How to tell what the major macronutrient of a food is.
Eat more carbs in the morning. Eat more protein. Eat less fat after a workout. How many times have you heard dietary advice like that? The problem is when you do not know which foods are high in carbs, protein or fat.
Knowing which macronutrient is the main constituent of a food is imperative when trying to follow dietary advice. (A macronutrient, also referred to as macro, is either fat, carbohydrate or protein)
You may think you know the answers, but what about foods like nuts, beans and even eggs? Would you say they are a high protein food? Here’s the thing, they are not.
The first step to figuring the main macronutrient of a food is to read the label. Or if it doesn’t have a label, look it up online. This is my favorite site here. Whatever the highest macronutrient is your answer. This tip will work majority of the time, but not all the time. There are some foods that need to be considered “mixed”.
To better understand what I am talking about here is a very brief lessons carbohydrate, fat and protein. I’ll break down each one, tell what their serving size is and give an example of some common foods that fit into each category.
Every gram of fat provides 9 calories. Each molecule of fat is made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms, joined together in long chain. There are 3 main different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. There is more information on fat in this article. One serving of a fat is generally 1-2 Tb or 1-2 thumb sized servings.
Typical Fat foods:
Each gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories. Carbs are made up of a carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecule. Structurally there are 2 types, simple and complex. Simple carbs are smaller, made up of only 1 or 2 sugar molecules. Complex carbs are more than 2 sugar molecules. While each type has a different effect on the body, ALL CARBS we eat are digested into simple sugars. A typical serving size of carb food varies from one cupped hand (approximately ½ cup) to 2 fists (2 cups) depending on the person and the type of carb.
Typical carb foods
- Starchy vegetables: yams, sweet potatoes, white potatoes
- Dried fruit
- Fruit drinks/Soda
Protein is a molecule made up of amino acids. Think of amino acids as the building blocks for our body. There are 2 types of amino essential and nonessential. Essential aminos our body cannot make and we must get them from the diet. Nonessential aminos our body can make. To learn more about protein including how much you need go here. Each gram of protein provides 4 calories (just like carbs). A general serving size is 1-2 palm sized servings or 4-6 oz.
Typical protein foods:
- Lean meats
- Dairy products
- Fish/shell fish
- Deli meats
- Egg whites
- Powdered protein supplement (Read the label! A lot of these can contain A LOT of carbs and or fat)
But what about those nuts, beans and eggs? Aren’t they good sources of protein?
Everyone wants to consider nuts a high protein food. One ounce of mixed nuts contains 14 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs and 5 grams of protein. Nuts are a high fat food. Yes, they do contain protein, but most of their calories come from fat. 77% of their calories come from fat.
You often hear that beans are a great source of protein. 1 cup of black beans contains 41 grams of carbohydrate and 15 grams of protein. While they do contain protein, but they contain substantially more carbs then protein. With 72% of their calories come from carbs while 26% comes from fat. If you do not consume any animal products, then yes they are a decent source of protein. If you do eat animal products (dairy, leans meats, etc.) then it is most beneficial to think of beans as a carb source.
Yes, yes. Eggs are still an excellent source of protein. Keep in mind however, one large egg as 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. That is 24 calories from protein and 45 calories from fat. 34% of their calories come from protein and 63% comes from fat. I find it best to think of them as a fat and protein food. It will be hard to eat your needed amount of protein without over doing it on fat if you are consuming whole eggs. It can help to cut your it with another lean protein source (either egg whites or a lean meat like turkey or ham).
Understand that not all foods will fit into these nice neat little boxes. This whole article is an overgeneralization. There are a lot of foods (like eggs and higher fat meats) that need to be consider mixed macros. However, classifying foods this way this is a great starting point. It can help you follow dietary advice.