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Macronutrients: What are they? Examples and Sources

Macronutrients: Simply put they are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins! The delicious plate below is an example!

Carbohydrates (4 Calories/gram):

apple-crumble

Above is my healthy version of an apple crumble! Follow my instagram for the recipe and other delicious healthy recipes as well!

Carbohydrates are compounds found in foods and consist of starches, sugars and fibers. Starch is a compound found in certain foods such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and others, which are broken down into sugar molecules in our bodies to provide energy for our day to day activities.

Some foods are already in their simple form, sugars, and do not need to be broken down to provide energy; those come from “simple sugars” such as juice, honey, table sugar, syrups (found in sugary drinks such as lattes), Gatorade and others.

On the nutrition facts label, available on most packaged foods, the total carbohydrates as well as sugar content is indicated as the diagram below shows.

nutrition-label

Fiber is a plant-based substance found in certain foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables. Benefits of fibre include keeping you fuller for longer, regulating bowel movements, and stabilizing blood sugars.

http://dtc.ucsf.edu/images/charts/nutrition_facts1.gif

Some examples of nutrient-dense carbohydrate choices:

  • Vegetables: especially starchy ones such as peas, carrots and corn just like the ones in this soup below
  • soup
  • Whole fruits: apples, bananas, strawberries, and others
  • Legumes: lentils, kidney beans, chick peas are examples
  • Whole grains: oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and others

Complex carbohydrates that get absorbed slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels are considered healthier choices as they not only help stabilize blood sugars, but also control cravings and keep you fuller for longer. These are also typically higher in fiber and some vitamins such as B-vitamins. Examples: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. For maintaining overall health and wellness, aim to consume fewer refined and processed carbohydrates that strip away beneficial fiber. Examples: sugary drinks, and desserts such as: cakes, pies, ice-creams, cookies. Speaking of limiting desserts, check-out this delicious chocolate cake below! haha! Always remember that moderation is the key! ?

cake.jpg

Although simple sugars are to be limited overall, they can be beneficial to provide quick energy prior to, during and post-workout. When exercise duration is over 90 minutes, a quick bout of carbohydrates is recommended within 30 minutes as this short-window of time is ideal for glycogen re-synthesis³ﹶ⁴. During this time-frame, there is more blood-flow to the muscles as they have just been worked⁴. High glycemic carbohydrate drinks in fluid or solid form are absorbed more quickly into cells for rapid muscle glycogen restoration³ﹶ⁴. For example: post-training session, it is important to replenish glycogen stores that were lost during the session, therefore, consumption of a sports drink post-session may be beneficial in replenishing those stores³ﹶ⁴. Note that if exercise is short in duration, <1 hour or not as vigorous in intensity, a formal recovery drink may not be required³ﹶ⁴.

tea

Typically for strength training sessions, it is recommended to consume a meal rich in carbohydrates, protein and low in fat and fiber prior to an intense training session to provide adequate energy without gastrointestinal discomfort³ﹶ⁴. A complete meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates and contains protein is recommended post-workout³ﹶ⁴. This delicious tuna salad wrap below is an example, as you can see it has cucumbers, tuna, light mayonnaise and voila! ?

tuna.jpg

Fats (9 Calories/gram):

Fats are substances that can be liquid or solid at room temperature and are a part of our diets in the form of oils, butters, margarines, and found in foods such as flax seeds, peanut butter or nut butters, cheeses, higher fat yogurts and milk. In our bodies, however, excess nutrients are converted into fat for storage.

The types of fat stored in our bodies are triglycerides. In the blood, fat or lipids circulate in the form of triglycerides (TG), free fatty acids, which are formed from the fats we eat.

Another type of fat found in our diet and circulating in our blood is cholesterol, which is a natural waxy substance found in the blood. The types of fat in our diet can affect 25% of your cholesterol levels, 75% of cholesterol in your body is made by the liver. In our bodies, cholesterol (C) circulates as LDL-C, (bad cholesterol and plays a role in building plaque on blood vessel walls) and HDL-C (good cholesterol, which carries that LDL-C, away from blood vessels to the liver where it can be broken down and excreted.

A diet high in saturated fats can increase the level of LDL-C in the blood.

