Nutrients are those substances that we take from food and without which our body could not function. Nutrients are essential to sustain life and health, help us survive, grow and reproduce.
There are 3 essential pillars that support balanced nutrition:
In this article we will learn more about macronutrients: what are the main nutrients, what role do they each play, in what foods do we find them, and what is the perfect balance between them.
Carbohydrates are made from plants. Their role is to provide the energy needed for the proper functioning of the body: organs, vital functions, and the brain.
Carbohydrates give us 4 kilocalories per gram, and in a balanced diet, carbohydrates must occupy between 45-65% of our total energy needs.
By the way, do you know what those calories are? In nutrition, a calorie is a unit of measurement that gives us information about the amount of energy that macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids) provide us. Just as we measure volume in L (liters) and temperature in degrees, and the energy provided by food is measured in calories. Therefore, we never eat "calories", as we do not drink "liters", but we eat food that in turn contains nutrients, and they provide us with energy measured in kilocalories (kcal).
We often find carbohydrates in foods of plant origin: cereals, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. The only foods of animal origin that contain carbohydrates are dairy products.
As the structure of plants consists mainly of carbohydrates, the structure of humans and animals is made of protein. The main roles of proteins in the body are: building, maintaining the structure and integrity of tissues (muscle mass, organs, enzymes, hormones, etc.), transporting substances in the body and are also involved in maintaining the integrity of our immune system.
Protein gives us 4 kilocalories per gram, and in a balanced diet, protein must occupy between 15-35% of our total energy needs.
Did you know that proteins are made up of amino acid chains? Our body needs 20 different amino acids to function properly and keep us healthy. Nine of them are essential, meaning that the body cannot produce them on its own and we must provide them with food.
We find protein in foods of animal origin: eggs, fish, meat, or dairy and, in smaller quantities, in foods of plant origin: legumes and oilseeds.
Lipids are the richest source of energy, giving us 9 kilocalories per gram, more than double the amount of one gram of protein or carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram each).
Fats have many important roles in the body, including: the role of reserve fuel, the role of messenger and also enter the structure of the cell membrane. In a balanced diet, lipids should occupy between 20-35% of our total energy intake.
Did you know that if it is not used, the extra energy in the diet is stored in our body in the form of fat in special cells called fat cells? The ability to store and use large amounts of fat allows people to survive without food for weeks and sometimes months.
Fats are found in both plant and animal products. A large amount is found in oil, butter or mayonnaise. But other foods also contain fats, such as: fish, meat, eggs, milk, nuts and seeds. Vegetables, cereals and fruits have the lowest amount of fat.
It may seem difficult to take into account all these numbers and percentages, but I will teach you a trick that can get the perfect balance of nutrients at every main meal: cover half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter of high-protein foods and the last quarter with starchy grains or foods. Simple, isn't it?