“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” -Ayurvedic Proverb

As we continue our Eat to Replete series, we are learning to move away from the dogma of “diets” and instead explore how our bodies use food for fuel. 

To recap last week’s message, we followed the path of food from consumption to elimination by understanding how our bodies digest food. If you missed last week’s blog, you can read it here.

This week, we’re going to dive further into our food, which provides our bodies with necessary macronutrients and micronutrients. 

Macronutrients Vs Micronutrients

Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and they are termed macronutrients because our bodies require them in larger quantities.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A and C, zinc, calcium, iron, etc. Our bodies require micronutrients in smaller quantities compared to macronutrients.

Today our focus will be on macronutrients. 

During digestion, our bodies break down each macronutrient into elementary compounds used for different purposes.

Some of today’s popular diets promote the importance of one macronutrient over the others.  But the truth is that our bodies require all three macronutrients for optimal function. 

Carbohydrates: Crucial Energy Source

Our bodies’ main and preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are eventually broken down into sugar (glucose), but the speed at which carbohydrates are broken down depends on the type of carbohydrates they are.

Simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugar molecules, which the body is able to break down fairly quickly. 

Unfortunately, these types of carbs aren’t very sustainable energy sources. Typically processed foods such as white bread, candy, junk food, soda, desserts, etc. contain simple carbohydrates.

Eating a large amount of simple carbs in one sitting can cause a spike in blood sugar because the body is having to deal with a lot of sugar at once. Once the body fully digests these sugars, blood sugar levels come back down.

Constant up and down of blood sugar can have negative effects on your metabolism and hormones, especially insulin.  Not only that, but it can be inflammatory to the body.  

Secondly, we have complex carbohydrates which consist of fiber and starches. Starches are made up of chains of sugar molecules, which take longer to break down and require more enzymes to do so compared to simple carbohydrates. 

Eventually the body breaks down starches into individual sugar molecules in the same way simple carbs are. 

On the other hand, fiber is not considered a nutrient because it is not digested by the body, but it has many other health benefits. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, so eating complex carbs does not cause blood sugar to spike the way eating simple carbs does. 

Also, fiber adds bulk to our waste and promotes regular bowel movements. Complex carbs include whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats), starchy and non starchy vegetables, beans, and legumes.

When it comes to losing weight, carbohydrates often have a bad reputation. This is why low carb diets, like keto for example, are promoted for weight loss.

If you aren’t familiar with keto, it is a diet in which very little carbohydrates are eaten, therefore the body begins to use fat as its source of energy.

Our bodies will always use glucose as its main source of fuel if it is available. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and converted into energy, and any excess glucose gets stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. When exercising, or if our blood sugar becomes low, our bodies are triggered to turn glycogen back into glucose for energy.

Downside of Keto Diet

With keto, not enough glucose is available. This forces the body to burn fat for fuel. If you’re looking to lose weight, this might sound like a dream come true. 

But while keto has its benefits for some people, for others it could cause more harm than good. 

When the body burns fat for fuel, acids known as ketones are created as a byproduct. People with diabetes should not follow a keto diet unless under a doctor’s supervision because elevated ketones in the blood may trigger ketoacidosis. 

Ketoacidosis is a condition in which the blood becomes too acidic and may cause permanent damage to the organs. 

Additionally, a keto diet is not for anyone who has had their gallbladder removed. When fat is digested, the gallbladder secretes bile which helps break down the fat. If you’ve had your gallbladder removed, fat is unable to be digested appropriately. 

These are good examples of how certain diets are not for everyone and it’s important to work with a specialized practitioner before beginning any diet plan.

Protein for Growth and Repair

When we think of protein we often think of animal meat sources, such as grilled chicken breast, hamburger, or steak, for example.

Proteins as macronutrients are the main components of these foods and through digestion, proteins are broken down into their building blocks, which are called amino acids.

Both foods and body cells are made up of many, many proteins. There are hundreds of amino acids found in nature, and unique combinations of these amino acids make the different proteins found in various foods. The composition and arrangement of amino acids make the proteins found in meat different from the proteins found in beans. 

As for body cells, about 20 amino acids are used to create thousands of proteins with different structures and functions within the human body.

Some of these proteins are used for growth and repair of EVERY body cell, not just muscle tissue like we typically think of. Other proteins may be used to regulate various body functions or help in the production of enzymes and hormones.

Out of the 20 amino acids used by the body, 9 of them are essential. This means we don’t make these amino acids ourselves and must get them through our diet. The other 11 are non-essential, meaning our bodies make sufficient amounts of these amino acids.

It is important to get an abundance of all amino acids because different amino acids create different proteins which play different roles. If the body doesn’t have what it needs to create a specific protein, it will break down muscle tissue in order to acquire the building blocks it needs.

