Macronutrients – What are they & How important are they?

Living in a world of Information Overload, you may be asking yourself: “Why should I listen to you? Opinions on nutrition are everywhere and contradictory”. How do you know if the information you are reading is true?

One way is to look at science and the source of that science. In this case:

I obtained my Plant Based Nutrition Certificate from e-Cornell University, New York, and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies in June 2017. My education is very up to date. Most people have little or no formal education in nutrition, let alone a designation in Plant Based Nutrition. My education was science based, investigative, and no opinions were given.  Every study we examined, was peer reviewed, and heavily scrutinized, right down to who sponsored the research and if there were any conflicts of interest or biases

So; onto our topic of Macronutrients, or ‘macros’ as they are commonly referred to.
I have noticed a lot of confusion with people when it comes to nutrition basics. I have been left quite surprised when people tell me that they ‘don’t eat carbs because they are fattening’. I then respond with the fact that broccoli is a carb…and I don’t know anyone who got fat eating too much of it.

Fact: we get ‘fat’ by consuming a surplus of net calories not a surplus of carbohydrates. Dr. John McDougall has proven, and teaches, that humans can live on nothing but potatoes for extended periods of time (some of his patients ate nothing but potatoes for 2 straight years). Many lose 30 or 40 pounds eating a diet consisting of exclusively starchy carbs (5.5% protein, 1% fat and 93.5% carbohydrates). Potatoes provide adequate nutrition, carbohydrates, micro and macronutrients. However, this diet is just potatoes which have been boiled or baked without any added fat, oil or extra calories.

Dr. McDougall the Potatoe Diet

POINT: Carbs do not make you fat, excess calories do. In fact, humans can lose weight eating 100% starchy carbs.

I have also had a conversation with someone that insisted:  ‘broccoli is NOT a carbohydrate’.
Fact: All foods fall into one of 3 macronutrient categories: carb, fat or protein. Alcohol is also a category but I won’t be including it as it is not a necessary macronutrient. So what category does broccoli fall into if it’s ‘not a carb’? Is it a Fat? Nope. Is it a protein? Nope, it contains protein but it isn’t extremely high in protein. It’s a carbohydrate.

Note to those who may have wondered: Vegetables (such as broccoli), fruits and grains are all carbs (carbohydrates). Hence I am writing this article to clear up a few basic nutrition facts. The Science of Nutrition is an important topic that affects everyone who wants to be informed and make healthy choices.


1)”Carbs make us fat “(really? broccoli?) Common sense dispels this myth as explained above. Most people are actually deficient in their daily fiber requirement from not eating enough unprocessed Carbs (fruits and vegetables).  There is no fiber in animal products and it can only be obtained in whole plant foods or those which have not been overly processed and had their fiber removed.

2)”If you want to lose weight, don’t eat any bananas. They are fattening and bad for us.” Compared to what? Would a Starbucks skim milk latte which contains milk hormones and pesticides be a healthier snack? What about a donut, is that healthier than a banana?

Nope, bananas are no more fattening than apples or celery. A banana has 14 grams of sugar and an apple has 16 grams of sugar.  If you needed 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight and you ate 15 bananas in one day, each containing approximately 100 calories, you would actually lose weight at a rate of 5oo calories per day or 1/7th of a pound a day. I’m not recommending a banana diet but there’s nothing fattening about bananas.

3)”I NEED to eat meat everyday”. (Really? have you ever tried replacing it with healthy foods such as beans, fresh vegetables, and rice instead of French fries, cookies, cupcakes, chocolate bars, coke, fast food burgers, and other junk foods?)
I talked to a woman recently who told me she HAD to eat meat every day. If this were a fact, then how long would it take her to die (of animal flesh deficiency) if she missed it for one day? Has she ever conducted this experiment, I wondered?  I told her that at University, 7 months ago, we looked at numerous studies conducted on millions of people over the last 4 decades showing that humans don’t need to eat ANY meat or animal products to be healthy and survive. She disagrees, I suppose because she wasn’t in the study?

POINT: We need to get our essential amino acids but they don’t have to come from meat or any other animal products, they can all come from plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds). A variety of plants provides a variety of nutrients.

4)”I don’t get to eat enough food on a vegan diet because the portions are too small, so I’m always hungry.”

(Really? unprocessed plant foods are the most nutrient dense and calorically-low foods on our planet). You can eat a very large volume of food every day if it’s not processed and covered with hundreds of calories of dressings and sauces. Think: a big Buddha bowl of quinoa, lentils, avocado, some sunflower seeds, arugula, tomato, artichoke hearts and balsamic vinegar with herbs and spices. The volume of such a meal could actually be 4 cups or more, and take up a lot of space in your stomach which would definitely make you full. Compare that to ONE chocolate chip cookie at Starbucks which contains the same amount of calories: 500. How much space would that fill up in your tummy? If you’re hungry on a vegan diet, eat more unprocessed plant foods.

