Macros and Micros

08 May 2017

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08 May 2017

Macros and Micros

I have and will never be a fan of weighing out macronutrients. It can easily lead to becoming obsessive and can lead to all sorts of issues that I really don’t want you to get in to, leave that to the body builders I say!

I have spoken about the importance of balance in your diets many times and this is what I promote through MyFitZone.  The key is getting the right balance and not over eating, if you need to lose weight and you are eating the right foods –my food list can help you here – then you don’t need to count calories you just need to eat the right foods and move more and the results will take care of themselves.

So many variances!

It is easy to become confused about what is the right amount of protein you should be eating. Trawl through the internet or read the advice panels on some well-known brands and you will find a variety of recommendations, for example:

  • 2g per kg of body weight
  • 0.8 - 1g per lb of body weight
  • 2 - 2.5g per kg of body weight
  • 1g per lb of body weight
  • 10 – 15 % of your daily diet

That is quite a range of variance! So what is protein all about and how do we get the most out of it?

  • The absorption of protein starts in your mouth. Chewing food properly and eating slowly is important for the breakdown of the amino acids found in proteins.
  • The breakdown of essential nutrients and amino acids in protein will not be sufficiently absorbed unless mixed with other essential nutrients to aid positive digestion. Therefore protein should be eaten with a mix of carbohydrate and fats (this can come from vegetables and oils).
  • Body builders will sometimes be surprised that they are not gaining muscle when eating a very high protein and low carb diet. This is because they are actually on protein overload and not getting the essential carbohydrates needed to break down the amino acids in the protein to get the best effect. Instead it leads to weight gain as the body cannot absorb the protein efficiently.

So what are macronutrients and why do we need them?

Macro nutrients are – Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats

Protein 

Your body uses it to build and repair tissue. You need it to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. It is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.

Protein-rich foods are often rated in terms of how “complete” their amino acid profile is, in relation to needs for essential amino acids. Because we are, biologically, much closer to a cow than a cauliflower(!), the cow’s protein content is much more similar to us. Therefore, food that we get from animals and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) usually score highly on their amino acid profile and are subsequently regarded as “high-quality proteins”. Proteins from these food sources supply all of the essential amino acids.

However, vegetables are also perfectly good sources of protein and good amino acid profiles can be obtained from appropriate combinations, such as cereals (eg bread, pasta, rice) combined with legumes’ (beans, peas, lentils). This is the basis of many traditional diets, which have evolved to provide the right balance. Where neither animal foods or this traditional balance isavailable, traditional diets have adopted less usual foodstuffs, like seaweed as rich sources of amino acids.

All healthful nutrition is about achieving the right balance of nutrients from an attractive variety of foods and meals. See examples of protein sources:-

These examples are easy food combinations which all achieve the required essential amino acid profiles:

1. Pulses (beans, peas, lentils) with dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese) = Baked beans with grated cheese, lentil dhal with natural yoghurt

2. Whole grains (brown rice, noodles, couscous, whole-wheat bread) with pulses (beans, peas, lentils) = baked beans on toast, risotto with peas, mexican tortilla with refried beans

3. Pulses (beans, peas, lentils) with seeds and nuts = hummus (chick peas with sesame seed oil), mixed bean salad with flax seed oil dressing.

4. Dairy (e.g. milk, cheese) with whole grains (brown rice, noodles, couscous, whole-wheat bread) = Cheese sandwich with wholemeal bread, porridge with milk.

Protein can also said to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Carbohydrates.

Providing nutrients for the good bacteria in our intestines that helps us digest our food; and. Protecting our muscles because carbohydrates are the first source of energy for our body, without it, protein from our muscles will be used meaning that our body will effectively eat its own muscles!

Carbohydrates should be the body's main source of energy in a healthy balanced diet. They are broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, the glucose enters the body's cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by your body for energy, fuelling all of your activities, whether going for a run or simply breathing.

Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen found in the liver and muscles. If more glucose is consumed than can be stored as glycogen, it is converted to fat, for long-term storage of energy. High fibre, starchy carbohydrates release sugar into the blood more slowly than sugary foods and drinks.

Most carbohydrates occur naturally in plant-based foods, such as grains. Food manufacturers also add carbohydrates to processed foods in the form of starch or added sugar.

Carbohydrates can be found in;-

1. Sugar. Sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrate and occurs naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Types of sugar include fruit sugar (fructose), table sugar (sucrose) and milk sugar (lactose).

