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Macronutrients: Food for fuel

Analysis of food to energy conversion to promote balanced diet

Published: Monday, September 12, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

Highlighting the benefits of a dynamic and healthy lifestyle, this wellness blog serves to educate Texas A&M students about smart food choices and strategic exercise.

Have you ever stopped to think, "What moves you?" In a car, gasoline combusts and the expanding gasses that are formed power the rotary motion by the power train. A car is a mode of transportation and it has an intricate system that is associated with its movement. Maybe you'd be surprised to learn that our bodies aren't much different! As transportation vessels ourselves, we need the right amount of fuel to be efficient machines.

As organisms, our form of gasoline comes from macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

What are macronutrients?

If you're like me, you've never really sat down to ponder our fuel source from a biological standpoint. Lets break it down:

Proteins (Lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, 1 gram protein = 4 calories): Carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen molecules that allow for muscle growth and repair, helping to stimulate the immune system.

Excess protein can lead to dehydration because protein metabolism requires extra water for urination and excretion.  Excess protein is also stored as fat.

Carbohydrates (Potatoes, pasta, bread, fruits, vegetables, 1 gram carbohydrates = 4 calories): Our bodies use carbohydrates to make glucose which is the fuel that gives you energy and aid in ATP production. (ATP production = ENERGY).  

All sugars are carbohydrates and with high sugar intake, our bodies convert it to insulin (a storage hormone), encouraging your body to store fat. Excess insulin makes your body weak and faint.

Fats (Saturated, unsaturated, 1 gram fat = 9 calories) Stigmatized as unhealthy, fats are actually essential to our bodies. They are important for brain development and also help prevent blood clotting and controlling inflammation. There are many different fat types that we can ingest, so here's a quick summary of the main two:

Saturated Fat(Whole milk, meats): These can cause high levels of "bad" cholesterol leading to various cardiovascular diseases. Saturated fats have no double bonded carbons, meaning they have a greater tendency to clump up in your blood stream.

Unsaturated Fat (Fish, vegetable oils): These are healthier, preferred fats because they are easier to break down and less likely to clump in your bloodstream due to their double bonded carbon molecular composition.

 (For more detailed information on macronutrients, visit this site.)

The Importance of a Balance Diet

Say your car needs its oil changed, it's near empty on gasoline, and it has a flat tire. You change the oil, fill the tank with gasoline and you're off! Well, not exactly. Seems as if your car is constantly veering off track and then starts to sluggishly drag as friction from the asphalt wears your now rim-of-a-tire to a crisp. It goes without saying, in this situation, your car needs all three of these things in their proper proportions to work how it is supposed to work.

If macronutrients are the fuel to move us, then every time we eat, it isn't simply a meal, but a nutritional tune-up. And with that tune-up there must come balance. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines For Americans, based on a 2000-calorie diet, we must consume 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein. The importance of this guideline is to challenge and educate Americans to be more conscientious of the food we eat. If we have an unbalanced diet, we, like cars without gasoline or oil, become inefficient and sluggish. With proper supplements, however, it increases our energy and metabolism. Our bodies become so efficient at metabolizing food that you can use this, otherwise lost energy, on other activities (such as running and studying). Understanding the gist of it could be enough to alter your thinking about your next meal. Now, if you remember earlier about macronutrients, there is a short equation about the calorie equivalency. These values are about to come into play. Here's a quick example of a 2000 calorie-a-day abiding meal:

With 400 calories per meal (for five meals in one day), you need:

30 percent of this meal to come from fats

30% of 400 calories = 120 calories

Dividing 120 calories by 9 calories/1g fat = 13g of fat

40 percent of this meal to come from carbohydrates

40 percent of 400 = 160 calories

Dividing 160 calories by 4 calories/1g carbohydrates = 40g carbohydrates

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