With the mother of all eating holidays looming ahead of us, we’re going to take a second to remind everyone the real deal about food. This week’s topic is going to be about macro and micronutrients.
Food is many things, it can be a moment to gather together with family and friends, or a moment of enjoyment after a long day. But we’re here to remind you that as many meanings that humans have given food, there really is only one function that it provides- and that’s fuel. Whether it’s in the form of a steak or an apple the purpose should be to fuel your body’s peak performance and function.
Food can be broken down into two categories, macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in large amounts. These can be separated into three categories: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals your body needs in small quantities and is usually present in the foods we eat. These are important to understand because a deficiency or overindulgence in any one area can cause major health problems. When it comes to food, the order of the day is a balanced diet.
Thanksgiving is actually a great example of the diversity and much needed nutrients that food can provide for us. Let’s give this year’s Thanksgiving meal some extra thought on where it fits into our nutrition. Let’s start with that delicious turkey leg, also known as poultry. Poultry is a protein and is made up of amino acids that are essential for our body since we do not produce amino acids on our own. Think of amino acids as the tiny lego pieces that make up a lego car called protein. These important structures are found most abundantly in lean meats, fish, poultry, and dairy products. Proteins do a lot of different jobs in our body, their resume is long but here is a small list of what proteins do for you: they bind with other cells in our body to help make new cells, help send messages in the brain, or boost immune function. Proteins are generally easy to come by in our diets, but keep in mind that varying your source of protein can help attain other important vitamins and minerals. Also a lean source of protein is important for heart health. The more fat you consume, the greater the chance for cholesterol to build up in your arteries, which raises the risk of heart disease or heart attack.
Next up on our Thanksgiving meal plate is the unsaturated fat salad dressing all over those leafy greens. Fats are great for long term energy storage. They help to cushion organs, absorb certain vitamins, and produce certain hormones. Fat is great for energy during an endurance activity, in times of starvation, or between meals. But, as we all know, fats can also be harmful. There are three different kinds of fats: saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats. Saturated fats are in foods like bacon, biscuits, and tend to be solid at room temperature. Saturated fats like trans fats raise the cholesterol levels in the blood, which long term, as we mentioned, causes heart disease or stroke. Trans fats are fried foods, chips, or baked goods. These are trans fats that do not occur naturally and are in fact artificially produced to give food better taste and texture by making fats more solid. The best kinds of fats are unsaturated fats. They are usually plant based and tend to be liquid at room temperature. You can find unsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, fish, and avocados. The interesting part is that unsaturated fats do the opposite of what saturated and trans fats do. Unsaturated fats actually reduce cholesterol levels, keep inflammation down, and keep your heart healthy.
Last on the buffet table is that delicious whole grain bread roll or a spoon full of fruits from the fruit platter. These carbohydrates are an important part of the meal because they provide your body with immediate fuel and make up the largest portion of stored energy within the body. Once carbohydrates are digested, they turn into glucose and are easily distributed throughout the body via your bloodstream. For most individuals, 45-65% of our food intake should be from carbohydrates in order to properly fuel our bodily functions. Healthy carbohydrates can provide a lot of fiber and vitamins, and the unhealthy types of carbs spike your blood sugar quickly then leave you without much energy. Complex carbohydrates like potatoes or corn help keep a more sustained energy level and provide long term health benefits.
An integral part of all that Thanksgiving food is the micronutrients. These vitamins and minerals are part of a balanced diet and likely already in the fruit or the leafy greens you consume. Micronutrients help accomplish important functions like helping the body produce enzymes that are integral in normal growth and development. For example, vitamin B12 is important for creating new cells and keeps nerve cells healthy. There are two different types of vitamins-water soluble and fat soluble. The difference lies in how often you need one over the other. Water soluble vitamins are needed everyday because they are excreted when you use the bathroom. Fat soluble vitamins are stored long term in our bodies for later use. For example, vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that we must intake often unlike vitamin A which is stored in our fat.
Minerals are also vitally important to our system. Minerals are not manufactured in the body so we have to consume them. There are two groups of minerals - macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals are, you guessed it, the ones we need in larger quantities like calcium, chloride, or iron. Calcium is vital in helping to build our bones, and a lack of calcium becomes a real problem as a calcium deficiency increases our risk for brittle bones and fractures. An iron deficiency is also a problem. It can cause anemia, which further leads to poor oxygen circulation. A more severe lack of iron in the body during pregnancy or for young children can permanently alter a child’s brain development. Trace minerals, again, are not needed in such large quantities. Trace minerals are chromium, copper, or fluoride. Fluoride is important for developing healthy teeth by preventing tooth decay or cavities. Although these minerals are not needed as readily as macronutrients, their importance is still vital to many functions in our body.
Now that you know about micro and macronutrients, you know what your body actually needs to function and how some foods are vital while others not so much. It’s easy to pick up a burger and fries and not think about what that food means for our bodies. After reading the article, you should now be able to understand that yes, protein is good for you and so are potatoes, but trans fats (fries) and fatty burgers will cause more health problems than their worth. A balanced diet with fiber, vitamins, and minerals are what your body actually needs. If you’d like to learn more about what the optimal Macronutrient intake is for you, check out this website: https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/fnic/dri-calculator/
This website is led by the US Department of Agriculture and contains the most up to date information on what nutrients are needed based on age, weight, and activity level. Try filling out the information and getting an idea of how much you should be taking in. There are even more specialized tools like the MyFitness Pal app, which monitors and measures your macronutrients. With this app, you can set up your own macronutrient goals and record your meals to see if you’re meeting those goals.
A healthy diet can literally change your life. All those vitamins you aren’t getting can leave you feeling groggy or low energy. But the right kind of diet helps you feel better and function properly. You’ll be able to stay alert, think clearly, or just have the energy to go up a flight of stairs. Food literally fuels all of the functions your body has to complete whether that’s making sure your teeth don’t decay to having enough energy to work out. This brief overview on macro and micronutrients is here to get you thinking about what you eat and the ways you can change it for the better.
Thank you for sharing part of your day with us, and we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Blessings, Coach Adan Martinez