Macronutrients: The Best and The Worst Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats to Fuel Your Days
Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Carbohydrates, protein, and fats are so incredible. They give us the energy to live our vibrant lives, they fill us up and bring us joy, and they are totally delicious. Of course, not all high-protein foods are equal, not all carbs provide the same amount of lasting energy, and not all fats provide life-changing nutrients for full-body wellness. The more you know about food, macros, and the best options available to you, the better chance you will have at choosing to eat the right thing and fueling up for your best, most joyful, high-energy days.
I LOVE food. I want to travel the world and eat great food and try all of the incredible options available to me. On top of eating great food, though, I want the food I eat to make me feel great. I'm not interested in restricting or counting calories. When I'm craving really good pizza or fried chicken, I go for it. My philosophy around food is pretty much this: eat healthful and good food the large majority of the time to feel your best and live an awesome life.
I love to cook at home, because it's cheaper, healthier, and easier. I don't get too complicated with my meals because I'm busy and have better things to do than spending hours on dinner. If you love to cook and create beautiful, complex dishes, that is incredible (and please invite me over for dinner sometime). Either way, if you're interested in saving money and time, and eating the right things to drive your success, it's worth learning the basics and having a strong understanding of which carbs, protein, and fats are best (and worst) for you.
Carbs Give Us Energy to be Great
Carbs have gotten a pretty bad rap recently with diets like the keto diet trying to tell us we can eat bacon and hamburgers and steak and be healthy as long as we don’t eat the bread. To each their own, but I think that’s silly. Carbs have a heck TON of value, and the healthiest ones can be super delicious too! A lot of carb-rich foods are packed with nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Yes, simple carbs like white bread, rice, pasta, and sugary anything are quickly absorbed and spike our blood sugar in a way that makes us crash (not so good for that superhero energy we want). But complex carbs, on the other hand, are absorbed more slowly, don’t make us spike and subsequently crash, provide life-giving nutrients, and even balance out our moods and make us happy! Complex carbs like whole grains, yogurt, beans, legumes, fruits, and veggies can and should be a healthy part of your diet and eating habits.
Carbs (especially produce) should make up the majority of what you eat.
Benefits of Carbs
Carbs are incredible sources of sustained energy to keep you going throughout your awesome day. Eating the right types of high-quality carbs is great for your mind and body.
Our main source of energy
Fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system
Aid in digestion
Help you feel full
Keep blood cholesterol levels in check
Reduce headaches, fatigue, weakness, difficulty concentrating, nausea, and more
Best Carbohydrate Options
Complex carbs give you awesome sustainable energy; many of them are chock-full of healthful nutrients and should definitely be a big part of our healthy diet and daily eating habits. Some of my favorites are whole grains (quinoa, farro, oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, and sweet potatoes), beans, fruits and veggies, and Greek yogurt. Whole grains are full of complex carbs, fiber, protein, and a significant amount of vitamins and minerals; they are absorbed slowly and provide sustained energy over the course of the day. Greek yogurt is packed with protein, nutrients, probiotics, calcium, and B12; it fills us up, keeps us regular and happy, and detoxes our skin.
Worst Carbohydrate Options
Bread is bad. I'm not going to lie, that is like the worst thing I've learned about nutrition. I love bread. More than sweets or processed foods or wine, I really love bread. My favorite is good crunchy French bread with good cheese and berries and maybe some charcuterie and wine and a good book. BUT bread is bad. Simple carbs like white bread, rice, pasta, chips, and sugary shit hit your blood sugar hard and then make your energy crash so you feel sucky later. Two slices of whole wheat bread can raise your blood sugar more than two tablespoons of pure sugar.
These days, we tend to opt for salads over sandwiches, a side of fruit or veggies over a roll, and we keep bread as more of a ‘treat,’ especially good white French bread. When we do eat bread at home, we do it a little differently. We use it more sparingly, and we get the good stuff. For sliced bread, we love organic sprouted Ezekiel bread. Compared to traditional grains, sprouted grains have increased fiber content as well bioavailability of rockstar minerals and amino acids. We don’t make as many sandwiches with processed deli meat, but we do love good sprouted toast with avocado or nut butter, or even some melty mozzarella/tomato for an open-faced caprese.
Protein Fuels our Days
Protein is really great. It gives you energy to run your day and it supports your mood and cognitive function. It helps us build, maintain, and repair our tissues, cells, and organs, and provides amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy. It keeps your immune system functioning properly, maintains heart health and your respiratory system, and can even help improve cognitive function and memory.
Protein is also beneficial for your mood and boosts your resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression. It can help you maintain a healthy weight by curbing appetite, making you feel full longer, and fueling you with extra energy. It also helps you look great. Eating high-quality protein can help you maintain healthy skin, nails, and hair, and build a lean, fit body.
Protein should make up about a quarter of what you eat.