2. Starch. Starch is a complex carbohydrate, meaning it is made of many sugar units bonded together. Starch occurs naturally in vegetables, grains, and cooked dry beans and peas.

3. Fibre. Fibre also is a complex carbohydrate. It occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cooked dry beans and peas.

While we can most certainly survive without sugar, it would be quite difficult to eliminate carbohydrates entirely from your diet. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. In their absence, your body will use protein and fat for energy.

It may also be hard to get enough fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system and to prevent constipation. Healthy sources of carbohydrates such as starchy foods, vegetables, fruits, legumes and lower fat dairy products are also an important source of nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins.

Cutting out carbohydrates from your diet could put you at increased risk of a deficiency in certain nutrients, leading to health problems, unless you're able to make up for the nutritional shortfall with healthy substitutes. Replacing carbohydrates with fats and higher fat sources of protein could increase your intake of saturated fat, which can raise the amount of cholesterol in your blood – a risk factor for heart disease.

When you are low on glucose, the body breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy. This process causes a build-up of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis. Ketosis as a result of a low carbohydrate diet can be linked, at least in the short term, to headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability.

Fats

Fat doesn’t directly make you “fat” – excess calories make you “fat”. It’s about getting the right balance.

Fat has had bad press, to the extent that some foods are designed and marketed as ‘fat-free’. But it isn’t all bad. In fact, getting some fat from our diet is absolutely vital. Virtually all natural foods contain some fat. It is in foods because both plants and animals use fats as the most economical way to store energy. It is needed for their growth, development and function when there is a shortage of food supply (or a shortage of sunlight in the case of plants).

Certain specific dietary fats have other essential functions. We are much like other animals so we do actually need some fat from our diet to survive. And while in general, as with most things, too much fat is bad, a certain amount is perfectly compatible with good health.

The main unsaturated fats are monounsaturated, found particularly in foods such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, peanuts and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats are mostly found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, and in cold-blooded sea-foods. In natural foods, they come protected with antioxidant vitamins. There are two main classes polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6. These include the essential fatty acids. Oily fish (e.g. herring, salmon and mackerel) is a good source of omega-3, while omega-6 is mainly found in plant foods such as sunflower oil and rapeseed oil.

Trans fats can be natural or artificial. They are mostly artificially created through a process known as hydrogenation (which involves heating and chemical structure change). Artificial trans fats are mostly found in fast foods, fried foods and commercial baked products such as cookies and are the most unhealthy fats (even worse than saturated fats!). Natural trans fats can be found in small amounts in milk and beef, and in quite large concentration in cheese.

We need fat in our diets;

1. A source of energy – Our body uses the fat we eat, and fats we make from other nutrients in our bodies, to provide the energy for most of our life-functions

2. Energy store – The extra calories that we consume, but do not need to use immediately, are stored for future use in special fat cells (adipose tissue)

3. Essential fatty acids – Dietary fats that are essential for growth development and cell functions, but cannot be made by our body’s processes

4. Proper functioning of nerves and brain- fats are part of myelin- a fatty material which wraps around our nerve cells so that they can send electrical messages. Our brains contain large amounts of essential fats

5. Maintaining healthy skin and other tissues. All our body cells need to contain some fats as essential parts of cell membranes, controlling what goes in and out of our cells

6. Transporting fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K through the bloodstream to where they are needed

7. Forming steroid hormones needed to regulate many bodily processes

Fibre

I want to touch on fibre as many of us do not get enough of it - Fibre is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health.

Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants. Foods such as meat, fish and dairy products don't contain any fibre.

There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Each type of fibre helps your body in different ways, so a normal healthy diet should include both types. Eating wholegrain cereals and plenty of fruit and vegetables helps to ensure both adults and children are eating enough fibre.

However, if you have a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to modify the type and amount of fibre in your diet in accordance with your symptoms. Your GP or a dietitian can advise you further about this.

Soluble fibre

Soluble fibre dissolves in the water in your digestive system. It may help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. If you have constipation, gradually increasing sources of soluble fibre – such as fruit and vegetables, oats and golden linseeds – can help soften your stools and make them easier to pass.

