On Macronutrients

For my generation, “fat”, as in food containing fat, was a dirty word. Our foods were (theoretically) sugar free, and the food industry worked hard to make sure we knew they were also fat fee. Sugar and fat, we were told, were the enemies of good health.

And while excessive refined sugars remain a problem, fat has made a comeback! Of course, this is a mental challenge for me as I am conditioned toward “low-fat” foods. Today, I instinctively reached for the reduced fat coconut milk before doing a mental head slap and grabbing the full fat version. Fat is an important part of a healthy diet.

There are three major macronutrients humans need to maintain good health: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. For decades, we’ve been ignoring the fat part of this equation, while stuffing our bodies full of refined carbohydrates.

  • Carbohydrates. Carbs are energy. You need energy to function (okay, theoretically, you could get by without carbs, but it would be very, very painful). Carbs, which break down into glucose (brain food!) and glycogen (muscles, liver!), give your body quick, easy energy. The key, from my perspective, is to focus more on complex carbohydrates rather than simple sugars (or simple carbohydrates). For example, while that gluten-free bread might be enjoyable, you’re basically eating sugar. The refined flours break down quickly, and the ones you don’t utilize become the basis of body fat. Complex carbs, including whole grains like quinoa and other plant-based carbs, take longer to break down, which means you’ll feel fuller and have more sustained energy over time.
  • Protein. Protein helps build muscle. Since I’m rehabbing a torn calf muscle right now, sigh, I’m eating even more protein than normal. Of course, you need protein for things like healthy hair and nails, your bones, and lots of other body parts. Right now, I’m really focused on plant-based protein, which creates a bit of a challenge as it’s a bit harder to find all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce itself. Meat-based proteins provide the full complement of amino acids.
  • Fats. Fats are, no question about it, made up of more calories than the other macronutrients, so, yeah, when you’re counting calories, there’s a strong inclination away from fats. However, fats help you feel full and satisfied, which, when you’re counting calories, helps you get past the diet hangries. A key way to help yourself is to focus on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Like amino acids, you must get Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats from food sources like fish, nuts, vegetable oils (hey, that bowl of guacamole is tasty *and* helping your body!).

Macros, as they’re known in the blogosphere, in their proper balance *can* make dieting for more effective as focusing on these nutrients rather than just calories alone. Macronutrients like fat and protein can help a person fill full and satiated, despite the fact that the body is running at a calorie deficit.

The challenge is, of course, finding the right balance for your body. As I’ve mentioned in the past, during my year-long weight loss project, my body responded best to more protein and plant-based carbohydrates. My general split among the macronutrients is about 40% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fat. This has evolved over time, and works very well for me. Others may do better with carbs and protein at 40% of their daily calories.

I started adding fats in the form of eggs and nuts, and, while, yes, I counted calories religiously, I found this dietary mix worked incredibly well. Eating an egg in the morning helps me get started with my day. Adding a bit of peanut butter to my post-run snack helps my muscle recovery.

Others may do better on a higher-carb, lower fat diet. Every body is different, and it’s important you find the mix for you, without foregoing any of the major macronutrient groups. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight — I’m in year two of maintenance mode — knowing how your body reacts to foods is key to good health.

And, please, please, please, unless you have a serious need to hit your macronutrient balances, don’t obsess too much hitting your percentages on the nose. The key is to figure out what works for your body

Tip of the Week

When trying to decide the best macronutrient ratios for you, another factor is goals. Are you bodybuilding? Trying to lose weight? Trying to stay healthy and strong? There are lots of online resources to help you identify the proper mix of macros to reach your goals (my advice is do *a lot* of research, as some of these sources are not experts in the medical field).

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

As mentioned, plant-based sources aren’t always good sources of complete proteins — proteins that bring the nine essential amino acids our bodies *don’t* produce — but there are some that fit the bill. Buckwheat, one my favorite foods, is a complete protein. Soy, complete protein. Plus…

Quinoa, the most accessible grain for those on a gluten-free diet is a complete protein, and versatile to boot! I admit I sometimes roll my eyes when I see quinoa as the gluten-free option on menus, but, hey! that’s because I’d like to see more creativity from the restaurant industry. I’m fine with quinoa as a delicious food.

I have a co-worker from Peru who makes an amazing quinoa salad for office parties, and I am not ashamed to say I take a huge serving every time (thank you, co-workers, for filling up on pizza). The recipe can be customized to suit your needs, but the one thing that makes this salad my favorite office-party food is the lime — a bit of acid is exactly what quinoa needs to taste amazing.

The salmon can be prepared however you like it. I can’t remember where I saw the idea to use a Microplane to grate jalapeno, but with a bit of lemon and salt, it’s a great topper for any fish (or chicken or pork or beef).

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