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Reading nutrition label and tracking macros

Alle Dinge sind Gift, und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht dass ein Ding kein Gift ist.

All things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.

—Paracelsus

What are macros?

Macros are a short form for macronutrients. These are nutrients which you consume in macro(large) quantities. All three of these(carbohydrates, fat and protein) can contribute to your energy intake in some way. Most foods we consume have significant amount of one, two or all of them. However, the foods which we eat also provide micronutrients(vitamins and minerals). These form a small part of our intake. However, both macro and micro-nutrients have high significance to overall health.

If you follow the trend in popular diets and dieting techniques, you will notice that there was a time when low fat diets were touted as the only way to lose fat. Fat(especially saturated fat) was seen as the enemy causing cholesterol issues and cardiac problems. Scientific research has debunked this.

More recently, low carb diets were touted as the only way to lose fat and get healthy. This too has been debunked and scientific studies show that there is no significant advantage in either low carb or low fat diets when it comes to fat loss as long as calories and protein intake is equal.

Protein too has received its share of demonization and people have suspected it of causing kidney issues. Studies have shown that people with healthy kidneys have no reason to fear a high protein intake. However, most studies debunking myths do not get the same attention as fear mongering clickbait articles do.

How to read a nutrition label

Let’s understand how we can associate a food with its macros using its nutrition label.

Take the example of a carbohydrate rich food: Rice. Carbohydrates can provide 4 kcal of energy per gram but does 50g of rice convert to 50g of carbs? No it doesn’t. To find how much carbs(or any macronutrient) a food has, we need to find its nutrition information.

Here you can see that 100g of raw rice contains about 80g of carbohydrates and 7g of protein with negligible fat. Note that here 1.3g out of 80g of carbohydrates is fiber which is not digested. So here net carbohydrates are 80-1.3 = 78.7g.

There are different length of carbohydrate chains. Shorter chains(simple carbs) are broken down for energy faster than longer chains(complex carbs). Eventually, they end up as blood glucose which is used by our cells to generate energy. Our body cannot store carbohydrates directly but it can store excess energy intake in the form of Glycogen (energy stores in muscle and liver) and Fat tissue(adipose cells).

What about calorie tracking?

Calories are units of energy. Every macronutrient gives us various amounts of energy per gram. Carbohydrates and Proteins give you approximately 4kcal per gram while Fat gives you 9kcal per gram. So if you are tracking your macros, you are ultimately tracking your calories too.

Tracking calories is a comparatively rudimentary approach since our body has specific need of particular amounts of protein and fat. Though carbohydrates do not have a specific minimum requirement, they are our body’s preferred source of energy. As in the case of any smart system, our body has a backup energy source in the form of fat. If you are on a low carb or ketogenic diet, your body will burn major amounts of fat and produces ketones that can be used by our brain and nervous system as a energy source. However, be aware that if you are eating at a surplus, fat is very easy for the body to store in comparison with carbs! So, know your macros and track them to make smart food choices.

Here’s a chart listing common ingredients for cooking a meal. You can use it to select foods for consumption according to the macros remaining in your chart:

To calculate your macro requirements according to your goal click here.

Don’t you want to know how we use our calories and how we can change our body composition? Click here.

Don’t want to do all this math? Use Fittr App.

Reading nutrition label and tracking macros

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