Let’s Talk About the Basics: Carbs, Fats & Proteins

Let’s Talk About the Basics: Carbs, Fats & Proteins

Question:

Can you provide me with a basic understanding of carbs, fats, and proteins?

– Mandeep P.

Answer:

Carbohydrate, fat, and protein are the three macronutrients (needed in large quantities) that give us energy. Alcohol also provides calories but is not a nutrient. Water is the other macronutrient but is calorie-free.

Carbohydrates are compounds that are predominantly used for energy in the body to fuel our brain, nervous system, organs, metabolic processes, and muscles. We get 4 calories per gram from carbohydrate molecules that reach our cells. Some carbohydrates aren’t even digested or absorbed – namely dietary fiber. It is specifically identified on a food’s Nutrition Facts panel, as are sugars. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex in structure. Simple carbohydrates are single or double sugar units, while complex carbohydrates are starchy. Sugars are naturally found in fruits, milk and yogurt, some vegetables, but can be added to just about any packaged or processed food. Starches include foods like potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, corn and cereal grains.

Fats that we eat are triglyceride compounds, the same type we store in our bodies. We get 9 calories per gram of fat, making fat the most energy-rich macronutrient. In addition to long-term energy, we use fat for insulation and protecting our internal organs. Each triglyceride has 3 fatty acid strands. Some of the bonds in a fatty acid are doubled-up making them unsaturated. Mono-(single) and poly-(multiple) unsaturated fats are healthier for us than saturated fat. Trans fat is produced unintentionally when in food processing, and unsaturated fat (typically plant oil) is hydrogenated to become solid. These are the worst fats that negatively impact health, even more so than saturated fat. The highest sources of beneficial unsaturated fats are fatty fish and plant foods like nuts, olives, and avocados.

Proteins are chains of nitrogen-containing amino acids that we break down and reuse to form our own protein in cell membranes, antibodies, and enzymes. These are functions neither fats nor carbohydrates can perform, and we don’t have amino acid reserves, so it’s important to get enough protein. We get 4 calories per gram of protein. Some of the amino acids we can’t form ourselves and so are considered essential to our bodies. Protein sources with the most essential amino acids include eggs, poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products. With an adequate amount of a wide variety of legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, vegans can get enough essential amino acids from plant foods alone.

Did you know?… If you eat too many calories from any energy source, your body can convert it to stored fat.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Breakfast and Lunch Options for On-the-Go

Breakfast and Lunch Options for On-the-Go

Question:

I would like to find good breakfast diet. I can’t do milk products in the morning. Oatmeal is not my favorite, but I can eat it. I also need good lunch meal to carry with me as I am in sales so I’m in the car all day long.  

My background: 

  • I work out 3 days a week  
  • 61 years of age  
  • 6” tall 
  • Weight 200 lbs  
  • Cholesterol tends to be a little high  
  • No diabetes  
  • Do get low blood sugar at times  
  • Drink coffee  
  • Take vitamins  

Thanks for your help. 

– Kent S.

Answer:

Based on the information you provided, meals about 600-800 calories (assuming no snacks) seem suitable. You’d benefit from fiber, unsaturated fats including omega-3 fats and losing weight, hence the lower calorie range. 

Here are a few options about 600 calories for you to consider: 

Breakfasts 

  • Plated: 2 whole wheat waffles, peach or ½ mango, 4 egg whites, Tbsp pesto. Glass of pea protein milk. 
  • Smoothie: 2 cups vanilla soymilk, medium banana (chopped & frozen), 2 Tbsp each – instant coffee, wheat germ, chocolate hazelnut spread.  Blenderize all together, ice optional. 
  • Weekend treat: large baked sweet potato w/ skin (about ½ pound), 3 Tbsp sliced almonds, 3 oz Canadian bacon or ham, 1 cup wilted spinach (3 cups raw), 3 Tbsp feta cheese 

Lunches 

  • PB+B: 2 Tbsp natural peanut butter on 8 slices thin whole grain rye crisp bread, topped with 1.5 cups sliced berries 
  • Wrap: 10” whole wheat tortilla, 4 oz chicken breast, ½ cup shredded cabbage + carrot, ¼ avocado, Tbsp dressing. Apple on the side. 
  • Pasta salad: 1 cup cooked & chilled shells or macaroni, 6 oz oil-packed solid tuna, ½ cup white beans, ½ cup peas, ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes, diced green onion and herbs to taste 

Others have recently had similar questions. Read our answers here: Quick Eats While on the Road and The Mailman Diet. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

 

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

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What Are Mucins?

