We all want to be more well, or more well. “What we eat, we are” (as Yoda might say) is a truth for us all and almost everyone wants to eat well. For many it’s about weight loss, for some fitness, for some specific medical conditions. But for everyone, general health & wellness is linked to nutrition. This website and this wellness programme is full of advice on healthy nutrition, and the broader Internet has millions of content-pieces on the subject – so you can get decent information. This article is simply a short summary on BASIC nutrition that might help you make sense of the more detailed and practical advice found elsewhere.
MACRONUTRIENTS & MICRONUTRIENTS
Foods contain nutrition. This nutrition can be divided into two types:
- Macronutrients – these are nutrients that we need “a lot” of (hence “macro”). There are three: Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat.
- Micronutrients – these are nutrients that we need “a little” of (hence “micro”). There are really two: vitamins and minerals (aka trace elements).
There are others – water, antioxidants, alcohol, and a few others might be added to this list/categorisation but for practical purposes, the above works.
Carbs are our major fuel-source and they are necessary for energy. The simplest carbs are sugars and our bodies break down all carbs into sugars, to access the energy in the carbs. Carbs have had a “bad press” in recent years but sound advice seems to be to eat carbs but to do so smartly – in simple terms we want to eat unprocessed (or minimally processed), low-GI, high-fibre carbs in a healthy diet.
Commonly-eaten carbs include bread, pasta, rice, potato, sugar, most vegetables, and most fruits.
Proteins build the body: muscle, bone, skin, tendons, enzymes, hormones all depend on protein. All proteins are broken down into amino-acids, which are then used as building blocks in the body. Proteins are very good at creating satiety (a feeling of fullness), which is useful in weight control (avoiding overeating). For many of us, increasing our intake of quality protein is a good idea.
Commonly-eaten proteins include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, dairy, and legumes.
Our bodies need fat. Fat is essential for the absorption and metabolism of other macros, for many metabolic processes, and for taste and texture in food. The big thing is to eat good fats: essentially we want to minimise saturated fats in favour of unsaturated fats. At the same time we want to avoid trans-fats. In simple terms most of us should aim to reduce animal-fats (saturated), increase plant-fats (unsaturated), include fatty-fish (e.g. salmon and tuna) and avoid processed or overheated fats (trans fats), while monitoring overall fat intake carefully.
Commonly eaten fats include dairy, meat, oils, nuts.
HOW MUCH OF EACH?
This is a complex and controversial area. The best answer is that “it depends’. It depends on your needs, preferences, objectives, age, activity-levels etc. There is a degree of debate, even among experts. We recommend seeing a dietitian for personal advice here but a reasonable guide for most adults would be in this region:
- Carbs @ 40% of your calorie intake
- Protein @ 30% of your calorie intake
- Fats @ 30% of your calorie intake
Your plate: given the above you might think that your plate should look as above, but you’d be wrong. Fats have twice as many calories, per gram, as the other macros, so you will see less fat in a healthy plate – your plate should probably be (%s are by-weight not appearance) about 45-50% carbs (this includes the veggies), 35-40% protein, 15% fats.
WHAT ABOUT THE MICRONUTRIENTS?
To keep things simple we are not going into this here but for most us, if we balance our macronutrients well and we eat a diet of fresh minimally-processed foods, we will get enough micronutrition.
We hope this simple guide clears-up a few things for you. Please appreciate that we have simplified the science and so there are some missing details etc. By all means look into this further and or see a professional for quality personal advice.