Macronutrient Myths

Content by: Jamie Rinaldi RD LD

Protein, Carbohydrates (Carbs), and Fats! There is so much out on the Internet. How do you sort through the facts and the fiction surrounding macronutrients?

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There is a lot of misinformation about nutrition in every form of media, confusing consumers and frustrating nutrition professionals. How do you know what’s true and what’s false?

Understanding Macronutrients.
Among the most controversial subjects are the macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. The information seems to be ever changing. Fat was demonized in the 1990s for raising cholesterol and causing weight gain, prompting food manufacturers to produce millions of fat-free items. In the early 2000s, carbohydrates became the enemy as certain commercial diets gained widespread popularity. The fear of “carbs” largely still remains. Carbohydrates give up the center stage to a protein health halo, thought to provide the path to weight loss.

Let’s dispel the myths and review the facts.

Carbohydrates
🤸🏿‍♂️🤾🏽‍♀️ Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy! The conversion of carbohydrate to fuel is a lot more efficient than the conversion of protein or fat into usable energy. In the past, Grains were given the largest part of the Food Guide Pyramid, followed by fruits and vegetables. Although the infographic was flawed, the importance of carbohydrates in the diet is real.

💔 It’s disheartening to hear individuals with diabetes mellitus say that they can’t eat certain foods because they’re high in carbohydrates. Of course, some sources of carbohydrate, like candy and doughnuts, are not smart choices; however, those with diabetes absolutely need carbohydrates in their diet. It's especially important if they are on insulin or blood-sugar lowering medication. Hypoglycemia can be more dangerous than hyperglycemia!

FACT! ✅ The key is choosing mostly nutritious foods that are high in carbohydrate and fiber. Balancing the macronutrients is important for optimal glycemic control.

🍎 Fruit often receives a bad reputation, because of its sugar content. While it does contain sugar, fruit also offers rich vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber that our bodies crave. Fresh fruits are a good choice. But, fruit juice and other packaged fruits often has added sugar and may lack the fiber that whole fruit contains.

What's wrong with White Foods?
🥖🥚🍚🧄 Another unfortunate misconception is foods of white color are not good for you. Refined white foods, like bread and rice lack the nutrition of their whole grain counterparts; however, there are plenty of nutrient rich foods that are white, e.g. potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and cauliflower. And remember, white whole wheat bread is a thing!

Complex vs Simple Carbohydrates.
Many fad diets eliminate grains, even whole grains, because they are allegedly inflammatory, especially the ones that contain gluten. For those with a sensitivity to gluten or certain grains, this is true. But, for the majority of people, whole grains are an excellent source of nutrition, notably fiber, B vitamins, and multiple minerals.

🌾 Grains are members of the complex carbohydrate family, which are more slowly digested and help stabilize blood sugars. Complex carbohydrates are also in starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, and fruits. Complex carbohydrates are made of long strands of sugar, which mean they digest more slowly.

🍩 🍡 Simple carbohydrates only have one or two units of sugar, more easily digested and potentially cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Simple carbohydrates are found in candy, soda, table sugar, and ice pops, to name a few foods.

🥦🍅🌶 A final carbohydrate misconception: “carbs are fattening.” Foods high in carbohydrate are not inherently fattening! An excess of calories is fattening, regardless of the form. Fiber-rich high carbohydrate foods are actually supportive of weight loss as they are satiating while frequently low in calories (READ: vegetables).

The truth about Proteins.
🍗 There is much confusion around protein and kidney disease. Does protein cause kidney failure? No, protein does not cause kidney failure. When renal function is already impaired, too much protein can cause further kidney damage; however, it is not the initial cause of renal insufficiency.

🍆 🥜 Many people believe vegetarians and vegans don’t consume enough protein. Vegetarians who include dairy products, eggs, and/or fish can easily get enough protein in their diet. While this may be more challenging for vegans, plenty of protein is available in nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, lentils, legumes, pulses (edible seeds of the legume family), and whole grains.

Dieters often have the misconception that if carbohydrate intake is severely limited, then no need to worry about how much protein and fat consumed. Downing 4 hot dogs without buns or 16 ounces of turkey bacon will not help anybody drop those unwanted pounds - all calories count! One could lose or gain weight on a calorie-controlled diet regardless of the calorie source.

Soy has long been scrutinized for its potential for causing unwanted physiological side effects in men, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Soy contains isoflavones and can act like estrogen, although to a significantly less degree.

FACT! ✅ Research has shown soy to be health protective and completely safe, when consumed in moderate amounts.

Understanding Fats.
Fat is the final macronutrient around for which consumers are often understandably misinformed. Prominent health agencies frequently change their position on fats. As previously mentioned, in the 1990s, fat was considered a nutritional demon. Nuts, seeds, oils, and avocados were bad. Nutrition experts later explained that not all fat is bad, just saturated fat.

NEW FINDINGS! ✅ Now, we come to find that not all saturated fat is bad! Actually, much of the saturated fat in dairy products is associated with lower risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers.

High saturated fat coconut products are trendy for being nutritionally superior! However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and most other respected nutrition experts disagree. Research in the early 2000s fueled this myth, due to the benefit of medium chain fatty acids, which are found in coconut.

FACT! ✅ In truth, a very small percentage of the fatty acids in coconut are medium chain.

The biggest question mark regarding fat is cholesterol, with most of the focus being on eggs. Bad? Good? In the past, the assumption that cholesterol in food raised blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease was deemed true... then false... now still up in the air. While researchers claim it poses little risk, moderate consumption is still recommended for health protection.

Nutritional and macronutrient research, and publicity of it, true or false, will continue to evolve and confuse consumers.

Nutrition professionals are instrumental in helping non-nutrition professionals understand and interpret it to minimize uncertainty and misunderstanding.

Quick Tips!

In general, eat fresh, manage portion sizes and if it comes in a package, read the labels.

Next Steps.
1. Balanced diets are key to healthy nutrition.
2. Successful weight loss is about balancing nutrient intake and overall reduced calorie consumption.
3. Most foods in moderation, unless you have received specific guidance from your health professional.

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Macronutrient Myths