What Are Mucins?

Question:

What are mucins? I just heard the term recently and it sounded like they are good for you, but I’d like more info. What do they do for you? And what are good sources of them? 

– Kathryn J.

Answer:

Mucins are glycoproteins that are an integral part of your immune system, acting as a physical barrier for epithelial cells against pathogens and foreign invaders and helping prevent inflammatory responses. They also act as lubrication in gel-like secretions such as saliva, mucus and tear film over the eyes. The mucins you produce are generally good for you, except the ones that are over-expressed and linked to cancer or respiratory ailments.  

Other animals that produce notable mucins are snails, octopus, and giant jellyfish. Does that mean that eating them or their mucin will result in your gaining more human mucin? I could not determine that, although I did find out that apparently snail slime face masks are quite popular. Scientifically, it follows that if your mucins are lining your gut then they aren’t digested and absorbed, and therefore animal mucin consumed orally wouldn’t be either. But that is just my hypothesis.  

From all the available literature it seems there are a few things you can eat to optimize your natural mucin: 

In animal studies, it’s been shown that vitamin A and the amino acid threonine is needed for mucin synthesis. Vitamin A is found in eggs, dairy fat, dark green leafy and orange vegetables and fruit. Threonine — essential in the human diet since we can’t produce it — is found in protein (predominantly from meat, dairy foods and eggs). Eating adequate fiber which colonic bacteria feed on will prevent them from turning to gobbling up your mucin. Evidence is limited whether licorice root may help increase the natural production of mucins, but it has been used as a natural gut remedy for centuries. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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When the Scale Doesn’t Match Your Efforts

When the Scale Doesn’t Match Your Efforts

Question:

I have been working out for two weeks now. I have not been eating a lot. I have gained a pound, and I don’t understand why. I started out at 216 lbs. and when I got on the scale last night I was actually 217.8 lbs. I am trying really hard and need some advice. 

– Monica R.

Answer:

Bravo at how much effort you are putting in! The scale is a guide but the true marker of how your body’s responding to curbing calories while increasing exercise is how your clothes are fitting. Scale weight can fluctuate with hydration status, time of day and changes in clothing. For the most accurate and consistent result when weighing yourself use the same scale dressed in lightest clothing possible at the same time of day each time, and never post-exercise. A digital scale is more accurate than a dial-type scale. A manual balance (physician’s beam) scale is the kind most often found in our sports clubs’ locker rooms as it stands up to heavy use – this type is very precise if it’s calibrated regularly. 

Reference: 

Accuracy and consistency of weights provided by home bathroom scales.  M. Yorkin, et al. BMC Public Health 2013, vol. 13, article 1194. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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Stressful Day Nutrition Advice 

Stressful Day Nutrition Advice 

Question:

I wake up at 4 am to be at the gym by 5am, work out until 7am, and then I work 10 hours. My job is stressful so I forget to eat, and I want to eat healthy. Which foods are best and at what times throughout the day should I eat? My goal is to lose abdominal fat. 

– Mike

Answer:

Hello Mike. It seems to me that if you’re forgetful, stressed out or not hungry which results in not eating during your work day, I’m not sure that making precise recommendations will make a difference. Start with a regular eating routine by setting reminders at set times or regular intervals. Employ sticky notes or smartphone alarms if you have to! Having ready-to-eat food on hand may make the difference between grabbing a bite and not eating altogether.  

You only need a microwave or refrigerator for temperature acceptance (rather than food safety) for the following: pop-top cans of chili and tuna, aseptic packaged chocolate milk, and shelf-stable ravioli.  Dried fruit, nuts/seeds, protein bars, turkey jerky and veggie chips make for easy dry snack options to have on hand. Don’t forget a convenient refillable water bottle! 

Of course, eating in the morning surrounding your workout is crucial to your performance in the gym and success losing abdominal fat. Are you drinking a protein shake as soon as you rise or before you leave the door? At 7:00 after your exercise you should be fueling up on a major breakfast given the 2-hour workout and long duration before your next meal. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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