For some people this may sound a little basic, but, to begin with we want to take some time to outline the difference between macronutrients and food groups. So many people get confused with these, and the reason why this can get quite confusing is because the name of the ‘macronutrients’ (carbs, protein and fats) are exactly the same as the name of three of the common food groups. This information is your absolute basics about nutrition but if you can really learn to understand this, it will make it much easier going forwards.
So, let’s start with your macronutrients…
Food is made up from three main macronutrients which are carbohydrate, fat and protein. Very few foods are made up from just one macronutrient. Most foods are made up of more than one macronutrient, or sometimes, bits of all three. For example, 100g of broccoli contains around 20% protein, 9% fat and 71% carbohydrates. So, even though broccoli is classed as a carbohydrate, it still contains elements of each macronutrient within it. This is why we categorise foods using food groups rather than macronutrients but it’s important to know and understand both.
Over the next few weeks we will go into more detail about the macronutrients, but, for now, today’s purpose is to get you fully up to date with the basics, and help you to expand and ground some of your existing knowledge.
Let’s look at the main properties of each macronutrient, in no particular order…
Macronutrient 1: Protein
Protein is needed for many things. The body uses it for maintenance, growth and repair of skin, hair, muscles, connective tissue and organs. It is also needed to support the production of hormones, enzymes and for immune support (antibodies). It can also be used by the body as a source of energy. Because protein is a structural component of our tissues, muscles, bones etc, you can find it in abundance in animal products such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy – is also present in nuts, beans, grains and pulses (for the vegetarians and vegans).
Macronutrient 2: Carbohydrate
This is THE most confusing macro for so many people, and also the one with the most stigma attached to it. When people think of carbohydrates, most people picture bread, potatoes, pasta and rice. One important thing to know and remember, is that carbohydrates are present in nearly all food groups. So, when we talk about carbohydrate, we are referring to all types of carbohydrate including simple sugars, starchy carbohydrate and fibres, which are also found in potatoes, fruit and other vegetables. The carbohydrate family tree is a large one that has many different branches, some contain more sugars, others contain more water, starch or fibre, and all of these have different effects on the body (something we will learn a little later on in the plan).
Macronutrient 3: Fat
Fats are important for maintenance of cell membranes, proper functioning of the brain and nerves, and hormone regulation (some hormones are made of fats!). Fat is also integral for us to be able to get our essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Without fat, we would not be able to absorb these vitamins as they are fat soluble vitamins. Fat comes in a variety of different types, which – on the surface of it they all provide equal calories, however they all behave very differently inside our bodies. This requires a bit more detail and we will expand on this more throughout the plan but for now, just keep this in mind.
So these are your macros…Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates and hopefully we have shone a little light on what these mean for you. So, now let’s get on to food groups…
The Food Groups
Food groups categorise foods based on their source, type or macronutrient profile. Our food groups are designed in a way that creates a balanced meal each and every time. It is very similar to those recommended by governing and health bodies but with some slight differences (such as separating out fruit and vegetables). You can use this as a guide, along with our recommended serving sizes to create a healthier and more balanced diet that contributes to better and improved health.
Our food groups are:
- Carbohydrates (starchy carbs from grains and not-so-squeaky veg)
- Squeaky Veg (vegetables with a high percent of water/fibre)
- Fruit (all fruits, separated into high, medium and low GI)
- Dairy and dairy alternatives (Cheese, yoghurt & fermented foods)
- Protein and alternatives (fish, meat and plant proteins)
- Protein from dairy (yoghurt, cheese – for vegetarians)
- Fats (oils, seeds, nuts, dressings and other)
The reason why we split out fruits and vegetables is that we should be mindful of how much fruit we consume each day due to the sugar content. The government haven’t split fruit and vegetables yet, but the guidance is to keep fruit to two portions and vegetables to at least three!
And what is the not-so-squeaky veg I hear you ask? It’s basically all the veg that doesn’t squeak when you chew it. Think about a red pepper, how it feels when you chew it. Now compare that to eating a potato…The not-so-squeaky vegetables are the ones with a higher starch content like potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, peas, and so on.
Remember that one or more macronutrients will appear in each food group, but there does tend to be a pattern.
- Carbohydrate foods (bread, pasta, rice, grains, not-so-squeaky veg)
- Protein foods like chicken, eggs and fish will usually contain mostly protein and a little (or a lot of) fat depending on the source (so these foods will sit between protein and fat).
- Lentils, beans and pulses are categorised as protein foods despite being 70% carbohydrate.
As an example, you might think chickpeas should be in the carbohydrates group. But, if you were to use chickpeas as your carbohydrates serving and then add chicken as your protein, you will likely go over on your protein. It would therefore be better to use chickpeas as your protein source and pair it with rice or grains to make a more balanced meal.
There are few natural foods that only have one macronutrient, for example butter and oil, which sit completely in the fat section. Refined sugar sits completely in the carbohydrate section, and some protein powders or collagen supplements sit just in the protein section. But, most often than not, many foods sit in more than 1 of these groups and cross over each other like in the diagram below.
We hope this makes sense, don’t worry if you are still a little unsure as we will be going over this in more detail throughout the plan so it will start to get a little easier.
Now, with our plan, you don’t have to worry about macros as we have sectioned our foods focus into food groups. Understanding these food groups and how they work will really help you to take charge of your diet so that you don’t have to follow a step-by-step plan all of the time. You will instead be able to use your new-found knowledge to create new habits and choose foods and portion sizes as if by magic, on auto-pilot! So, stick with us, we got you!
One of the main reasons we have food groups is to help us ensure that we eat a balanced diet which contains all of the macronutrients and micronutrients needed to keep our minds and bodies nourished. Micronutrients are the small nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants) which come from our food. Eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups can improve your general wellbeing, as well as reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis. We don’t need to tell you how important nutrition is for your health, do we?
Tomorrow we are going to go more in depth about the different food groups to help you really get to grips with them, in relation to your daily servings, portion sizes and how you can use your hands to guide you when you are out and about!
- Macros are your carbohydrates, fats and protein. Three of the food groups also have these same names which is where some confusion can come into play.
- There are only a few foods that contain just one macro, many foods contain bits of all three (protein, carb and fat).
We are not counting calories or macros on this plan. Our focus is on food groups and portion control. Our aim is to provide you with an understanding of these food groups and macros so that you can recognise the food without having to consult a book or nutritionist after these 30 days!