Macronutrients are the substances required by our body in order to maintain our everyday functions. The three main macronutrients for humans are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. You have probably heard that a balanced diet consists of all three of these nutrients, but today I thought I would take a closer look at why these nutrients play such an important role.
Carbohydrates - Carbohydrates are your body’s first and main source of fuel. They are needed to provide energy to your physical body, as well as assist in the function of your brain, and the operation of all your organs. Carbohydrates also play an important role in the function of your digestive system, helping to move food along as it is digested and then in the elimination of waste.
Carbohydrates fall into two categories:
- Simple carbs - These simple carbs are basically made from smaller sugar molecules and are easily digested, converted and stored as glycogen. If you don’t use this energy whilst it is there, it will be transported to long term storage, which means it gets converted into fat. Simple carbs are sometimes referred to as ‘bad’ carbs and are found in refined wheat products such as white bread, sugary drinks, candy and pastries.
- Complex carbs - The chemical structure and fibres involved in complex carbs mean that your body has to work harder to digest it and the energy from them are released more slowly into your body. These are generally considered the ‘good’ carbs and are found in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Protein - Protein is an essential macronutrient that has many critical roles in your body. Apart from being predominantly formed from protein, you need protein in your diet in order to rebuild and repair cells as well as regulation of all your body’s tissues and organs. It is the amino acids that protein is formed from (often referred to as the ‘building blocks of life’), that we need in order to build, repair and maintain our body. There are actually 20 amino acids found in our body, 11 of which we can synthesise ourselves, but 9 of which need to be gained through our diet. These are referred to as the ‘9 essential amino acids’.
Proteins are broken into two categories as well:
- Complete proteins - These are foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids. Some examples include meats, eggs, tempeh, quinoa and buckwheat.
- Incomplete proteins - These are foods that contain some of the 9 essential amino acids. Some examples include beans, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Fats - Fats have several roles in your body. Apart from being a backup energy source, they also help regulate your core body temperature as well as assist in the absorption of other essential nutrients such as vitamin D, E and beta carotene.
Fats can also be broken down into two categories:
- Good fats - Generally speaking, in their refined form, all good fats are liquid at room temperature. Good fats include monounsaturated fats (omega 9) and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3). Foods that contain good fats include avocados, nuts, seeds and salmon.
- Bad fats - Bad fats include trans and saturated fats. Trans fats are artificially produced by converting liquid fats into solids (margarine is a good example). Saturated fats are also typically solid at room temperature. They are found in many types of meat and animal products.
So now you have a better idea just why you need to balance these three main macronutrients in your diet on a daily basis!