Nutrition is an energy balancing game when looking specifically at macronutrients.
These bulk nutrients form the majority of the physical mass of the food we eat.
Comprised of carbs, protein and fat, macronutrients, or macros are essential to your energy balance.
You can safely alter the ratio of either 3 within a range of limits, but you cant completely foregone your macros.
That’s because your metabolism would shut down, like a factory with no raw materials.
In the discussion of macros, fats and carbs have regularly come under fire. Both have received somewhat of a bad rap for their purported role in the rampant prevalence of the metabolic disease in modern, western populations.
Since the late 1960s, a notable shift in human physiology became apparent.
People were becoming more commonly overweight.
Not only this, but a range of metabolic diseases, known as metabolic syndrome became part and parcel of the ever-growing waistline.
This new health crisis was initially blamed on the prevalence of fat in industrially processed foods which had now become the staple option in modern, industrial society.
The tide later changed to point the finger at refined carbs in processed food.
This analysis and the subsequent conclusion was both wrong and right.
The impact of certain nutrients on health has many variables and factors at play.
Quantity and quality are one thing, the individual response is another.
From a quality and quantity perspective, let’s look at which carbs and which fats are bad.
Carbs can be bad. And this has been proven.
A basic rule of thumb is that refined carbs such as processed sugar, starch and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), for example, are bad for you.
The thing is, these types of carbs definitely present a greater degree of risk, but are overall not bad for you. Instead, its a question of quantity and frequency of consumption. Having a tiny bit of sucrose or even HFCS will do you no harm.
The problem is, moderation is not common when it comes to these carbs. This is compounded by the fact that these sugars are found in extreme excess in processed food..
What this means is that refined carbs, while not the bastion of healthy nutrition, are not bad, it’s just the average quantity of consumption that is.
Fats are a bit more complicated when it comes to the quantity vs quality discussion. While also subject to the need for moderation in order to avoid poor health, fats also have a definitively bad version.
This version is called trans fats and is the result of industrial processing known as hydrogenation.
In this process, unsaturated fat is artificially converted to saturated fat by adding hydrogen.
Products such as margarine are examples of hydrogenated fats.
These fats raise cholesterol and cause oxidative stress among other things.
Industrially processed foods and fried fast foods are typical examples of foods that contain trans fats and must be avoided as much as possible.
You’ll notice we haven’t dissected protein in quite the same way as we have carbs and fat. That’s because protein is totally good for you and most people are not actually getting enough of it.
An important thing to consider with protein is that you must try to get a good amount of complete protein daily. That means getting all 9 essential amino acids in adequate amounts through your diet or with supplementary support.
The only common risk with protein is not getting an adequate enough quantity or quality in terms of amino acid profile.
In special cases, protein can be harmful to health. For example, people who are gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant will have difficulty with the wheat-based protein.
It is possible to have too much protein leading to conditions such as gout, so don’t overcompensate.
So we’ve looked at unhealthy carbs, now let’s look at what makes a carb healthy.
The glycemic index or GI shows how readily the carbohydrate content of a food is absorbed and metabolized.
A high GI source means carbs are very quickly absorbed into the blood as glucose.
This can lead to a litany of health risks in chronic cases. Decreased insulin sensitivity can ensue, leading to risk of diabetes and obesity.
Plain sugar, white flour foods such as pastries and pasta, all fall in the category of high GI foods.
Low GI foods feature a slow release of carbs that allows for the maintenance of healthy insulin sensitivity.
Foods with an abundance of dietary fiber or just generally a low carb profile and considered low GI and therefore healthier carbs.
The glycemic load of food shows how much food will raise overall glucose levels in the blood.
Basically put, it means how much overall digestible carbs are available in the food.
Unlike GI, GL doesn’t look at how quickly or slowly glucose enters your bloodstream, it just looks at how much overall glucose a food will provide.
A food with a low GI but moderate to high GL rating can be considered a healthy carb while a food with a high GI but Low GL rating can also be considered less of a health risk.
It ultimately depends on the individual.
Sources of good carbs include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Fat, as we mentioned, has had its day in court. With the advent of rampant metabolic syndrome diseases in modern industrialized communities, fat was labeled as the culprit since people were getting, well, fat.
But the body is a complex machine, and fat is a diverse molecule, appearing in many forms, with many different effects.
While things such as trans fats and excess saturated fats can raise bad cholesterol levels and lead to many health risks, there is some good in fat.
In fact, fat can be a lifesaver.
To this end, we are looking at monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
These fats are healthy because they tend to optimize cholesterol balance towards a positive state.
That means they improve HDL cholesterol levels while reducing LDL cholesterol.
The former is considered good cholesterol while the latter is considered bad.
Unsaturated fats are also the source of essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6. These are important for the maintenance of health and help protect the cardiovascular system amongst other things.
Lastly, unsaturated fats are known to assist with fat loss. Yes, you heard correct. The fat that helps you lose fat.
In most cases, unsaturated fat sources come with a plethora of other healthy compounds such as vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants.
Healthy fat sources include fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
Fat and carbs have a good, bad and ugly side. Understanding the fundamentals of nutritional science will help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
Another important thing to understand is yourself. Your dietary needs are as unique as your fingerprints, that’s why we offer this information as non-professional insight and not medically endorsed fact.
Speak to a doctor or registered dietician if you really want the low down on what counts as YOUR healthy diet.