I’m always talking about the importance of balancing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (also known as macronutrients) in meals. But how do you know if you have a good balance, and why is this important? In this post I’ll review each macronutrient and how our body uses them. Below is a link where you can calculate the macros for you!
According to the American Diabetes Association, your blood sugar levels are impacted by both the amount and type of carbohydrates you consume. Ever feel HANGRY? Yeah, me too. Most likely you’ve let your blood sugars dip too low, and as a result, the first thing you’re inclined to reach for are quick processed sugars (ex cookies, crackers, or fast food) to get out of hangry mode. For that reason, it is important to choose healthy carbohydrates and control your portion sizes. Look for carbohydrates that contain nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating carbs with little nutrients, fat, or protein are called “empty” calories because you can eat a ton without getting full. Cereal, chips, and cheetos are classic examples.
The carbs’ rank on the GI (Glycemic index) chart will determine how fast your body can process them into fuel. I like this chart & article on the GI chart. Your choice in carbohydrates will also determine how you feel (energy, bloat, belly ache, etc). Monitoring your other two macros (protein and fat) will help you eat the proper amount of carbs your body needs so you can avoid putting excess in.
Protein builds, maintains, and replaces the tissues in your body. Your muscles, organs and your immune system are made up of mostly proteins. Proteins you eat are broken down in the body into amino acids. These amino acids help the body rebuild and maintain muscles, bones, blood and organs. Including protein in your meals will help slow the release of carbohydrates into your bloodstream, which can prevent the sudden spikes in blood sugar that are thought to encourage fat storage.
Protein doesn’t always have to be a big burger or a steak. In fact, there are a lot of ways to get protein in the body without eating animal protein in every meal. I like this article on high protein foods, some of these will surprise you!
Don’t let fats scare you! Fat is an essential nutrient that your body needs to survive. It helps with vitamin absorption, hormone regulation, and brain function. Fat is a major source of energy for the body. There are many different types of dietary fat that we can consume eating whole foods:
Saturated Fat: Comes from animal sources, or things like coconut or palm oil. Examples include butter, beef fat, and coconut oil.
Monounsaturated Fat: Come mostly from plant sources and are liquid at room temps. Examples include olive oil, canola oil, avocado, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Polyunsaturated Fat: These contain the omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Examples of this would be salmon, tuna, cold water fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds. It’s important to know the body cannot make omega 3’s so they must come from foods!
I’m a big believer in balance, so having a healthy balance of all 3 fats might not happen in every meal. But with a good balance of whole foods on your plate, most likely you will find a nice balance on a weekly basis to get all the fats your body needs. Some days it will come from animal, seafood, plants, nuts or seeds. However you get the fats, all I ask is that you GET them!
Here’s a handy calculator to help you determine the proper amount of macronutrients to eat throughout your day.
Try to balance macronutrients in every meal so that the body processes them at a similar rate. If you eat a carb-heavy meal without balance, you’ll probably be hungry again sooner than if you eat a well-balanced meal. The reason I like the calculator is because it will be different for each of us depending on where we start, the lifestyle we live, the exercise we currently do etc. I’ve played with my Macros for quite some time and I find I have the most energy with 40% carbs, 25% protein and 35% fats. Play with it and see what works for you!
It may take you some time to learn how to turn your macronutrient targets into a meal plan, but soon it will become second nature. If you are looking for an app to support your balance and learning, I like My Fitness Pal. There is a tool within the app that can break down your daily meals into macronutrient percentages. If you are not a fan of math or plugging numbers into an app, focus on eating whole foods and balance it out with treats now and then. Also, almost all of the recipes on my website have balanced macronutrients and are designed to keep you full to your next meal!
I suggest that you do not spend too much time worrying about calorie counting. If you have your macronutrients in balance, calories from whole foods will fuel your body without you having to worry about counting them!
To create a good macronutrient balance, at first you may have to spend more time thinking through your meals. But like anything else, consistent practice will help you find a good rhythm to get you the most energy out of your food! Hope this helps!