Macro Nutrients - Your Diet Basics
This article takes a look at the essential nutritional elements that you are made of and gives some important advice on how to make sure you are getting the right quanitities to stay healthy. Macronutrients are fat, protein and carbohydrates. The body requires these nutrients in relatively large quantities to develop, grow and repair, which is why they are called 'macronutrients.' Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (like iron and zinc), required in smaller amounts but nevetheless crucial for optimal health.
Your body is made up of roughly 62% water, 16% protein, 16% fat and 6% minerals and vitamins. Each molecule that constitutes you comes from the food you eat and the water you drink. Eating quality food in the right quantities helps you to achieve your highest potential for long-term health.
Fats (approx 35-50% of diet)
Fats can be divided into two basic types: natural and unnatural. The natural ones are an essential part of any healthy diet, whereas the unnatural ones are not. Natural fats play an essential role in the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system, joints and skin. We also require fats in our diet to be able to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Omega-3 and omega-6 - are often referred to as ‘essential fats’. This means that the body cannot make them and therefore they need to be absorbed through food. The optimal diet should provide a specific balance of these healthy fats but in fact most of us have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. Chia and flaxseeds are good sources of omega-3, as are walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Omega-3 fats are converted in the body into EPA and DHA, which are also found in sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna. These essential fats are easily destroyed by heat, light or exposure to oxygen, so having a fresh daily source is important.
Although not essential, mono-unsaturated fats – e.g. olive and avocado oil – also have many health benefits as well. Saturated fat has long been suspected to promote heart disease, but we now know that it does not ‘per se’ cause or contribute to heart disease. The wrong kinds of fats are damaged fats, which are harmful. Those are hydrogenated (hardened) vegetable fats called trans fats – also found in anything deep-fried such as crisps and chips – as well as processed vegetable oils.
- Fish, nuts, avocados, olives & coconut oil.
- 1 tablespoon of crushed seeds or seed oil a day.
- fried food
- browned foods and hydrogenated fats
- processed vegetable oils.
(approx 15-25% of diet)
The 21 amino acids (building blocks of protein) are essential for the growth and repair of body tissue. They are also used to make hormones, enzymes, antibodies and neurotransmitters and help transport substances around the body. Both the quality and quantity of the protein you eat is important. The average breast-fed baby receives just 1% of its total calories from protein and manages to double its birth weight in 6 months. That is because the protein from breast milk is very good quality and easily absorbed. The best quality protein foods in terms of amino acid balance include eggs, quinoa, soya, meat and fish. Grains and pulses do not contain all essential amino acids but when combined they do: for example rice with beans.
Make sure to get your animal protein from the best sources you can, ideally organic, free range and grass-fed. Non-organic dairy can be high in hormones. Grass-fed beef has a better fat composition than conventional meat. Fat from organic animals is less likely to be contaminated with toxins, so you can eat it, whereas it is better to drain or cut off the fat from conventionally raised animals. Protein sources that have been processed to lower the fat content (such as skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt or cheese) are higher in carbohydrates and often added sugar and not recommended.
- 3 - 5 daily servings of beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu or other vegetable protein or
- 2 - 3 servings of meat, fish, cheese, eggs.
Choose organic animal protein where possible. If you choose vegetable protein, remember to count the carbs with your GL allowance.
- Too much animal protein from factory-farmed sources.
- ‘Low-fat’ protein sources.
(approx. 25-40% of diet)
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for the body. Included in this macronutrient category are bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, other refined carbs, all vegetables and all fruits. They range from being very fast releasing carbs or high GL: sugar, honey, white bread, refined foods, to very slow releasing or low GL: non starchy veg, e.g. green leafy veg and low sugar fresh fruits such as berries. Fast releasing carbs give a sudden burst of energy, followed by a slump, whilst slow releasing carbs provide more sustained energy and are therefore much better. This is a key distinction that you will come to understand whilst following a low GL diet.
Fruit: max. 2 servings of low-GL fruit a day.
Vegetables: 5 or more servings of non-starchy veg/day (e.g. green veg, salad, mushrooms, peppers, onions, etc.).
Starchy carbs: (e.g. bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, parsnips): choose whole grain, unrefined options and limit intake.
- Low GL fruit and veg, most of our carbs should come from this source.
white flour products
Fibre (no less than 35g per day)
Rural Africans eat about 55g of dietary fibre a day (compared with the UK average intake of 22g ) and have the lowest incidence of bowel diseases. Fibre absorbs water in the digestive tract, making the food contents bulkier and easier to pass through the gut. Fruit and vegetable fibre helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood, helping to maintain good energy levels and balanced blood sugar levels.
fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Refined, white and overcooked foods.
Water (2 litres a day)
Two thirds of the body is made up of water, making it our most prevalent and important nutrient. We lose 1.5 litres of water a day through the skin, lungs, gut and via the kidneys as urine. These processes help to rid the body of harmful toxins. We also make about a third of a litre of water a day when glucose is ‘burnt’ for energy. Therefore our minimum water intake from food and drink needs to be more than 1.5 litres a day to stay healthy and support our kidneys. Do not wait until you feel thirsty before drinking. If your mouth is dry, this means that you are already dehydrated.
- 6-8 glasses of water, herbal or fruit teas per day.
- Your intake of alcohol, coffee and tea.