Nutrition can be a confusing subject for the ordinary person. Of course we have all heard about vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber, complex carbohydrates and sugars but how does it all fit together?
Well to start with, our bodies require certain amounts of macronutrients to survive. There are a few people who focus on one nutrient over another and they consume more of one and less of the others but in general we all need some of these nutrients and a healthy diet consists of a good balance of the all three macronutrients.
The macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. Protein and carbohydrates both provide 4 calories per gram, while the more dense fat contains 9 calories per gram. A calorie is at its most basic description the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of 1g of water 1 degree Celsius. While that is a rather confusing definition for most of us it is easier for us to just know that a calorie is just a measurement that we use to determine the energy content of food.
Due to this discrepancy of 5 additional calories per gram, it was believed for a few years that the fat in our diet was the main cause of the fat on our bodies. It has since been proven that this all too simple explanation is not quite true. The fat on our bodies is caused by a number of different factors including the eating of too many calories altogether be they from fat, protein or carbohydrates.
Protein is the building blocks of the tissues in our bodies and it is essential to all of the processes within our cells. Protein can be found in animal tissue, dairy products and eggs but also vegetarian sources such a beans, legumes and especially soybeans.
Carbohydrates are the main energy source of our bodies. A simplistic explanation of carbohydrates is that they convert to sugar in our bodies, which in turn provides the energy that we need. Carbohydrates can be further broken down into simple carbohydrates, which include sugar, candy, white flour and more and complex carbohydrates, which include whole grains and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates break down in our bodies at a very rapid level, causing energy swings and increased hunger while complex carbohydrates break down slowly which gives us sustained longer-term energy.
Fat was long misaligned as being bad for our health but that is not completely true. The saturated fats and trans fats are destructive to our bodies but there are also essential fats that we need to maintain good health. Those would include the monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil and the fats found in nuts and seeds, avocados, olives and the acai berry. The bad fats are the saturated fats such as the fat found in animal products and the “fake” fats or trans fats that are created by hydrogenation.
The macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fat are the building blocks of nutrition and all of the rest of the positive nutritional factors, like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more are found within one of these three macronutrients.