POINT: Vegans who eat mostly unprocessed plants, can eat larger volumes of food than those who eat processed foods and animal products. You don’t have to go hungry on a vegan diet. Eat your veggies.

5)”I need to eat Dairy everyday to get enough calcium”. Actually the dairy industry is completely biased and untruthful in stating that humans must consume dairy products for calcium. Could it have something to do with wanting us to buy their cheese, yogourt, milk etc…??? In fact the Canadian Food Guide recently (2017) removed Dairy products from their food pyramid in their draft document. It is being updated as I write this and the new ‘Guide’ will be released in 2019. They sure are slow, due to the political complications and large industries involved, perhaps? Milk is not a necessity to get one’s daily calcium requirements.
There are more unhealthy ingredients in yogourt, milk and cheese, than beneficial ones (ie: pus, steroids, veterinarian medicines, bovine leukemia cells, bovine AIDS cells, and the toxic metals from the concentration of pesticide laden cheap food fed to cows). According to The China Study: people with the highest consumption of dairy products have the highest incident of hip fractures, prostate cancer and osteoporosis. I will place that link here:

Point: Dairy is Scary, and also unnecessary. Excellent sources of plant based calcium are:
figs, calcium fortified nut milks and tofu, kale, okra, spring greens, chia seeds, almonds, brussel sprouts, bok choy, watercress, cauliflower and beans.

As far as healthy bones are concerned, if you are a woman, concerned about getting the recommended 1000 mg a day of calcium ( consider the fact that bones need more than just calcium. You could get 2000 mg of calcium day but if you didn’t get enough magnesium, vitamin C and other required micronutrients your bones would not be their strongest. Our bones also need essential amino acids and fats.

Since most medical students receive an average of 7 hours of nutrition education before becoming a doctor, we can see that the Science of Nutrition is a very minute or insignificant part of becoming a M.D. I don’t believe they receive any education in the area of Plant Based Nutrition. When I was enrolled in my Plant Based Nutrition Studies, about 15% of the students were doctors and I think that is fantastic because as it’s a subject that is not mandatory for MDs. Yet, ironically the first person most people turn to for nutrition advice is their family doctor.

Back to our topic…There are 3 macronutrients needed by humans. Macro means ‘large’, and so macro-nutrients are the 3 large nutrient groups known as:

Carbohydrates: containing 4 calories per gram

Fat: containing 9 calories per gram

Proteins: containing 4 calories per gram

Alcohol: containing 7 calories per gram (this macronutrient group isn’t needed by humans)

It’s important to note that most foods have multiple macronutrients. Ie: the superfood ‘broccoli’ has the following macronutrient breakdown:
70% carbs (or carbohydrates)
20% protein
10% fat
These macros (with a macronutrient ratio of 70-20-10) were provided by Chronometer, a free app which also tracks over 70 micronutrients (minerals, vitamins and amino acids as well as daily grams of fiber). This is an excellent tool for new vegans to use because it will allow them to see all the micro-nutrients they are getting with their food and their macro nutrient ratio. This will reassure one, that they are getting adequate nutrition or where a few deficiencies may exist, and thus how one’s choice of foods can be adjusted, likely just a few substitutions such as replacing an apple with figs if calcium is low. Side Note: this tool would also be valuable to non-vegans because they can be lacking in fiber, anti-oxidants as well as vitamin C if they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. One can also keep track of their daily grams of sugar and caffeine.

Now that we know the macros of broccoli…(it contains amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein), we know that it IS a carbohydrate after all. We tend to classify foods by the macronutrient which they contain the most of; broccoli is a carbohydrate. Because brocolli contains hardly any fat and 20% protein it is mostly a carbohydrate.

When you hear experts making the claim that: “You should eat protein with every meal”, there is an implication that one must eat eggs, beans, fish, dairy or tofu at every meal. The fact is, if you ate just broccoli at every meal, you would be eating protein. Hence the whole ‘eat protein at every meal’ statement is kind of silly, because you can’t NOT get protein if you are eating a fruit, vegetable or grain. Here are some examples of fruits, vegetables and grains and what their macros are/how much protein they contain:

1) an apple-is 95.6% carbs or 20.8 grams of carbohydrate, /1.7% protein or .47 grams and 2.7% fat or .31 grams of fat. Are you surprised that there is any fat at all in an apple?
2) 1 cup of cooked quinoa- is 71% carbs or 34.2 grams, 14.7% protein or 8.1 grams and 14.4% fat or 3.6 grams.
3) 1 cup of raw spinach- 55.9% carbs or .43 grams, 30% protein or .86 grams and 14.1% fat or .12 grams

Therefore if you sat down and ate a healthy snack of: a bowl of cooked quinoa and spinach (maybe with some soya sauce and herbs) and had an apple afterwards; you would be getting 9.43 grams of protein AND you didn’t have to eat an egg, fish, yogourt, or any other animal product to get that protein, nor was it necessary for you to eat beans or tofu with every meal if you are a vegan.

