Understanding Macronutrients – Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Typically Work
With the food options we have these days, it has become quite hard to decipher which ones are healthy or not. Dr. Trisha Murray shares her knowledge about macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – and how they benefit and/or harm us. She reminds us of the rainbow concept of eating fruits and vegetables while also touching on proteins that contain amino acids, as well as fats and calorie counting. Know more about the good and the bad of these macronutrients and the different food sources that you may consume or avoid.
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Understanding Macronutrients – Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Typically Work
This episode is on macronutrients. The macronutrients that we get from our food predominantly are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We’re going to spend our time talking about these three different macronutrients and how they benefit us or how they may not benefit us. Let’s start with carbohydrates. For every gram of carbohydrate you eat, you get four calories per gram. When you count your calories, you’re counting the amount of energy that’s produced per gram of whatever that food may be. When you eat a gram of carbohydrate, fruits, vegetables, but many of us eat too many processed packaged carbohydrates like grains and crackers, breads, muffins, rice, we get too much sugar. 40% to 60% of the total calorie you eat each day should come from carbohydrates, but we also want to get them from the right source of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates serve as the body’s main fuel source, 40 to 60% of your diet, because they are easily broken down into simple sugars that the body can use immediately for fuel that particularly breaks down into glucose which is sugar and is a fuel for your body. There are three categories of different kinds of carbohydrates. One, there are starches, so starchy foods like potatoes or grains or beans. Those would all be starchy examples. Number two, fiber. Different types of fiber for example are wheat bran or oat bran or vegetable cellulose, the different fibers within the grains or the vegetables. The third category within carbohydrates is glycogen. Glycogen is a very quick–release high–energy fuel that is typically stored natively in muscle and liver. These are the different kinds of carbohydrates that you’re ingesting when you eat plants and animals.
The one thing I want to emphasize though is that most of us are getting far too many of our carbohydrates from processed foods. You need to be getting the majority of your carbohydrates with nutrient–rich, antioxidant fruits and vegetables. Every fruit and every vegetable give you carbohydrates, but they are the right kind of carbohydrates. Back to the rainbow concept. You want to eat all the colors of the rainbow: red, yellow, green, orange, purple, blue. I don’t mean Skittles, I mean fruits and vegetables. We should be eating exactly 40% to 60% of the food we put in our mouths. When you count calories, you are counting energy that is produced per gram of your food intake.
However, I will say make sure you tolerate gluten because 20% to 40% of us do not tolerate gluten. If you do tolerate gluten, then grain-sprouted breads do have some essential nutrients and they have essential fiber in them. However, I and the rainbow concept recommend, that you do not eat more than one to two servings of breads or grains a day. If you think about it, the typical American is probably eating anywhere from four to seven servings of grains a day, and that’s why we have diabetes and an obesity epidemic. We’re all getting far too many grains which get converted to glucose which causes problems with our ability to metabolize sugar.
Let’s move on to proteins, the next macronutrient in our diets. When you ingest protein, every gram of protein gives you the same as carbohydrates, four calories. It’s four calories per gram of every gram of protein. Protein should be about 20% to 30% of the total calories of your diet. How are you going to guesstimate this? It is estimated that an average person who doesn’t have any kidney disease for example and is a healthy person essentially, should eat about one gram of protein for every one pound of lean body mass. For example, if the average person weighs upwards of let’s take 175 pounds, whether that be male or female. You can take other numbers, but the idea would be let’s say 175 pounds and let’s say 30% of that is not lean body mass.
If we go down to give or take about 125 pounds of lean body mass, depending on whether you have more fat content on your body or not. The lean body mass is your bones, your muscles, your water. Let’s say it’s 125 pounds of lean body mass, then you would want to be ingesting 125 grams of protein a day. A lot of people out there are not getting enough protein or the other thing they’re doing is they’re eating too much protein at one sitting, like when you have dinner and you get a sixteen-ounce steak. You can’t absorb, metabolize, break down and utilize all that protein in one sitting. The other thing you want to remember is that you need to spread out in smaller portions your protein intake.
Why is protein important? Because proteins provide the building blocks for your tissues, bones, muscles, skin, nails, hair and those building blocks are called amino acids. We need them to build our structure and maintain our structure. The best type of protein that’s out there is grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, which means when you go to the store, you’re going to look at the little signs through the counter and you’re not going to buy the ones that are domestically raised on farms that raise fish. You’re going to buy wild–caught fish or pasture-raised eggs. Sometimes, meat will be labeled organic or sometimes not, but it will be pasture or grass-fed. You don’t want to buy the commercially industrialized raised beef, cattle, meats and pigs. Why? Because they are typically given synthetic hormones.
Many times, they’re given those synthetic hormones to have them gain weight faster so that they can get them to market faster. When you eat that meat, you’re ingesting those hormones and it can make you sick, so you need to consider finding yourself grass-fed, wild-caught, pasture–raised animals in order to eat. I live in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and so for me, in a rural area where I live, there are many farmers out there that are raising their own and I’m able to find my neighbors and buy from them. If you have that ability, then please look for it and it’s growing more and more all over the country. As long as you look, you’re going to find it.
The other thing about the amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins is that there are essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids. In order to get what’s called a complete protein, it needs to contain all of the amino acids. To eat a substance or to eat a food that has all of the amino acids that make it what’s called a complete protein, it has to be an animal protein. Fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts do not make a complete protein. Eggs, meats, fish and animal proteins do and are complete proteins. What you need to realize is animal foods such as the meats I’ve listed contain more saturated fat, so you do want to choose lean meats like turkey or chicken. You can eat beef, lamb or these other meats, but mix it up and don’t eat too much all the time of the red meats and monitor the amounts you consume. How much you want to eat at a serving would be to look at your palm and eat a serving about the size of your palm at any one meal. Most of us are getting far too many of our carbohydrates from processed foods.
