Most fish are high in B vitamins, and fish are also sources of protein. Oranges have vitamin C, and collard greens are high in vitamin A. Those fruits and veggies are also sources of fiber and carbs. Fish and other seafood are great sources of complete protein; beef, pork, and chicken are also forms of complete protein, yet they’re different in comparison due to their fat content. You should always pair your protein with fiber, and fiber is found in all fruits and vegetables; of course some are higher in fiber than others, like lentils (15.5 g/cup, cooked) versus lettuce (1 g/cup, raw). Meats can best be seen as sources of complete protein and fat when applicable; fruits and vegetables can best be seen as sources of fiber, protein when applicable, as flavor, and hydration because vitamins and minerals are just too tedious to work with when trying to organize your menu. This is the division between micro and macronutrients: micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, while macronutrients are protein, fiber, carbs, and fats. With that aside, your eyes are ready to view the rest of the culinary world with macronutrient literacy.
Seafood is a great source of complete protein, and while beef, pork, chicken and other land derived meats are also sources of complete protein, they pack along a two different types of fats: saturated fat (which puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke) and unsaturated fat (which are healthy for your cholesterol levels and your brain). Vegetables and fruits mainly have incomplete proteins, and are sources of complex and simple carbs; they’re also your main source of fiber. Fiber is actually a classified carb, but it’s neat in the way that it is not digested by your body, so it won’t give you any energy. One way to add extra fiber to your meal is to cook your vegetables!
There is controversy over raw vegetables versus cooked vegetables. Cooking food will breakdown their micronutrients the longer they’re exposed to the heat, but there are up to 5 benefits when you cook your vegetables. Cooking them packs in more fiber (which has its own benefits); and although you’re destroying the micronutrients, it pushes you to take a vitamin supplement from the drugstore, which is actually more stable. To accompany that, raw vegetables contain antinutrients, which are these pesky little compounds that block the absorption of micronutrients, and they can be broken down when cooked. A fourth reason is that raw vegetables can contain toxins and carcinogens, like beans and mushrooms, and heat breaks them down. Lastly, some vegetables, like the cruciferous kind, will interfere with weightloss (if you have a thyroid disorder or iodine deficiency) if not cooked. So with toxins, carcinogens, and antinutrients, who would want to eat raw vegetables? Me! Me! There is an argument out there that says raw veggies can have cancer fighting properties (specifically the phytate compound, which is an antinutrient). The healthiest option here would be to cook your vegetables, and snack on raw veggies every now and then.
The benefits of eating fiber is that fiber will help protect you heart, prevent diabetes, work with weightloss, and allow for healthy bowel movements and digestion. So, even if you aren’t consuming a lot of vitamins and minerals from your fruits and vegetables, there are always the benefits of fiber to hang on to. Avocados, pineapple, berries, and cooked lentils, beans, and collard greens are great sources of fiber.
Protein is vital. Protein is important, and for some real reasons. You are made out of protein and by digesting protein, you’re letting your body build muscle, create basic bodily chemicals (like hormones and enzymes), and make repairs wherever needed. Your body, more specifically your hair, nails, skin, muscles, blood, and bones need complete proteins. Animal proteins are complete proteins, which would include meat, eggs, and dairy. Plant proteins can either be complete or incomplete. Some complete plant proteins would include quinoa, buckwheat, and tofu. Otherwise, you’ll find that your plant protein is incomplete, and that means you need to properly complete it. Some examples of this would be rice and beans, pita and hummus, and peanut butter on wholegrain toast. Remember to always eat a serving of fiber with that protein!
Carbohydrates are nothing to fear. They are forms of energy, and there are two types of carbs: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates will stabilize your energy, while simple carbs will not plateau. Simple carbohydrates like fructose, sucrose, and lactose (among others) will give you a spike of energy, and you may crash soon after if that is all you have eaten. It’s best to pair the two together. Some examples of complex carbohydrates would be whole grains, like pasta and oats, along with legumes (lentils, peas, beans, etc). Eating both types of carbs for breakfast, along with a serving of protein (which helps you stay satisfied), is a great way to start your day.
Fats can be something to fear, yet they’re also something to embrace depending on the type of fat. Unsaturated fats (the “good” fats), whether they be polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or not, have positive effects on your cholesterol levels and heart. These unsaturated fats, which you should be consuming regularly, can be found in seafood, many fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and even mayonnaise! On the contrary, saturated fats (the “bad” fats) have negative affects on your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and your risk of heart disease. Some examples of saturated fats would be land derived meats (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and game meats), butter and other dairy products.
It’s always helpful to know which sources of food contain concentrated amounts of micronutrients, but it’s even more helpful to understand what is on your plate from a macronutrient perspective. The next article will help you portion your food so that your protein, fiber, carbs, and fats can be consumed in a healthy manner.
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