Benefits of Protein
Protein gives you energy and fuels your day, from breakfast to dinner. Eating the right amount of high-quality protein does wonders for your health.
Keeps your immune system strong
Maintains heart and respiratory health
Reduces your risk for disease
Helps you think clearly and improves memory
Boosts mood and resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression
Helps you maintain a healthy weight
Curbs appetite, making you feel full longer
Maintains healthy skin, nails, and hair
Builds lean muscle
Okay, so protein is great, but we have to be careful about the right, high-quality protein sources. Most animal protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy) delivers all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources (grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts) often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs.
Best Protein Options
Lean protein options rock. Fish and other seafood is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Some great sources are salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, and herring, which are all high in omega-3 fatty acids. Beans, lentils, and other legumes have tons of protein and fiber. Nuts and seeds are rich in protein, fiber, and good fats. Organic free-range poultry is also good on occasion. Some dairy like cheese and greek yogurt can be healthy sources of protein as well. Just beware of added sugar and definitely skip processed cheese. Eggs are awesome sources of protein and nutrients as well, but keep your intake to one a day tops to keep cholesterol in balance.
Worst Protein Options
If you’re going to eat animal protein, I highly suggest organic, grass-fed meat. Many processed meats are loaded with salt and have been linked with an increased risk of cancer. Red meat, poultry, and dairy products contain saturated fat which can raise cholesterol, form plaque, and increase chances of heart disease. Red meat has also been linked to certain cancers and diabetes. Processed red meat includes foods like bacon, sausage, deli meats and hot dogs - these are the worst of both worlds and should be avoided outside of rare occasions.
Healthy Fats Rock
I’m so down for good fats and omega-3s. They make me feel good and they are delicious. I like to keep around avocadoes, some really good olive oil, olives, salmon, nuts, and seeds, just like all the time. Fats are pretty great. The right ones reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, they’re good for your skin, they help you absorb vitamins and minerals, and they’re a great source of energy. They also can be helpful if you have depression or ADHD, and we’re beginning to learn that omega-3s can improve the immune system and help keep us from getting sick.
Fats should be used as dollops of flavor to go with your carbs and protein.
Benefits of Fats
Fats keep our bodies working correctly and keep us healthy. Eating the right kinds of high-quality fats and omega-3s helps us live better lives.
Keep us satisfied
Help our bodies absorb vitamins
Build cell membranes and insulate the nervous system
Support healthy brain and nervous system development
Reduce obesity, depression, and hyperactivity
Lower risk of heart disease and stroke
Make your skin look awesome
The Best Fat Options
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats come from things like fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, and oils. Monounsaturated fats include avocados, most nuts, and olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. They are sooo much better for you (and your chances of getting heart disease) than saturated animal fat. This is why the mediterranean diet is rated so well against heart disease even though it is typically high in oils, olives, and fish.
Polyunsaturated fats are actually necessary for life; we can’t produce them ourselves and they help build cell membranes and nerve coverings. They help blood clot and muscles work, they reduce blood pressure and actually improve cholesterol, and they reduce inflammation. They rock. The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s can be found in salmon, oysters, all our favorite seeds (chia/hemp/flax), walnuts, and some veggies. They do wonders for controlling inflammation -- in the joints, the bloodstream, and the tissues. Omega-6s include vegetable oils like sunflower, walnut, and safflower and can also help prevent heart disease.
You can eat a bunch of healthy fats. They’re not intended to be the core part of your meals, but in moderation they are healthy and nutritious and should definitely not be avoided. My faves are avocados, olive oil, salmon and other fatty fish, walnuts, and chia, hemp, and flaxseed (I throw these into my yogurt, soup, smoothies, on toast, whatever).
The Worst Fat Options
You’ve got to be choosy about the kind of fat you put into your body. Trans fat is gross; it has no benefits and it isn’t safe. It increases cholesterol and increases inflammation, making it a factor in getting many major diseases. It was used in margarines, cookies, and fries for years, but is now banned in the U.S.
Then, you have saturated fats, which are everywhere. This includes things like bacon grease, red meat, whole milk and dairy, cheese, coconut oil, and a ton of processed pastries and foods. Saturated fat is bad for you. It increases cholesterol, and choosing to very rarely eat things with saturated fats could help decrease your risk of heart disease.
I'm all about eating what you want - I absolutely still eat some of the things on the 'worst' lists (oops). If you can just keep in mind the easy rule of eating foods from the 'best' lists the large majority of the time, though, you will be so much healthier, have more energy, and feel like a rockstar. For me, it's all about prioritizing how I feel all day long over the immediate gratification I might get from a drive-through burger and fries. Keep your food delicious and healthy, and you will have taken an incredible first step to becoming the best, most energetic, and joyful person you can be.
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What are your favorite healthy carb, protein, and fat options? Do you have any awesome meals you make that incorporate options from these lists? Let me know!