If you’re seeking to lose weight, chances are that you’ve considered a low-“something” or high-“something” diet. Three of the most common diets include low-fat, low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets. While all can be effective at losing weight, they may not always be the most sustainable approaches to weight loss.
Within this article, we are going to take a brief overview of all three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat. We will discuss how each of these nutrients can assist you in losing weight and how a healthy balance between these macronutrients can assist you long-term sustainable weight loss.
Macronutrients – Fats, Carbohydrates and Protein
All three macronutrients are essential for good health. The three macronutrients we are discussing here are proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
By definition, all three of these molecules are required in large mounts in your diet for the proper functioning of your body, as:
Macro refers to large (as in large amounts of consumption relative to other nutrients like vitamins and minerals)
Nutrients are a necessity in our diet, as it relates to the term nourish – for without nourishment one would be malnourished.
It is short-sighted to eliminate any one of these from your diet, as this could lead to some serious health complications and impact your weight loss results.
Protein and Weight Loss
Over the past decade in particular, protein has been associated as the “ideal” macronutrient to assist in weight loss. Protein certainly is important to assist in losing weight, as protein rich foods contain vital amino acids (the constituents of protein molecules) that are responsible for correct hormone production, energy levels, recovery, boosting the metabolism and muscle development – just to name a few functions.
Why is protein so spectacular at assisting with weight loss? Well, natural protein rich foods are generally quite filling (such as meats, fish, poultry and legumes), while being relatively low in calories (as protein only contains 4 calories per gram). The body also requires a lot of energy to convert protein molecules into fat, so the net calorie effect from consuming protein rich foods is relatively low.
Muscles are also very rich in amino acids, so in order to develop muscle tissue you do require a good quality source of protein intake. If you’re seeking to lose fat tissue, it is quite beneficial to develop muscle tissue. This is because muscles are highly energy dependant, so a greater amount of muscle tissue will assist in burning additional calories throughout the day.
Keep in mind though, too much protein can lead to a calorie overload, so it is important to keep your protein intake in perspective.
Carbohydrate and Weight Loss
Carbohydrates (or colloquially “carbs”) have been assigned a negative connotation ever since the Atkins diet (a low-carb diet) was released. Carbs have been associated with fat gain and it is a common belief that consuming carbohydrates will automatically serve to cause fat gain. This is simply not true.
Carbohydrates are just as dense in calories as protein – 4 calories per gram. So just as with proteins, too many of them can create a calorie overload and cause weight gain.
However it is not wise to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, as, just like proteins, they serve to perform several vital functions within the human body. Carbohydrates are required to enhance energy levels, facilitate correct brain function, encourage recovery after exercise and speed up your metabolism. A deficiency in carbohydrate can cause anything from lowered energy levels, to causing medical condition called “ketosis”, to death. Carbohydrates are necessary to survive and must be included in your diet.
The quality of carbohydrates is often measured via two mediums; their molecular complexity or their glycaemic index:
The molecular complexity considers how large the carbohydrate molecule is – complex carbs are much larger molecules than sugars, which are simple carbohydrates. It is generally recommended to consume complex carbohydrates.
The glycaemic index is a more reliable measure of the quality of a carbohydrate, measuring it’s rate of absorption into the human body. The higher the GI, the faster the carbohydrate is absorbed. So aim for low GI foods, which will absorb slowly into your body. The exception is following an intense bout of exercise, when you should aim to consume high GI foods for enhanced recovery.
A side note on the relationship between molecular complexity and the glycaemic index. They are not related. Complex carbs can have a range of GI’s, as can sugars. A complex carbohydrate is not necessarily more likely to be lower in GI than a sugar.
Fat and Weight Loss
In the 1990’s, fat was crowned the macronutrient to avoid at all costs. There was (and still is) low-fat everything on supermarket shelves.
Fat is a critical nutrient, just as carbohydrates and proteins are. Fat is responsible for a number of mechanisms within the human body relating to energy levels, hormonal balance, cholesterol levels, metabolism, brain function, disease prevention and nutrient transport within the human body. A deficiency in fat can have some serious side effects, so it is important to include some good quality sources of fat into your diet.
Examples of good sources of fat are from foods such as fish, nuts, avocado, seeds and olive oil. Generally, you should be aiming to consume moderate amounts of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. As a general rule of thumb, aim to avoid trans and saturated fats.
So if fats are so important for your health, why are they so commonly restricted from diets? Simple – fat is quite dense in calories – 9 calories per gram. This is more than double that found in carbohydrates and proteins! So fat is required in much smaller amounts that protein and carbohydrate due to the energy density of a fat molecule. However, by no means should fat be eliminated from your diet altogether. This is because fat can not only assist in weight loss, it is also a necessity for your health and wellbeing.