We’ve all heard of, and most likely have subscribed to, diet plans that regulate the number of fat grams, carbohydrates or animal protein. The problem is that there are dozens of diets from all three camps – each espousing the benefits of increasing or decreasing one member of the trio, but they all seem to counter each other’s logic, and most people just throw their hands up say “I don’t know what to follow – I give up!”
But you don’t have to give up. Let me explain the optimal dinner plate… And why it is so.
First of all, let’s define this famous trio. Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates are known as the three macronutrients. All food falls into one of these categories. Fats are found primarily in foods like butter and oils, but also in meats, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, avocados, and coconuts. Proteins are found primarily in meats, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, yogurt, lentils, nuts and seeds.
That leaves us with our final group – if it’s not a fat or a protein, it’s a carbohydrate. This is the least understood group and ranges from starches (a.k.a. complex carbohydrates) like grains, breads, pastas, potatoes, and legumes like beans and lentils, to the more nutrient-dense carbohydrates like broccoli, spinach and green beans, to simple sugars like those naturally occurring in fruit, maple syrup or honey, or refined and processed sugars like cane sugar, agave nectar, or corn syrup.
So what then, should our dinner plates really look like? While it differs slightly for everyone due to their unique body chemistry, a generality is to think of the ratio of your calories as 30/30/40. 30% of your calories are fats, 30% are proteins and 40% are carbohydrates. This is depicted in the picture above, and is almost a complete reversal of the classic food pyramid endorsed by the food manufacturers.
You may think that eating this much fat may make you fat, but that’s not the case. Let’s explore how our body’s physiology processes each of these macronutrients.
Our cells need clean dietary fat (like those mentioned above) to build strong cells, absorb key nutrients and to make hormones which are needed to regulate most bodily functions, and most Americans are deficient in these fats in epidemic proportions. We need proteins to provide the building blocks for all neurological functions, muscle tissue, hormones, and to regulate our DNA.
But now let’s look at carbohydrates. Their primary role is to provide quick energy, however, unfortunately they comprise the vast majority of the Standard American Diet (SAD), and here is why that’s a problem. All of these carbohydrates essentially break down into the same component parts (simple sugars like glucose and fructose) that cause your body to respond in the same way: insulin is summoned to either transport them into the cells to use for immediate energy, or if it’s not needed right away, it gets saved for future energy by being converted into triglycerides (fat) and saved in the-long term fat storage under your skin called your adipose tissue.
In addition to increasing fat accumulation, an overabundance of carbohydrates causes inflammation, thyroid issues, hormone imbalances, premature aging, fatigue, and fertility issues, among many other problems.
So what can we do to reduce the destruction of our carbohydrate-rich diet? First, reduce the carbs to only 40% of your calories at each meal, and also over the course of your day. Second, choose mostly carbohydrates that are nutrient dense, with limited starches and try to cut all refined sugars. Third, when you do eat carbs, make sure they are accompanied with fats and proteins to slow digestion, which will not only prevent the insulin spike that will lead to an increase in adipose tissue fat accumulation, but will also make you feel fuller and more satiated for longer, and reduce the cycle of carb cravings between meals.
If you follow this plan, following the ‘real’ food pyramid, you will be on your way to more energy and optimal health and vitality!