With all the health and nutrition trends of 2019, there is one common theme with nutrition and diet culture: each trend over-simplifies extremely complex subjects!
Every new diet focuses on vilifying a food group by blaming it for health and body-related issues like weight gain, chronic inflammation, and even acne. With all the information out there regarding health and nutrition, it can be very challenging to know which lifestyle is appropriate (Keto, Vegan, Plant-based, Atkins, Paleo… oh-my!) The truth is no one diet is perfect for everyone. So for the purposes of this article, I’ll explain basic nutrition and let you decide for yourself which approach is best for your own personal health goals.
To begin, there are three main macronutrients in the diet. These are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Macronutrients are what comprise most of the food source and each perform vital roles in the body. Carbohydrates or ‘carbs’ are the newest villain on the scene! Breads, rice, pasta, corn, beans, fruits, potatoes are examples of our food sources of carbohydrates. Carbs are used for energy in the body, our blood and brain really like this source of energy. If you follow a low carbohydrate diet, you can feel tired, grouchy, and foggy brained. Carbohydrates can get broken down into two sub groups’: complex carbs vs simple carbs. Complex carbs are carbohydrates that usually keep the grain source intact. An intact grain contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Simple carbs are very low in fiber and protein making them very fast to digest. Therefore, complex carbohydrates are the preferred source when trying to follow a healthy diet.
Fats are used in the body for energy, transport of nutrients, and to produce hormones (1). Fats can also be broken down into sub groups like carbs. Saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans-fats are the three main categories of dietary fats.
• Unsaturated (mono- and poly-unsaturated) fats are generally recognized as ‘good for you’. Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and are associated with lowering cholesterol, being anti-inflammatory, and overall heart-healthy. Unsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, oils, avocados, and fatty-fish.
• Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and thought to be ‘bad for you’. Saturated fats have been associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol. These can cause “clogging arteries.” Dietary saturated fats are typically found in red meat (bacon, sausage, brisket, ribeye, etc…), butter, lard, sweets, and the skin on poultry.
• Trans-fats are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for consumption and were developed to make foods shelf life stable. Trans-fats were taken off the GRAS list by the FDA in 2013 and were supposed to be taken out of products by companies by 2018. They have yet to be phased out of products. You can find trans-fats in foods as ‘hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils’ in the ingredients section on food labels. It’s best to avoid these when possible as they have been also shown to raise LDL cholesterol and even have been linked to some forms of cancer.
Protein, or amino acids, is one of the most important nutrients for humans because it is in every single cell in the body, it’s part of your immune system, your muscular system, and even your DNA. Protein is found in meats, dairy, seafood, beans, complex carbohydrates, and to some extent vegetables. There are two types of protein: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins are in food sources that contain all 9 essential amino acids required for the human’s diet. Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acid. There have been many sources of debate on how and why to consume each types of protein and when they should be eaten. The general consensus is animal proteins should be consumed in moderation while plant proteins, if eaten exclusively, should be eaten varied and plentiful.
As you can see each macronutrient is important in very different respects. If you are trying to start a healthy diet for any reason, it is best to follow a diet that includes all the macro-nutrients. Excluding entire food groups can leave you deficient in vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients as well as affect how you feel or perform during the day.
Here is a simple list of ways to make your diet healthier without exclusion:
1. Choose complex carbs over simple carbs.
2. Choose lean protein sources more often than not.
3. Incorporate unsaturated fats in place of saturated/trans-fats.
4. Eat fish at least two times a week as it is a great source of omega-3’s for anti-inflammation
5. Fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables (great source of antioxidants!)
OakBend Medical Center Dietitian
Richmond, Texas Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.