What are macronutrients and ratios?
Fat, Carbohydrates & Protein; these three common nutrients are at the core of all foods, contributing massively to how our bodies act.
For years the recommendation of governments has been to prioritize carbs, shun fats and eat modest amounts of protein. Today, I call out, denouncing and exposing this advice for what it truly is, snake oil!
What is a macronutrient?
The word is made up of two words; macro and nutrient.
A nutrient is a substance (food) that provides us with essential nourishment for maintenance and growth.
Macro, on the other hand, means large, when put together we get a category of nutrients that our bodies require in large amounts.
Types of nutrients
We break nutrients down into two categories depending on the need our body has for them.
Macronutrients: are nutrients our body requires in large amounts (e.g. fat, carbs, protein).
Micronutrients: are nutrients or chemicals our body requires in tiny amounts (e.g. vitamin C, Zinc, Calcium)
The Big Three
The three main macronutrients that provide our bodies with the bulk of our energy are: Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins. Despite water making up a large part of our intake, it doesn’t provide nutritional value and isn’t included.
- 2-3% of calories lost during digestion
- 9 calories per gram (average)
Fat is the most energy dense and efficient macronutrient available to us.
Looking at how our gut shrank to accommodate our larger, more energy demanding brains it’s no wonder we prioritized fattier foods over fibrous plants (1).
There are three major types of fat, Saturated, Monounsaturated fat and Polyunsaturated fat.
The difference correlates with the number of hydrogen bonds found on a molecular level. Saturated fats contain no missing bonds, Monounsaturated miss one bond and Polyunsaturated miss multiple.
Fat often gets a bad rap but not all fats are created equally. Saturated and unsaturated fats derived from natural sources such as meat, milk, and plants are perfectly safe and good for you.
The issues arrive when looking at trans fats; these fats have undergone an industrial process that pumps hydrogen into cheap poly-unsaturated fats to increase shelf life.
The product is so foreign to our bodies that we simply don’t know how to digest and use it properly.
- 6-8% of calories lost during digestion
- 4 calories per gram (average)
The only macronutrient we don’t require and one we historically didn’t consume in high amounts.
This, however, changed in 1977 when the USDA published the “Dietary Goals for the United States” recommending to cut fat while increasing carb consumption to 60% of calories.
“The diet-heart hypothesis has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century.” – George Mann, MD, Former Co-Director, The Framingham Study
Just like fat, not all carbs are created equally.
With carbs, you have the highly processed low-fiber carbohydrates such as cereal and bread; on the other hand, high-fiber carbohydrates such as broccoli, avocado, and raspberries.
A quick and easy rule of thumb when dealing with carbohydrates is this; If it is processed don’t eat it, if it is a vegetable enjoy it and if it is a fruit enjoy in moderation.
It’s important to note our ancestors would have typically consumed more than 100 grams of fiber a day, today that figure is 15 grams; making it very easy to spike our sugar levels if not careful.
- 25-30% of calories lost during digestion
- 4 calories per gram (average)
Last but not least we have protein, the crème de la crème of supporting human growth and repair. Widely accepted as being necessary for any diet, the confusion and disagreement comes from the quantity one should be consuming.
Protein is made up of 20 amino acids; nine of which we can’t make ourselves. These nine are known as essential amino acids; requiring us to get them from our diet.
Getting a sufficient amount of these essential acids is surprisingly easy, being achieved by eating complete proteins found in animal products (meat, eggs, dairy).
Each person will require a different amount of protein depending on their size and how intensive their training is.
Some people still bearing reservations on fat will try substituting carbs for protein. This is bad as 58% of excess protein is still converted into glucose (2).
Macronutrients & Hormones
Macronutrients play a huge role in our bodies ecosystem, affecting the way we think, feel and act. This is accomplished by the different hormonal responses each macronutrient has.
When we consume carbs our blood sugar raises, leaving the pancreas to secrete insulin.
Insulin is key to transporting glucose from our bloodstream to cells capable of breaking it down into energy.
This process of using glucose as direct energy, however, happens at a limit rate, causing our bodies to find a temporary place to store the excess. This place is the muscles which can store 200 grams and the liver 70 grams.
When the muscles and liver are filled, our body shifts the glucose to the last safe place, our fat.
This prevents glucose from building up in the bloodstream and binding to proteins causing damage through glycation.
Any fat consumed during this process is sent straight to our body fat as the burning of glucose is prioritized.
The Vicious carb cycle
When consuming carbs we can’t access our stored energy (fat) leading to two possible outcomes.
The first is we avoid any more carbs and we inevitably run out of glucose, leaving us tremendously hungry and lethargic.
The second option is we continue consuming carbs to keep our blood sugar up preventing this crash.
Sadly, the second option is what governments and society often recommend, leading to high body fat.
“Weight loss, fat loss, and percent weight loss as fat appeared to be inversely related to the level of carbohydrate in the isocaloric, isoprotein diets”
Fat & Protein
Fat and protein don’t have a large impact on our blood sugar preventing the same response we get from carbs.
An important consideration with protein we touched upon previously is the amount we consume.
An excess can trigger the liver to begin a process called gluconeogenesis, creating glucose from the excess protein; potentially causing a glucose spike.
Eating excessive amounts of any of these macronutrients, like anything, will lead to a poor outcome.
However, carbs, as highlighted in this article, are easily and often abused.
if you’re struggling with weight management and want a solution in addition to paleo; take a look at our article on keto.