods, some pastries and margarine.

It is currently recommended to consume 20-35% of total daily calories from fat (4). Aim to add a variety of good fats to your plate with foods such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring), plant oils (olive, avocado), nuts, and seeds in order to reap the benefit of fats while minimizing the more damaging fats.

Carbohydrates:

There is a lot of controversy in the nutrition and wellness space surrounding intake of carbohydrates. However, fundamentally, carbohydrates are needed by the body in order to provide cells with the quickest, most accessible form of glucose. This can be especially useful for athletes, or those who are active, and who are consistently requiring additional energy. Carbohydrates supply the body with glucose, which is converted to energy and can be used to support the body in day-to-day activities. While a low carb diet may benefit individuals managing conditions such as heart disease, it is not recommended for the average individual. Because the body’s first preference for energy is glucose, intaking carbohydrates is desirable and will help health optimization.

Currently, it is recommended to consume 45-65% of total calories from carbohydrates each day. Some carbohydrate sources may be more health-conscious than others. For example, vegetables, beans, whole grains and fruits are all carbohydrates but so are pasta, bread, cereals and pastries. If aiming to optimize energy levels and health, the fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are better options as they provide sustained energy, antioxidants (in the case of fruits and veggies) and fiber. Fiber is very important as it is an indigestible carbohydrate that helps to regulate blood sugar, cholesterol and digestion (5). Increase fiber intake by opting for whole fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and by adding some beans to weekly meals.

Overall, each macronutrient is important for health and wellbeing no matter what one’s goals may be. Cutting out one or more macronutrient groups for an extended period of time can be damaging to the body and is unnecessary for long-term health. Structure each meal by aiming to have a protein, fat and carbohydrate and you should be good to go!

References:

  1. The nutrition source: Protein. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Web site. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/. Accessed October 2, 2019.
  2. Willett W, Miller A. The nutrition source  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2012/06/21/ask-the-expert-healthy-fats/.
  3. Dyall SC. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: A review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in aging neuroscience. 2015;7:52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25954194. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052.
  4. Fat: What you need to know. . . https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11208-fat-what-you-need-to-know.
  5. The nutrition source: Fiber 
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/.

About the Author: Jordan Stachel, R.D.
Jordan Stachel is a Registered Dietitian passionate about nutrition, health and longevity. Jordan graduated from the University of Southern California, where she completed a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity. Jordan graduated from Chapman University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. Jordan is energized by the connection between optimal nutrition and quality of life and aims to help others achieve their maximum potential through nutrition. After firsthand experience counseling patients, Jordan realized the need for providing comprehensive healthcare services and sound nutrition advice to the general public. It can be difficult for the consumer to filter through nutrition information that is both credible and accurate, and as an expert in the field, Jordan is uniquely qualified to lead the discussion surrounding nutrition and wellness. Jordan looks forward to continuing to help others achieve the healthiest version of themselves and to being a dependable source and voice within the field of nutrition.