Foods that contain soluble fibre include:

  • oats, barley and rye
  • fruit, such as bananas and apples
  • root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes
  • golden linseeds
  • Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre doesn't dissolve in water. It passes through your gut without being broken down and helps other foods move through your digestive system more easily. Insoluble fibre keeps your bowels healthy and helps prevent digestive problems. If you have diarrhoea, you should limit the amount of insoluble fibre in your diet.

Good sources of insoluble fibre include:

  • wholemeal bread
  • bran
  • cereals
  • nuts and seeds (except golden linseeds)

Eating foods high in fibre will help you feel fuller for longer. This may help if you are trying to lose weight. See the weight loss guide for more.

If you need to increase your fibre intake, it's important that you do so gradually. A sudden increase may make you produce more wind (flatulence), leave you feeling bloated, and cause stomach cramps.

Sugar

The instant 'lift' we get from sugar is one of the reasons we turn to it at times of celebration or when we crave comfort or reward. However, even those of us without a sweet tooth may be eating more than we realise because so many everyday processed foods, from cereals and bread to pasta sauce and soups contain sugar.

The instant 'lift' we get from sugar is one of the reasons we turn to it at times of celebration or when we crave comfort or reward. However, even those of us without a sweet tooth may be eating more than we realise because so many everyday processed foods, from cereals and bread to pasta sauce and soups contain sugar.

But it's not all bad news - sugar is a carbohydrate found naturally in a host of different foods from lactose in milk to the fructose in fruit and honey. In fact, if you're very active and exercise regularly some sugar in your diet helps supply ready energy to fuel your muscles and keep your brain active. The problem for the majority of us is that many of the processed foods we eat have added sugar which supplies energy in the form of calories, and very little else - so we end up consuming more than we need. This means our body has to draw on the nutrients from the rest of our diet to process the sugar and this can affect our health, including our immunity - leaving us more prone to bugs and colds. A high intake of sugar causes our blood sugar levels to shoot up, giving us that feel-good 'high' followed by a crashing slump which leaves us tired, irritable and craving more sugary foods. It's a vicious cycle that may be contributing to our weight problems as well as health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Low-fat and 'diet' foods often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste and palatability and to add bulk and texture in the place of fat. Even savoury foods, like ready-made soups and sauces may contain added sugar. A can of soft drink, on average, contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar. The natural sugar in some fruit, including apples, has increased as new varieties (including Pink Lady, Fuji and Jazz) are bred to satisfy our desire for greater sweetness.

Micro Nutrients

Micronutrients are different from macronutrients (like carbohydrates, protein and fat) because they are necessary only in very tiny amounts. Nevertheless, micronutrients are essential for good health, and micronutrient deficiencies can cause serious health problems. Micronutrients include such dietary minerals as zinc and iodine, and they are necessary for the healthy functioning of all your body's systems, from bone growth to brain function.

Micronutrients are what are commonly referred to as "vitamins and minerals." Micronutrients include such minerals as flouride, selenium, sodium, iodine, copper and zinc. They also include vitamins such as vitamin C, A, D, E and K, as well as the B-complex vitamins.

As mentioned, micronutrients are different from the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate and fat, and micronutrients are called "micro"-nutrients because your body needs only very small quantities of them for survival. However, if your body doesn't get the small quantities of micronutrients that it needs, serious health problems can result.

Micronutrients are vital to the proper functioning of all of your body's systems. Sodium, for instance, is responsible for maintaining the proper fluid balance in your body; it helps fluids pass through cell walls and helps regulate appropriate pH levels in your blood. Here are some of the ways that other micronutrients help maintain your body's systems:

Manganese promotes bone formation and energy production, and helps your body metabolize the macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Magnesium helps your heart maintain its normal rhythm. It helps your body convert glucose (blood sugar) into energy, and it is necessary for the metabolization of the micronutrients calcium and vitamin C.

Iron helps your body produce red blood cells and lymphocytes.

Iodine helps your thyroid gland develop and function. It helps your body to metabolize fats, and promotes energy production and growth.

Chloride helps regulate water and electrolytes within your cells, as well as helping to maintain appropriate cellular pH.

Summary 

I hope this has helped you to gain a better understanding of food groups and why we need them to function. I also hope I have got across the importance of a balanced diet where all macro nutrient and micro nutrients are combined to optimise your health and how you feel. You can follow the MyFitZone journey and see what I ate on a daily basis and see lots of great easy to make recipes that are healthy and nutritious. 

Anna x

Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.