A table by the canola counsel of Canada

fats

Types of fats in foods and sources

Saturated Fats Polyunsaturated Fats Monounsaturated Fats Omega-3 Fats
Butter Corn oil Canola oil Salmon
Lard Fish oils Almond oil Krill oil
Lunchmeat Soybean oil Walnut oil Herring
Poultry’s skin Safflower oil Olive oil Sardines
Coconut products Sesame oil Peanut oil Anchovies
Palm oil, and products Sunflower oil Avocado Flax Seed
Non-skim dairy foods Nuts and seeds Olives Walnuts

 

Some examples of nutrient-dense high-fat foods:

  • Avocados
  • Fatty fish such as salmon
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oils such as canola oil and extra virgin olive oil.

Choose more unsaturated fats and omega-3 fats, while limiting saturated fats.

Proteins (4 Calories/gram)

Proteins are compounds that consist of large molecules composed of one or more long chains of amino acids and are an essential part of our diets. In our bodies, proteins are essential, especially as structural components of body tissues such as muscles, hair, collagen, etc., and as enzymes and antibodies.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is currently at 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day². This RDA is designed to maintain nitrogen balance in the body for the average adult to prevent a state of negative nitrogen balance, where muscle is being broken down and used for energy. When muscle protein is being used as a source of energy, this can be a critical concern for athletes who are regularly involved in high-intensity activities such as strength training [Densie Webb, PhD, RD]. For that reason, athletes and active individuals typically require a higher amount of protein, focusing on high-quality proteins mainly from animal-based sources. Specific amounts needed would depend on each individual’s state, sport-type and intensity of workouts.

In general, protein ingestion around exercise time specifically, when muscles most need the amino acids, will boost muscle protein synthesis and recovery². That being said, more research is surely needed to specify exact timings that would be of most benefit. Additionally, since our bodies don’t store protein, spreading protein intake evenly throughout the day would be most beneficial.

Nutrient-rich protein sources

  • Eggs: a medium egg has around 6g of protein in an easily digestible form
  • Milk: dairy foods contain protein and bone-building calcium, too.
  • Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt is a great protein-rich food (Whey and Casein proteins)
  • Fish and seafood such as salmon, and cod
  • Nuts and nut-butters such as peanut butter
  • Pork: choose leaner cuts, and trim visible fat
  • Chicken and turkey: choose skinless as skin is high in saturated fats
  • Red meat/steaks: choose leaner cuts of beef such as extra lean ground beef and trim visible fat (white portion) from steaks

Examples of good protein food sources from Canada’s Food Guide

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Protein powders

Protein powders have become very popular due to some advantages such as being more convenient than other high-protein foods like meats, fish, eggs and dairy as they require no cooking- can be mixed with water and consumed on the go

In general, there are two types of protein powders formed from casein or whey proteins, which are animal-based milk protein isolates. Whey tends to be the more popular of the two, more available on the market and more consumed by individuals. Milk protein is usually a mixture of 80% casein and 20% whey. Casein is slow-digesting, whereas whey is fast-digesting. If you decide to incorporate protein powders as part of your diet, choose whey protein for pre, during and post a workout due to its quick absorption rate. Casein is an excellent protein source; however, it may be best consumed throughout the day or at bedtime to provide a slow supply of amino acids throughout the night needed to maintain muscle mass.

Although protein powders may not be deemed necessary when one consumes a high-quality protein diet from foods such as meats, poultry, seafood and others, it can be convenient for those on the go looking for a quick high-protein snack and can help with achieving higher protein requirements in endurance and strength athletes for example. They can be mixed with water on the go for a quick high-protein shake, or blended with fruit, milk and other ingredients into a smoothie. Some may use protein powders for increasing protein content of some baked goods such as high-protein muffins. Another form of protein powder is beneprotein, which is advantageous due to being flavour-less and can be mixed into most dishes and soups to enhance protein content when needed.

 fitness

FAQs

Are gluten-free foods healthier than regular foods?

With the rise of gluten-free products in the market, it’s easy to think their benefit might stretch beyond the target population: people with celiac disease.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body can’t digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley; it’s marked by damage to the small intestine that leads to deficiencies because nutrients can’t be absorbed. A blood test is used to diagnose celiac disease. Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, may be diagnosed when abdominal distress, and sometimes fatigue, regularly occurs after consuming gluten—and celiac disease has been ruled out. If you don’t have a medical reason for following a gluten-free diet, there’s no benefit.

