How to count macro-nutrients

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The term macro-nutrients (macros) originates from the Greek word makros, meaning large. Macros are the nutrients you require daily in large amounts.

Macro-nutrients provide the body with energy (calories) and provide the building blocks of cellular growth, immune function, and overall repair. They are:

  • Fat. 9 calories / gram;
  • Protein. 4 calories / gram;
  • Carbohydrate. 4 calories / gram.

Your body also requires micronutrients in smaller amounts, such as vitamins and minerals.

Fats
Of all the macro-nutrients, fats (and oils) provide the most energy (calories) per gram. Important for critical functions such as nutrient absorption (especially the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K), hormone production, temperature regulation and providing an alternative energy source (in fact, cardiac muscle cells derive up to 90% of their energy requirement from fatty acids).

Dietary fats are either saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated fats come mostly from animal sources. At the chemical level they are tightly packed and have no double bonds, hence the term saturated. These fats are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be shelf-stable for a longer period of time.

Unsaturated fats include those that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Chemically, these fatty acids are loosely packed and have either a single (mono) or multiple (poly) double bonds. The important Omega-3 fatty acids belong in this group. Unsaturated fats are generally in liquid form even when refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life.

The recommended daily intake is between 20-35% of the total caloric intake, although many people find optimal function and performance at higher levels.

Good sources of healthy fat include fish, meats, avocado, nuts, butter, olive and coconut oils.

Proteins
Proteins are important for the body to be able to build and repair cells and tissue structures, produce enzymes and hormones as well as regulate your immune system. Protein requirements will vary depending on individual body weight and fitness levels.

Typical recommendations for protein intake is between 15-25% of the total caloric intake.

Good sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, lentils and diary products.

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel. They are broken down into sugars by the body and either provide immediate energy or are stored in the liver and muscles for later use in the form of glycogen.

Carbohydrates can either be complex or simple.

Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides) are made up of either one or two sugar units and can be broken down fairly quickly in the body. Simply put, blood sugar levels typically rise quickly, then drop just as quick after the consumption of simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides) are made up of long strings of sugar units that take longer to break down for use in the body. Due to these longer strings of sugars, complex carbohydrates take longer to be broken down and as such, generally have a lesser impact on blood glucose levels.

In addition to providing fuel to the body, complex carbohydrates, particularly fiber, can help the body to maintain healthy digestive function and a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.

Although high, typical recommendations for carbohydrate intake is between 45-65% of the total caloric intake.

Good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, tubers and grains.

How to actually count macro-nutrients
Use the following steps to effectively count macro-nutrients:

  1. Identify how many calories you want to eat each day.
  2. Identify the ratio of macro-nutrients that you want to consume. The current recommendations in Australia are as follows:
    • Fat: 20-35%
    • Protein: 15-25%
    • Carbohydrate: 45-65%
  3. Multiply the total daily calories by the identified percentages.
  4. Divide the calorie amounts by the macro-nutrient calorie-per-gram number.

The Example
Our case athlete is following a 2,000 calorie diet using 25% fats, 25% protein and 50% carbohydrates.

Fat (9 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of fat per day
  • total amount of fat per day = 500/9 = 56 grams

Protein (4 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
  • total amount of protein per day = 500/4 = 125 grams

Carbohydrates (4 calories / gram)

  • 50% of 2,000 calories = 1,000 calories of carbohydrates per day
  • total amount of carbohydrates per day = 1,000/4 = 250 grams

From these simple equations we can determine how many grams for each macro-nutrient our case athlete should be eating per day. With the above example to achieve the goal of 2,000 calories our case athlete would need to eat 56 grams of fat, 125 grams of protein and 250 grams of carbohydrates.

Let us look at one more case athlete. Still following an 2,000 calorie diet, but following a fairly standard ketogenic nutrition plan using 65% fats, 25% protein and 10% carbohydrates.

Fat (9 calories / gram)

  • 65% of 2,000 calories = 1300 calories of fat per day
  • total amount of fat per day = 1300/9 = 144 grams

Protein (4 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
  • total amount of protein per day = 500/4 = 125 grams

Carbohydrates (4 calories / gram)

  • 10% of 2,000 calories = 200 calories of carbohydrates per day
  • total amount of carbohydrates per day = 200/4 = 50 grams

For ketogenic case athlete to achieve the same goal of 2,000 calories they would need to eat 144 grams of fat, 125 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Two different case athletes with different macro-nutrient breakdowns and achieving the same total caloric intake.

Final thoughts
Each macro-nutrient has important role in the body, essential to optimal health and performance. Understanding how to count these macros can produce a variety of health benefits, including the improvement in the overall quality of diet, smarter food choices and portion control, which when combined with a healthy exercise program can assist in reaching specific goals including improved body composition, lean muscle growth and / or effective weight loss.

When I track my calories I have found the CRONOMETER application to be a great tool for not only tracking macros, but have found that it also tracks more vitamins and minerals than any other application on the market.

The protein leverage hypothesis

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The protein leverage hypothesis states that homo sapiens, or modern humans will prioritise the protein content in food over all other dietary components, and will continue to eat until the body’s protein needs have been met, regardless of the energy content, leading to the over-consumption of food when the protein content is low.

Simply put, when there’s not enough protein in the diet, the body will crave more food until it has satisfied this requirement, regardless of the caloric content. This is likely an evolutionary adaption over millions of years, where getting enough dietary protein meant a greater chance of survival.

What does this actually mean?

Well, if you consider that if you eat 100g of steak, you will consume approx. 25g of protein. Similarly, 100g of lentils contain approx. 25g of protein.

