Often, when I’m out at an event and happen to bump into someone who knows I’m a health and nutrition professional, usually the first thing that happens (after “Hi”) is either an apology for eating what they’re eating, or a question … WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO EAT? IS THIS OKAY?
As we all know, there’s a glut of information available on diets – most of it very confusing. It seems there’s a new incarnation of an old idea every year with all kinds of voices crying, “Eat vegan!”; “Eat like a caveman!”; “Eat soy!”; “Don’t eat soy!”; “Count calories!”; “Don’t count calories!” You get the picture. The fact of the matter is that all diet theories – and there are at least 100 of them – are simply shifting the balance, the source, or the timing of macronutrients. They change the ratio of how many carbs to fats to proteins are measured. High carb/low carb; high protein/low protein; high fat/low fat – these ratios are the balance of macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. We need to look at the basic macronutrients and a little bit of science to make sense of it all.
There are six main nutrients needed for energy, maintenance of tissues and regulation of bodily processes. Those are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, vitamins and minerals. The “macro” nutrients are fats, proteins and carbohydrates and for the sake of basic nutrition science, we’ll stick with these.
The Mighty Macronutrients – Carbohydrates
Macronutrients provide your body with energy, which is measured in calories. We’ll start with carbohydrates.
Carbs are organic compounds that contain single, double, or multiple sugar units. Our bodies look to carbs for quick energy because carbs are a very powerful, fast-acting, energy source. There are three kinds of carbohydrates: complex, simple and fiber.
- Simple carbs have a simple chemical structure and they’re broken down and metabolized very quickly by the digestive system – they’re also usually sweet. Think fruit for a healthy example and bread, cookies and chips for the “other” kind.
- Complex carbs take more time to break down and digest; they’re savory or starchy – like potatoes, squash or lentils.
- Fiber can’t be broken down. It’s the intestinal scrub brush. There’s no caloric value in fiber, but without it the gut can be in serious difficulty. That’s why it’s so important to eat some of your fruit and vegetables raw or only slightly cooked.
The Power of Protein
Proteins are large, complex molecules that are critical in the body at a cellular level and are needed for structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. They are made up of amino acids, of which there are 21 different types that can be combined to create a protein.
- Proteins are used to produce new tissues for growth and repair and they regulate and maintain body functions.
- They define what an organism is, what it looks like and how it behaves.
- Enzymes, used for digestion, protection and immunity are made of proteins.
- Proteins are used as a source of energy when carbohydrates aren’t available, usually as a last resort.
- Proteins are found in meats, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, nuts and legumes.
Many people have had great success with weight loss using high protein diets, such as Atkins and the Paleo diet. And, while these types of diets can be very effective, they’re not necessarily the right fit for everyone. It’s important to honor your body and your own individual metabolism; we’re all different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. Our metabolisms are all different. What works for one may not work as well for another.
Some people handle animal protein quite well, others can’t manage it at all. Knowing the type of protein that works best for you is important to your dietary health and success.
Fats are a big subject and I addressed it in my blog in August.
That’s where understanding nutrition theory comes in and, that’s where I come in. In the meantime, you’re welcome to eat whatever you want to eat. I am not the “eating police”. However, if you really want to know what to eat and if what you’re eating is doing you good, then we need to meet and spend some time together. I’m always happy to do that! Just click on the button and make an appointment.