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What are macronutrients? Everything you need to know!

The term Macronutrients has become a bit of a buzz word these days. Some folks refer to being on a Macro diet. The theory behind a Macro Diet is that you can eat basically what you want without counting calories. Instead, you count your macros. So what are macronutrients anyway?

healthy foods on a table

What are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the three basic components of everything we eat. They are protein, carbohydrates and fat. Some foods contain all of the macronutrients and some contain just one or two of them. Macronutrients are what the body needs for energy (aka, calories) Let’s look at each macronutrient in more detail.

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates include fiber, sugar and starches. They are the main component of fuel for your body. They come in two forms: simple and complex.

Without getting too scientific, complex carbohydrates are “healthy sugars.”  They contain fiber or starches. Foods like potatoes and whole wheat pasta contain complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates include sugars like high fructose corn syrup and table sugar. Healthy forms of simple carbohydrates include honey and maple syrup.

Some fad diets say that all carbohydrates are bad. This just isn’t true. This macronutrient is essential to your body for a number of reasons. According to Washing State University, Carbohydrates play the following role in your body:

  • Fuel during high intensity exercise
  • Spares protein (to preserve muscle mass during exercisee)
  • Fuel for the Central Nervous System (your brain!)

The amount of carbohydrates your body needs depends on your activity level. If you are mostly sedentary, you only need about 45-50% of carbs in your diet. The more active you are, the higher that number should be.

How many carbs do you need?

That said, not all carbohydrates are created equally. You can get plenty of carbs from junk food. You want to get your carbs from healthy sources such as whole grains, low fat dairy, and whole fruits. I especially like to find my carbs in sources like winter squash, beans, and ancient grains like quinoa.

macronutrients pin

What are Protiens?

Protein is another macronutrient. Protein does not provide a direct sources of energy. Instead, it works like a building block for other structures in the body. It helps the body to regenerate and repair cells and body tissue. Protein also helps with manufacturing hormones and keeping your immune system healthy. It helps produce the proper amount of amino acids that your body needs for optimal function. A few of my favorite protein sources include salmon, avocado, beets, kale, and spinach. Other sources of protein include:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts (unsalted)
  • Raw dark greens

how much protein do you need

Here are a few of my favorite protein rich recipes:

What are Fats?

Lastly, fat is a macronutrient that is important for balanced health. The amount of fat your body needs seems to vary from year to year. Some diets suggest a low to even no-fat approach. The USDA recommends that fats should be about 25-35% of your daily calories. As with the other macronutrients, healthy fats are where it’s at. The best sources of fat are whole foods that are nutrient dense. They come with healthy servings of fiber and phytonutrients. Excellent sources of healthy fats include:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fatty fish like salmon, oysters, etc.
  • Olives
  • Coconut
  • Dark chocolate
  • Healthy oils – flaxseed, sunflower, sesame, grapeseed, etc.

how much fat do you need

Some fats provide essential fatty acids for our bodies. The term essential means that our bodies can’t produce them, but need to get them from our diet. Essential fatty acids that are bodies need are  omega-3 and omega-6. The foods listed above help to provide these essential fats.

What are Macronutrients Quiz

No, I’m not really going to give you a quiz, but some takeaways to consider about macronutrients. Obviously all three are crucial to your overall health. The goal of any healthy diet is to provide your body with the fuel it needs to keep nourished and perform typical daily activities. Stay clear of  crash diets full of prepackaged foods. Keeping in mind a balance of healthy macronutrients is vital for staying healthy.

There are a number of apps out there to help you track your macronutrient intake. Runtastic Balance is one that I like. By tracking what you eat, you’ll get an overview of the fat, carbs, protein you consume.

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