By Ellie Kempton of Simply Nourished
With so much nutrition information swirling around on the web and within our resourceful social- spheres, it’s often hard to capture key takeaways- especially when it comes to the basic building blocks of a plate. So today we are going to peel back the layers of excess and explore the basic necessities through the lens of macronutrients, so that you walk away from your investment in this post with a confident sense of direction for your next meal.
Let’s start with the word macronutrient. A macronutrient is defined purely by the structure of the food. There happen to be three: protein + carb + fat. And each has it's own specific roles and functions in the body [which we will explore]. Each macronutrient is almost always found in every food; the only difference is how the macronutrients are balanced. As an example, the nutritional composition of an avocado is generally made up of 75% fat, 20% carbohydrate [mostly fiber] and 5% protein; therefore, this is clearly a predominately fat-based food. On the other hand a banana consists of 95% carbohydrates, with only small amounts of protein and fats making it a carbohydrate-based food. Just as you’d expect, it is important to include all three into each meal to establish balance and avoid nutrient deficiency. The question remains... how much? Let’s dig in.
We’ll start with protein because it is and always will be the basic building block of all living tissue. Protein supports satiety and sustainable energy. Every time you move your body or exert energy, your body tissue is broken down. This process is called catabolism. Once tissue is broken down, protein is critical for the regeneration of the tissue.
Recommendation: every body [and metabolism] is going to require a different amount of protein [based on life cycle, activity level of course and genetics]. But unless you want to perform some metabolic typing followed by self experimentation, a simple baseline equation to start with is: 1 g protein/1 kg body weight as a minimum per day. This equation ensures that you have at least enough protein in your blood to rebuild tissue and maintain lean muscle mass without putting undue stress on the kidneys. The body is not a calculator though. It’s more of a thermostat meaning it’s ok to estimate because your body just needs generalized consistency to keep the thermostat regulated. So here’s a more generalized approach... consider 1 palm of protein per meal/snack. 1 palm for an adult female generally equates to 15-25 g.
Here is how this might look:
Highest quality sources:
grass fed / finished meat pastured poultry
wild fish / seafood pastured eggs
sprouted or fermented soy
Oh the beloved carbohydrate. Diets often shun carbohydrates; however, it turns out they are the body’s most energizing fuel source critical for both muscle and brain fuel. The quality of the carbohydrate is what matters most. My favorite way to ensure quality when reaching for a carbohydrate is to reach for and stock “unpackaged” carbohydrates. This essentially means you seek out carbohydrates that have not been processed in any way nor added to any other foods. Carbohydrates of this variety typically are the ones with the highest fiber content as well. Fiber lessens the impact on blood sugar, decreases risk of colon cancer and supports a healthy functioning microbiome. In order to determine what impact a carbohydrate-rich food has on your blood sugar, simply subtract fiber content from total carb content using a nutrition analysis tool like cronometer.com. Since packaged carbs tend to have a higher impact on blood sugar this is an especially important skill to use when comparing different packages. Choose the one with the highest fiber / lowest residual carb per serving.
Recommendation: start by filling your plate with 2 “fists” of non-starchy vegetables and then proceed to fill another 1/4 of your plate with 1 “fist” of carbohydrates per meal coming from complex carbohydrate sources. Together this will typically add up to 30-45 g/meal or snack > 120- 150 g per day which is a very reasonable guideline for adult women. Though, with increased activity the need for carbohydrates increases.
Here is how the complex carb 1/4 of the plate might look:
breakfast: 1 cup blueberries
lunch: 1/2-3/4 cup lentils [in lentil soup]
snack: 1 apple
dinner: 1 small sweet potato
Here is a list of the highest quality unpackaged carbs:
Special note: unlike protein and fat, there are no essential carbohydrates [carbs your body can’t make] that need to be acquired through food alone so it is most important to stay vigilant around the quality of carbohydrate and of course portions so that you don’t fall prey to high insulin levels and subsequent weight gain.
Though fats have gone through a long period of demonization, it’s so refreshing to see them propped back up on a pedestal, primarily because they are the primary energy source for the body. They also play a key role in brain function, maintaining healthy skin and hair, regulating body temperature, supporting immune function, insulating internal organs and aiding in the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. In general, fats got [and still do get] a bad rap because we have been trained to think that the consumption of fat leads directly to fat accumulation. Intuitively, this notion makes sense. However, fat doesn’t make you fat; sugar is the primary driver of fat retention. Just as we explored with carbs, quality matters! It’s important to not only decrease sugar but ALSO consume only healthy [undamaged] fats; you will not only curb your sugar craving but you will also enjoy the array of benefits that stem from a clean burning source of fuel.
Recommendation: 1-2 “thumb” [if liquid] or 1-2 “small handfuls” [if solid] per meal [20-30 g per meal > 60-90 g per day].
Here’s how this might look:
breakfast: 1/2 avocado + 1 “thumb” oil used to cook eggs
lunch: salmon [contributes both protein and fat] + 1 “small handful “ olives on salad
snack: 1 “thumb” oil used to roast chickpeas
dinner: 1 “thumb” grass-fed butter on sweet potato + 1 “small handful” walnuts on salad
There are 2 main categories of fat: saturated and unsaturated. They both play vital roles in the body as outlined below:
Quality saturated fat sources:
Palm Oil [sourced sustainably] Grass-Fed Dairy
Avoid: refined + saturated fats [as indicated by the word “refined” on the label
of a bottle] or saturated fats from unhealthy animals UNSATURATED FATS
Quality unsaturated fat sources include:
Cod Liver Oil
Olives and Olive Oil
Avocado and Avocado Oil
Avoid: vegetable oils [including Canola oil]. More often than not the fragility of these oils render them rancid before they hit our plate. Damaged oils are a source of unnecessary inflammation. They are also one of the top sources of
omega 6 which has a pro-inflammatory impact on the body.
step 1: the best way to jumpstart your engine is to begin replacing sugar with healthy fats. The beautiful thing about this process is the fact that you don’t have to count or measure anything.
step 2: fill 1⁄2 you your plate with vegetables that have been prepared with unrefined oils + fill the other 1/4 of your plate with unpackaged carbs
step 3: pair every meal and snack a palm of high quality protein.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, come back to the basics. Come back to a place of macronutrient consistency. And remember that the body is not a robotic calculator. It is a beautiful, living organism that depends on living food to unlock its fullest potential.
To your vibrant nourished self, Ellie
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