Curbing confusion over calories. What’s the right ratio of protein, carbs and fat?
By Andrea Holwegner, For The Calgary Herald March 10, 2011
Danielle was a 56-year-old engineer and mother of three who was trying to shed a few dozen unwanted pounds and reduce her blood pressure. She had tried various diets over the years, including high-protein, low-carb and most recently a vegan diet.
She initially lost weight on these diets, but didn’t enjoy them and therefore the weight always crept back. Since her blood pressure always fell when she lost weight no matter what she was eating, she knew that she needed to find an eating plan she could stick with for life.
Heated debates and contradictions about carbohydrate, protein and fat are everywhere. The truth is, you can lose weight following any mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat as long as you reduce your calories. However, not all eating regimes provide you with the same health benefits or sustainability for weight loss and enjoyment.
To make sense of this debate, you need to understand the science of macronutrients, which are collectively known as carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates (carbs) can be simply described as sugar. Fruits, sweets, and the lactose found in milk and yogurt are simple carbs (single or double units of sugar). Complex carbs (long chains of sugars) are found in grains and other starchy foods.
You can think of carbs as “gasoline” to fuel your brain and muscles. If your diet is too low in carbs, you may feel tired, moody or obsessive about food, or have difficulty concentrating. You may also experience muscle fatigue and poor sports performance.
But, if you repeatedly eat too many carbohydrates, they will be stored as body fat. Since eating carbohydrates stores water on the body, if you have lost weight on a low carb plan you may only have lost water if your calorie intake didn’t change.
Protein is found in food such as meat, poultry, seafood, dairy foods, eggs, nuts/seeds, legumes such as lentils, chick peas or black beans, and soy foods such as tofu and soy milk. It is involved in the structure and repair of tissues, production of antibodies to fight infection, enzyme function and as an oxygen carrier. If you miss a source of protein in your meals, you may feel highs and lows in your energy and be hungry more often. If your diet is too low in protein, you may also find your immunity is decreased and muscle repair and recovery from exercise is poor.
If you eat too much protein repeatedly over time, you will store these extra calories as body fat.
Major sources of fat in the diet include high-fat snack foods, fast food/restaurant meals, fats added to foods (such as butter, margarine, mayo and oil) and some meats and dairy foods. In general, the healthiest fats for your heart are supplied by plant-based foods and seafood.
Fat is an essential nutrient needed to provide us with essential fatty acids for your brain and disease prevention as well as to supply fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Fat also makes food tasty and contributes to satiety.
If you eat too much fat, it can contribute to health issues such as weight gain, obesity and heart disease.
How much do I need?
Although many factors influence how many calories you need, adult females need approximately 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day while adult males need approximately 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.
Andrea Holwegner, “the chocoholic dietitian,” is the owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. Visit www.healthstandnutrition.com or phone 403-262-3466.
Daily goals for ADULTS 19 years+
Daily calorie intake 1500 calories
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories/ 169-244 g Protein 10-35% of total calories/38-131 g Fat 20-35% of total calories/33-58 g
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories/ 203-293 g Protein 10-35% of total calories/45-158 g Fat 20-35% of total calories/40-70 g
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories/ 236-341 g Protein 10-35% of total calories/53-184 g Fat 20-35% of total calories/47-82 g
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories/ 270-390 g Protein 10-35% of total calories/60-210 g Fat 20-35% of total calories/53-93 g
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories/ 304-439 g Protein 10-35% of total calories/68-236 g Fat 20-35% of total calories/60-105 g
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories/ 338-488 g Protein 10-35% of total calories/75-263 g Fat 20-35% of total calories/67-117 g
Sources: Dietary Reference Intakes. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies in partnership with Health Canada. 2005.