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The Oxford English dictionary defines a nutrient as ‘a substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth’. But what is a ‘macronutrient’?
Macronutrients, or ‘macros’ are the new buzzwords, but don’t let that lessen their importance as the science of macros is anything but a short-term trend. The study of macronutrients is based around an awareness that what we eat to gain energy is just as important as how many calories we consume.
Everything we eat contains a certain amount of carbohydrate, protein and fat. Put simply, it’s these three food groups that are known as macronutrients. Due to its importance for sustaining life, many also consider water to be a bonus fourth macronutrient. As their name suggests macros (meaning large) demonstrates that these, more than any other nutrient, are needed in greater quantities for growth, energy provision and other bodily functions.1 We may think of individual foods as belonging to one group or another, but actually, many contain different percentages of two or all three of the main macronutrients. An avocado, for example, is classified as a fat due to its high 70% fat content, but there’s also around 8% of carbohydrate and 2% of protein in an avocado.2
To make it simpler to understand, macronutrients are the ratios of carbohydrate, protein and fat contained within each food substance. We need each of the three macronutrients to remain healthy, but the quality of macronutrients counts too. While you might be able to get the same macro ratios from a slice of pizza as from a slice of wholegrain toast with avocado and chopped tomato, the first won’t provide you with the same nutritional benefits. Likewise, a sweet potato gives you carbs, but so does white, refined sugar. Using this example, it’s easier to understand that while calories are important, what they are made up of is equally important.
Your ideal macros percentage will vary based on your age and lifestyle and whether you’re looking to lose, maintain or gain weight or muscle. This is where it gets a bit scientific but you need to look at how much energy you expend on a daily basis. There are a number of online macro calculators like this one to help you with this.
Once you have worked out your daily calorie range and the ideal percentages of macros that your food should be coming from, the best thing you can do is concentrate on reaching the percentages with a focus on nourishing, whole foods. These are the foods that are also likely to contain good levels of micronutrients; the vitamins and minerals that are still needed in smaller amounts for normal body functioning. By focusing on a wide range of colourful, natural foods, you will find that you are far easier able to meet your daily requirement of micronutrients too and will be giving your body the very best health benefits that you can.
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