When it comes to nutrition, what’s the one phrase NO ONE likes to say? “I’m going on a diet.” What if I told you it’s more feasible to lose weight by ditching that phrase and keeping that nasty “D” word out of your vocabulary? Better yet, what if I presented you with sustainable lifestyle changes that would allow you to not only lose weight, but also maintain the weight you lost? Being told what to eat and what not to eat can be very frustrating; therefore I will break down nutrition processes and information to a basic, understanding level. Having a working understanding of the major concepts of nutrition will help guide you to making healthy, sustainable changes. Don't let making corrective changes to your nutrition overwhelm you, in all reality there are only a few concepts to comprehend. Nutrition can broken down in to two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the most important and will be the entire focus of this article. The macronutrients consist of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Remember calories DO matter, but it’s equally important to recognize WHERE your calories are coming from.
Protein is an essential nutrient in our daily nutrition plan. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein; if you eat 15 grams of protein, you have just eaten 60 calories. Protein should only represent 15-20% of the calories you consume! Another important rule of thumb to remember is the more active you are, the more protein you’ll need. The average American needs to ingest .8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (divide your body weight by 2.2, then multiply the number in kilograms by .8 or 1.2). When you eat protein, the body further breaks it down to what’s known as amino acids; amino acids are called “the building blocks of protein.” In a separate blog post I will touch more on the essential and non-essential amino acids, but for now just know they are called essential due to the fact that we must consume complete proteins in our daily nutrition plan because our body cannot produce them naturally. Foods such as eggs, red meat, chicken, fish, soybeans, spinach, cheese, and quinoa represent complete proteins.
Like its macronutrient partner protein, there are 4 calories in 1 gram of carbohydrate (15 grams is equivalent to 60 calories). Be warned the next sentence goes against everything the general public believes to be true. Ideally 40-65% of the calories in your nutrition plan should come from carbohydrates. That’s right, carbohydrates. I’m not talking about the cookies, doughnuts, white breads, or the brownies known as simple carbohydrates; I’m referring to the starchy vegetables (potatoes, beans, peas, and lentils) and the heart healthy whole grains. Carbohydrates are not evil, but too much of the wrong types of carbohydrates can lead to obesity and diabetes. Fiber is your favorite carbohydrate friend! Do you know how many grams of fiber you should be eating every day? The average American only consumes 15-20 grams of fiber, but 30-35 grams of fiber are recommended for daily consumption. Fiber is insoluble, therefore if a food item contains 20 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fiber you will subtract the fiber from the carbohydrates and only 15 grams go toward your daily carbohydrate total. Fiber helps balance blood sugar and while it is an important staple for us all, it especially helps individuals with diabetes.
The last macronutrient is the most caloric dense. Instead of only 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate, there are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat. We should never, ever consume more than 20% of our daily calories from fats. However, there are heart healthy fats we should always make sure we add in our daily nutrition plan. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they’re good for your cholesterol and overall health. Food items such as nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, etc.), salmon, tuna, trout, avocados, olives, olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and flaxseed should never be a stranger to our metabolism, when it fits in your 20% of caloric intake. The trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, and saturated fats are known as the “bad fats.” They are used in the manufacturing of certain food items to help it stay fresh longer; these are the fats you want to avoid like the plague as they increase your risk for disease and elevate your cholesterol. Food substances such as packaged snack foods (microwave popcorn, chips, crackers), stick margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods (fries, fried chicken, and chicken nuggets), and candy bars all are detrimental to your long-term health. Don’t go no fat, go good fat!
Knowledge is power! The more you understand about the foods you ingest, the more you will understand why you feel and function the way you do.
In short, bullet points below lets recap the major points of nutrition:
· There are 3 macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats
· There are 4 calories per gram of Protein
· Protein should make up 15-20% of daily nutrition
· There are 4 calories per gram of Carbohydrates
· Complex carbohydrates should make up 40-65% of daily nutrition
· We should consume 30-35 grams of fiber on a daily basis
· There are 9 calories per gram of fat
· Fats should make up no more than 20% of daily nutrition