Incomplete proteins found in beans or nuts do not contain all of the amino acids but if you research it, you will find that you can combine for example rice and beans and that’s a typical vegetarian way to combine rice and beans in a meal and get a complete protein. The best protein source is eggs. Whole eggs contain high levels of lecithin and choline which reduce bad cholesterol. “What? Eggs reduce cholesterol?” We’ve had it wrong that eggs are bad for you because they’re high in cholesterol. Eggs are not bad for you. They have things in them that can help you reduce the bad cholesterol. They are one of nature’s perfect foods as the proteins are used more efficiently by the body than any other food. The thing you do want to realize is if you hard boil an egg or if you harden the yolk, the yolk becomes oxidized which produces free radicals in your body and will cause negatively formed LDL cholesterol. That’s the problem. What you want to do is soft boil an egg or over easy an egg so that the yolk stays somewhat liquefied and doesn’t get burned or hardened.
The other thing is there are quite a few grams of protein we’re all supposed to be ingesting and you’re not always going to eat that much meat throughout the day. One of the other things you could think about are protein supplements. Adding a smoothie for example with a protein supplement in it or just adding it to water in a water bottle of a protein–powdered supplement and shaking it and then drinking it could be a way for you to get enough protein such as at the breakfast hour or lunch or another time of the day. Things to keep in mind in any protein powder or any supplement you’re going to buy is absolutely avoid the unhealthy artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, Equal or these types of things. You do not want to be ingesting those. Those are not going to help you. They’re going to make you sick.
The best types of protein base of a protein supplement is you can find protein supplements in a powder that are egg white based. That’s a good idea. Hemp protein is good, brown rice protein, and the another one that’s good is whey. The thing you have to remember is whey comes from dairy. Whey is absorbed extremely rapidly and is great, particularly after let’s say a gym workout or an exercise workout, but if you have sensitivity to dairy, you can’t use whey because whey is dairy based. Let’s talk about fats. Fat is supposed to be 20% to 30% of the total calories you eat in a day. One gram of fat will give you nine calories of fuel. Fat has gotten a bad rep. We all have been taught, “No fat. Low fat. Don’t give me fat or I’m going to get fat.” What I want you to make sure you understand and one of the biggest messages of this show is that fat is not bad for you, if it’s the right kind of fat. Good fats are good, so we’ll need to talk about what are the good fats and what are the bad fats. What do you want to avoid and what do you want to eat?
The other thing I want you to make sure you understand is I’ve mentioned if every gram of fat gives you nine calories of fuel and what we said for protein and carbohydrates is they only give you four calories per gram of fuel. What I want you to understand is that when you have cereal, pancakes, grains, breakfast, doughnuts and muffins., you are giving yourself processed carbohydrates which is empty calories, hardly any nutrition.
The other thing is it’s not giving very much fuel that’s going to last very long. You’ll notice that you eat your breakfast at 8:00 in the morning and by 10:30, you’re already hungry again. What I would recommend is that we need to start putting more good fats back into your diet. It’s like if you have the concept of a wood stove and you put kindling to light a fire to get it going. If you keep putting more and more kindling in your wood stove or on your fire and you want to go to bed at night and stay warm, you’re going to be up all night long putting more wood on that fire. If you get it going with the kindling but then you put a big solid hardwood oak log on that fire and it’s able to get going and burn slowly, you’ll notice you’re going to be able to sleep through the night and stay warm. The same thing is true for fat. If you ingest good fats in your diet, you are not going to get hungry until four or even five hours later for your next meal. You notice you’re more satisfied, more equally, evenly burned fuel within your system and you’re actually going to lose weight eating fat. What a concept. Trans fats or hydrogenated fats in junk food or processed foods are poison.
Let’s talk about what are the correct fats to be reaching out for. Coconut oil, the actual fiber of the coconut, coconut milk, palm oil are excellent saturated fats. They are medium–chain triglyceride fats and they feed your brain. That’s why you’re seeing so many more coconut products out on the market because they are very good for you. The other thing you want to reach for and eat a lot of is olive oil or olives. They are monounsaturated fats and they are awesome for your health and decrease inflammation. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, cold water fish in particular like salmon. Nuts, almonds, cashews and pecans are all excellent forms of fat and they’re going to sustain you for longer periods of time. Meat products like animal proteins also have higher amounts of saturated fat. We do want to eat animal products to get the protein from them, but we also don’t want to overdo it. Back to that size of the palm of your hand and the fact that the animal protein should be a condiment, a quarter of your plate and the other three-quarters of your plate should be fruits and vegetables in color. When it comes to fats that are called trans fats or hydrogenated fats, you’re going to find margarine or vegetable oils or in many packaged processed foods like potato chips and such. This is poison. You should be avoiding it because what it does is it’s made to increase the shelf life of the food so it never goes bad. If you think about that, that’s going to make you sick and they’re bad fats that are a poison, so trans fats and hydrogenated fats are not good for you.
Fats are going to deliver you long–lasting energy much more than carbs or proteins. Researchers think that 80% of the US population consumes an inadequate amount of essential fatty acid, like the omega–3 fatty acids. Fats are also important for your skin, your hair and your nails. Fats allow the transport of fat–soluble vitamins like vitamin D and vitamin A, to be able to transport around your body. Hormones, come from cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat and is where all of your hormones just about start from. We need fat in order to have balanced hormones. The final thing here is that your brain is 60% fat, so we need good healthy fats in our diet. Why are we having Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline and dementia epidemic too along with our diabetes and obesity epidemic? Because we aren’t eating the right percentage of macronutrients to keep us healthy. I hope this has helped. I hope you’ve learned something and I will catch up with you on our next episode.