Ever wonder what makes up the foods that you eat? Among other things, the most important pieces of our foods are nutrients, which can be defined as substances that promote growth, provide energy, and maintain life! Nutrients can be further broken down into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Today we will be discussing the former.
A macronutrient can be defined rather simply as a nutrient that contains calories. Simple! There are three primary macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
By far the most common macronutrient, which tends to make up the majority of the average western diet, is the carbohydrate, or carb. Carbs include sugars, starches and fiber. They contain roughly 4 Calories for every gram, and provide quick, accessible energy for the body. Carbs are the primary macronutrient in foods such as grains, legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables.
The second macronutrient is protein. Like carbohydrates, proteins contain roughly 4 Calories in every gram. They are made up of amino acids, which when broken down during digestion, provide the building blocks for us to build new and bigger muscles. They also tend to take a while to digest, providing us with long lasting, sustainable energy and sustenance. Most meats, as well as many beans and dairy products are made up predominantly of proteins.
The final major macronutrient – fat – is often vilified, and unjustly so. For many years Fat was made out to be the bad guy in the West. We often thought “Eat Fat, Get Fat”. We have since learned that this is not entirely true. In fact fats make up a very vital part of healthy diets. While they are the most energy-dense macronutrient, containing a whopping 9 Calories per gram, they are also a much smaller part of our diet on average. Fat-dominant foods (such as oils or nuts) don’t tend to make up a big part of our diet. But, healthy amounts of them are essential to support brain function, and to allow us to absorb certain vitamins and minerals.
While it’s commonly accepted that there are three primary macronutrients, there is actually a fourth macronutrient that isn’t so frequently discussed: alcohol. Yes, the very same alcohol that you find in beer, wine and liquor is a macronutrient all in itself, containing 7 Calories per gram on average.
The reason that it is not usually recognized as a macronutrient is because it provides little to no nutritional value. While small, infrequent doses of alcohol may provide us with a few health benefits, they are not essential. We don’t need alcohol to survive. For this reason, when designing diets, it is often brushed aside. However, when considering weight loss, it’s energy-dense nature should be taken into consideration.
While we can certainly discuss all of these nutrients in further detail, this is all you really need to know for the purposes of this course. Moving forwards, we will be discussing the other half of the nutrient equation: micronutrients.