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In the health world, a lot of words get thrown around the internet.
Most of the time, we don’t take the time to define them or really understand what they mean in the broader context of your health.
So, we’re going to dig into a big one: macros – aka macronutrients.
Now you’ve probably heard about macronutrients, especially in relation to a paleo or ketogenic diet.
So, what’s the big deal? What’s actually important? What’s fluff? And what’s worth paying attention to?
Macros: Not All Calories are Created Equal
“Macronutrients” are broad categories of food you put in your body:
These different categories have different properties. Calories from different types of food affect your body differently.
The single most important idea to understand about “macros” is that not all calories are equal.
So, let’s look at these one at a time.
Protein is where we get the amino acids we use to make all the cellular machinery that keeps you alive.
As you probably know, you get protein primarily from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and dairy.
Eggs are by far the most efficient whole food protein source, followed by meat, poultry, and fish. Dairy and vegetable sources of protein are more difficult for your body to digest and are utilized less efficiently by your body. Protein efficiency is a big conversation and there are a lot of myths perpetuated by supplement manufacturers. You can learn more about the truth about protein here.
But you don’t need protein just for building muscle. You need the amino acids from protein for all sorts of functions: detoxification, cellular repair, neurotransmitters, healthy organ function, and more. Without a healthy amount of protein in your diet, your body won’t have resources to keep you in optimal health.
(side note: this is exactly why Dr. Minkoff designed PerfectAmino)
“Carbs” are all the different ways we get sugar from our diet. Sugars are made from carbon (carbo-), oxygen and hydrogen (-hydrate), hence the name carbo-hydrates.
Sugars come in a variety of forms. The most obvious are simple sugars, like white sugar or fructose in fruits. This kind of sugar that hits your bloodstream very fast, causing an insulin spike, which has some consequences on your energy levels and health. A diet with too many simple sugars over time causes problems like insulin resistance and obesity.
Sugars can also be made into slightly larger molecules called starches. These are in grains like wheat and rice. These take longer to digest than simple sugars, but still hit your bloodstream pretty quickly.
Finally, you can get sugars as very large molecules called complex carbohydrates –– like in squash, beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. Because complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, they make less of a spike on your blood sugar levels, so you don’t experience the energy drop 45 minutes after your meal.
It’s easy to demonize carbohydrates. It’s easy to point to all the health problems they can create, but really, it’s the dietary imbalance that causes the problems. Your body needs carbs to replenish your glycogen energy stores and also for overall gut health.
Remember, balance and quality are the keys.
This is the most energy dense of all of the macronutrient categories. Your body needs fat for all cellular membranes, hormones, neurological functions, and especially energy production.
Fat is extremely energy dense. This means it has lots and lots of electrons your body can feed into your mitochondria –– the microscopic energy factories inside each and every cell in your body.
This is why paleo and ketogenic diets place so much emphasis on healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, and omega 3s. When you add lots of high-quality fats into your diet, your ability to make cellular energy increases. This cellular energy fuels healing, cellular repair, athletic performance, cognitive ability, and more.
Fat is energy, and energy fuels optimal health.
The Key to Optimal Macros: Quality
When we look at these three categories, there’s one theme that shows up in each of them:
With eggs, for example, the quality of the eggs and how the chickens were raised makes a very big difference in the nutritional content. Farmed fish is much less nutrient-dense than wild-caught. Grass-fed meat is much healthier than antibiotic-infused, glyphosate-fed factory farm meat.
White sugar and alcohol (also a carbohydrate) will give you “energy”, but at a much higher cost to your health than a sweet potato.
Vegetable and coconut oil are both fats, but vegetable oil is full of inflammatory omega 6s. Paying attention to the quality of the ingredients is extremely importantwhen you are looking at your macros.
It’s easy to be deceived by nutrition labels telling you there are “8 grams fat and 10 grams of protein” in that energy bar…
But if the fat is hydrogenated soybean oil and the protein is modified GMO soy protein, you may not get the satisfying energy-boost you’re looking for. It could actually do more harm than good.
For more on why you should avoid GMO and glyphosate-drenched products, read this article.
Should You Count Your Macros?
Counting macros is one of the big fads in dieting. So, what does it do for you?
The most important thing is it makes you pay attention to what you eat.
If you measure the different levels of macros you eat, you take notice of your meal composition and manage accordingly.
Have you been unconsciously eating a huge plate of pasta every night for the last week just because it’s easy to make? Or what about those little snacks they have at the office? Do you grab a cookie when you’re at the coffee shop? These all add up.
Counting your macros forces self-awareness with your diet and that is invaluable in achieving optimal health.
Now, there’s another level to counting macros that is more specific to something like the ketogenic diet. Because when you achieve a certain ratio in your macros with high fat, medium protein and low carb, your biology begins to shift into a “ketogenic” state of consistent high energy and low inflammation.
Counting your macros can help you stay in the sweet zone of ketosis, if that is how you choose to pursue optimal health.
Remember: It’s About YOU
It’s easy to get sidetracked into a number-tracking obsession. For some people, counting macros is fun. It’s a game.
For others, though, it becomes just one more source of stress. The point is to cultivate health, not to become a neurotic number-counter. So, if you decide to start counting macros, reflect on why you’re doing it.
Treat it like an experiment and notice how you feel. Eventually, you will notice a pattern in what makes you feel really good, what makes you feel healthy, balanced, and energized.
Understanding what is best for your body is the goal here, and macros are a useful guide to dialing that in.
One of the more popular recent voices on the subject promotes a plant-based diet in a big way: The Game Changers. This Netflix special proposes eliminating meat from your diet and replacing it with plant-based sources of protein and nutrition.
Having spent years as a vegan and understanding the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, I couldn’t help but agree with many of the points brought to light in the film.
As a medical doctor, I saw a fundamental flaw in his information: plant-based proteins do not contain enough of each essential amino acid for most of to provide their bodies the wherewithall to optimize body protein synthesis. This is a fact observed through my own experience, through the experience of my patients, and backed by scientific research.
You know that the cardiovascular system is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout your system, right? And that the endocrine system manages hormones? And that your nervous system relays messages throughout your body?
Well, underlying all these systems is an astoundingly complex electrical system.
This electrical system is busy sending an almost uncountable number of messages to the muscles, bones, brain, and the cells. The human brain is the home to approximately 100 billion neurons, each firing about 200 times every second.
Sometimes it feels like there are more types and brands of water than drops in the ocean. You go to the grocery store and discover a huge shelf packed with different brands of water that all claim to be health-beneficial. Add in the hundreds of in-house water purifiers, and it can seem like a “sea” of confusing options (cue the pun).
Thankfully, your choice doesn’t have to be that complicated.