Macronutrients At-A-Glance for You
We all know that the food we eat gives us energy for our activities and helps maintain the body and its various organs in good working condition. A balanced diet with the right kind of nutrition and with the right amount of calories; this is the mantra we have all grown up hearing. But what exactly is a balanced diet and what are calories? And also how to know how much we should eat in a day? To know more on these, let’s read on.
Our bodies cannot make everything they need for survival. For energy, growth and repair, our bodies depend on the nutrition we derive from the food we eat every day.
Our food contains nutrients that can be defined as ‘compounds found in food that are essential to life, health and body functions’.
These nutrients are needed for:
🔹 Fuel i.e. energy (measured in calories)
🔹 Building blocks for repair and growth
🔹 Substances needed for all the biochemical processes that go on in the body
Depending on the amount needed, nutrients in our food can be classified into two categories: Macronutrients (needed in larger quantities) and micronutrients (needed in smaller quantities).
Macro means large and macronutrients are those needed by the body in large quantities. Their main jobs are to provide:
🔹 Fuel to meet the energy needs of the body. Every time you move, or work, or think or even when you rest, your heart beats, you breathe – you need energy for all these.
🔹 Building blocks for tissues and repair damages.
The three major macronutrient groups are carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Your body needs all these on a daily basis. The more physical activity you undertake, the more macronutrients you need.
These are minerals and vitamins that are vital for health but are needed in smaller quantities. Even though these are required in tiny quantities, they are vital to wellness and their lack can cause health issues.
More on Macronutrients and Calories
Before we move on to individual macronutrients, here is a word on calories.
What’s a calorie? Nothing complicated. A calorie is only a unit measure of the energy released by the food on digestion and metabolism. This is the energy that’s then used by the body for its various functions.
Simple, isn’t it, that if you undertake physical activities (running, athletics, swimming etc) that need a lot of energy, your calorie intake needs to be higher to meet energy needs. If your lifestyle is sedentary, the calories required would be lesser.
In general, women need a lesser amount of calories and men need more. The average recommended amount is 2000 calories per day for women and 2500 calories per day for men. Of course, these calorie requirements can vary as per the activity profile.
First, a look at the role each macronutrient plays and the effect it has on your body.
Carbohydrates or carbs are a major energy source. Carbs are of two types: complex carbs (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides) that break down slowly and are converted into simpler sugars at a slower pace. Then there are simple carbs (monosaccharides like glucose and disaccharides like sucrose) that are ready fuels. Complex carbs are generally considered healthier as these do not cause a spike in blood sugar levels as fast as simple carbs tend to.
One gram of carbs on burning gives 4 calories.
Major carbohydrate sources: potatoes, grains, bread, pasta, rice, dairy, and fruits.
What happens if your diet doesn’t have enough carbs:
Initially, a very low carb diet may help you lose body weight but in the longer run, the cardiovascular risks go up. Very low carb diets are generally considered unsafe.
How much carbs to eat in a day:
45-65% calories in your diet should come from carbohydrates.
Proteins provide amino acids that are the building blocks for a major portion of our bodies. Our tissues, blood, plasma, hair, nails, skin, bones, tendons, muscles etc, all contain proteins. Proteins also make up cell membranes. These are also critical to the production and functioning of hormones and enzymes. There are 11 types of amino acids that the body can make on its own. Then there are 9 more types of amino acids that the body cannot make and these have to be consumed as part of your diet in form of proteinaceous food. These 9 amino acids that need to be procured from your food are called essential amino acids.
One gram of protein metabolizes to yield 4 calories, the same as carbohydrates.
Major protein sources: Beans, eggs, legumes including peanuts, whole grains, red meats, dairy, nuts and seeds, soy products.
What happens if your diet doesn’t have enough protein:
Muscle loss, fluid retention or oedema, stunted growth in children, weak and brittle hair, skin lesions – a diet low on protein can cause any or more of these health issues.
How much protein to eat in a day:
For sedentary lifestyle with limited physical activity: 0.36 gm of protein per pound bodyweight
Moderately active individuals : 0.45-0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Competitive Athletes: 0.54-0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Teenage Athletes: 0.82-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Body Builders: 0.64-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
The maximum protein intake should not exceed 0.91 gm per pound body weight.
Dietary fats are used by the body for energy reserves, for insulation and protection of organs, and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins. In times of starvation, the stored fats provide energy resources for the body to use up.
Fats are of two types: Saturated fats (mostly from meat and dairy sources) and unsaturated fats (mostly from plant sources and seafood). Saturated fats are considered less healthy as compared to unsaturated fats.
As one gram fat burns to yield 9 calories (more than twice of an equal amount of protein or carbs), hence fats are considered a calorie-dense nutrient category.
Major fat sources: Oils, nuts, seeds, animal fats, dairy products (butter, cream, cheese, full-fat milk etc), meat, fish.
What happens if your diet doesn’t have enough fat:
If your diet has next to nil fats, your blood sugar levels can spike. Very low-fat diets can cause reproductive issues in women.
How much fat to eat in a day:
10-35% of calories should come from fats. Of these, the number of saturated fats should be less than 10% of overall calorie consumption.
Dietary fibre and water – zero-calorie micronutrients
Dietary fibre and water are also two macronutrients. The difference from fats, carbs and proteins is that that these have no calories, yet both are essential as these help with digestion of food.
Fibre is that part of food that forms the bulk but doesn’t get digested. It is also called roughage. Instead, it passes out from the gut in form of stool but while this fibre is in the gut it does a lot of digestive good. High fibre diet aids healthy bowel movement to better enhance nutrient absorption and expel toxic wastes.
Dietary fibre is of two types – insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibre stays unfermented in the gut. Soluble fibre gets fermented and fosters healthy gut bacteria for better digestive health. Both types of fibres are good for digestion. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. Healthy sources of soluble fibre include oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Coming to water, one should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. More if you sweat a lot or work out or are living in a hot climate. Not drinking enough water can cause chronic constipation that can then worsen to more serious issues.