There is no area of nutrition more important than macronutrient balance, but it is complex to understand and difficult to achieve; so it’s often overlooked. However, if you want to achieve long-term health and weight control, then place your attention on balancing your macros. Once you get this right, all other nutritional recommendations (i.e. choose wholemeal products over white products) will enhance your progress.
Your diet is made up of three macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and different foods have different quantities of each. The daily aim is to eat foods that deliver a healthy balanced ratio between these three macronutrients. However, the first problem is that experts don’t agree on the optimum ratio. Some believe carbs are the most important (many vegan diets), others believe proteins should dominate (Atkins), while others place fats in the prominent position (keto). This conflict in advice creates understandable nutritional confusion, leaving us baffled about what we should be eating. So, your first task is to fight through the confusion and decide for yourself the ideal ratio you wish to aim for.
To help you decide let’s consider the two major nutritional reasons we eat:
1. To provide our bodies with strength and structure (muscles & bones) - achieved through proteins
2. For energy – achieved through carbs and fats.
Looking at proteins first, the recommended intake is between 10–35% of your daily calories. Personally, I believe 10% is too low for optimum health and 35% too high. Therefore, I aim for my protein intake to be around 20% of my daily calories.
So, now the energy dilemma – fats or carbs? One thing that all research agrees on, is that a diet with both excessive carbs and fats is the unhealthiest diet of all. This is because your body uses the carbs for instant energy and stores the fats for later use, contributing to excessive weight gain and clogged arteries. Therefore, you must choose, either a high fat diet or a high carb diet!
A diet high in carbs and low in fats is probably the easiest to achieve. The carbs are used for energy and there are limited fats to store. However, this lifestyle comes at a price. Not only are ‘good’ fats essential to health so you do need them, but any excess carbs stimulate insulin production converting the excess carbs into fat. So, unless you are extremely careful not to overeat carbs (in other words continuously counting your calories) the end result will be weight-gain.
The reason that keto diets (high fat/low carbs) have become so popular is because when your carb intake is low your insulin levels drop. Insulin is required to store body fat, so an absence of insulin means body fat can’t be stored and as an additional bonus the lack of carbs (instant energy) means body fat is actually converted into the main source of energy instead. Therefore, in theory you can eat as much fat as you like, without gaining weight (as long as it’s in the absence of carbs), and if you eat less than your energy requirement your body will use it’s own stored fat to make up the difference; hence weight loss.
After 15 years of research, I believe that carbs, in excess, contribute highly to obesity and poor health. In addition, the avoidance of ‘good’ fats can also cause poor health. Therefore, I personally aim to achieve a low carb/high fat diet at a ratio of 60% fats and 20% carbs. Now, it’s time for you to decide on the ratio you wish to achieve.
In summary, my personal preferred macronutrient ratio is 20% protein, 60% fats and 20% carbs. My next blog will explain how to achieve this, but for now the simple advice is to eat protein at each meal, cut the obvious carbs (pasta, potatoes and cakes), add ‘good’ fats to your meals (avocado) and fill up on the veg!
BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy, memBANT, memNT, memCNCH
For more information on health and weight loss see ‘The Meta-Keto Diet’. This book is available as an eBook (£6.99), or in paperback (£15.99), via the Secret Healthy Eater Shop; www.secrethealthyeater.com/shop.
drawing by pigwire