Before you start any diet...
I’ve always urged my patients to do one important task before taking on any diet, regardless of which diet or what it is intended to achieve...and that is for them to understand the difference between micro and macronutrients. You don’t have to be a scholar or researcher, but you need to do a little homework to grasp the differences between the two, and what constitutes micronutrients from macronutrients. The internet is full of references, and being familiar with this concept will help you understand your food’s composition and how your body responds to these nutrients. So here we go!
As the word “micro” implies, this category of compounds are required by the body in typically small amounts, and are found in vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are essential for the proper function of our nervous system, immunity, movement, reproductive function, heart function, metabolism, essentially all things related to a person’s wellbeing. When the body is out of balance (i.e. deficient in or in excess of) a micronutrient, diseases and symptoms of illness can occur. While a handful of vitamins can be produced by the body, many other vitamins and minerals can only be supplied by the foods we consume.
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats make up the macronutrients, and are essential for the metabolic processes of our body. Metabolism is the way our bodies manage fuel sources in order to match our activity or state of health. For example, the type AND intensity of our physical activity determines which fuel source (more on this in the next paragraph) our bodies utilize. Taking a long ride on the bicycle demands a different fuel source than a series of short fast runs.
Over the last 20+ years, thousands of research articles on macronutrients have shown that metabolism isn’t the only variable that carbs, proteins and fats affect. When dealing with calories, we are dealing directly with macronutrients. But it’s more than calories in and calories expended! In fact, macronutrients influence a host of other reactions from our endocrine, immune, and nervous systems! Here’s a breakdown of the macronutrients and some of the effects it has on our bodies.
Sugar, starch and fiber make up carbohydrates. There are carbohydrates (sugars) in vegetables, breads, dairy, and fruits. Carbohydrates are not just the white sugar that is in your soda and ice cream, but exist in high concentrations in foods we often consider healthy such as fruits. For example, a glass of fruit juice of any kind elicits the same hormonal release of insulin from our endocrine system as a high sugar soft-drink would!
Fruits contain trace amounts of protein compared to the amount of sugars. And though fruits contain dense amounts of micronutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, the high sugar content of fructose can invoke negative immune responses like promoting inflammation and pain in your body. High amounts of fructose is also known to influence bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract, leading to changes in our mental acuity, energy, and even brain function!
Amino acid chains that consist of hundreds or even thousands of links can come together precisely to form protein complexes in our body. These proteins are responsible for tissue structure, organ and cellular function, metabolic processes, and nerve conduction just to name a few functions. Proteins exist predominantly in meats, but can also exist as “incomplete” dietary proteins in fruits and vegetables. This simply means that no single fruit or vegetable consist of the full spectrum of amino acids that exist in meats or animal products like dairy. Having diversity in your fruits and vegetables are essential for completing a dietary profile of proteins that your body needs on a daily basis.
Past dietary advice for the last few decades have emphasized a low fat diet in order to prevent disease and obesity. What researchers found was that it was important to differentiate the kinds of fats you consume. Our bodies in fact need “good” fats to function and thrive. Avoid “bad” fats (like hydrogenated and trans fats) in order to prevent cardiovascular diseases, circulatory disorders and weight gain.
Synbiotics are digestible food compounds that can selectively favor the growth of certain microorganisms over others inside our digestive tract. They can be amino acids and particular sugar compounds that promote our microbiota, the bacterial constituent living on us and inside our body. Our body’s ability to utilize and absorb vitamins and minerals are codependent on bacterial presence in our digestive tract. “Good” and “Bad” microorganisms can thrive based on the health and diet of the host. So be mindful of the type of guests you might invite to live inside your house! Some can overstay their welcome!
A little bit of nutritional education can go a long way, and the amount of references available are overwhelming. When it comes to understanding foods, it’s important to understand what makes up the food you want to eat. It makes any type of diet more sensible to follow.
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults,
athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care. For comments or questions, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org