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Nutrition 101

Jan 19, 2016

With a new year, comes the promise of resolutions “that we are going to stick with this time.” For most, those resolutions are short-lived, and we return to the habits we swore we were going to change. We are overwhelmed with all of the misinformation out there on nutrition, exercise and health that we quit because this multi-billion dollar diet industry sets us up for failure.

nutrition-101-cooking.jpgWhile I know there is good intention behind these resolutions, the point of this article is not to hound you on ways to stay accountable. I simply am writing to help you understand the basics of nutrition so when you see something on the internet or have a friend soliciting you to try a nutrition product, you will be a more educated on the topic.

1. Let’s Talk About Carbohydrates: Many fad diets have you restricting this food group and boasting that is the common link to obesity and health disparities in the U.S. However, most people don’t really understand what carbohydrates are. Carbohydrates are compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Food sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, beans, milk, etc. The major function of carbohydrates is to supply the body with energy. The nerve cells in the brain and retina and red blood cells are completely dependent on carbohydrate as their energy source.

Have you ever been on a low carb diet where you felt exhausted, cranky and foggy? This is the reason why. You were not providing your body with enough carbohydrate to fuel the brain. The Recommended Dietary Allowances for carbohydrates for both males and females is approximately 130 grams per day. However, this is based on the minimum amount of carbohydrate used by the brain for energy, so this might not be enough for some individuals. This number can be highly individualized, depending on the size of the person and his or her activity level. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for carbohydrate is anywhere from 45% to 65% of your total calories. So if you ate 1,800 calories per day this range would be anywhere from 202g to 292g of carbohydrate daily.

2. Let’s Talk About Fat: Fat is another macronutrient needed in our diet. From a health standpoint, fat is of great concern to the American Heart Association and its linked risk to heart disease and obesity if consumed excessively. However, fat has several important functions in the body and should not be eliminated completely. The first function is to provide structure to cell membranes. The second is to provide body heat and act as shock absorbers to protect your organs. A third function is to help regulate your metabolism. More specifically, cholesterol is a component of hormones, such as, estrogen and testosterone, which play a major factor in your metabolism.

Finally, fat is going to contribute as a main energy source when you are at rest. Food sources of fat include: butter, lard, oils, whole milk products, meat, eggs, processed foods, etc. The Recommended Daily Allowance of fat has not been determined at this time and also can vary depending on the person. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat is anywhere from 20% to 35% of your total calories. So if you ate 1,800 calories per day this range would fall between 40g to 70g per day, with minimal intake of saturated fat and no trans-fat.

3. Let’s Talk About Protein: Protein is another macronutrient required by the body to perform several physiological functions. It has a similar chemical structure to fats and carbohydrates, however it contains an additional essential element nitrogen. Protein foods can be both animal-based and plant- based. Some examples of protein foods include milk products, meats, beans, nuts and some starches. There are three major functions of protein in the body. The first is serving as the structural basis for the majority of tissues found in the body. Protein is involved in almost all body functions. It’s also essential in regulating metabolism. It is used in the formation of enzymes, hormones and other compounds within the body. Protein also can be used as another energy source for the body. However, it not a major source of energy compared to fat or carbohydrates. In extreme cases of starvation when fat and carbohydrate might not be available, protein will stop building new tissue and will become an energy producer.

The Recommended Daily Allowance of protein for males over the age of 19 is 56g per day and 46g for females over 19. Again, like carbohydrate, this is just a baseline, and the amount of protein per day is highly dependent on the individual. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range suggests anywhere from 10% to 35% of total calorie intake should come from protein. Like our examples earlier, a person on a 1,800 calorie diet could require anywhere from 45g to 157g of protein depending on the needs of that individual.

Overall, these three macronutrients play a key role in providing your body the fuel it needs to function. Restricting too much or eliminating one of these food groups could potentially cause your body harm. Next time you come across a nutritional article suggesting “never to eat certain foods or food groups”, think to yourself, “Does this article make sense?” Be wary of posts and the sources it comes from. There are a lot of “nutritional experts” out there with little to no credentials offering hazardous advice. Finally, if any questions or concerns arise, contact your local dietitian and schedule an appointment they are after all the nutritional experts and would love to help!


This article was written by Amanda Heringer, M.S., RDN, LD. Amanda is a registered dietitian at St. Bernards Health and Wellness and an adjunct teacher for the HPES and Dietetics Programs at Arkansas State University. Amanda received her Bachelors degree in both kinesiology and dietetics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She earned a Master’s in Exercise Science at Arkansas State University and completed clinical rotations at the University of Houston. Her clinical focus is weight-loss/weight management, bariatric surgery, sports performance, and eating disorders. To schedule an appointment with Amanda, please call 870.207.7823 to discuss weight-loss/weight-maintenance options available.