Is This Food a Carb, a Protein or a Fat?

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.

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Salty crunchy roasted garbanzo beans are a legume, but are the considered a high protein food?

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.

Fat

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:
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oils
  • Avocado
  • Olives
Carbohydrates

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
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Rice
  • Pastas/bread
  • Barley
  • Amaranth
  • corn
  • Starchy vegetables: yams, sweet potatoes, white potatoes
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Pancakes
  • Cereal
  • Crackers/pretzels
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit drinks/Soda
Protein

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?

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Delicious and tasty almonds. Are they a good source of protein?

Awe Nuts.

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.

Beans, beans…

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.

Eggs

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).

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Eggs.  Eggs are usually one of the holy grails of high protein foods, but over 63% of their calories come from fat.

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.

 

 

 

Stress free Beef Gyro Bowl

This is another quick and easy recipe when you don’t feel like cooking.  I like to keep this one on my menu during chaotic weeks when I don’t want to stress myself out any more. Like, I don’t know, the holiday season? It is basically just seasoned ground beef, topped with veggies and some tzatziki. Not only is this recipe stress free it is also high in protein and relatively low in carbs!

Tzatziki

Tzatziki made with greek yogurt

If you are not familiar with tzatziki, it’s a cold sauce or dip made from yogurt. The recipe will make more tzatziki then you need for these gryo bowls. Save it, don’t toss it! There are so many ways to eat it.  As a dip for crackers or veggies.  Or it goes great with just about any meat.

These gyro bowls are able to be customized to meet your needs.  Need some carbs? Serve over rice.  Need more protein? Serve over quinoa.  Neither?  Serve over cauliflower rice or spinach.  I personally prefer a mixture of quinoa and spinach.

The tzatziki does take some time since it needs to be prepared ahead of time. Everything else,however, comes together in 20 minutes! You can make the tzatziki ahead of time. (I’ve kept mine if the fridge for a couple days.  I have no idea if will last longer than that since I usually eat it all my then!)

Beef gyro bowl

Beef Gyro Bowl over quinoa and spinach.

Top these bowls with whatever veggies you are feeling like.  I  use whatever I have hiding out in my fridge.  I imagine some beets and radishes would go pretty well on this!  If making this for little ones (or picky adults), just exclude things their palates might not like (in my house I leave the olives and red onions off the kids bowls)

 

 

Tzatziki

Makes 4 huge servings or more, smaller ones if you are not as obsessed as me.

 

16 oz 2% or whole fat plain greek yogurt. (Don’t use nonfat it will be too runny)

1 large cucumber, peeled seeded and diced

1 tb lemon juice

1 tb red wine vinegar

1 tb olive oil

4 cloves garlic minced or pressed

1 tsp dried dill

 

  1. Seed the cucumber by cutting it in half and using a spoon to scrap the seeds out of the middle. Dice it as small as you have the patience for.
  2. Toss the cucumber with kosher salt and place in a strainer. Fill a large gallon sized bag fil with ice and place on top and let it sit for at least an hour.
  3. In the meantime, mix all remaining ingredients.
  4. Remove cucumber and using cheese cloth or thick paper towel squeeze out any excess liquid.
  5. Mix with yogurt mixture and adjust salt and pepper to taste
  6. Set in fridge for at least on hour.

 

Gyro Bowls

Makes 4 servings

 

1 lb 95% lean ground beef

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp garlic granules (or minced fresh garlic if you wish)

2 cups spinach

½ cup quinoa (omit if using rice or cauliflower rice)

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced

½ cup red bell pepper, sliced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup red onion, diced

¼  cup Kalamata olives

¼ cup chopped walnuts.

 

1.Cook quinoa (or rice) according to package.

2.Season beef with oregano, rosemary and salt and pepper. Brown over medium heat and drain off any fat.

3.Place ¼ cup quinoa in each bowl.  Top with ¼ of the ground beef.  Add spinach, cucumber, red bell, tomatoes, red onion.  Top each bowl with ½ cup tzatziki (less if you are not a freak about it like I am), 1 tb Kalamata olives and 1 tb walnuts.

 

Enjoy!

