Calorie counting used to be a go-to method for watching your weight and monitoring how much you consume each day. While some health enthusiasts and dieters swear by the calorie counting method, others have turned to macronutrient counting, a concept that’s quickly growing within health circles.
In the simplest of terms, macronutrients make up the caloric content of food and drinks. Most people know macronutrients by their categories, such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. In switching from calorie counting to macronutrient counting, your focus is instead on the kind of calories, rather than the number of calories, you consume.
The Importance of Understanding Macronutrients
Calorie counting doesn’t necessarily help you eat healthy, as you could be eating potato chips and drinking Diet Coke all day long and still fall within your daily calorie limit. By looking at the macronutrients you’re consuming, you can see the proportions of proteins, fats, and carbs you eat and determine a healthy balance that keeps you energized and at a healthy weight.
As research has proven, not all carbs or fats are bad, and not all proteins are healthy. While every person is different, everyone, generally speaking, needs a healthy balance of all three of these primary macronutrients for optimal health.
While you want to cut back on your intake of foods cooked with vegetable or canola oil, monosaturated fats, which you can get from eating avocados and walnuts, are anti-inflammatory, reduce your cholesterol, and can help mitigate the risk of cardiovascular disease. The two main types of polyunsaturated fats—omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids—can also be healthy, as they aid in brain function and cell growth. These fats are in fish, nuts, and seeds.
Not all carbs are bad. In fact, fruits and vegetables can be high in carbohydrates. Instead of reaching for white bread or pasta, whole grains, legumes, and quinoa are nutrient-dense carbs that are beneficial for your body, giving you energy, providing you fiber, and promoting a healthy digestive system. If you’re a runner, you know how important carbs are for fueling your body.
Like carbs and fats, there are good and bad proteins. Fish and lean turkey and chicken are healthy protein options, whereas meats high in saturated fat and red meat have been linked to certain cancers and can raise LDL cholesterol in the blood. Besides meat, you can also obtain protein from nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
Macronutrients and Your Genes
Like with calorie counting, you have to determine a goal for your macronutrient counting. The question is, what is the right balance of macronutrients?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple answer. Because everyone’s genetic makeup is unique, so are your nutritional requirements. Rather than searching for a magic number, it’s more important to understand your genetics and how they respond to the types and amounts of macronutrients you consume.
Several genetic markers play a role in how your body processes foods, including:
- Beta-2 Adrenergic Receptor
- Fatty Acid Binding Protein 2
- Beta-3 Adrenergic Receptor
- Peroxisome Proliferator Receptor Gamma
Each genetic marker affects your body differently. For example, the beta-2 adrenergic receptor gene expresses itself in the metabolization of carbohydrates. This gene impacts a person’s carb sensitivity or gluten tolerance. The FTO gene is associated with obesity, while the beta-3 adrenergic receptor is associated with fat sensitivity.
If your genes made you sensitive to fats, you wouldn’t want to consume an even balance of carbs, fats, and proteins. You’d likely want to decrease your fat intake. Or, if your genetics increased your predisposition for obesity, you may need a lower intake of micronutrients compared to a friend who may have the same body size as you.
How Macronutrients Can Affect Cell Function
Macronutrients and your genes are in a continuously working cycle. Not only does your genetic makeup determine how your body will process the macronutrients you consume, but some macronutrients can affect gene expression and cell function.
Scientists and researchers have long known that micronutrients, such as Vitamin A or B, affect gene expression, but now researchers are focusing on how macronutrients affect gene expression, changing cell metabolism.
For example, if you are deficient in essential fatty acids, your body may see a reduction in its production of eicosanoids, a type of signaling molecule associated with inflammatory responses. As a result, you could experience a reduced inflammatory response. As another example, a carb-rich diet may activate the genes of people with a family history of or who are at risk for type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Essentially, what you eat instigates gene expressions. Consider your immune system as the police force of your body. Your body reacts, your genes respond, and the immune system mobilizes when macronutrients enter your body. What you eat will either strengthen or weaken your genes and your body’s ability to fight disease or illness.
Understanding Your Genetic Makeup
Because everyone has a unique genetic makeup means you utilize energy and nutrients differently than anyone else. While following a standard healthy diet is beneficial for your health, you may struggle to lose weight or improve your immune system if you don’t understand what your body specifically needs.
This is where genetic testing can come into play. By addressing a unique combination of information regarding nutrigenetics, medication response, and other health conditions, a DNA test can help your doctor create a genetically-matched diet that can help you reach your specific health or weight goals.
You can also make small adjustments to your diet by listening to your body. The next time you cook a meal, consider how your body feels and reacts to certain macronutrients. Do you feel energized after eating carbs, or is your stomach irritated? What foods make you feel bloated and which make you feel satisfied? Take notes on how you feel after a meal, and consider speaking with your doctor or allergist about testing that may benefit you.