The 3 macronutrients and their role in heart health
Do you want to adopt a balanced diet, rich in all the nutrients your body needs? You first need to understand exactly what these nutrients are, why you need them, and where to get them. Below, our guide will tell you everything you need to know about the 3 macronutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are, well, a group of nutrients. Our body needs them in large quantities, in order to provide us with the energy we need to survive.
Each of the 3 macronutrients fulfills a number of essential roles in our body. Let’s understand what these roles are in more detail, as well as where we can get them from consistently.
What are proteins?
Proteins are complex molecules, made up of so-called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, of which 9 “essential amino acids”. They are named this way because our body cannot synthesize them on its own. Instead, you can and should get them from a diet rich in protein.
Proteins play an important role in our health, helping with essential functions such as:
- building and repairing cells and tissues (e.g. helps develop muscle mass, strengthens bones and helps with physical trauma recovery)
- strengthening the immune system
- transporting nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, cholesterol) in the body
- burning fat deposits – protein can help regulate metabolism and facilitate fat and weight loss
- contributes to the energy level provided by carbohydrates and fats
Foods rich in protein
Proteins are found in both animal and plant foods. More and more studies focus on the benefits of plant-based proteins in the health of the heart and body, showing that we should focus on them for a healthier diet.
The best sources of animal protein are found in:
- white meat – eg. chicken or turkey
- eggs – especially egg whites
- red meat – eg. beef, pork or mutton
- fish and seafood – eg. salmon, shrimp
- dairy – eg. milk, cheese, yogurt
The best sources of vegetable protein are:
- beans and legumes -ex. lentils, chickpeas, black beans
- nuts and seeds – eg. almond or pumpkin seeds
What are fats?
Although many see fat as something to avoid, the truth is that we need it for the proper functioning of our bodies and organs.
Fats are a great source of the energy our body needs to perform its functions. Also, fats can help:
- protect the internal organs
- ensure good functioning of cell membranes
- transport and absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, E, D or K
Foods rich in fat
We need to pay attention to two different types of fats in our diets – the “good” ones and the “bad” ones.
Good fats (or unsaturated fats) are fats that we should include in our diet, since they bring lots of positive effects to our body and heart. For example, they reduce the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, two major risk factors in cardiovascular diseases. The Mediterranean diet is an excellent source of unsaturated fats in the diet.
This type of fat is found in foods such as:
- extra virgin olive oil
- nuts and seeds
- salmon, mackerel or tuna (especially Omega-3 fatty acids)
Bad fats (or trans and saturated fats) should be completely avoided, as they greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Foods such as red meat, chicken skin, full-fat dairy or ice cream should be limited as much as possible.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are nutritional compounds that our body uses to get the energy it needs every day.
When we eat foods that contain carbohydrates, our bodies break them down into simple sugars, such as glucose, which can then be used to provide energy to our cells.
Carbohydrates have other roles too – they contribute to:
- good functioning of the digestive system (through high fiber consumption)
- making us feel full after a meal
Foods rich in carbohydrates
There are three main types of carbohydrates that we should watch out for:
- starch – found in foods such as potatoes, corn, lentils, beans, peas
- sugar – naturally found in milk and fruit, or added to sodas and sweets
- fiber – found in fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains
For a healthy lifestyle, we should reduce the amount consumed of refined carbohydrates (found in sodas, sweets, white bread or pasta) in our diet. These carbohydrates can have damaging effects on health – they increase blood sugar, as well as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Instead, opt for whole grains and fiber-rich foods, which are easier to digest and don’t raise blood sugar so suddenly.
Macronutrients vs Micronutrients
Macronutrients and micronutrients define two different groups of substances, but both equally essential for the body’s well-being.
If you want to learn more about micronutrients, head over to our guide to essential micronutrients.
What quantity of macronutrients should we include in our daily diet?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise the population to maintain the amount of macronutrients consumed per day between the following values:
- Protein – 10-35% of daily calories
- Fats – 20-35% of daily calories
- Carbohydrates – 45-65% of daily calories
However, the ideal amount of macronutrients will differ for each person based on many factors such as age or lifestyle.
The Dahna nutrition app helps you configure daily menus personalized exactly to your body’s needs. These menus are designed with the Mediterranean diet in mind and according to the latest medical research, to ensure a correct and effective diet in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Download the app and start your journey to a healthy heart!