(If you suspect you have trouble with gluten, don’t self-diagnose, see your doctor)

For more information on this topic, check-out this article written by registered dietitians on choosing gluten-free foods: http://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/will-going-gluten-free-make-you-healthier.aspx

Do I need to avoid fish and seafood because they’re high in mercury?

Health Canada recommends consuming at least two servings of fish per week to increase the consumption of healthy fats in our diet. Seafood sources high in mercury are things like shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin, and orange roughy, which we don’t eat on a daily basis and to be limited to approximately 150 grams/week in general. The types of fish lower in mercury and safer are the more common ones, being basa, tuna, cod, tilapia, salmon and no limit has been set on the consumption of those, health Canada recommends choosing a variety of meats in your diet and moderation.

For more information on Health Canada’s specific recommendations, rationale, and scientific evidence, here’s a link to their document: http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/chem-chim/environ/mercur/merc_fish_qa-poisson_qr-eng.php

Are GMO foods bad for me?

Genetic engineering can offer direct and indirect health benefits to consumers (ICSU). Direct benefits can come from improving the nutritional quality of foods, for example. Indirect health benefits can come from reduced pesticide use, and increased availability of affordable food to name a few examples. Here’s a great article on GMO: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/are-gmos-bad-for-your-health

Are organic foods healthier than non-organic?

The nutrient-level of organic and non-organic foods is very similar. Crops grown in a conventional vs. organic method might contain more pesticides; however, both are in safe amounts. Organic foods are also significantly more expensive.

Dietitians of Canada created a document, which provides more information on organic vs non-organic foods here: http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Grocery-Shopping/Are-organic-foods-better-for-my-health.aspx

Carbohydrates make you fat- FALSE

There’s nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates, if you eat more calories than your body needs or expends, that’s what leads to weight-gain. Undoubtedly, if you overindulge on carbohydrate-rich foods, that may increase your risk of weight-gain. If you cut-out healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, you’re missing out on your body’s main sources of fuel as well as vital nutrients and fiber. Here’s a great article written by a dietitian and includes a video summary on low-carb diets: http://www.dietvsdisease.org/do-carbs-make-you-fat/. Note that this information is about general health and weight-loss, and may not apply if you are in a bodybuilding competition prep

Are cleanses needed to clear toxins from our bodies?

Your body has its own system for removing toxins, namely, the liver, kidneys and spleen. There isn’t any evidence that not eating or consuming only juice for any period of time makes them do this job any better. If you’d like a more detailed response, here’s a link to an experts stance on detox diets: http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/weight_loss_diet_plans/is_doing_a_cleanse_a_good_idea

Is olive oil a good choice of fat for cooking?

While olive oil is certainly a healthy fat choice, and high in antioxidants derived from olives, it has a low smoke point, meaning it can burn with higher temperatures and lose some of its benefit. Olive oil is a great choice for salads or dishes where heating it is not involved. Fats with higher smoke point do not easily burn, such as canola oil, and are recommended for cooking in comparison to fats with lower smoke point such as olive oil.

References:

  1. Dietitians of Canada. http://www.dietitians.ca. 2016
  2. Health Canada. “Common Menu Bar Links.” Dietary Reference Intakes Tables [ Health Canada 2005]. Updated 29 Nov, 2010.
  3. Manore, Melinda, Nanna L. Meyer, and Janice Thompson. Sports Nutrition for Health and Performance. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 2009. Print.
  4. Zoorob, Roger, MD, MPH, Mari-Etta E. Parrish, RD, LDN, CSSD, Heather O’Hara, MD, MPH, and Medhat Kalliny, MD, PhD. “Sports Nutrition Needs Before, During and After Exercise.” Sports Nutrition: 475-86. Pubmed.

 

 

By |2019-01-29T02:05:14+00:00November 10th, 2016|Fitness|5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Pete July 1, 2019 at 1:36 am - Reply

    Wow, what a great insight you got on your article. I really was into reading it thank you for sharing.

    • 13w6a July 1, 2019 at 4:17 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the feedback, glad you found it informative!

  2. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you should publish more on this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but generally folks don’t discuss such subjects. To the next! Best wishes!!| а

  3. Fitoru Keto April 3, 2020 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Great post! This really gave me a better understanding about macronutrients. Thanks a lot for posting!

    • 13w6a July 24, 2020 at 5:08 am - Reply

      You are very welcome. I am happy you found it helpful!

      In health,
      Hannah Deacon, B.Sc., RD, CPT

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