We live in the day and age of endless supplements. Are you taking turmeric with black pepper? Does your friend supplement with lion’s mane mushroom to boost brain health? Did you purchase vitamin D because you heard it improves immune function? There are so many vitamins and minerals, causing people to focus on nutrition through a micro lens. Before focusing on the micros, though, there are three macronutrients that the body needs to survive.
What Are Macronutrients?
By definition, macronutrients are chemicals that provide energy. The body requires macronutrients, or macros, in larger amounts to carry out everyday bodily functions. The three macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. In fact, many people classify foods based on what macronutrient they belong to. For example, people refer to potatoes or rice as “carbs” and meat and fish as “proteins.”
The body requires complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein to survive. They influence growth and development, circulation, and even cognitive function. According to nutritional research, the proportion of macronutrients in your diet can increase or decrease the risk of certain health conditions. Balance is everything, especially when it comes to nutrients that bring you energy.
Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients
When you think of macronutrients, you think of the big picture, i.e. carbs, fats, and proteins. Micronutrients refer to vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and all of the other smaller components in trace amounts of food. The body needs both macros and micronutrients to function optimally, as they both supply the body with energy. Micronutrients help more with hormonal balance, tissue maintenance, and organ health. Macros and micronutrients work together to produce enzymes that aid with growth, repair, and development.
For the sake of this article, let’s focus on the large scale. Macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs) play distinct roles in the body, especially when it comes to immune function, weight management, development, and hormonal balance. Continue reading to learn about the importance of all three macronutrients.
Some people try to avoid fat completely, while others focus their efforts on fat consumption. Dietary fat is a necessary source of energy in times of caloric deprivation or starvation. Fats get a bad reputation because of the association with heart disease and weight gain. Nutritionists suggest that 20-35% of the body’s daily energy requirement should come from consuming fats and oils. Dietary fats come in the form of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans fat. Ideally, you should replace trans and saturated fats with unsaturated fats, as they have demonstrated an ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. Doctors encourage people to supply the body with fatty acids, such as omega-3s, because the body cannot make them. Additionally, fats assist with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, & K and carotenoids.
Protein provides the body with the building blocks (amino acids) for muscles and other structures like the brain, nervous system, hair, blood, and skin. There are nine amino acids that nutritionists refer to as “essential,” meaning the body cannot make them. For this reason, it’s up to each person to obtain them via diet. Protein also helps to transport oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. The body can reverse-process protein to use for energy if there is an absence of carbohydrates or glucose. Daily protein requirements will vary depending on age, weight, sex, and level of physical activity. A protein deficiency can cause weakness, mood changes, muscle wasting, or weight loss/weight gain. It’s best to focus on complete proteins that provide all of the amino acids that the body needs. The best sources include quinoa, edamame, wild caught seafood, chia seeds, and more.
Carbohydrates, similar to fats, are either loved or hated. People on the ketogenic diet, for example, try their very best to avoid carbs to enter the body in a state of ketosis, in which it burns fat for energy. The body converts carbohydrates, be they simple or complex, into glucose, which the body stores and uses for energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, but they aren’t the only macronutrient that provides energy to cells. People equate carbohydrates to refined grains, processed foods, fries, breads, and similar foods. These foods release glucose into the bloodstream quickly, leading to blood sugar highs and lows, cravings and overeating. It’s best to eat complex carbs, or slow carbs, to provide a slower release of glucose and better energy supply for the body’s cells.