 

Nutrition for ¼ the amount plus ½ cup tzatziki

Calories: 379 Carbs: 24 Fat: 14 Protein: 38

 

Inspired by a recipe from Clean Eating Magazine.

quick-and-easy-beef-gyro-bowls

 

Margherita Egg White Frittata

Recently I was gifted a very large bunch of basil and this recipe was born out of me desperately trying to come up with ways to use it before it went bad.  And I must say, it was a success.  I love basil, and there so many ways to use it other than pesto.  Basil isn’t just big on flavor; it also packs an amazingly healthy punch.  It is full of vitamin K, magnesium and potassium.  Also, research is showing the phytochemicals in basil can fight viruses, bacteria and inflammation.

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Now, to be honest, I did not test this recipe out on my children (I was hungry and not in the mood to share. Hey now, it happens.) But, I imagine most kids would like it.  I used all egg whites in the recipe, but feel free to sub in whole eggs (just note that will change the nutritional breakdown).

Due to the high protein content it is very filling while still being low in carbs (if you would like more carbs, some fresh fruit would go really well with it.) This frittata makes a great brunch or dinner.  Since does take a little attention and time, however, it is not the best choice for a rushed morning.

 

Margherita Egg White Frittata.

Serves 1

5 Oz Egg whites

3.5 Oz Grape tomatoes, sliced (any tomato will probably work here, this was just what I had on hand)

1 Oz Fresh mozzarella cheese

1 Tb Parmesan Cheese

2 Tb Basil, shredded

 

Place small skillet over medium heat and spritz with cooking oil.  Once hot, place tomato slices on skillet.  After a few minutes, pour egg whites over the tomatoes.  Once the sides begin to set, use a spatula to gently left the edges allowing the still liquid whites to run under.   As you lift the edge of the set egg, gently tip the pan so the uncooked egg can run underneath. Continue to do this till almost cooked through. It will still be a little raw in the middle.   Add mozzarella slices and over with a lid (keep an eye on it though, you don’t want it to burn).  Once the eggs are fully set turn over on to a plate and sprinkle with basil and parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

 

Nutrition:

Calories: 192 Fat:6 Carbs:5 protein: 25

Chicken with strawberries, basil and goat cheese.

This protein packed recipe is  great when you are short on time. It is also family friendly.  My littles (age 5 and 2 love it).  The whole recipe takes only 30 minutes to throw together.  The combination of the strawberries, goat cheese and basil go really well together.  It’s easily adaptable to different family member’s tastes. For example, I leave the balsamic off my 2-year old’s plate, and I don’t add the goat cheese to the 5-year old’s.

Strawberries are a good source of vitamin C, A and K.  Make sure you choose berries that are dry and firm.  Smaller berries tend to have more flavor then the larger ones. Typically, the larger berries contain more water so, their flavor is diluted.

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While boneless skinless chicken breasts are a great lean protein source they can be tough to cook.  They easily become chewy or dry.  This is a quick cooking method, so there is less time for them to dry out. Make sure you do not use more than 1 tablespoon of oil when cooking them though.  It just needs to be enough to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. We are pan frying these guys, not deep frying! The easiest and cleanest way to pound the chicken is to place it in a gallon zip lock, and smack the crap out of it with a heavy skillet or pan.  Great way to get your aggressions out and the ziplock keeps all the chicken germs from flying around your kitchen.

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The Ingredients

4 Chicken breast, boneless skinless.

1 Tb cooking oil. (I like coconut oil)

Salt and pepper

2 Lbs green beans, washed and trimmed

1 Tb oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

kosher salt

black pepper

16 strawberries, washed hulled and chopped

2 Tb basil, chopped

2 oz goat cheese crumbles (feta would be great here too)

Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400. Trim the green beans.  Toss with oil and salt. Place on a cookie sheet/pan. (Make sure they are dry 1st).  Roast for 20-25 mins, shaking the pan every 10-15 mins.  They are done when wrinkly and brown in spots.

Meanwhile, pound the chicken thin.  You’ll want them to be uniform in thickness.  Heat oil in skillet to medium high.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Once oil is hot, place chicken in skillet and cooked undisturbed for 3- 5 mins per side.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  (If you are making all 4 breasts, you may need to cook 2 at a time.  Do not crowd them in the pan)

To serve: Place chicken breast on top of 1.5 cups green beans and top with ½ cup chopped strawberries, ½ oz crumbled goat cheese, a sprinkle of basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

 

Nutrition (with 1.5 cups green beans, 4 oz chicken and ½ oz goat cheese):

Calories:377 carbs:16  fat:14  protien:41