Macronutrients is the umbrella term for all foods that can be decoded into the proteins, carbohydrates or fats category. Each of these macronutrients plays a vital role in our body and the food you take tells about the macronutrient that goes to your body. Some foods contain a combination of all three macronutrients while some others contain only one or two of them.
Protein forms every tissue, hormones and enzymes that catalyze reactions in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Altogether there are 20 amino acids which are divided into two categories-essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. While the first category must be consumed in the form of diet, the second category of amino acids can be made from other amino acids. There are both, animal and plant sources of proteins. The animal sources such as fish, eggs, poultry, dairy and beef are highly acclaimed as they contain all the nine essential amino acids, whereas plant sources such as beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables lack at least one essential amino acid. Soy, quinoa and amaranth are the only plant sources of protein that contain all essential amino acids.
Also, most protein foods are present in combination with other macronutrients. For instance, wild Alaskan salmon contains increased levels of omega-3 fats. Beans, nuts and seeds contain all 3 macronutrients. Every half cup of beans contains 7 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs. Unless you are a vegan, you might segregate beans as a carbohydrate. Nuts and seeds fall under the ‘fats’ category as they contain more of fats than proteins.
Carbs provide our body with the required quantities of glucose being composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen molecules. They can be classified as simple or complex, refined or unrefined. If the foods have only one or two sugar molecules such as milk, fruit, juice and sugar, they are classified as simple. When they contain long strands of glucose chains as in bread, cereal, rice and pasta they are classified as complex. Refined is when the food is stripped of its fiber and processed leaving it with a negligible quantity of nutrients. White rice, white bread, white pasta, white sugar and fruit juice are examples of food in this category. Unrefined is when the food remains intact (brown rice, veggies, whole grains) or retains all of its fibrous content even after processing (whole-grain bread/cereal). The best combination of foods is those that are both, unrefined and complex.
Most of these carb-packed foods contain a portion of protein as well as fats (grains, beans, veggies and dairy).
We get scared at the mention of the word ‘fat’ but fats play an important role in multiple essential functions in the body. Cholesterol & sex hormones are formed from fats, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K need dietary fat to be completely absorbed by the body, hair and skin look and feel healthier in the presence of healthy dietary fats and above all, fats add that extra effect to any meal to make it more satisfying.
Fats are of four types, each having its own effect on the human body. Saturated and trans fat are the ‘bad’ fats that must be minimized while unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) must be maximized. Read more on fats and the foods that are rich in each of the fat types at www.firsteatright.com.
A healthy diet should contain a balanced quantity of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each meal/snack should contain all of the macronutrients for optimal energy and nutrition. Choose foods that are unprocessed, real and whole to benefit maximum from them and also reduce your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.