Balancing Meals: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats
Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, also known as macronutrients, all play a role in the growth, development of muscle and in the loss of fat. There are many diets out there that may recommend avoiding one of these macronutrients. However, it is the combination of protein, fats, and carbohydrates that enables your metabolism and your body to work properly.
It’s like paper, sticks and logs in a fire, all three are needed to make it burn bright. You need carbs, proteins and fats for optimal energy output.
Protein is necessary for almost every function performed by the cells, and aside from water, it is the most plentiful substance in the body. We do not store protein the way we do Carbs and fat, so you need to have it at every meal. Proteins help give structure to the cells and are important for the growth and development of all body tissues. Proteins are also used to make hormones, enzymes and antibodies. Nutritionally, protein can also serve as an energy source and yields four calories per gram. Having protein at every meal and snack helps to give you a feeling of satisfaction and allow you to repair and grow your muscles, as well as, feel full until the following meal or snack.
Protein is composed of amino acids, which are the building blocks for the proteins. The human body needs about 20 amino acids in specific sequences to make various body tissues. Of these 20 amino acids, about half cannot be made by the human body and must be supplied by the diet. The amino acids that are not made in the body are called essential amino acids. Some proteins, such as those from animal sources are considered complete and provide all 20 of the amino acids. Other proteins, such as those found in grains are considered incomplete because they do not contain an adequate amount of one or more of the essential amino acids. Of the incomplete proteins, some can be complimentary and provide all of the essential amino acids in a meal when eaten together. One such example is rice and beans.
If the body is deficient in protein, symptoms such as fatigue, insulin resistance, hair loss, muscle
loss, low body temperature, and hormonal irregularities may occur.
Fat is a necessary dietary component that provides flavor and aroma to food. Fats prolong
digestion, which creates a longer lasting sensation of fullness. Fats also play a vital role in
maintaining healthy skin and nails, insulating body organs from shock, maintaining body
temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. Fats act as carriers for fat soluble vitamins,
which include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats, such as animal fats (i.e. the white fat around and through a steak), coconut oil, and palm oil, are usually solid at room temperature. Diets high in saturated fats may lead to increased incidence of coronary heart disease. Unsaturated fats, which usually are from vegetable sources, are primarily liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated such as those found in olive oil or canola oil, or they can be polyunsaturated, such as those found in walnuts and safflower oil. Polyunsaturated fats have been found to lower total cholesterol, including HDL, the “good cholesterol”. Monounsaturated fats have been found to lower total cholesterol, but have also been found to increase the HDL.
Fats serve as energy stores for the body, and the fatty acids are a great source of energy for many tissues, especially heart and skeletal muscle. Each gram of fat yields 9 calories, providing more than two times the amount of energy than either protein or carbohydrates.
Fats provide us with certain essential fatty acids. If someone is deficient in fats, he/she can
develop a dry scaly rash, increased susceptibility to infection, and/or poor wound healing.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source for most functions, and each gram of carbohydrate yields four calories. Carbohydrates supply the body with the energy needed for the muscles, brain and central nervous system. As a result, carbohydrates provide the bulk of calories in the diet. Daily intake should be at least 50% of total caloric intake. By providing the body with enough carbohydrates, you are sparing protein for muscle building. Moreover, carbohydrates help to maintain satiety by keeping glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrates) stores full and by adding bulk to the diet.
There are 3 types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar), complex carbohydrates (i.e. starch), and indigestible carbohydrates (i.e. fiber). Simple carbohydrates are broken down very quickly. These carbohydrates are said to cause an extreme rise in blood sugar which in term, increases the release of insulin, which can elevate appetite and fat storage. Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, and have been shown to cause a moderate rise in blood sugar since it enters the bloodstream more gradually than simple carbohydrates. Therefore, insulin is released more moderately and stabilizes appetite and fat storage. Finally, fiber is a carbohydrate that cannot be digested, and is therefore not absorbed by the body. Fiber, however, does have many health benefits, including decreasing cholesterol, slowing sugar absorption, adding bulk to the diet to aid in satiety, and changing the rate of digestion.
Each macronutrient has its own role in maintaining and energizing the body. No one macronutrient can undertake all of the body’s roles, nor is any single macronutrient responsible for weight gain. By combining carbohydrates, fats, and protein at each meal and snack, you are enabling your body and your metabolism to work most efficiently.