In contrast, if you eat 100g of bread, you will only consume approx. 12g of protein, while 100g of potato chips provides approx. 7g of protein.

This would mean that you would have to eat two or three times the amount of bread or potato chips to acquire the same amount of protein, due to the lower protein content in those foods. Both items also have a much higher carbohydrate and unhealthy fat content, leading to a much higher caloric content without adding any real nutritional value.

If you don’t prioritise your protein intake, you’ll need to consume a greater amount of calories to reach your body’s protein and mineral requirements, ultimately leading to excessive or unwanted weight gain.

With so many hyper-palatable foods readily available today, this may not exactly be the ideal scenario for the large portion of society who are currently overweight or obese and constantly trying to lose excess body fat. This can incredibly confusing, especially with so many debates on what exactly is healthy or sustainable nutrition.

Currently, in Australia and New Zealand, the accepted range for dietary protein and other micronutrients is 15-25% of total energy consumed. If you’re eating mostly whole foods and are meeting these requirements, your body will be better equipped to self regulate its individual energy requirement.

This hypothesis has been studied in 2005 and again 2019 as a possible contributor to the obesity epidemic.

All about Resistant Starch

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What is resistant starch?
Resistant starch (RS) is a type of starch that is not digested in the stomach or small intestine, reaching the colon intact.  Simply put, it “resists” digestion. This explains why we do not see spikes in either blood glucose or insulin after eating resistant starch, and why we do not obtain significant calories from resistant starch.

There are four types of resistant starch:

  • RS Type 1 – Is found in grains, seeds and legumes and resists digestion because it’s bound within the fibrous cell walls;
  • RS Type 2 – Is found in some starchy foods, including raw potatoes and green (unripe) bananas;
  • RS Type 3 – Is formed when certain starchy foods, including potatoes and rice, are cooked and then cooled. The cooling turns some of the digestible starches into resistant starches via retrogradation;
  • RS Type 4 – Is man-made and formed via a chemical process.

However, this classification is not so simple, as several different types of resistant starch can co-exist in the same food.

Depending on how foods are prepared, the amount of resistant starch changes. For example, allowing a banana to ripen (turn yellow) will degrade the resistant starches and turn them into regular starches.

Where to find resistant starch
Resistant starch occurs in a number of natural foods. Some legumes, many tubers such as potatoes, and many fruits, especially unripe bananas and plantains.

There are several supplementary sources such as raw potato starch, plantain flour and tapioca starch. Raw (not sprouted) mung beans are also a good source of resistant starch, so mung bean starch (found often in asian grocery stores) can also work.

Food for your gut
Just like anything other living organism, your gut bacteria requires a food source. They need to eat to survive, and certain food sources are better than others. Simply put, resistant starch is a high quality food for your gut bacteria. This is the very basic, but most important function of resistant starch.

How does it work?

A healthy human gut has hundreds of bacterial species, outnumbering all other cells approximately 10 to 1. The overall balance of these bacteria has an important effect on health and wellbeing. Resistant starch resists digestion until it reaches the colon where it feeds your good bacteria.

The good bacteria feeds on resistant starch and produce short chain fatty acids, with butyrate being the most significant due its beneficial effects on the colon and overall health.  Butyrate is the prefered energy source for the cells lining the colon, it also has a role in increasing metabolism and decreasing overall inflammation.

Below are just some of the health related benefits backed by science to consuming resistant starch.

Improve gut integrity and overall gut function
As mentioned earlier, resistant starch improves the overall quality and functionality of your gut bacteria. It also inhibits endotoxins from getting into circulation and can reduce leaky gut, which could have a positive effect with regards to allergies and autoimmune conditions.

Improved insulin sensitivity
Consuming Resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity, even in people with metabolic syndrome.

Lowers the blood glucose response to food
A popular reason people avoid even minimal amounts of  dietary carbohydrate is the blood glucose response. It’s too high. Resistant starch lowers blood glucose spike after meals. This reduction may carry over to subsequent meals.

Reduces fasting blood sugar
This is one of the most commonly mentioned benefits of resistant starch. With a reduction in blood sugar levels, resistant starch may help you avoid chronic disease and improve your quality of life.

Increases satiety
In a recent human study, a large dose of resistant starch increased satiety and decreased subsequent food intake.

Enhanced magnesium absorption
Most likely because resistant starch improves overall gut function and integrity, resistant starch increases dietary magnesium absorption.

Consuming resistant starch may also have the following benefits:

  • Improved body composition;
  • Improved thyroid function;
  • Improved sleep.

Adding resistant starch to your diet

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In a modern diet a person may only consume about 5g of resistant starch daily, compared to many traditional diets where 20g or 30g was consumed per day. You can add resistant starch to your diet by either consuming it from a food source or through supplementation.

Several commonly consumed foods are high in resistant starch. These foods include, raw potatoes, cooked and then cooled potatoes, yams, green bananas, various legumes, lentils and raw oats.

These foods are commonly high-carbohydrate foods, making them out of the question if you are following a low-carbohydrate nutrition plan. However, even if you are eating a low-carbohydrate diet, you can still see some benefit from consuming some resistant starch.

You can add resistant starch to your diet without adding any dietary carbohydrates. This is where our supplements, such as raw potato starch come in to the equation.

Raw potato starch contains approximately 8g of resistant starch per tablespoon and almost zero digestible carbohydrate.

It is cheap. It does have a fairly bland flavour, but it can be added into your diet in a variety of ways, such as by adding to foods, smoothies or mixing it with water.

Four tablespoons will give you about 32g of resistant starch. Like most supplements, it is important to build up, as too much too soon may have disastrous results.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason to consume much more than that anyway, as excess amounts seem to pass through your body when you reach about 50g per day.