There are a lot of diets out there these days telling you to eat less of this food or less of that food, often severely restricting nutrients in a certain category. These are known as your macronutrients, although you probably know them as carbs, proteins, and fats.
One of the major issues with these fad diets out there is they don’t give you enough of these nutrients.
No, our bodies need fats to run properly. Certain vitamins can only be stored and used in fat cells. Fat gives us energy stores for when w haven’t eaten.
Now, of course there are some fats we should avoid. Highly processed vegetable oils, for instance, contain harmful trans fat which has been shown to contribute to negative health effects.
On the opposite side of the spectrum though, fats from foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil are good for you. They aid your body in it’s normal every day functions.
Even saturated fats aren’t the monsters they were once thought to be. For the last several decades saturated fats were believed to contribute to heart disease and high cholesterol.
More recent studies have shown, though, that eating the whole egg, yolk, included, isn’t going to cause a heart attack.
Those potatoes fried in hydrogenated vegetable oil might, but not your morning omelet.
One all too common instruction we get from diet plans is to lower our carb intake. Eat less carbs and you’ll lose weight.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Sure, there are some bad carbs out there, but our bodies rely on carbs for energy.
But wait! I just said fats give our bodies energy, why would we need carbs too?
Well, that’s a very good question, the answer is that our bodies balance both types of energy based on our needs.
Fats give our bodies energy over the long term, and carbs satisfy our body’s short term energy needs. That’s why it’s common for athletes to carbo load before events.
The carbs give them extra energy they’ll need without their body tapping into their fat stores. Athletes tend to have less fat stores than us regular folks, so that’s ok.
The problem starts when we eat the wrong kind of carb. Calories are not all equal, and neither are carbs. The main difference is simple carbs vs complex carbs.
Simple carbs are things like sugar, juices, white breads, white rice, and starches. These foods are broken down quickly when eaten and when a carb is broken down it’s converted to sugar so it can be used as energy.
(Resource: I don’t normally condone fad diets, but Keto is actually a good starting point if you’re not sure where to go. You can get a custom Keto eating plan at this link here.)
But since these foods are broken down quickly, it produces a spike in blood sugar because our body cannot use all this energy right now. (We’re not athletes, so we don’t have a way to use all this energy.)
Well, the laws of physics won’t allow our bodies to let energy go to waste, so if we won’t use it, we’re going to store it. And how does it get stored?
The reason low carb diets are so popular is because carbs are digested quickly and converted into sugar which then gets stored as fat. But there’s a problem. When you’re trying to lose weight, you need your body running in tip-top shape.
It needs to be a well-oiled machine.
And for that, we need carbs. This is where complex carbs come in.
Complex carbs are foods like fruits and veggies, whole wheat breads, brown rice, and quinoa.
When we eat foods like these, the fibers (among other things, we’ll just keep it simple) slow down the digestion of these foods, which means our bodies get a lower-level supply of sugar to use up. Since it’s supplying sugar slower, it gives our bodies a better chance to use this energy.
Which means it doesn’t need to be stored as fat.
That’s the key. We need these carbs as part of a balanced diet but we need to eat the right carbs.
When you’re building a house, you need three things:
- Diesel for your machines: this fuel is short term; it doesn’t last long but it does make it possible to get things done while you’ve got it. This is how carbs are used.
- Manual labor: this is fuel for building house as well, except it doesn’t run out as easily as your diesel fuel does. If your machines stop working you can still use your manual labor to continue, albeit, a little slower, perhaps. This is how fats are used by your body.
- Finally, you have your building materials. This is your wood, bricks, concrete, and hardware. You use these materials to build your house, and that’s what protein is for.
Protein is the building material for your body. It repairs muscle, bone and DNA and let’s face reality here: your body is always undergoing repairs.
Your cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones, and this wouldn’t be possible without protein.
It’s pretty common to see diets recommend higher protein consumption when you’re trying to lose weight because it tends to leave you fuller than eating carbs. And that’s true, it does leave you fuller.
(The happens because we normally compare eating proteins to eating simple carbs like pasta, white bread, and cookies or crackers. These are simple carbs which get used up rapidly by your body, so obviously proteins will leave you feeling fuller longer than these types of foods. Proteins are complex and take time for your body to digest.)
The problem starts when we’re not balancing our diet because then we’re getting more fuel than our bodies can use for the building material it has available. And the opposite problem is what we’re worried about with low carb diets.
Your body will have too much building material and not enough energy to use it.
Protein will get stored as fat too if it’s not used, which is why we need the balance.
Typically, you’ll want to eat slightly more carbs than proteins or fats. Here are some goals to start with:
- Carbs should be 30-40% of your calorie intake
- Fats should be 20-30% of your calories, and
- Proteins should be 25-35% of your calories
Now, none of us are going to fall perfectly within those lines everyday unless we’re really dedicated to planning our meals.
You don’t need to do that.
You just need to have something to aim for and hopefully hit your targets more often than you miss. Stressing over getting everything perfect can hinder your weight loss progress, so we don’t need to do that.
What to eat, though…
So now we know we need to eat all of these nutrients, what should we actually eat?
The best thing to do is cook your meals at home using whole foods and ingredients that don’t come in packages with a long list of ingredients. Processed foods tend to have a lot of crap through in that our bodies don’t like.
Cook your meals using real ingredients like these below. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point.
- Lean meats like chicken breasts, lean ground beef, pork, and fish
- Conservatively sized steaks can be used as well. Remember, healthy foods with a lot of calories will still make you gain weight.
- Veggies like broccoli, beans, cauliflower, asparagus, lentils, and peas
- Grains like whole wheat breads, brown rice, and quinoa. Stay away from regular pastas as they are full of white flour
- Whole fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, berries, and pineapple. Just keep away from fruit juices as they processed all the fiber out of their so juices act like simple carbs.
- Dairy like milk, butter, and cheese. Just use more conservative amounts or the calories will catch up to you.
- Real butter has about 30 more calories per tablespoon than fake butter, but the dairy based version is healthier and more satisfying than the oil based version
That’s about all I can fit into this little section about your macronutrients. Remember, this all based on a balanced diet, and I know you’re probably tired of hearing that term, considering it’s been around for decades, but it really is true.
You can have everything in moderation, but your primary diet needs to follow these guidelines.
Here’s a free video talking about how to lose weight while eating tasty mealsHere’s a free video talking about how to lose weight while eating tasty meals.