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What Do They Do in The Body?

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With so much information being thrown your way, figuring out how to properly nourish yourself can be confusing. Understanding the basics of nutrition can help give you the tools to make empowered decisions about the food you eat so that you can feel your best. 

You may have heard the term “counting macros” or “focusing on macronutrients”. But what does that actually mean? Macros are not just another elusive term in diet culture. They are vital components of a healthy diet that you’re already eating regularly. 

Let’s take a look at what macronutrients are exactly, why they’re a vital part of a healthy diet, and how to balance your intake of them. 

Macronutrients 101

Macronutrients, more commonly known as “macros” are the building blocks of a balanced diet. Simply put, these are the nutrients that your body needs large amounts of to function properly.

There are three main types of macros, all of which you’re probably familiar with: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. All three types are essential for everyday function and are most likely already in your kitchen.

While they are all types of macronutrients, they serve different functions. Learn more about the role of carbohydrates, fat, and protein in the body.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or “carbs” for short, don’t always have the best reputation. This train of thought comes from diet culture and the fact that many carbs people eat aren’t the healthiest.

That being said, carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet. They are also one of the main sources of energy in the body. When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose so they can be used for energy. Carbs play a key role in insulin regulation and metabolic function. 

Many foods high in carbohydrates are also high in fiber which is essential for gut health and balancing blood sugar levels. Their job doesn’t stop there, they also help boost the body’s immune system

You’re probably aware that not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates have one or two sugars in their molecular structure and are found in foods like corn syrup, candy, and soda. Complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars in their chemical structure and are found in foods like beans, brown rice, and broccoli. 

Some healthy sources of carbohydrates are:

  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

Less healthy carbohydrates that you may want to eat in moderation include baked goods, white bread, and processed food.

Fat

Another macronutrient that’s been widely misunderstood is fat. Moderate consumption of healthy dietary fats is needed to help maintain your health. Besides helping you feel full and reach a point of satiety, they also serve a wide range of functions in the body. 

Healthy fats support your gut health by maintaining the lining of the gut, or intestinal barrier. This helps keep your gut microbiome happy, allows you to properly absorb nutrients, and supports immune function. Many vitamins, like A, D, E, and K are “fat-soluble vitamins” meaning they absorb better when they’re consumed with fat. You may better absorb the nutrients from say, carrots when eating them with a healthy fat like olive oil. 

You do need to be cautious about what types of fat you’re ingesting, and how much of it. For example, excessive amounts of trans and saturated fats can increase cholesterol levels in your body. This can potentially lead to cardiovascular disease and other long-term issues. Eating healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), on the other hand, can help decrease your risk of developing heart disease.

Healthy fats should come from foods like:

  • Olive oil
  • Salmon and other fatty fish
  • Nuts
  • Avocados

Protein

Protein is found in every cell in the human body. This macronutrient is crucial for helping your body repair cells and make new ones. That’s why there’s so much conversation about protein in the fitness world – because of their role in rebuilding and repairing tissues in the body, like muscular tissue.

Muscular health isn’t the only role of protein. Proteins help to start almost all chemical reactions in the body, regulate the immune system, and even regulate gene expression. When it comes to immune health, proteins help to form antibodies which help your body fight infections from harmful pathogens. 

Here are some good sources of protein to add to your diet:

  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Legumes
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu and soy products

What does it mean to “count macros”?

You now have a better understanding of what the different macronutrients are, but what does it mean to count them? To count macros, you need to determine your macronutrient percentages based on the number of calories you should be consuming. 

Your diet should consist of about 40%-50 carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20%-30% fat. This may change depending on factors like underlying health conditions, if you’re actively trying to build muscle, and your energy levels throughout the day.

Counting macros can help you understand where the calories you’re eating are coming from. This can be helpful to do for a short time to help you understand your relationship with food better and make sure you’re prioritizing healthy nutrients.

There are a lot of convenient apps and tools to help you keep track of the macronutrients you’re eating, and how many you should be eating based on your metrics and goals. 

Are macronutrients necessary?

If you take anything away from this article, it’s that macronutrients are absolutely necessary for a healthy, balanced diet. Do you need to go out of your way to count them? Probably not.

Remember that you’re most likely already eating a good amount of macronutrients. Macros are essential for endless physiological functions including stabilizing energy levels and maintaining your overall health. 

Suppose you’d like to change your approach to nutrition to help support your health or other goals. In that case, it may be helpful to count your macros or just prioritize eating whole foods like proteins (animal or plant-based), vegetables, and healthy fats (think avocados and olive oil).

If you need further guidance for tweaking your diet, it can be helpful to see a nutritionist or dietician who can give you the right plan for your particular needs and goals. Macros might seem complicated, but they don’t have to be, and neither should your nutrition. 

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