In September 2019, I started a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner course through the Nutritional Therapy Association. I have been continually amazed and excited as I learn about the human body and how we can use food to help heal ourselves from chronic conditions as well as aid with healthy aging. Each month, I will pick a topic and provide insight so we all can work towards optimal health.
We need four basic things in our diet: water, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats fall under the broader term, MACRONUTRIENTS, which this post will focus on. Water and hydration are a huge topic that I will focus on it in its own post.
Carbohydrates fall into two categories Complex and Simple. Once broken down and digested in our bodies, these carbohydrates are known as glucose…aka sugar!
Simple carbohydrates can include both natural and refined foods but it is easiest to think of them more as processed foods such as breads, packaged snacks and sweets. They include simple sugars which are easier to absorb in our digestive tract and sugar alcohols which are known to be difficult for us to digest.
Complex carbohydrates are still sugars but are in a natural state and unprocessed such as fruits, vegetable and whole grains such as bran or wheat.
So if it is all converted into glucose, then who needs fruits and vegetables? Why not just eat cake, chips and other delicious processed snack foods?
Well, complex carbohydrates are further broken down into starches, insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. Soluble and insoluble fibers aid in digestion since they require our friendly gut bacteria to break down fibers and in the process enable us to digest many essential byproducts including vitamins and minerals and short chain fatty acids that are necessary for good health. In fact, soluble fibers tend to delay our digestive process and decrease glucose absorption while insoluble fibers speed up our digestive system and increase fecal bulk.
On the other hand, simple carbohydrates can provide quick fuel if we are about to do a sprint BUT if we DON’T burn them, they are absorbed by our adipose tissue…FAT tissue(!) and are happy to sit there, collecting more glucose so the cells can get larger and larger.
Protein is the building block for our entire body. Proteins build tissue, organs, muscle and more!
- is the basic building blocks for enzymes which are the catalyst for biochemical reactions
- composes the structure of antibodies which help to fight infections
- the base of hemoglobin, found in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout our body
- is the all important component in peptide hormones (or protein-based hormones)-most notably insulin and glucagon, our hormones that aid in digestion and blood sugar regulation aka glucose!
Just like carbohydrates, we want high quality proteins in our diet from wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry and eggs and non-GMO soybeans.
Maybe the scariest four letter word to most but it really shouldn’t be! High quality fats are essential to fueling your body.
High quality fat
-increases our satiety which means you will eat less, not more food
-regulates the speed we digest food
-enables us to absorb essential fat soluble vitamins including Vitamins A, D, E and K
-provides a source of long, slow burning energy to keep us going during our busy day
Not all fats are equal. Fats fall three categories: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The distinction between these fat sources are the number of double bonds between carbon atoms and have the most hydrogen bonds. Saturated Fats- 0 double bonds, Monounsaturated Fats - 1 double bond and Polyunsaturated Fats - two or more double bonds.
Saturated fats are mostly solid at room temperature therefore they do not go rancid easily making them the safest for cooking at high temperature. These are animal fats and tropical oils, i.e. coconut oil.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in produce such as olives, avocados and some nuts. They are considered less stable because of their 1 (mono) double bond so they can be used for low-temperature cooking, such as sautéing. To lengthen their shelf life, they should be stored in dark containers.
Polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable due to the multiple double bonds. These unstable fats are highly reactive and must be store away from light, heat and oxygen. Examples include fish, some nuts, seeds and flax and are best eaten raw to get the most benefits from these fats.
There are benefits from eating each of these fat sources and they should all be consumed and in fact, most fat sources have a varied combination of the three fats listed above.
It is important to note that our fat tissue can actually store toxins so it is best to get our fat from quality sources such as grass-fed animals, pasture-raised eggs, organic, cold-pressed oils. I now cook with grass-fed ghee and duck fat. It is delicious and nourishing!
We should avoid processed sometimes called “refined” fats such as much as possible including margarine, industrial seed oils such as corn and canola oils, trans fats (fats that are unsaturated due to the hydrogenation process-those double bonds coming into play again!) and hydrogenated fats (fats that have had as much hydrogen added as possible to make them a solid at room temperature).
We need balance of our Macronutrients, a good RANGE to have in mind is 45-60% carbohydrates, 20-35% protein and 10-35% fats. That word “range" is important, as we bio-individuals so what works for one person, will not necessarily work for another. It can be tough to know what your macronutrient ranges are because the truth is many foods straddle two macronutrients, grass-fed meat is both a protein and fat source, for example. If you have an interest in tracking your macros there are two great apps out there that can help, Cronometer or MyFitnessPal. Of course, the more detail you put in, the more accurate information you will receive. This could be interesting to do for a few days to see where you are with your macronutrient intake.
What I find most interesting is if you begin to evaluate for food intake to your mood. On a day you when you consumed too many refined carbs, did you feel good or were you lethargic? When more healthy fats were added to your day did you notice any changes? Maybe you weren’t quite as hungry at dinner because you had enough of that slow-burning fuel from healthy fats to help you through the day.
When your macronutrients are balanced in a ratio that works for YOU from high-quality sources, you will feel better! Our bodies are intuitive, they know what they need to feel good and to be healthy. Trust yourself!