There are lots of numbers behind the word macronutrient. How many are there? How many should you have? How many calories are in each? and should you count them? There are three major macronutrients which include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Your body needs these as they are your main source of energy; hence the prefix “macro.” Questions often circle around how important they are and should you be counting them. My answer in short is YES, they are very important. However, NO, I do not think counting them is a must. This is my own personal opinion, and some, especially trainers, would argue. I am going to dig into each category a little deeper and explain my opinion based on my training background and my medical background, encompassing both nutrition and medicine.
Let’s first talk about carbohydrates; everyone’s favorite. Based on research, it is suggested that forty percent of your calories come from carbohydrates. To break this down even further, each gram of carbohydrate contain four calories. To give an example, if one consumed 1200 calories per day, 480 of those calories should be carbohydrates, which in turn would be the equivalent of 120 grams of carbohydrates per day. Keep in mind that this would vary, sometimes significantly, if you were to consume greater or less calories. I should also add that “cutting carbs” has become a big trend. However, science tells you that your body NEEDS carbs. But, it needs carbs of a certain kind. Carbs from an apple and carbs from a cookie are NOT one in the same. This is when it becomes important to know the difference in the types of carbohydrates that exist. There are simple carbohydrates and there are complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are usually refined, and are used and stored differently by your body than complex carbohydrates. Examples of simple carbohydrates include, but are not limited to, white breads, pastas, flour, and potatoes. The carbohydrates you choose to consume should be complex, whole and unprocessed foods. These include, but are not limited to whole grains, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. These carbohydrates will provide us with energy and a sufficient amount of fiber, which in turn improves heart and gut health.
Research suggest that another forty percent of your calories should come from protein. Proteins also contain four calories per gram, just like carbohydrates. Many people correlate proteins with meats. But, just like with carbs, there are healthy options of meat and unhealthy options. Lean meats are usually “white meats” and include, but are not limited to, chicken, fish, venison, and turkey. Compared to the alternative “red meats”, these are more lean and are less likely to fill your body with unnecessary fatty substances. However, there are many other foods that you are able to get protein from. Meatless protein options include, but are not limited to, egg white, beans, quinoa, natural peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. It is crucial that we fill our body with the correct proteins because protein ” is the building block for strong muscles and healthy tissues and also helps make hormones and enzymes” (US News).
Now it is time to discuss fats; the last of the three macronutrients. Just like carbohydrates and proteins, there are several types of fats. These are saturated fats, trans fats, and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats primarily come from animal sources, including meat and dairy. These include, but are not limited to beef, pork, butter, cheese, and milk. Saturated fats are not good in that they can raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Trans fats include oils and margarine for the most part. These are bad in that they can raise bad cholesterol levels, lower good cholesterol levels, increase your risk of heart disease, and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Non saturated fats are the fats we want to focus on in the macronutrient category. These include olive oils, avocados, nuts, and fish. This type of fat can lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, lower your risk of heart disease, and provide fats that your body needs, but cannot produce itself. Here, it is important that you realize the difference between eating healthy to lose weight and eating healthy to be healthy and prolong your life. While eating some foods can result in weight loss, such as meats and dairy, it can also be damaging on the inside. Keep this in mind when choosing your foods. It is so important to know the difference between fats and feed your body with healthy, unsaturated fats, in that fats “help maintain healthy tissues and cells, ensure proper nerve and brain function and increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins” (Nutritionist Rania Batayneh).
While all of this is great information, it is my personal belief that the “counting lifestyle” is not sustainable. Multiplying and dividing numbers to ensure that the macronutrients are up to the scientific standards is simply not something that can be done for an entire lifetime. Thus, it is my recommendation to be mindful of what you consume and provide yourself with one of each macronutrient at each meal. When each meal contains a protein, a carbohydrate, and a fat, you are ensuring that you are supporting each structure of your body and maintaining overall health and wellness. However, it is imperative that you are mindful that each macronutrient you consume is “good.” They should be complex carbohydrates, filled with fiber, unsaturated fats, and lean protein sources. Consider this for example, think about the macronutrients in a piece of salmon (as a protein and fat) with brown rice (as a carbohydrate) and spinach versus a cheeseburger (as a fat) and french fries (as a carbohydrate). While both meals have one of each macronutrient, one meal is fueling your body with healthy macronutrients that will be used for energy, provide your gut with clean foods, and is a heart healthy option; while the cheeseburger and fries will not fuel your body, aide in gut health, or protect your heart or arteries. When you fuel your body with “good” macronutrients, all of the other micronutrients, such as essential vitamins and minerals, will fall into place. This promotes overall health and well being, which should be everyone’s main concern.
Now lets switch our focus to another topic: weight loss. Can counting macronutrients for the sole purpose of weight loss be effective? Yes, but only to a certain degree. If you follow the guidelines mentioned above and only consume “healthy” options of macronutrients, then yes it can aid in weight loss. The difference here is that you are more than likely to stop counting once the weight is gone, which can be okay because you will more than likely have your body trained to know what macronutrients you need and how much. What cannot happen is discontinuing the counting of macronutrients and regressing back to filling your body with unhealthy nutrients. This will result in a relapse of weight gain. My take on weight loss is that all in all, weight loss is calories in versus calories out; period. You can count your macros all day long, but if your calories in are greater than your calories out, even if they are “good” macros, you will not be in a calorie deficit; therefore there will be no weight loss, but instead either weight maintained or weight gained. Calories in versus calories out is a whole new topic that I could go on forever about, but for today, I will leave you with my thoughts on macronutrients.
In short, macronutrients are GOOD. Your body NEEDS macronutrients. I believe that it is NOT NECESSARY to count macronutrients, but it is IMPERATIVE that you know what kinds of macronutrients you are putting in your body. You are only blessed with ONE body, so make sure you are fueling it with the right nutrients.
I hope you all enjoyed this read. Talk again in a week 🙂