Macronutrients - The Big Three
Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source, supplying 4 calories per gram. Carbohydrates are found in many foods and beverages including cereal, bread, rice, pasta, milk, vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, table sugar and honey. Carbohydrates are built from sugar units, and are classified as either simple carbohydrates or complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugar units. They are found in sweet foods and drinks such as fruits, fruit juices, sweetened cereals, desserts, soft drinks, jam, syrup and table sugar. Complex carbohydrates are made up of many sugar units. They are found in starchy foods such as cereal, potatoes, pasta, beans and vegetables.
Dietary fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that passes through the body without being digested. Fiber is found in whole grain cereals and breads, dried beans and peas, fruits and vegetables.
There are two types of dietary fiber—insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber promotes regularity by adding bulk to the stool, which helps it pass more quickly through the body. Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as bran cereals, whole-wheat bread, fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber slows digestion, which helps minimize spikes in blood glucose, and helps lower blood cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as oatmeal, barley, beans, peas and many fruits and vegetables.
Health experts recommend getting 45 to 65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates.
The body needs protein for growth, repair and to make hormones, antibodies, enzymes and tissues. Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, milk products, grains and beans, and supplies 4 calories per gram.
Health experts recommend getting 10 to 35 percent of daily calories from protein.
The body needs dietary fats for proper growth and development, a healthy nervous system and skin, to aid the absorption and transport of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K through the blood, and to store energy in the body. Fats are made up of a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats. All fats supply 9 calories per gram.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and mainly found in animal foods such as fatty cuts of meat, whole milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, cream and lard. Tropical oils (palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil) also contain higher amounts of saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat increases risk of heart disease by raising total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and mainly found in plant foods. There are three types of unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, soy and safflower oils, sunflower and sesame oil and seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, and fatty fish such as salmon. Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, olive and peanut oils, peanuts, almonds and avocados. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered healthful choices because they do not raise LDL cholesterol and help replace saturated fats in the diet.
Trans fats are formed when unsaturated liquid plant oils are partially hydrogenated, a process which makes them more solid and similar to saturated fats. Trans fats increase total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- Health experts recommend getting 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fats, mostly from unsaturated fats. Limit saturated fatty acids to less than 10 percent of calories and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.