Macros (macronutrients) are the nutrients found in food that our body needs in large quantities to sustain life. They provide sources of energy that we call calories and we need each of these sources so our body can fully function.
No doubt you hear about them all the time:
> Carbs (Carbohydrates)
They are purposely listed in alphabetical order because they are all EQUAL in importance.
Here’s the breakdown of each one and SOME common foods they are found in.
1. Carbs are our main source of energy and fuel. They are an important part of a balanced diet! But not all carbs are created equal.
Simple carbs are absorbed very easily and will cause a spike in our blood sugar. We might get a burst of energy, but once that sugar is used up, it typically will lead to a “sugar crash” or feeling fatigued. These are the ones found in snack foods, desserts and packaged food. They provide plenty of calories and no real nutrition.
Fruit is an exception here. It is a simple carb but also provides a lot of other nutrients and benefits, mainly when eaten raw and whole.
Complex carbs are digested more slowly, keeping our blood sugar stabilized and helping us feel full. These would be whole grain foods like brown rice, oats (and other grains), potatoes/sweet potatoes (and other starchy veggies), beans, peas (and other legumes) and 100% whole grain breads and pastas. Consume more of these types of carbs over simple carbs as much as possible.
I can’t leave out fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and one that you should pay attention to. Both soluble and insoluble fiber help with gut health, bowel regularity, and heart health by lowering cholesterol (it reduces absorption of fat in the bloodstream). Whole grains and plant foods (veggies, fruits, beans, nuts & seeds) provide the most fiber. Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day. You won’t regret it.
2. Fat helps regulate our hormones (hormones affect everything including our appetite, brain function and every body function!). It also helps with vitamin and nutrient absorption, and provides us with fuel for energy.
Like carbs, all fats are not created equal.
Unsaturated fats are the ones giving us the most health benefits. These include nuts, seeds, avocados and oils made from them. (These oils are typically liquid at room temperature.) Don’t forget about fish for those important omega 3’s!
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Things like butter, cheese, ice cream, snack foods, and meats like beef, sausage, bacon. All the tasty ones, right? They have been known to build up in the blood if you tend to eat too much of them. Enjoy them but in smaller portions.
Trans Fats are the worst ones. Thankfully, they were banned in the US in 2020. But up until then they were found in foods like margarine and shortening and those famous refrigerated doughs in the blue tube.
3. Protein helps us feel full and satisfied, helps our muscles grow and stay strong, and is found throughout our entire body (including our skin, hair & nails). Protein is my favorite macro because it can be relatively lower in calories so I can eat a bit more and it keeps me feeling satiated for a long time.
Protein can be found in animals and plants.
Animal proteins include poultry, meats, seafood, eggs and dairy. Eat high quality, low fat protein as often as possible. Limit processed meats like bacon, sausage, hotdogs, lunch meat and full fat dairy.
Plant proteins include beans and legumes like lentils, peas, edamame (and other soy products), whole grains and nuts and seeds. Some veggies have a little protein also. You may notice some of these foods were also under complex carbs as they contain high amounts of both macros.
The bottom line is that all of these foods are crucial for our body to function at its best. “Best” might mean something different for each of us, but likely it includes most of these: weight maintenance, reduced pain and inflammation, good quality sleep, energy, digestion and feeling more alert, healthy and well.
Good nutrition also helps fight against and recover from diseases, illnesses and even mental health struggles.
You don’t have to obsess about macros and worry about getting the exact amount of each. (Unless you want to or have specific goals that require it.)
But, try to make every meal as balanced as possible and find what makes YOU feel your best. Your eating style may be unique to you and that’s ok.
Use this graphic as a visual reminder and starting point for building healthy meals.