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Everybody loves food, everybody needs food. But how much do you really know about what the food we eat is composed of and what happens once it is inside our bodies? Don’t worry this isn’t a rant about eating only organic, non-gm foods or avoiding sugar like the plague (maybe a little bit). We’ll save that for another day. In this post I am going to talk about the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) that make up our food, so if you want to know what we need them for and what happens to them after we put them in our bodies read on…
Protein is a vital part of any diet and is essential for all living organisms. What do we need protein for? Simply put, proteins are chains of amino acids that form tissues such as muscle and hair. Without adequate protein intake it is impossible to build (or maintain) lean muscle and can also have a large negative impact on our health. If your goal is to build muscle of even to lose fat, protein intake is vital to provide your muscle with amino acids and allow them to repair and grow. While we are on this topic it is worth noting that if your goal is to lose fat and be leaner, building muscle will accelerate this process. Why? More muscle = Higher metabolism = More calories burned at rest.
Carbs are evil. Carbs make you fat. You shouldn’t eat carbs. These are all statements I hear time and time again. Are any of them true? Not even close. What are carbohydrates? When carbs are ingested they are broken down to glucose in the body and stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. When our bodies require energy this glycogen is broken down into glucose which is released into the blood and provides us with energy. For this reason it is very important that after a bout of exercise we take in good carbohydrates to replenish our glycogen (energy) stores. What are good carbohydrates? Common carbohydrates found in the modern day diet are rice, potatoes, oats and other grains. ‘Good’ carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes are classified as such because they are slow-digesting and do not cause a sudden spike in blood glucose levels. Consistent intake of foods high in sugar and so called ‘bad’ carbs over a prolonged period of time will result in constantly high blood glucose levels, which leads to excessive release of insulin from the pancreas. A common consequence of this? Obesity and type 2 diabetes. The take home message? Do not avoid carbs but think more carefully about where we get them from!
Does fat make you fat? No. Should I eat as little fat as possible? No. Should I take in fat from a variety of healthy sources but not go overboard? Yes. What do we need fat for? Fat, like carbohydrates, are a form of energy that our bodies will use in times of need. As carbs are our primary energy source we will only ‘burn’ fat and use it for energy during very intense periods of exercise and during long periods of exercise once our glycogen supplies have been exhausted.
This is absolutely not the only use fat as it also provides protection around organs, maintains regular heart function and even forms a structural component of brain tissue. Where can we get fat from? There are an abundance of healthy fat sources found commonly in our diets such as eggs, oily fish, nuts and avocados. What about foods labelled ‘low in fat’ or ‘fat free’? Should we eat them? Usually when food is advertised as having reduced fat, it usually means it has been replaced with artificial flavourings and a myriad of additives that the human body was not supposed to take in. Instead, focus on including plenty of good fat sources in your diet from natural foods and try to minimise processed food that has been tampered with. If there is a TV advert for it, it’s probably best to avoid it.