Beginners Guide to Dieting with Macronutrients
Nutrients are the substances needed by humans to function and grow. Macronutrients are special nutrients that provide energy from calories. The prefix “macro-” means “large.” By breaking down this word, it’s possible to deduce that living beings need macronutrients in large quantities to function and maintain optimal health. A diet rich in macronutrients should provide much of the nutrition needed to stay healthy.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients divide into three separate categories: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each of these macronutrient groups provide important and specific calories that enable a person to function optimally. However, the amount of calories provided by different macronutrients varies. Carbohydrates and protein each provide four calories for every gram. Fat provides nine calories for every gram. To calculate the caloric content of a food, you would multiply the number of grams of carbohydrates and proteins by four and the number of grams of fat by nine, then add these totals together.
Many people with a focus on fitness wish to avoid fats and try to eliminate them from their diets. Although too much fat is not healthy, humans need a minimum amount of fat to function. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people should not exceed 30 percent of their total caloric intake from fat. So for an adult who consumes 1,800 calories per day, not more than 540 of these calories should come from fat sources. The body uses fat for growth and development, for energy, and to maintain cell membranes. Additionally, fat serves as a cushion for organs. Fat also helps the body absorb some vitamins, such as A, D, and K. When foods have some fat in them, they generally have a richer taste and creamier consistency.
Professionals recommend that between 10 and 35 percent of total caloric intake should come from proteins. Proteins are present in poultry, fish, meat, dairy products, nuts, and legumes. Some starchy vegetables are also minor sources of protein. The body uses protein for growth and tissue repair. Proteins in the diet also help the body maintain a strong immune system. If carbohydrates are not available, the body can use proteins as a source of energy. Proteins also help the body produce enzymes and hormones. The body utilizes protein by breaking it down into amino acids. The body can manufacture some of the amino acids it needs, but others must come from the diet. Protein that comes from animals, such as meat, poultry, and fish, provides the body with every essential amino acid. Plant proteins contain only some of the needed amino acids, so they need to be eaten in combinations in order to make sure that all of the amino acids are included in a vegetarian’s diet.
Of the three different macronutrient groups, the body needs the largest amount of carbohydrates every day. For optimal health, people should consume between 45 and 65 percent of their total calories in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates serve as the fuel the body needs because it can so easily convert them directly into energy. Cells and tissues in the body utilize glucose for energy, and organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys need carbohydrates to function correctly. The muscles and liver are able to store excess carbohydrates for future use by the body. Optimal intestinal health is also connected with a regular diet of complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are present in grains, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. Not all carbohydrates are the same, however. Simple carbohydrates come from single sugar molecules, glucose and fructose. Complex carbohydrates are present in starchy and fibrous foods. When the body receives simple carbohydrates, it breaks them down quickly. Blood glucose levels then rise as a result. When the body receives complex carbohydrates, it breaks them down slowly into glucose. This means that blood glucose levels will not experience the same rapid spike that happens with simple carbohydrates. An overload of simple carbohydrates can cause the pancreas to have to work harder to produce insulin that is necessary for transporting glucose throughout cell membranes.
- Overview of Nutrition
- Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients (PDF)
- Plant Nutrients
- Macronutrients: The Body’s Building Blocks (PDF)
- Nutritious Diet (PDF)
- Let Food Be Thy Medicine (PDF)
- Learning How to Eat (PDF)
- Calories: Total Macronutrient Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Net Energy Stores
- The Best Diet: Quality Counts
- Digestion and Absorption (PDF)
- Nutrition Tips (PDF)
- Nutrition for Strength/Power Athletes (PDF)
- Employee Wellness/Macronutrients
- Choose a Diet Low in Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol
Summer Banks has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with professionals in the weight loss industry and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University.