Macronutrients are simply the ‘big’ building blocks of our diet: protein, carbohydrates and fat. The reason they’re so important when it comes to planning a healthy diet or for weight management is that they provide us with energy. This energy is in the form of calories or kilojoules. It’s well known that if the balance of macronutrients in our diet is off that it can impact our health. Each macronutrient also has a very specific role in the human body:
Protein forms the building blocks of our structure; our muscles and connective tissue, our hair and nails. It also forms the structure of antibodies from our immune system and of our hormones. It also helps grow and repair tissues. It’s a valuable nutrient for weight loss as well as well as it helps to fill us up and control our appetite.
Protein foods come from animals and from plants.
• Animal sources: meat, chicken, fish, eggs as well as dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt
• Plant sources: tofu, lentils, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds.
We need to get around 10-35% of our diet from fat. For example, on a moderate calorie diet of 2,000 calories per day (where protein is 4 calories per gram), you would need around 100g of protein per day. That might look like:
o 1 cup milk from a regular latte = 9g protein
o 2 eggs = 11g protein
o 95g tin of tuna = 21g protein
o 30g cheese = 8g protein
• Afternoon tea:
o 150mL plain Greek yoghurt = 10g protein
o 200g chicken breast = 45g protein
TOTAL = 104g protein
Carbohydrates have got a bad rap in recent times and there’s no doubt that there are types of carbohydrates that are not great for us but there are also good quality sources of carbohydrates that are essential to our functioning.
Carbohydrates are our fuel; like putting petrol in a car, carbohydrates are like filling our tank with petrol. However unlike a car, if we don’t use the petrol it just sits in the tank. With carbohydrates though if we overdo them, our body stores them away as fat for later.
Carbohydrates also cause a rise in our blood sugar levels. When we eat anything that contains carbohydrate, it is broken down into glucose and sent out into our blood stream for insulin to then help move into our cells so we can use it as fuel. The problem with eating bad quality carbohydrates like white bread and soft drinks is that we get a quick spike in blood sugar levels and if that happens a lot over time, insulin starts not to work properly and we’re left with excess sugar floating around in our blood, this begins with pre-diabetes and inulin resistance. If this is not corrected, it then becomes what we call type 2 diabetes. That sugar can affect our kidneys, our eyes and the nerves in our feet and hands and cause some serious health complications.
The types of foods that contain good quality carbohydrates that you want to include in your diet every day are:
• Bread, crackers or cereal made from wholegrain or wholemeal grains like wheat, spelt or rye
• Brown or basmati rice, wholemeal or egg pasta, quinoa, rolled oats, buckwheat, millet, and amaranth
• Starchy vegetables: potato with skin, sweet potato, peas, corn, parsnip, turnip
• Whole fruits like an apple with the skin and berries
• Dairy foods: plain milk and plain yoghurt
Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of our total calories. This means that for a 2,000 calorie per day diet (where carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram) you would need around 250g of carbohydrates per day. That might look like:
o ½ cup rolled oats = 35g carbohydrates
o 1 small banana = 17g carbohydrates
o 1 cup milk = 12.5g carbohydrates
o 2 tbsp sultanas = 22g carbohydrates
• Morning tea:
o 1 cup skim milk from a regular latte = 12.5g carbohydrates
o 1 medium apple = 15g carbohydrates
o 2 slices of wholegrain bread = 30g carbohydrates
o 1 medium pear = 12g carbohydrates
• Afternoon tea:
o 4 Vitaweats = 15g carbohydrates
o 1 cup cooked brown rice = 50g carbohydrates
o 150mL Greek yoghurt = 19g carbohydrates
o ½ cup berries = 9g carbohydrates
TOTAL = 249g carbohydrates
Low fat diets used to be all the rage. It makes sense that fat, which contains double the calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates were the calorie culprits when trying to lose weight. Well that message has changed in recent times with updated research and it turns out in fact the right fat in the right amount plays a very important role in our daily diet.
There are two types of fat; ‘healthy’ unsaturated fats and ‘unhealthy’ saturated and trans fats. Our bodies can’t make some unsaturated fat like omega 3 fatty acids so we need to get it from our diet. Fat is an important part of our diet because it:
• Is important for our immune system
• Forms hormones
• Is important for blood clotting
• Is involved in inflammatory processes
Include in your diet healthy nuts, seeds, soybeans, vegetable oils particularly olive oil, olives, avocado and oily fish like salmon, trout and tuna. Limit in your diet fatty meat, processed meat, butter, cream, deep-fried foods, coconut and palm oil, and margarine.
Fat should make up around 20-35% of our diet. This means that on a 2,000 calories per day diet (where fat is 9 calories per gram), you would need around 55g of fat per day. This looks like:
o ½ small avocado = 12g fat
o 95g tin of tuna in oil, drained = 5g fat
• Afternoon tea:
o 30g mixed nuts = 15g fat
o 1 tbsp olive oil = 16g fat
o 200g lean beef steak = 9g fat
TOTAL = 52g fat