EVOLVE NUTRITION Foundation WEEK 4:
Week 4! YOU’RE DOING IT! Hopefully you’re still drinking water and have been able to find a deeper connection with your food, why you eat, and what you enjoy about it. Mindfulness is all about just noticing. Noticing when you are in the present and when your thoughts and feelings are elsewhere. Continue to notice why you are eating, how your food tastes and take a moment to slow down. We eat because we enjoy it, so take a moment to take it in an enjoy it!
This week we are going to talk about the building blocks of our food and nutrition. Recently, “macronutrients,” or macros, have gotten a lot of hype as a key nutrition concept. People talk about counting them, shifting them, and eliminating certain ones, and there can be a lot of confusion here, and per usual, I think there should be more nuance to the discussion. So let’s break it down.
What is a macro?
Macronutrients: Our macronutrients are energy yielding nutrients (energy = calories). These are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. We typically want each meal and snack to have a balance between these macronutrients, as we will discuss in more detail below.
However, there are several key elements left out if we just focus on macronutrients alone. These include fiber, a special type of carbohydrate, and micronutrients, which are non-energy yielding nutrients essential to bodily functions. These include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
It’s important to note here, and we’ll discuss it more below and in coming weeks, that no single macronutrient or micronutrient can function alone, or can sabotage your health on its own. Carbs alone don’t make you overweight, and eating a lot of healthy fats alone isn’t the key to good health. We need balance. And eating an excess of anything, be it carbs, fats, or protein, can send our system off course. Likewise, eliminating any major building block altogether usually causes problems.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to break down in detail each macronutrient and then major micronutrients, along the best ways to incorporate them into your day. For now, we are going to start with a brief overview.
Carbohydrates (“carbs”) are essential for normal metabolic function. They get a pretty bad rap, especially recently. But, this demonizing of carbs has been blown out of proportion. In a healthy diet, we need carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential for neurological function, muscle function, hormone production and cellular metabolism.
No, carbs do not make you fat. As I mentioned above, anything in excess can be converted and stored as adipose (fat tissue), and that includes but is not limited to carbs alone. But, there are some carbs that we want you to have more of and some carbs that we want you to have less of. The main reason for this is that it is easier to eat more processed carbohydrates, and they contain less micronutrients and fiber. We’ll dig into this more in future weeks. For right now let’s focus on what we want more of, here are some good sources of carbohydrates:
Good carbohydrate sources are:
Starchy vegetables (potatoes, winter squash, corn, peas)
Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, farro, wheat, etc)
Dairy (lactose natural sugar in dairy)
While we are on the topic of carbohydrates, let’s talk fiber. This is perhaps the MOST overlooked building block in my opinion (but I am just a registered dietitian or something). Fiber helps keep you fuller longer, feeds your gut bacteria and can help improve cholesterol levels. It’s good for us -- so let’s try to get some every day.
Fiber sources include:
Protein is an easy one for most of us. Protein has never been the bad guy in the food world. Protein is made up of amino acids, when amino acids are joined by peptide bonds and make a protein structure. There are two different groupings of amino acids, essential and non-essential. Non-essential amino acids can be made by our body, essential amino acids can only be obtained by our food. Proteins are essential for our structure (muscle), rebuilding and repairing cells, hormones, enzymes, and immunity.
However, I have found that protein the most difficult building block to obtain. Protein involves planning and preparation. It is easy to walk into a gas station and grab some chips (carbs + fat), but you will have to search harder for lean protein sources. I often find that people do not eat enough protein, which means that you may be not be recovering well or able to recover from illness as quickly as you would like.
Some examples of lean proteins include:
Beans and lentils (legumes)
Nuts and seeds
Fat (AKA lipids)
Just like carbs, fat is often misunderstood. No, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, fats are a fantastic energy source! A fat molecule is also known as a lipid, and if you know that you’ve been leery of eating healthy fats in the past, perhaps you can think of them in your mind as lipids instead. They play a HUGE role in hormone balance and function. They help our form our brains and our nervous system (kind of important). They also help transport and absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). When you eat and breakdown fat, the rate that your food digests is slower than without fat. This helps keep you sustained longer.
Digestion: Where it all comes together
During digestion our body breaks down carbohydrates first, then protein, and finally fat and fiber. If you have ever eaten just a banana or some crackers, you may notice that you are hungry within the next hour or so. This is because your body breaks down that nearly pure carbohydrate source very quickly. This is why, when talking about balancing meals and snacks, it is important to get all of the building blocks together. Not only does this ensure that we are getting adequate amounts of protein and fiber, but it also helps sustain us through out our day.
If you happened to track yourself on the hunger scale last week, you may notice that if you went outside of the 4-6 range, you tended to eat more. Try to have a balanced snack (carbs, protein, fat, FIBER!) between meals if you find this happening, and you’ll likely stay in a good range of the scale and have less of an urge to overeat. This will allow you to be more mindful during mealtimes.
Your week 4 habit: To bring together this introduction into your key nutritional building blocks, your habit this week is to try to have a balanced lunch and dinner. “Balanced” means an appropriate portion of each of the major building blocks: Good carbohydrate sources, protein, vegetables (AKA fiber), and some health fat sources as well. See the ate infographic for a visual layout.
This may be a tough one! Yes, we are asking you to eat vegetables at each lunch and dinner, along with lean protein and good carbohydrate! It’s a bit more than the last few weeks, but now is the time to dig in, lean on the foundation that you’ve built over the past few weeks, and make some real changes.
Blanking on ideas? Here are a few:
Concerned or confused about nutrition? Not sure if your current nutritional habits are helping you meet your goals? Feel free to pop in Abby's office, schedule an appointment, or shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org