What is a calorie?
A calorie isn't actually a thing, it's a unit of measurement. A calorie measures the amount of energy in the food and beverages that we consume. Our bodies use this energy to live and stay healthy. Everything we do relies on the energy we consume in the form of calories.
It’s important to know how many calories your body needs because if you consume too many calories, you will gain weight. Experts estimate that if you consume approximately 3,500 excess calories you will gain one pound. So to lose one pound, you would need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories by consuming less calories, burning more calories or a combination of both.
Types of Macronutrients
What are the different types of macronutrients?
There are four main macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats and alcohol.
- In protein there is 4 calories per gram.
- In carbohydrates there are 4 calories per gram.
- In fats there are 9 calories per gram.
- In alcohol there is 7 calories per gram.
This means that if you look at a food label and it lists 10 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fat, that food would contain (10 x 4) + (2 x 4) + (2 x 9) = 66 calories.
Alcohol doesn’t generally make up a large portion of our daily energy needs (at least it shouldn’t) so the macronutrients proteins, carbs and fats supply the majority of our body’s daily energy needs. The amounts and ratio of macronutrients a person needs every day varies based on their age, lifestyle (sedentary, active, or very active), gender, and goals.
Macronutrients and body
What do the different macronutrients do in the body?
Protein provides amino acids which are the building blocks for the growth and maintenance of muscle tissues, organs, skin, hair, nails, and certain hormones. Of the 22 amino acids, nine are essential to humans. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. They are called essential because your body is unable to manufacture them so they must be obtained through diet or supplementation.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The USDA recommends that Americans get 5-35% of their calories from protein. Remember that this range is set to cover 97-98% of the population. Athletes have higher protein requirements and most athletes would benefit from getting 25-35% of their daily calories from protein.
Sources of Protein
The best sources of protein are animal based because they provide all of the nine essential amino acids. Animal sources of protein include poultry, fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. Anything that has a face or came from something that has a face.
Certain plant foods are very high in protein but they are ‘incomplete’ protein sources since they do not contain all the nine essential amino acids. In order to make a complete plant protein source, you need to combine a grain and a legume (for example rice and beans) or a grain and a seed (for example oatmeal and flax seeds).
Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber and come in two forms: complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates include sugars like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Complex carbohydrates are starches such as rice, oatmeal and potatoes. Complex carbohydrates are generally considered the healthiest option since they raise blood glucose levels the slowest.
How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?
The USDA recommends that Americans should get between 45-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Keep in mind that these recommendations are for people of a healthy BMI so if you are trying to lose weight, you will need to consume less carbohydrates then recommended.
Sources of Carbohydrates
The best carbohydrates are micronutrient-dense whole foods such as whole fruit, unprocessed grains, winter squash, beans, and potatoes.
Unlike other food components, fiber isn't digested by your body because humans don’t produce the necessary enzymes to digest fiber. Instead, it passes through your gastrointestinal tract intact, keeping you regular and preventing constipation.
Fiber is classified into two categories: soluble, which dissolves in water, and insoluble, which doesn't dissolve.
- Soluble fiber - Soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
- Insoluble fiber – Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your GI system and helps prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber is found in bran, nuts, beans and vegetables.
Most plant-based foods such as oatmeal and beans contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Daily fiber recommendations from the Institute of Medicine
|Age 50 or younger||Age 51 or older|
|Men||38 grams||30 grams|
|Women||25 grams||21 grams|
Fats are the densest energy source providing 9 calories per gram. Fats make up cell membranes, steroids, cholesterol, and 60% of your brain. Fats also support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, cushion your organs, and act as your largest form of energy storage.
Fats are classified into three categories, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats tend to be more solid at room temperature (like a stick of butter), while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be more liquid (like olive oil).
- Saturated fat is mostly found in animal foods such as milk, cheese, poultry and meat. Saturated fat is also found in tropical oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter. Saturated fats should only be consumed in moderation because they raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
- Monounsaturated fat is found in avocado, nuts, and olives. Eating foods high in monounsaturated fats help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and raise good (HDL) cholesterol.
- Polyunsaturated fats can be broken down into two main categories:
- Omega-3 fatty acids which are found in walnuts, flaxseed, and fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids should be a stable in your diet for their health promoting effects.
- Omega-6 fatty acids which are found in vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and should only be consumed in moderation.
- There’s actually one more man-made type of fat called trans fats. Trans fats are artificially made by hydrogenating unsaturated fats to become solid at room temperature. Trans fats have no place in a healthy diet.
How Much Fat Do You Need?
The USDA recommends that fats should account for 20-40% of your daily calories. Even if you are on a low calorie diet and trying to lose weight, you should not lower your fat intake lower than that because of the pivotal role fats make in manufacturing hormones. Studies link diets high in mono and polyunsaturated fats to higher levels of testosterone.
Sources of Fat
The best sources of fat are plant-based such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and coconut.
If you’re looking for healthy oils, you have quite a few options: flaxseed, hemp seed, avocado, macadamia nut, olive oil, and coconut oil. I don’t recommend flaxseed or hempseed oil for cooking since they have low smoke points and will easily become rancid when exposed to high heats. For cooking, use oils that have a higher smoke point like coconut, avocado or macadamia nut oil. When purchasing oils, always make sure the label says “expeller-pressed”, “virgin” or “unrefined.” Otherwise, the oil may have been extracted using chemicals which damages the essential fatty acids in the oil.
Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. The calories in alcohol are 'empty calories' that have no nutritional value. To make matters worse, alcohol is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fats or proteins, postponing the fat-burning process and contributing to greater fat storage.
If you must drink alcohol straight liquor such as rum, rye, vodka, or gin with a sugar free mix is the best option.
What are Micronutrients?
What are micronutrients and why are they important?
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals required by your body to maintain good health. Unlike macronutrients, you only need small amounts of micronutrients. Micronutrients play an essential role in the production of enzymes, hormones, and proteins and in regulating metabolism, heartbeat, cellular pH, and bone density.
With the exception of vitamin D, vitamins cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained through diet or supplements. Your body needs 13 vitamins to stay healthy:
There are four fat-soluble vitamins in the human diet - Vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat-soluble vitamins must be taken with meals that contain dietary fat to be absorbed by the body
There are nine water-soluble vitamins in the human diet – Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B12, folate and vitamin C. Water-soluble vitamins can be taken with meals or on an empty stomach. Water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and are excreted in the urine if they’re not used.
Minerals are inorganic naturally occurring substances that your body needs to keep your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. Minerals are also important for making enzymes and hormones.
There are two kinds of minerals: macro minerals and trace minerals.
Your body needs macro minerals in large quantities. Macronutrients include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur.
Your body only need small amounts of trace minerals. Trace minerals include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, molybdenum and selenium. Your body needs exceptionally small amounts of the nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.
Although you only need small amounts of micronutrients, they are extremely important to your health. Many of the most debilitating health conditions are linked to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. For example, The World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 billion people worldwide have a reduced ability to work due to an iron deficiency.
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