Every day we shift around these essential nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fats in our diets. Some of us do it mindlessly, while others count every kilocalorie derived from these macronutrients. For those of us who are on a weight loss program, into body-building, or who simply want to pursue a healthy lifestyle, pay a little more attention to the ratio of these nutrients in the diet.
To be clear on what macronutrients are, these are substances obtained from 3 primary sources:
• Carbohydrate (carbs)
We consume these three compounds in large quantities to provide us with total energy to move around. We need these nutrients in the diet to build and repair tissues, to regulate body processes, and to fuel our bodies by means of metabolism.
Each of these nutrients provides calories in varying amounts:
• Carbs – 4 kilocalories per gram
• Protein – 4 kilocalories per gram
• Fats – 9 kilocalories per gram
Let’s say that you looked at the Nutrition Label of a regular jar of peanut butter, which happens to supply 8 grams of protein per serving and you wanted to calculate how many calories 1 serving will provide. This would be:
• 8 grams of peanut butter x 4 calories per gram of protein = 32 calories from proteins
If, based on health recommendations, your body needs 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 120 pounds, this equals 120 grams of protein needed daily in your diet.
The peanut butter example would have supplied you with 8 grams of protein and now you need to obtain the remaining 112 grams of protein, either from more peanut butter or with other protein from animal and plant sources, to fulfil your full requirement.
What is the Acceptable Distribution of Macronutrients in the Body?
Who decides on how much of any nutrient must be taken into the body to promote health and prevent deficiencies such as kwashiorkor and anaemia? Since 1941 the scientific community has been making recommendations on what constitutes a balanced distribution of essential nutrients for the average individual.
The National Science of Academy periodically gathers a large group of experts to review the latest science. The recommendations are called the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), but have also been termed Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI).
The per cent of calories coming from protein, carbs, and fats is a key component of the recommendations. How macronutrients are distributed in the diet will either put you on a path to health and fitness or conversely, create a state of ill health and disease. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for adults, as a percentage of calories is:
• Protein: 10% to 35%
• Carbs: 45% to 65%
• Fats: 20% to 35%
This range is reportedly the most beneficial in preventing disease risks and deficiencies while providing essential nutrients to increase health and maintain weight.
Why are Carbs, Protein, and Fats Essential to Long-term Health?
We all need these macronutrients in the diet, along with vitamins, minerals and water to survive. These essential nutrients provide remarkable, sometimes incomprehensible functions in our bodies that if deprived of adequate proportions in our diet, we risk abnormalities and death. Here are just a few of their important functions:
They supply the largest percentage needed in the diet according to the DRI.
• They are the main source of fuel
• They are found mainly in starchy foods, fruits, vegetables and yoghurt, and are important in intestinal health and waste elimination
• Carbs are readily used by the body for energy; all tissues and cells use it
Did you know that protein is the second most abundant substance in the body, besides water?
We need protein:
• To build and repair tissues – found in meats, fish, dairy, meat substitutes, legumes, grains and nuts, and to lesser extent vegetables and fruit. Fruit contains about 2 per cent protein.
• To create enzymes and hormones to regulate body functions
• To provide energy when carbs are not provided
Fats are essential for survival; it is the most concentrated source of energy. We need them for:
• Maintaining cell membranes
• Normal growth and development
• Absorbing vitamins (such as A D E K, and carotenoids)
• Moderate inflammatory actions
• Important for healthy skin
• Hormone balance
• Moderates cholesterol
The best fats for our diets are essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). These can be found in fish and fish oil, nuts, seeds, legumes and organic vegetable oils.
How can I Achieve Weight Loss through Calorie Counting?
In order to lose weight we need to either:
• Eat fewer calories than our body needs
• Increase the calories burned in physical activity
• Or do a combination of both
The smart way to lose weight without depriving your body of essential nutrients is to reduce the calories from food in a way that still meets overall nutritional needs, plus 30-60 minutes of exercise, three times per week. The acceptable distribution of macronutrients outlined earlier provides room for adjustment. Fats for example are recommended between 20% – 35%, therefore adjustments can be made closer to the lower end for weight loss.
Start by calculating how many calories are needed in your diet to promote weight loss. Then consume the required total amount of carbs, protein, and fats from high quality sources. Combine your favourite workout (dancing, kickboxing, Pilates, karate, weight lifting, Zumba, jogging or other) and watch the pounds fall off.
In calorie counting your dietician or fitness expert can help you determine how many calories you will need. There are also useful online calculators from credible sources that allow you to plug in the needed statistics to provide you with an estimated calorie amount.
To achieve weight loss of one pound a week, for example, an individual will require a reduction of 500 kilocalories per day for 7 days. As a rule of thumb, 1 pound (0.5 kg) of body fat contains 3,500 kilocalories.
If you choose to lose 20 pounds (9 kg), for example, using this rule, you will achieve your weight loss goal in approximately 20 weeks or 5 months.
The fundamental principles remain the same if we manipulate the macronutrients in our diet. An example would be substituting more protein for less carbohydrate into our diet. We would provide equivalent calories while staying inside our bodies’ optimum requirement for carbohydrates, which makes sure that we are not consume excess amounts which turn into fat. Understanding the macronutrients, while staying within the recommended range, we can promote weight loss, build muscles, and maintain a fit, well-balanced lifestyle.