What carbs, protein and fats do for your body

Burrito bowl

I’m revisiting my nutrition plan to make sure I am still getting the proper balance of nutrients each day, so I thought I’d write a rundown of why your body needs a balance of carbs, protein, and fats. Each component is essential to health.

Carbohydrates

Quinoa salad with vegetables.Superfoods concept

Quinoa salad with vegetables

Carbs are your body’s primary source of energy to fuel brain activity and movement. There are two categories of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

  • Simple carbohydrates are sugars, including those found in fruit, vegetables, milk, and refined sugar.
  • Complex carbohydrates are starches, which include rice, potatoes, pasta and bread, etc.; these are broken down by the body into basic building blocks of energy.

The less refined a carbohydrate is, the more time it takes your body to break it down, which keeps blood sugar levels even. So if you’re looking for a healthier carb to eat, whole grains are better for you, like quinoa, bulgar, brown rice, corn and barley.

Fats

Avocado slices

Avocado is a great source for good fats

Fats are your body’s primary source of energy storage. Essential to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. There are two main categories of fats, saturated and unsaturated.

  • Saturated fats are those mainly found in animal products and may cause increases in bad cholesterol. Consume them in moderation.
  • Good fats are the unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts and plant sources.

Protein

peppers stuffed with quinoa and walnuts. Vegetarian dish

Peppers stuffed with quinoa and walnuts

Protein is your body’s building blocks for skin, hair, muscle, etc.

  • Animal sources of protein (meat, fish, etc.) contain “complete” proteins. Red meat tends to contain more saturated fat than fish or poultry so you should eat it in moderation.
  • Plant-based sources of protein are predominantly “incomplete,” so you should eat them in combination with another plant-based protein, like a quinoa dish with some nuts or seeds. It will ensure that your body gets all of the amino acids that it needs.

Restricting one or more of these too much is not only bad for your body, but there are also health risks associated with it.  Some examples include:

  • Restricting carbohydrates too much can cause dizziness, fatigue, constipation and, in extreme cases, kidney problems. It also affects brain functioning.
  • Eating too little fat can cause a nutrient deficiency, excessive appetite and mood problems.
  • Not having enough protein can cause muscle wasting, changes in skin and hair texture, and put you at risk for a higher amount of infections.

Generally speaking, about half of your plate should be filled with vegetables while the rest should be an even split between protein and whole grains.  A small amount of healthy fat should be part of your plate (think olive oil-based salad dressing or avocado).

“Eat your way to a better metabolism” has more information about what types of food to eat and “The basics of a proper diet” gives an overview of nutrition.

I’ll write a follow-up post once I nail down my new nutrition plan.

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