The food that we ingest is divided into macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are defined as a class of chemical compounds that humans consume in the largest quantities. They provide us with the bulk of the energy that we require to perform all our bodily functions.
The three main classes of macronutrients are carbohydrate, protein and fat. Water makes up a large proportion of our total diet but it does not provide any nutritional value and as such is not classed as a macronutrient.
Carbohydrate is found in a wide variety of foods that we eat. In a typical western diet, most of our carbohydrate comes from grain and its refined products such as flour and high fructose corn syrup, and from sugar cane and its refined product in particular sucrose or table sugar. There is very good evidence that an excess of these refined carbohydrates is responsible for the obesity epidemic that we now see in western societies. A more detailed explanation as to the mechanism can be found in the presentation entitled “what causes obesity”.
Carbohydrate is broken down in the gut into its constituent molecule namely glucose. And whilst glucose is our primary energy source, paradoxically it is the one macronutrient, of the three, that can be dispensed with totally. This is because glucose can also be manufactured in the body from protein (ingested and stored forms by a process called gluconeogenesis. Additionally, and importantly for the purposes of burning fat and losing weight, the body can utilise a secondary energy source in the form of fatty acids and ketone bodies, from both ingested and stored fat. Excess glucose can be converted to triglycerides – and is the process by which we store excess body fat leading to obesity. However, certain essential fats and proteins must come from their ingested macronutrient counterparts.
Protein, similar to carbohydrate is found in a wide variety of different foods the common ones listed here. They are broken down in the gut into their constituent molecules, namely amino acids. Once in the body amino acids are reassembled to maintain muscle and to form compounds essential for regulating normal body functions. An excess that is ingested beyond this basic requirement is either broken down in the liver and excreted or converted to glucose and if this is not immediately utilised it is converted to stored fat. Excess protein intake is therefore a potent contributor to obesity.
Fat, the third macronutrient is once again, found in many foods. They are broken down in the gut into their constituent molecules fatty acids and then absorbed into the body where they form an important energy source and are an important part once again of basic bodily functions at a cellular level or alternatively are reconstituted into triglycerides and stored and adipose tissue if ingested to excess.
The human body has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to be able to digest all 3 macronutrients with equal ease. It is therefore unnecessary, purely for reasons of health, to exclude one or more from the diet on a long-term basis. Equally it is unnecessary to promote one over the other with the belief that an excess is in some way beneficial. Variation from the “everything in moderation” philosophy can lead to detrimental effects with regards to optimal physical and mental wellbeing.
It is for this reason that Mediterranean type cuisine forms point 3 of the Nysteia Formula, although other types of healthy cuisine can be easily substituted, such as Japanese cuisine. They are all characterised by a mix of all 3 macronutrients in relatively equal quantities. In the management of obesity and for maintaining long-term health you need to limit the intake of refined carbohydrate and to eliminate sugar, including sugar added to processed food, completely.
Micronutrients are required in smaller quantities throughout life and consist largely of the trace elements and vitamins. The most notable and important trace minerals are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. There are however numerous others without which or bodies would not function normally.
The essential vitamins are the vitamin B group and vitamin C both of which are water soluble. The other essential vitamins, all of which are fat soluble, are A, D, E and K. Because they are fat soluble this makes fat an extremely important macronutrient – a fat free diet is both very unpalatable and frankly dangerous in that the fat-soluble vitamins would not be absorbed into the body, leading to depletion and insufficiency.