When starting a new healthy lifestyle, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to learn and understand the process. Sometimes when we start a new diet we follow a laid out meal plan for simplicity, which is great, but often doesn't allow us to really understand how or why the diet works. If you take the time to learn about what your body needs and how it reacts to food, it will save you a lot of time and stress. Of course, we know an essential part of our nutrition is calories in vs. calories out. Our daily caloric intake determines whether we loose weight, gain weight, or build muscle. It's simple math of the calories we expend minus the calories we consume. Once this aspect is dialed in, we can look at the types of food we eat.
Nutrients are classified into two categories based on the amount required by our bodies: macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. Both groups of nutrients are essential to promote our bodies’ growth and development and to regulate our bodies’ processes. Since everyones bodies are different, it's important to know what the right balance between these nutrients are for your body and for your specific goals. Knowing even just the basics behind your diet will help keep you focused and accountable during your new lifestyle journey.
In the simplest form, macro-nutrients are the elements in food needed for a person to grow and function. They are needed in large quantities in comparison to other nutrients which is why they are called “macro” nutrients. Generally, macro-nutrients are broken into three groups: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
These three macro-nutrients give you energy which is why you’ll see them at the bottom of every nutrition label indicating the calories for each.
We need carbohydrates for energy. Our bodies break down this macro-nutrient into glucose (sugar) which is converted to energy. Our brains and muscles are the biggest users of glucose, all cells in our bodies need it to function.
Wholesome sources include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans.
While sugar gives us energy, we do not need to consciously consume it because we can get it from other sources, mainly carbohydrates.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. It’s beneficial because it moves through your digestion, aiding in regularity.
We need protein for a few reasons. Primarily we need protein in our diets because it provides us with amino acids that we cannot make ourselves. Our bodies are like recycling geniuses that can take an old pallet (plant and animal protein), break it down (into amino acids), and make a bench from the parts (new protein).
Proteins play a part in most of our bodies’ functions from our nervous system to our digestive system.
Healthy sources include beans, nuts and seeds, lean meats, and eggs. While animal sources of protein have the highest protein content, we can easily meet our protein needs without eating animal products.
Sadly, fats have a bad reputation, but they are an essential dietary must. Because our bodies are like Grandma and want to keep the fridge fully stocked, they are extremely good at storing excess fat on our bodies. Both carbohydrates and proteins can be converted into fat and stored as well, so eating any macro-nutrient in excess can result in body fat.
Our bodies desire to keep fat should be a sure sign that fat is beneficial. Fats play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function.
Healthy sources include eggs, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, and avocados.
It is highly debated whether saturated fats are needed, but it is widely agreed we should not consume them in high amounts. Plus, it’s easy to get them without trying. Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products like milk, cheese, and meats, but they are also found in plant sources such as seeds and nuts, avocados, and plant oils.
Cholesterol is used to make hormones, Vitamin D, and digestive substances. It is not necessary to consume foods with cholesterol because our bodies will make it from the fat we eat. Major dietary sources of cholesterol include cheese, egg yolks, and meats. It is not found in significant amounts in plant sources.
Called “micro” nutrients because they are needed only in very small amounts, these substances enable our bodies to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances vital to development, disease prevention, and well-being.
Many people take a supplement to help meet their daily vitamin and mineral needs, but eating whole, natural foods will achieve the same goal. Processed foods go through manufacturing steps that tend to remove these essential micro-nutrients.
When you think of Vitamin A, you might think of its impact on your eye development and vision, but it also has important roles in pregnancy and child development, regulating cell growth, and normal immune functions.
Vitamin A can be found in both animal and plant sources. Significant sources include consist of sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, red peppers, mangos, broccoli, milk, eggs, squash, salmon, and tuna.
From healing wounds to maintaining cartilage, Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of our bodies. When consumed with iron, Vitamin C acts as a powerful enhancer for absorption, so our bodies are able to take up more iron.
Plants are the best sources of Vitamin A particularly red and green peppers, oranges, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, cauliflower, tomatoes, spinach, and green peas.
While low sodium is the current style, it is absolutely necessary for our bodies to function. This mineral is needed for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, maintaining pH balance, and hydration. Low levels of sodium can actually lead us to feel dizzy and exhausted.
Sodium is commonly found in the form of table salt. Because it enhances flavor in most dishes, it is heavily added to many processed foods. Surprising sources include beets, celery, carrots, spinach, cantaloupe, meats, and shrimp.
Iron is a mineral essential in the transport of oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies. When iron levels are low, we tend to feel lethargic because our cells are not getting enough oxygen. Iron is also necessary for cell metabolism, growth, and development.
Because iron is essential to animals, most animal meats are excellent sources of iron. Certain plants are also good sources including spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, pumpkin and squash seeds, soybeans, and asparagus.
This mineral is most commonly known for its support of bone health. It is critical to maintaining the structural integrity of our bones. We also use calcium to manage the pH balance in our bloodstream, and when our calcium intake is too low, our bodies will leach it from our bones making our bones weak.
Although milk and dairy products are commonly thought of to meet calcium needs, we can also get calcium from beans, salmon, turnip greens, kale, bok choy, and broccoli.
The Take Away
Overall, the main goal of nutrition is to connect what your eating to how it effects your body. If you want to lose a few pounds, have more energy, gain more muscle, etc., this is the basic thing you need to understand about your diet. Becoming aware of how your diet specifically effects your body will save you a lot of unwanted stress in the process and will allow you to take complete control over your health.
Check out our Micro & Macro friendly foods here!