In order to function optimally, your body needs to regularly receive small doses of dozens of different vitamins and minerals known as micronutrients. Moreover, you must also consume relatively large doses of other substances, known as macronutrients. The three macronutrients required by most creatures in the animal kingdom are carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins.
- Carbohydrates provide energy, aid in the function of crucial organs, and aid in the metabolization of proteins. Indigestible carbohydrates, known as fibers, also aid in waste processing and elimination. 1 carbohydrate (1 gram of carbs) equals 4 calories, and 45 – 65% of calories in a healthy diet should be comprised of carbs.
- Lipids, (fats), are a highly energy-dense substance that aid in the production of hormones, cell coatings, and communication between cells. 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, and 20 – 35% of calories in a healthy diet should be comprised of lipids.
- Proteins compose the vast majority of most cell material. Consuming a healthy quantity of proteins can help produce new tissue, repair damaged tissue, and facilitate the production of enzymes used for digestion and immunity. 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories, and 10 – 35% of calories consumed in a healthy diet should come from protein.
Of all three macronutrients discussed above, protein is arguably one of the most misunderstood. Although most people understand that protein is crucial to muscle-growth and general well-being, the comprehension generally ends there. If you are interested in learning more about this important micronutrient, the following three facts are worth studying:
1. Not all proteins are complete.
Proteins are built from combinations of amino acids. Though there are more than 500 types of known amino acids, only 21 are necessary to human life. And of those 21, 12 are actually produced naturally by the body itself. This leaves 9 so-called essential amino acids which must be consumed through food.
Animal products — including dairy and eggs — tend to contain all 9 essential amino acids and are therefore referred to as complete proteins. Soy and quinoa are the two most prominent vegan sources of complete protein.
Most non-animal based proteins, however, are incomplete proteins — meaning they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids. However, it is worth noting that combining incomplete protein sources is an effective and nutritious way of giving your body all the amino acids it needs. Legumes and rice are one of the most common complete pairings of incomplete protein sources, which explains why this culinary combination is so popular in various cultures across the world. Other popular pairings include:
- Brown rice/green peas
2. A healthy protein intake is a balancing act.
Not all protein sources are created equal. Ensuring that your protein sources are complete is an important nutritional responsibility — and so is weighing the positive and negative effects of each protein source. Red meat contains large quantities of protein, for example, but is also rich in fat and harmful to the digestive system. Ham, another protein-rich food, is high in sodium. And a dairy overload can also be bad news, especially for the lactose-intolerant.
Balancing the pros and cons of each protein source, and finding healthy combinations that do not lead you to harm or excess, is very important. This is yet another example of why eating a well-varied diet is so important.
3. Carbs and protein form a winning combination.
Most nutritionists have arrived at a consensus that between 45 and 65% of calories consumed in a normal, healthy diet should consist of carbohydrates. Not only do carbs give you the energy you need to function optimally — they also help trigger the production of insulin, which is a catalyst to the absorption of protein. Though some fad diets may try to convince you otherwise, the most effective way of consuming protein is alongside a healthy portion of carbs.