Macronutrients (macros) are much talked about – mostly in terms of which ones to avoid! It used to be fat and now the focus has shifted to carbohydrates. However, macronutrients are essential, they are the main nutrients we get from food. Each one has its specific role and together they fuel our bodies and help us build immunity against disease. It is therefore important that we eat a well-balanced ratio of macronutrients every day. The vast majority of people should never cut out one of those macros permanently, as this can lead to serious deficiencies and possibly chronic disease. If we do reduce the intake of one group a little bit, we need to ensure that we increase the intake of another one. Not doing so can lead to that mid-afternoon slump where all you want is sugar as a quick pick-me-up!!
There are 3 macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – although fibre, a type of carbohydrate, could be counted as fourth one because of its importance to the digestive system.
I was going to write about all 3 in one blog but that turned into one very long blog! So I’ll split them up….and start with….
Carbohydrates are avoided by many as it is feared that consuming them will lead to weight gain. However, they are the body’s main source of energy and come in many different forms. The easiest distinction to make is simple carbohydrates vs complex carbohydrates.
- Simple sugars that give a quick but not lasting energy boost because they are quickly broken down and absorbed
- When the body gets too many in one setting, it will store the extra glucose as glycogen and once those glycogen stores are full, the body converts the extra glucose to fat
- Very small fibre content (fibre helps to slow down absorption)
- Found for example in processed white flour products like breads, cakes & biscuits, honey, maple syrup, lollies, many processed foods, soft drinks and dried fruits
- High fibre content, which leads to slower absorption (and eventually less of a need to be stored)
- Provide long-lasting energy
- Many are an abundant source of B vitamins, which are needed for many essential bodily functions, and minerals
- Provide fuel for good gut bacteria
- Sources include spelt, rye, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, millet, sweet potato, potato, parsnip, legumes
Fruits and vegetables often contain both simple and complex carbohydrates, which means their absorption is slowed down and the sugars are released slowly.
The key to eating carbohydrates is thus to consume mostly complex ones from wholefood sources including fruit and vegetables. This doesn’t mean that you should never have simple carbohydrates – just make them more of a special treat and don’t rely on them for energy!
Fibre is the ingestible plant part from vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes. It is a complex carbohydrate so it’s not another macronutrient, but it’s vitally important for our digestion. It is therefore worth discussing it separate from other carbohydrates, especially as many people don’t eat enough of it.
Fibre does not only ensure that your bowels move well, it can also mop up toxins, excess hormones and cholesterol in the gut and eliminate them. This makes fibre vital for not just digestive health but also heart health, and it can reduce the risk of cancer, in particular colon cancer. It also helps you feel fuller for longer, so it helps to control weight and reduce the risk of metabolic disease.
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble fibre, and both have separate functions.
- Attracts water and turns into a gel in the digestive system
- Easily digested by the bacteria in your colon (fermentable)
- Helps to keep you full and balance blood sugar levels
- Softens stools
- Sources: oat bran, oats, barley, nuts, seeds, legumes, citrus fruit and psyllium husk
- Don’t dissolve in water and are less readily fermented
- Adds bulk to stools and keeps things moving! Great for when you have constipation….
- Sources: wholegrains, wheat bran, rice bran, fruit & vegetables (with skins on), leafy greens
How to get more fibre into your diet?
Fibre-rich foods should be consumed with every meal. The easiest way to do so is by consuming a wide range of vegetables and wholegrains with every meal and having 1-2 pieces of fruit a day. You also need to have adequate water intake to ensure optimal digestion.
So this was a brief summary of carbohydrates. Next post will be all about protein.