The three major components of food are called macronutrients (“macros” for the pros) and they are: carbohydrates, fats and protein. What lies behind those terms? What are they exactly and where do we get them from? I will introduce them to you and later dedicate a separate blog post to each one of them. Now dear macros, the stage is yours!
Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, saccharides or sugars, are a family of compounds which share some chemical features in common that you do need to know to eat well 😉 They are all basically built of three diffferent kind of atoms: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Some of them can be used by the human body to produce ATP, our energy-currency, which we need not only to perform activity but also to be alive. They may have other functions like fueling our microbiome, helping gut motility or they serve as building blocks for other compounds in the body. In nutrtion science they are divided in two major groups:
- simple carbohydrates: small sugars built by either one, two or a few sugar molecules. Here you find the monosaccharides like glucose and fructose and disaccharides like saccharose/sucrose (glucose and fructose bound together) or lactose (galactose and glucose bound together). Simple carbohydrates are naturally occurring in fruits and honey. Lactose is found in milk. Cane and beet sugar are both source of saccharose.
- complex carbohydrates: this is an even bigger group of sugars where multiple sugar molecules are bound together. They are also called polysaccaharides. You may know starch, which is built from multiple glucose molecules, and found in potatoes, rice and grains. We are able to fully digest starch and use the glucose from it. This is not the case for cellulose, which is also a glucose polysaccahride found in plants. Cellulose is also known as a so called “non-digestible insoluble fibre” helping digestion. All fibers, which I will cover in a separate blog post, are complex carbohydrates that can not be digested by human digestive enzymes. They are important for our microbiome and are found in plants (vegetables, fruits, grain, beans…) and mushrooms.
Biochemically dietary fats are called triglycerides, which are built from fatty acids and glycerol. The bigger biochemical group where fats belong to is the one of the lipids, a very heterogeneous group of molecules. Here you find everything from lipid-soluble vitamins to cholesterol to the components of bile acid. Lipids are not only a big energy resource to make ATP, they are also hormons themself (vitamin D), essential for the synthesis of some hormones (like sexual hormones), essential for inflammation (or anti-inflammation) signaling and more. Our body is capable to make a big part of the lipids we need but other are essential. This means, we have to take them with food, like omega-3 fatty acids.
Dietary sources of fats/lipids are of course all the plant oils and animal fats but also nuts, some legumes like peanuts and seeds like sesame. Some meat cuts and oily fishes are also rich in fat.
Last but not least are proteins. Proteins do nearly everything you can imagine in our body. They build our hair, skin and organs (“connective tissue”); they help fighthing infections (antibodies!); they make metabolism and therefore life possible (enzymes); they transport other molecules in and out from the cells… Well, I think you get it, proteins are freaking important.
Proteins are large molecules made in our body from smaller building blocks called aminoacids. There are three categories of aminoacids:
- non-essential aminoacids: this aminoacids are synthetised in the body from other compounds
- essential aminoacids: we are not able to build this aminoacids from scratch and therefore we need to take them through our food.
- conditionally essential aminoacids: under some circumstances the body is not able to synthetise enough of them and they need to be taken through food.
The main sources of proteins are dairy, eggs, meat and fish. If you go all-in vegan you have to consume carb or fat sources which also contain bigger amounts of protein like beans, peanuts, almonds and so on, or rely on vegan protein powders. I am not an expert on vegan diet but there is enough evidence by now that a vegan diet is not inferior (but also not superior, dear gamechangers) to ominvore diet for muscle building even if it may require more attention to detail though.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction on macronutrients. Do you think your diet is built particularly on one of this macros? Which one? Would you like to change it? Leave a comment and let me know!