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Protein, Carb & Fat Intake.
How to get the correct balance.
In this blog post my goal is to help you understand how to balance your daily macronutrients for optimum health.
I do not advocate diets for one simple reason, they don’t work! The minute you tell yourself you’re on a diet you’ll subconsciously want to be a “champion with the knife and fork” and anyway, who wants to go to bed at night dreaming about chocolate cake!!
That said, I do believe in healthy eating to promote lean tissue, keep inflammation down and pH (acid/alkaline) in check.
For me that equates to high quality protein, moderate amounts of low GI carbohydrates, a good dose of healthy fats, plenty of vegetables/salads and at least two litres of still water every day. Add regular exercise, get good quality sleep, manage your stress levels, and you’ll become healthy, happy, vibrant and lean. Blood sugar levels will stabilise, hormones will be balanced and you’ll become an intuitive eater.
However, many of us are unclear about the macronutrients and what proportion of each we should be eating on a daily basis.
PROTEIN – Protein from foods is used by every single part of the body to develop, grow and function properly and our organs, muscles, tissues and hormones are all made from proteins. Suffice to say protein is involved in just about every bodily function and a deficiency can wreak havoc with your body!
There is conflicting advice on how much protein we need. The Reference Intake (RI) is between 0.75 – 1.3 g protein per kilogram of bodyweight (I personally feel this is way too low). Other nutritional guidelines suggest a daily intake of 1.6 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This really is dependent on many factors, including activity level, age, muscle mass, and current state of health. I am all for a mid to high range of between 1.3 – 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight. So let’s assume you weight 60 kgs, you would need to consume between 78 – 96 grams of protein per day.
So what does 96 grams of protein look like. Let’s take a 213g tin of Wild Pacific Red salmon. Just because it says 213g of salmon does not mean it actually contains 213 grams of protein – gosh that would be way too much protein! If you look at the Nutrition content on the back of the tin, it will provide ‘Typical values per 100g’ On this tin it tells me there is 24g protein per 100g. Therefore the whole tin of salmon would contain around 50g protein. If you wanted a quick boost of protein this tin of salmon would be a great choice. Add a couple of eggs and a serving of chicken, fish or meat and you’ll easily reach 96 grams.
Here are a few more examples of foods containing 20 grams of protein; 3 whole eggs (or 5 egg whites), 1/2 tin of tuna, a scoop of protein powder and most palm sized servings of chicken, fish or meat. Although a little more difficult, if you are a vegetarian you can still meet your protein needs with plant and legume based foods. Whatever your choice, just ensure you have enough protein every day and always look for the protein on your plate.
To get an idea of other protein foods please refer to my blog post – Protein, The King of Lean.
CARBOHYDRATES – Okay, this is a biggie for me! The main purpose of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide energy (and we all need that). But these days carbs seem to be highly controversial and some guidelines suggest we get about half our calories from carbohydrates, whilst other claim they cause obesity and type 2 diabetes and that we should avoid them at all costs. Arguably there are positives and negatives on both sides, but I truly believe carbohydrate requirements depend largely on the individual. It’s also important to note that the amount of your daily calories that should come from carbs is often influenced by several different factors, like activity level, body composition, age, and existing medical conditions.
Dietary guidelines recommend you get between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates, but since everyone needs a different number of calories every day, there is no set number of carbs that equals a “low carb” diet for everyone. Dropping carbs below the 45 to 65 percent range isn’t recommended for most people because it makes getting all of your vitamins and minerals each day far more challenging. With that in mind, you might have to make some modifications in order to find the sweet spot that works best for you and your weight-loss goals.
YOU MIGHT WANT TO AIM FOR THE LOWER END OF THE CARB RANGE IF YOU:
Have diabetes or other metabolic disorders requiring you to keep your blood sugar stable and maintain lower insulin levels
Are struggling to maintain a healthy weight, since eating more protein and fat can help you feel fuller and maintain muscle mass
Are older and feeling your metabolism slowing down with age.
OR YOU MIGHT WANT TO AIM FOR THE HIGHER END OF THE CARB RANGE IF YOU:
Are an athlete wanting to improve performance
Are an active person with high muscle mass and/or low body fat
Have kidney disease, because a higher-carb diet can reduce the protein filtering load on the kidneys
Have digestive issues, especially constipation, that would be improved with a diet full of fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies
Not all carbs are created equal and let’s face it, we all pretty much know the difference between “Complex” vs “Refined” carbs.
Refined carbs include sugar-sweetened drinks, fruit juices, white bread, white pasta, white rice, pastries and others. They tend to cause spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to a subsequent crash that can trigger hunger and cravings for more high-carb foods. This is the “blood sugar roller coaster” that many people are familiar with. My advice is to avoid refined carbs at all costs, and save the drama for the occasional “fall off the wagon” days. Enjoy the moment, press the delete button and move on!
Complex carbohydrates are unprocessed and contain fibre naturally in the food. All these foods fall into the complex carb range – millet, chickpeas, rolled oats, barley, sweet potatoes, spelt, butternut squash, potatoes, kamut, black beans, whole-wheat bread, sprouted-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, farro, lentils, green peas, whole fruits. These complex carbs are what you should be eating daily in your 45 – 65 percent range.
HEALTHY FATS – Yes healthy fats are good for you!
Fat has had its fair share of being vilified and then rehabilitated to the podium. As we all embrace healthy fats and add avocado, nut butters and coconut to just about everything, we need to answer the burning question; how much fat per day (even the healthy kind) is okay to eat? There has to be a limit on what we’re supposed to be consuming daily, even protein which is healthy.
HOW MUCH FAT IS SAFE TO EAT PER DAY?
There really is no one “specific” number of grams of fat that works for everyone. But in general nutrition experts recommend getting about 20 – 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. For someone on a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be around 55 – 66 grams of fat a day. The number is dependent on a person’s overall health and activity level, as with the other macronutrients. Often women with hormonal issues will need more or less fat than someone with no health issues. Fats are the building blocks of hormones and they do satisfy and therefore should be a little higher if their are hormonal imbalances.
I do however think it’s more important to focus of the quality of fat rather than the quantity. Fat is so beneficial to many bodily functions and life stages, and good sources of fat play a major role in fertility and a healthy pregnancy. Those with cardiovascular disease are the only group of people that need to consciously restrict their fat intake.
Whilst healthy fats are good for us, they are high in calories and can end up dominating other important nutrients if we consume too many of them. Always try to balance your meals with a good source of fat, complex carbs and protein.
Most experts agree that getting the majority of your fats from unsaturated fat sources is your best bet. You’ll find these fats in foods like avocados, almonds, olive oil, walnuts, fish and flaxseed.
Experts are still split about how much saturated fat is okay to eat. “When it comes to coconut butter, and fats from things like grass-fed butter, I think a moderate intake is really helpful. You don’t want to overdo it on the fat intake in general, but having a moderate amount each day is pretty reasonable especially if it’s coming from high quality, mindful sources. Research shows that over consuming saturated fat—mainly found in meat, dairy, and eggs—increases the risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease and certain types of cancer. Coconut oil, while likely a healthier option than animal-derived saturated fats, is still a controversial food and should be eaten in moderation.
Ultimately, it’s best to incorporate a mix of monounsaturated fats (like olive oil, avocado) and whole-food polyunsaturated fats (like nuts and seeds) into your diet, with some quality saturated fats (i.e. coconut oil, ghee) in moderation.
In summary, look at your own individual needs and where you could modify your macronutrients. Ensure the is enough protein on your plate, don’t eliminate carbs altogether, and include healthy fats in moderation.
Like most things in health and wellness, it’s all about balance.
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