Friday, December 22, 2006

4.2: Education: What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are three basic building blocks our bodies need for maintenace and energy. Feeding my body the right mix of macronutrients has been one of my most helpful techniques for gaining control of my weight.

The three macronutrients are carbohydrates (or carbs), protein and fat. Each of these macronutrients have calories that can wind up on your waistline if you eat too much.

Fat has 9 calories per gram.
Carbs and Protein 4 calories per gram.
By the way, Alchohol, has 7 calories per gram in case you were wondering.

Our bodies break down these macronutrients to supply energy and to build and repair cells. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just shovel three basic building blocks into our front door and our homes automatically took those to make repairs and keep the house warm or cool? That's what our bodies do.

I grew up in the 80s, with low fat diets. I lived through the 90s and it's low carb diets. Both of those trends did damage to my waistline, because neither worked for me. Dr. Barry Sears, convinced me one evening that my body actually needs a fairly steady mix of all three macronutrients. That evening was the night that my wife bought his short, grocery counter checkout book, "A Week in the Zone". It's a very short book - just like mine - but to me made a compelling case for me to get 40% of my calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from healthy fats every time I eat.

Since then I've seen other diets recommend a similar formula as the long-term eating solution - most notably, the South Beach Diet. Incidentally, diabetics are taught to control their insulin levels with the same mix of carbs, protein and fat.

Before, I use to feel like I needed to visit confessional for eating any fat. I tried to cut as much fat out of my diet as possible. I figured that was the way to stay thin. So, how did I gain weight? Turns out, the body does need fat. It's designed that way. Starving it of fat ended up causing me to eat more calories than I needed.

And that is the reason I got fat. I ate more calories than I needed. For weight loss, mathematically it doesn't really matter where the calories come from - carbs, fat, protein - if you eat too many, you will gain weight.

But, physiologically, where the calories come from can make a world of difference. When I changed my mix of calorie intake to include more fats and to balance out the mix I noticed a difference immediately. It took me longer to feel hungry after eating.

So, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT: with the right mix of macronutrients, I'm able to eat the right amount of calories to control my weight without feeling like my stomach is trying to digest itself 30-90 minutes after eating.

I don't follow the 40/30/30 advice to the gram. It's more of a guideline. And, now, I know (or my stomach knows) well when I stray too far away from that guideline.

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