Fat, Carbohydrates, and Proteins, oh My!

Due to the amount of information I’m trying to pass along, I will be continuing the nutrition portion of this series through January, and will pick up exercise in February.  Why?  Because diet is 70% of the battle to living healthy and feeling better.

Today, we are going to look at the macro-nutrients that our bodies use to keep going.  They are the ones most people have heard about.  Unfortunately, not everything you’ve heard may be true.

Fats

This is probably the most despised word in the English language, especially among women and physicians.  Every where you look are products that are fat free, diets that claim to bust belly fat, and foods advertised simply to lower cholesterol (despite how nasty they might taste) .  This is why I’m starting with this macro-nutrient first.  Because, despite all the hype, it is a nutrient we need.  Basically, fats are a super-dense form of energy.  Think of oil lamps.  When I was growing up, my grandparents kept oil lamps filled in case the power went out, not candles.  The reason being:the oil burned slower and, therefore, longer, than a candle would.  Our bodies can use fat in the same way.

Before everyone starts freaking out, let me point you to an article that changed my life, “What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie” that was published in the New York Times.  Summary: fat does not make you fat.  But please go read the article.

Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian

OK, now that you’ve hopefully read the article and are back here, let’s break fats down just a little bit.  We here about trans-fat and saturated fat and unsaturated fat.  Cholesterol and lipids.  It can be so overwhelming.  To start out, make sure you are getting high quality fats in your diet, particularly the unsaturated kind.  Think nuts and olive oil.  And don’t be completely terrified of saturated fat either.  Mark, at Mark’s Daily Apple, gives a pretty straightforward explanation on how the body uses all fats, not just specific ones.  Also, realize that most companies make low fat taste good with lots of hidden carbs.  It’s better to eat high quality fats in a reasonable proportion, than avoid fat altogether only to OD on another nutrient.

Carbohydrates

Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian

Now, these macro-nutrients, these are the ones we crave and eat and eat and eat.  These things are hidden in everything, from your salad at MacDonald’s to your favorite doughnut.  That’s right, carbs, carbohydrates, are essentially some form of sugar.  Carbohydrates burn very quickly in the body.  If you are planning on a serious Crossfit session or running a marathon, carbs can be a great way to have instant, burnable energy.  But, let’s face it, the majority of us are NOT doing that after eating a couple of doughnuts or a big piece of cake.  No, we are sitting down in front of the TV and surfing some channels.  And that kind of “workout” will not burn the carbs you just ate.

While I do not advocate a No Carb diet, because it is a macro-nutrient we need a little of, I do think we are unknowingly eating a lot more carbs than we realize.  It also comes down to the quality of carbs we are consuming.  Oreos and Ding-Dongs are not high quality carbs.  And as much as we enjoy the taste and it satisfies the primal urge to eat easy-to-burn calories to survive, they are quite literally killing us.  As with anything, we need to keep carbs lower, and ensure they are good quality.  Instead of a heaping scoop of ice cream on a slice of cake as big as your head, try a couple of frozen, mashed bananas with dark chocolate chips and a spoon of honey drizzled over it all.  There are still carbs there, but in a form your body can actually use.

Protein

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The final macro-nutrient that our body relies on is protein.  It may also be the most important.  Proteins are the worker molecules in our body, and are used a lot more than building muscle.  Proteins make up your hair, your blood, and even defend your body from infection.  Out of everything we eat, protein may be the one thing we miss on.

This may in part be due the fact that we see protein as a nutrient for body builders.  Not for average folk.  But protein is vital.  Proteins are made up of amino acids.  Which, if you are at all nerdy, you may remember that our DNA is also made up of amino acid pairs.  Yes, even the blueprint of our physical existence is made up of protein.

Now that I have hopefully emphasized this enough, let’s talk about high quality protein.  If you can swing it, I really recommend locally raised protein.  Check out your local farmers’ market and talk to the farmers about their animals.  You can quickly find a source that isn’t too expensive, and can have a better guarantee in how the animal was raised as well as what it was exposed to during it’s life.  Try to at least stay away from antibiotic-laden meat.

Summary

I personally advocate a modified Paleo diet.  While it does use the term diet, it really is about habitual nourishment.  The main focuses are on good proteins, plenty of veggies, no dairy, and avoiding filler carbs.  The original diet was crafted by Dr Loren Cordain and has spread since then through the vast world wide web.  Steve Kamb, over at Nerd Fitness, gives a really great overview of the plan, if you want to check it out.  I do eat dairy, quite a bit actually.  And I do not believe eliminating carbs altogether is healthy, or even possible.  But, I noticed a huge difference when I started getting my energy from something other than carbs.  I stopped crashing every two hours and felt better overall.

Hopefully, I’ve given you quite a bit to chew on (sorry, but I can’t help it I’m punny!).

Friday, I should hopefully have a post up in which we discuss micro-nutrients, as well as some apps or websites than can help you monitor how much you’re eating and what you nutrients you are actually putting in your body.

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