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Protein, Carbohydrates, And Fat – What Are They And Why Do We Need Them?
If you’re interested in your diet, whether it’s for weight loss or just eating healthier, you’ll need to know a few things about the 3 main food groups – Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats. In this article I will tell you what each of them is, why you need them and in which foods they can be found.
Protein is a part of every living cell in your body, including your skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, hair, and the core of your teeth and bones. It also plays a role in many other functions such as hormones (such as insulin), antibodies that fight infection, and red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. One thing it is not often used for is power generation. Although it can be very easy, this only happens in cases of extremely intense physical exertion or starvation, where there are not enough carbohydrates.
It consists of what are called essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids can be produced in the body and there are 12, but essential amino acids cannot and all 8 of these must come from the food we eat.
Protein sources include meat, eggs, fish, cheese and milk, but also nuts, beans, soy, oats, lentils and peanut butter. Of course there is no reason why a vegetarian should not get enough without having to use supplements.
Yet how much is enough?
Well, it depends on your weight and your activity level. The protein requirements of someone who does not have a physical job and does not exercise can be calculated by multiplying their body weight in kg by 0.8.
So for a 60 kg (132 lbs) individual this would be 48 g.
However, if you exercise regularly, this can increase from 0.8 to anything up to 2g per kilogram for a serious athlete or bodybuilder.
Protein provides 4 calories of energy per gram and should make up about 15% of your daily caloric intake. A diet in which protein intake is consistently too low, as is possible with a poor vegetarian diet, can affect the benefits I just mentioned. But before you rush out and buy protein shakes, be aware that many have their own side effects. If you regularly have 30% more than you actually need, you could be doing yourself more harm than good, in some cases causing liver and kidney problems, including kidney stones, which is just one reason why you should avoid some high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.
Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram and should make up about 55% of your diet. They have several uses in the body. The main one is as an energy source called glucose which is stored in the body as glycogen. Glucose, which you may have seen as an ingredient in some energy drinks, is known as a simple carbohydrate that you may know better as sugar. This gets into the body very quickly and won’t satisfy your hunger for long, which is a reason it should ideally be avoided if you’re trying to lose weight. It also has a rapid effect on energy levels giving a quick physical and mental high which is quickly followed by a crash.
Unlike the other form, complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and provide a slower, more sustained release of energy and keep you from feeling hungry for longer.
Examples of complex carbohydrates are rice, pasta, potatoes, beans and oats.
The rate at which each carbohydrate is absorbed is known as the GI, Glycemic Index. Each food can be assigned a number between 1 and 100 based on this, with pure glucose being absorbed the fastest and therefore assigned a GI of 100. At the other end of the scale, lentils have a GI of just 21 and therefore they would be much better at stopping you from feeling hungry for longer and maintaining a more stable energy level. High GI foods also encourage fat storage and thus weight gain by forcing glucose and fats already in the bloodstream into the cells for storage.
There are no risks associated with consuming too many carbohydrates, except that an excess of sugar can lead to diabetes. Not getting enough will lead to low energy levels, but not getting enough for long periods can cause serious health risks if taken to an extreme.
Fat has 9 calories per gram and should make up about 30% of your diet as it actually has many vital uses in the body. These include protection of internal organs, insulation from the cold, absorption and storage of certain vitamins, insulation of nerve cells, healthy hair and skin, and as a source of energy. As you can imagine, not getting enough fat can cause many health problems, but this is obviously not a problem for most people in the developed world who get plenty. As a result, they suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
There are 2 types of fat and although both are a necessary part of your diet, your consumption of saturated fat should be closely monitored. The main source is from animals and is solid at room temperature. Examples including butter, lard, cream and meat. What makes it so bad is the amount of cholesterol it contains, too much of which can contribute to heart attacks and strokes.
The other type of fat, unsaturated, comes mainly from plant sources and is liquid at room temperature. Examples include sunflower oil, olive oil, fish and nuts.
Given the very few uses fat has in the body, which can come with a very low-calorie, low-fat diet, there are obviously consequences. These include the inability to absorb and store certain vitamins, less healthy hair and skin, and effects on nerve cells.
Basically the opposite of all the benefits I just told you about.
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