Foods that contain protein are classified in two ways: complete and incomplete. 

Complete protein sources supply the body with all nine essential amino acids in enough amounts required to make new proteins in the body. These are typically animal based foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese. 

Incomplete protein sources lack one or more essential amino acids. Plant based proteins, such as nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and legumes are incomplete proteins. 

How Much Protein is Enough?

For vegetarians and vegans, there is risk of not getting enough essential amino acids through diet since animal products are not consumed. In this case, it is necessary to combine different incomplete protein sources to obtain all the essential amino acids. 

One plant based protein contains different amino acids from another plant based protein. Therefore, eating the right amounts in combination with one another will provide you with everything you need.

How much protein you need each day depends on your body composition, health status, and health goals. 

For those of you who are looking to build muscle mass, you might be wondering how much protein you should add to your diet to do so.

While protein is necessary for building muscle, there is a point where excess protein no longer becomes useful. 

Unlike carbohydrates, excess protein is not stored for later use as protein. Instead, it is broken down and converted to body fat or glycogen for energy storage.

In order to take full advantage of the protein you eat, working with a practitioner will help you determine how much protein is necessary to meet your goals.

Misconception of Fat

The last macronutrient we’ll talk about today is fat. For a long time, the belief was that fat is bad for you and that you should limit it in your diet as much as possible. 

This research has since been outdated. Now the focus is on eating a balance of different types of fat, rather than limiting total fat intake.

The building blocks of fats are fatty acids, and fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated. 

Without going into too much chemistry, I’ll explain the difference between the two. Fatty acids are made up of chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. 

Chains in which carbon atoms are attached to as many hydrogen atoms as they can possibly hold are saturated fatty acids because the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen. 

Unsaturated fatty acids are chains in which some hydrogen atoms are missing, causing double bonds to be formed. There are two types of unsaturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fatty acids have 1 double bond and polyunsaturated fatty acids have multiple double bonds.

The composition of these different fatty acid chains allows different kinds of fats to have different properties.

For example, the bonds of saturated fatty acids are more stable, which allows them to be solid at room temperature. Saturated fats include butter, lard, fat in meats (think about how bacon grease hardens as it cools), and coconut oil.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Here are examples of both types of unsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats

  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

Polyunsaturated fats

  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Flaxseed oil 
  • Soybean oil

What’s the Deal with Fat-Free Foods?

Typically, saturated fats are associated with high cholesterol and heart disease, while unsaturated fats are deemed “healthy” fats. Omega 3 fatty acids, which you’ve probably heard of, are a type of unsaturated fatty acid.

However, eating moderate amounts of saturated fat is not going to increase your risk of disease and eating a balance of all types of fats is what we should ultimately aim for.

Fat as a macronutrient is necessary because it plays many vital roles in our health. Fat supports cell growth and acts as protection for our organs. 

It is also required for the absorption and transportation of fat soluble vitamins, which are Vitamins A, D, E, and K. 

In an attempt to reduce calories to lose weight, many people opt for low-fat or fat-free foods. Unfortunately, eating these kinds of foods doesn’t make you any healthier. Low-fat and fat-free foods are highly processed since the fat has to be removed. 

Fat provides texture and flavor for many foods, therefore when it is removed, foods become very bland. In an attempt to make these foods more appetizing, food manufacturers add excessive sugar, salt, and artificial ingredients to improve flavor.

Because fat is necessary for optimal health, for weight loss, you are much better off eating healthy fats in moderation than trying to remove fat from your diet completely.

Food is Not the Enemy

By now I hope your relationship with food is changing.

Every diet has its limitations, so instead of focusing on which diet will work best for you, it’s more important to take a look at what you’re putting into your body and how it’s affecting you. 

What’s healthy for your body might not necessarily be healthy for someone else, and what’s toxic for you might not be toxic for them.

All of us require carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to optimize our health, but depending on our goals, lifestyle, and health history, the amounts needed of each of these macronutrients can vary from person to person.

Food has the power to heal our bodies considering we use it in a way that agrees with our bodies.

Have you been trying to achieve some health goals but find that food is complicating things for you?

I would love to help!

I’ll help you simplify your thinking when it comes to your eating and get you on the right track.

Have any questions about Nutrition Therapy before diving in with me? Email me at leslie@alkalinewellness.com and I’d be happy to answer your questions.

Otherwise call 678-335-5566 to set up an appointment!

If you found this message on macronutrients helpful, please stay tuned as we have 2 more messages in our Eat to Replete series. Next week I’ll be discussing more about gut health and the gut-brain connection.

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Talk soon!

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