Health and Nutrition 101: Macros, Calories and Exercise … Oh, My! (Part 1)

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By Gina Cousineau

My entire adult life, I have talked diets, either because I was on one or someone I knew was on one.

As a fitness professional, trained chef, and as a nutrition expert, I regularly want to pull my hair out over the conversations I overhear, paired with all the noise I see across the internet regarding diets.

The best one yet was a diet program in which you can win money. It was the perfect storm for those with disordered eating—the majority of us—paired with gambling. Oh, my!

So let’s unpack the latest and greatest, as we once again hear from U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Diets 2021.”

Leading the way, as in years past, are omnivore-type diets, including the Mediterranean, DASH, and Flexitarian diets, which are plant-focused. In other words, a plant-based diet that includes dairy, as well as animal and plant proteins mixed in. They all promote a whole food nutrition approach that is low in sugar, saturated fat, sodium, along with limiting highly processed foods. Not brain surgery, folks.

Macronutrients, or “macros,” remain high on the list of buzzwords when it comes to diet-speak. In reality, macronutrients are foods that provide calories, which include carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

There are all kinds of spewing of “if it fits my macros,” “macro percentages,” and “I count macros” going on. But what does this really mean?

Fact is, counting macros tells us nothing of food quality, nor the number of calories that are being consumed, so I use this opportunity to educate my readers as to why you should know what “macros” are and how they can help you reach your goals for the New Year.

Bottom line, if you are on a “diet,” you either want to lose, gain or maintain your weight; are concerned about improving or holding onto your current health scenario; and/or you want to improve your performance (speed, body composition, strength, etc.).

If you have no concern for these things, you likely eat foods that are convenient, regardless of their repercussions.

Macros provide the calories needed to exist in life. If you over-consume them, you store body fat and potentially increase your risk of lifestyle diseases linked to obesity, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colorectal cancers and the like.

Under-consume calories, and you risk sarcopenia, the loss of lean tissue mass, including muscle and bone, leading to a host of health concerns. Malnutrition and lack of proper nutrition can happen no matter how many calories you consume.

Homeostasis is the body’s happy place and the home in which I want my clients to reside.

The type of macros you consume is dictated by the foods you choose. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred and primary fuel source. Wholesome foods rich in carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, whole grains/starches, and dairy products.

Fats are imperative for most every metabolic process in the body. Healthier options include fats from foods such as avocados, olives, nuts, seeds and oils from these foods. Protein helps to build and repair, along with it being the matrix of our skin, muscle and bones. Nutritious picks are lean animal and dairy sources, eggs, and plants rich in soy and legumes.

Those macros in combination are called meals and snacks, and not only can bring joy to our lives, but wonderful nutrition to our bodies. They can also be our demise.

Recommendation from Mama G: Choose wholesome macronutrients most of the time as close to nature as possible. Stay tuned for more on “macros” next month.

Gina Cousineau sees clients virtually and in person out of her San Clemente office. Her extensive education—a BS in dietetics and MS in integrative and functional nutrition—chef training, and 30-plus years as a fitness professional allow her to help clients lose weight and improve their health. You can reach her at mamag@mamagslifestyle.com, 949.842.9975, and on Instagram and Facebook @mamagslifestyle.

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