We all need to eat and fairly regularly to function well. Miss a meal and tiredness and a negative mood can quickly follow. But what are we eating in terms of nutrients and what do they do in the body?
There are three main nutrients - known as macronutrients or macros. They are protein, carbohydrates and fats. Each are essential nutrients - a prolonged deficiency in one can lead to health issues.
Protein is responsible for maintaining and building tissue in the body. These include muscle, hair and nails. The amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of tissue, some of which cannot be manufactured by your body, so we must get them from your food. It is also the slowest digested of the nutrients so can help with feeling satiated, particularly when controlling calorie intake with the goal of fat and weight loss. Good sources are meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. For vegetarians a range of meat free products, beans, nuts and cheeses can increase protein - you just have to be creative to get a good range of sources.
Carbohydrates are an energy source. They are broken down into glucose for respiration, the process that releases energy in our cells. The excess is stored - either as glycogen in muscles, liver and brain for times of physical exertion or as fat. There are many sources of carbohydrates as these dominate the food choices available. These range from potatoes, pasta and rice, through vegetables and fruit to cereals, bread and sweet, sugary food.
Fats are also an energy source and help the body carry out essential functions such as transport of vitamins and hormone production. In excess they are also stored by the body. Fats are often thought of as being bad but a range of sources contain good fats, including nuts, fish and olive oil.
We need then to balance our macros to function well, particularly if you have goals around body composition. Most people will benefit from increasing protein in their daily nutrition. 3 to 4 good portions works well. Look at each meal and aim for a portion of protein such as yoghurt or eggs at breakfast, meat or fish with other main meals and eat good whole food sources of carbohydrates and fats. Doing this the majority of the time and adding a good selection of fruit and vegetables will keep a healthy balance and make up for when we do choose to indulge from time to time.
This article was originally published in the September issue of Idle Talk Magazine.