READ TIME: 5 minutes
What are macronutrients, and why are they important?
‣ Macronutrients (i.e. “macros”) = carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
‣ Macros play a number of functions, and are the building blocks of your diet
‣ 3 types of carbs: simple (bad!), complex starchy (better), complex fibrous (best!)
‣ 3 types of fats: trans (bad!), saturated (debated health implications), unsaturated (good!)
‣ Protein: 👍👍👍
Should I keep reading?
If you didn’t know veggies were carbs, or that fats don’t make you fat, the answer is a YES!!
Macronutrients (or “macros” for short) are the building blocks of your diet — carbs, protein, and fat.
They give you the energy to work, exercise, and not fall asleep during those boring meetings. Your body needs a lot of them to fuel itself (hence “macro,” as opposed to “micro”), and they all work together to keep you going: carbs for quick energy, fats for slowing carb absorption & keeping blood sugar in check, and proteins to sustain your energy.
(A holistic view of nutrition also includes micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – but for now, we’ll keep the discussion focused on macros.)
Let’s take a closer look at each macronutrient:
‣ PRIMARY FUNCTIONS: energy for high intensity activities (e.g. exercise) and brain juice (i.e. fuels the central nervous system)
‣ Recommended % of daily caloric intake: 40%-50%
You’ve probably heard people refer to “good carbs” and “bad carbs”. That’s because there are three types of carbohydrates:
simple carbs | complex starchy carbs | complex fibrous carbs
Called “simple” carbs because of their simple molecular structure, the most simple form of carbohydrate is glucose. In food, simple carbs typically take the form of sucrose (regular table sugar), fructose (sugars found in fruits), and lactose (sugars found in milk). While naturally-occurring sugars found in fruits and milk are fine, be sure to practice moderation. But most importantly, stay away from sucrose, i.e. table sugar, the “bad” carb.
TL;DR: sugar = bad, fruits & milk = in moderation. (all our healthy office snacks are very low in sugar!)
COMPLEX STARCHY CARBS
Called “complex” because the molecular structure is formed by long, complex chains, complex starchy carbs are often what people think of when they refer to “carbs” in general. These include foods such as rice, wheat, grains, potatoes, etc.
Now, many of these foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber; however, often times, what we end up eating are refined versions (anything with white flour, e.g. white rice or white bread) of these foods. When this happens, the “complex” structure of the molecule falls apart, and the body interprets and processes it as a “simple” carb – the same as a sugar! Yes, your body processes white bread the same way it processes sugar!
TL;DR: whole grain carbs = ok in moderation; white (i.e. processed) carbs = bad!
COMPLEX FIBROUS CARBS
These are the “best” types of carbs. Loaded with fiber, which your body is unable to absorb and thus passes through the digestive system, vegetables are the most common source of complex fibrous carbs. Yes, you heard that right… vegetables are carbs! But because your body is unable to digest the fiber, these versions of carbs are as healthy as they come and play a crucial role in keeping your digestive system running healthy!
TL;DR: your mom knew what she was talking about when she made you eat the broccoli :)
White = bad, Brown = better, Green = best!
‣ PRIMARY FUNCTIONS: bodily repair and maintenance, hormone regulation, immune system health, energy, and transportation/storage of molecules
‣ Recommended % of daily caloric intake: 25%-35%
Proteins are complex molecules made up of strings of amino acids – tiny molecular compounds that play a vital role in your body’s structural and metabolic processes, among other things. There are 20 amino acids, of which 9 are considered “essential,” meaning the body is unable to produce them naturally. That said, we rely on food that we consume to fill this void.
Because protein plays such a large role in building and repairing muscle and tissue, people who are particularly active especially need to get sufficient protein to rebuild muscle that gets broken down during exercise. In addition to muscle and tissue repair, protein plays an important role in hormone regulation, enzyme manufacturing, and immune health. Protein also helps you sustain your energy throughout the day!
High-protein foods: meats, beans, nuts, seeds (and of course, our healthy office snacks are loaded with protein!)
‣ PRIMARY FUNCTIONS: brain development & function, cell protection & regeneration, vitamin absorption
‣ Recommended % of daily caloric intake: 15%-25%
First off, fats don’t make you fat. In fact, eating less fat than recommended can lead to consuming MORE sugar/simple carbs than recommended, thus starting a negative cascading effect that can undermine your wellness and nutrition goals. Fat plays a large role in keeping you satiated and helps improve brain function, while also playing a key role in vitamin absorption.
However, just as there are “good” and “bad” carbs, there are also “good” and “bad” fats!
These are the good ones! Typically found in foods like avocados, fish, nuts, olive/peanut/canola oil, and seeds, unsaturated fats are liquid (at room temp) and can, among other things, improve cholesterol levels and aid in inflammation.
Typically found in animal foods such as cheese, meat, and milk, or in “tropical” oils such as coconut oil or palm oil, there’s debate around the health implications of saturated fats. But, as a rule of thumb, you’ll likely want to limit intake of them, and replace with healthy unsaturated fats instead (and certainly NOT replace with simple carbs).
Trans fats are bad! Most typically found in fried foods, baked goods, and processed snack foods, trans fats have been shown to raise the bad type of cholesterol (LDL) and lower the good type (HDL). They’ve also been linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and can contribute to insulin resistance. Rule of thumb: stay away!
Stick to unsaturated fats!
What is the right macro ratio?
‣ CARBS: 40-50%
‣ PROTEIN: 25-35%
‣ FATS: 15-25%
While it does differ depending on specific needs of an individual, what dietitians recommend is balance.
What that means is about half your calories should come from carbs, while the remaining 50% should come from a mix of protein and fats.
The important thing to remember is to not let carbs eclipse more than 50-60% of your caloric intake.
There are various diets (e.g. ketogenic diet, atkins, etc.) that argue for different macro consumption, but always remember that a balanced approach is the most sustainable for long-term health.
We hope this helped you learn something about macronutrients, because at the end of the day, 90% of the battle is being informed and knowing what you're putting in your mouth!
If you're interested in trying out snacks which were specifically designed around the macronutrient ratio that dietitians recommend, take a look at these delicious snacks which are high in protein, low in sugar, and full of healthy fats.