Macronutrient Myths

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Over the years, different diet trends and fads have advertised fast weight loss. Around the 1980’s and 1990’s, fat was viewed negatively. Fat free foods quickly entered the market due to consumer demand. In the 2000’s, a variety of low carb diets appeared under different names and blamed carbohydrates for obesity. Later on, the growing concern of not consuming enough protein became evident through the rising availability of protein supplements and protein fortified foods. I continue to hear about new fad diets that classify these macronutrients as “good” or “bad”. But the truth is, too little or too much of any of these nutrients could have a negative effect on health. Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins all provide our body with energy. When these nutrients are eaten in excessive amounts, the body has more energy than it needs and will store that extra energy as fat.

Fat has developed a bad reputation, but current research is helping to change that. When eaten in moderation, the fat in our meals plays a very important role. Dietary fat is necessary for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and helps in slowing digestion.

There are different types of fats: unsaturated, saturated, and trans. Unsaturated fats come from nuts, seeds, most oils, avocados, and certain fish and are liquid at room temperature. When the majority of your fat intake comes from these foods, it may help in decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL) and protecting against heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, saturated and trans fats should be limited in the diet. These fats are often found in highly processed foods and are solid at room temperature. Diets high in saturated and trans fats may increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol, while saturated fats increase both LDL and HDL cholesterol.

Most people know that protein helps in the recovery and building of muscles. Did you know that it has other important functions such as aiding in the production of certain hormones? Most healthy Americans get enough protein through their meals. Yet, despite this fact, many people choose to use protein powders to increase their intake beyond what’s recommended. The use of protein supplements long term is an area that still needs more research. High protein intake through supplements may harm kidney function and increased loss of calcium through the urine.

Carbohydrates are our bodies main source of energy. Complex carbohydrates help in digestion and keep the gut healthy. Complex carbohydrates are found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. The initial weight loss from eating a diet low in carbohydrates is due to a decrease in water weight, not body fat. Diets that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates cause ketosis. Ketosis is when your body uses fat as its major energy source. Possible side effects of ketosis include headache, bad breath, nausea, and physical and mental fatigue. The long-term effects of this diet are still under investigation but may result in certain nutrient deficiencies and constipation.

Diets that severely restrict on or more macronutrients are not sustainable and have their risks. Typically, weight is gained back over time. Long term weight loss can be achieved through cutting down on portion sizes and eating a well-balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, protein foods, and healthy oils.

The Lee County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alyssa Anderson, MS, RDN, LDN at 919-775-5624.

Alyssa Anderson is the Family & Consumer Sciences Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.