When I was studying for my certification at e-Cornell University, New York, we didn’t guess at how much protein humans needed, we looked at data which analyzed millions of people in scientific studies, all over the world, which spanned almost a century and observed, that humans require between 4% and 7% of their calories to come from protein. One of the instructors lecturing in my courses was Robert Cheeke, Vegan body builder and founder of Vegan BodyBuilding & Fitness, who sucessfully gained 40 pounds of muscle in less then a year on a 100% plant based diet, consuming approximately 15% of his calories from protein. For people that want to maintain the body composition they have, 4% may be sufficient. For a growing teen 7% would probably be sufficient but for ease of calculation it could be bumped up to 10% or 15% of calories. It’s a lack of sufficient calories that cause people to lose weight or not develop at a normal rate, not a lack of protein. Protein deficiency in the human race is very rare. More diseases amongst humans are caused from consuming too much protein, not a lack thereof.

The myth has always been (I certainly bought into it, for a long time) that vegetables are JUST a carbohydrate and don’t contain any protein at all. That is scientifically untrue AND it explains the basis of how humans can live on a 100% Whole Foods Plant Based diet, which means 100% plants, mostly unprocessed foods, AND get all the nutrients they need (even get extra anti-oxidants to offset free radicals, that omnivores likely are not getting enough of).

Anti-oxidants are the opposite of free radicals and can prevent or reverse disease, and slow down the aging process, which could contribute to vegans living longer and being healthier than non-vegans. The longest living people in the world, live on the island of Okinawa Japan, where almost 70% of their diet consists of sweet potatoes (Maybe Dr. John McDougall’s potato diet is on to something) and they eat a small amount of fish and pork. Interestingly with the pollution of our oceans maybe they should give up the fish altogether, due to the toxic metals and other pollutants that are now inevitably found in fish…as the male human population on this island has started to plummet in recent years. ( Secondary sources of protein (animal products) contain the most concentrated food sources of pesticide residues and other environmental pollutants. Think about what pigs are eating: GMO food, polluted water and most are vaccinated at a young age, who wants to consume 2nd hand vaccinations? It is ideal for humans to eat plants themselves, rather than feeding the plants to the animals, and then eating the animals.

There is a variance, in ‘types’ of vegans. A junk food vegan who eats mostly processed plants (ie: oreos and fast food which is highly processed and often saturated in fat, salt, additives, preservatives, artificial colors, GMO ingredients, and flavor enhancers, like potato chips, French fries, ice cream and candy, and faux meats) would not be consuming the healthiest diet. In the recent 2017 documentary “What the Health”, eating meat/animal products is equated today with the same health risks as smoking cigarettes was in the past. Meat is the new cigarette. I’ve never met a vegan that smokes though, and perhaps it’s because they grasp the whole ‘health’ topic as being one with many choices of which we have incredible control and can impact our body profoundly.
According to “Vegans in the US can now get cheaper life insurance thanks to their diet”.
The Life Insurance Company HealthIQ claims, and we know its the number crunching actuaries that introduced non-smoker rates because they realized non-smokers generally experienced longer life and better health than smokers to the tune of a 25% discount!) It only makes sense that rates are starting to be lowered for whole food plant based (non-junk food) vegans too as their longevity can not be denied. Unfortunately these rates don’t exist in Canada yet. My life insurance, as a vegan was issued with an Elite discount (30% discount) based on my personal health and lab results.

So; to summarize: the 3 primary macros are Carbohydrates (fruits, Vegetables and Grains) Protein (many vegetables but also beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and peas) and Fat (avacados, nuts and seeds). The best source of our macros are unprocessed or ‘whole foods’. Most foods contain some of each macronutrient. e-Cornell University teaches the science of nutrition and that humans need only 4-7% of their calories to come from protein, approximately 10-15% from fat and the rest from Carbohydrates.

Which is more important calories or macros? It depends what your goals are. If you want to lose fat weight, (and not muscle) then a diet with macros of about 70% carbs, 15% protein and 15% fat, which was at a 15% to 25% caloric deficiency, net of maintenance calories, would provide all the nutrition needed to sustain existing muscle mass and lose fat
Are macros unimportant? If one ate 70% fat, 15% protein, and 15% carbohydrates at maintenance level calories, they would probably:
-be over taxing their body with excessive fat and they might feel a bit sluggish.
-they would get sufficient protein but if 50% of their calories were from fat, they wouldn’t be getting the variety of micronutrients that they needed which are available in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes such as vitamins, essential amino acids, and minerals.
-they would likely maintain their weight if they were not in a caloric deficiency despite the amount of fat they consumed.

Now that we’ve done a round about discussion of macros; Calories are important, macros are important and a variety of micronutrients from the lessor toxic food sources (ideally 100% plants) are essential to maintain good health. An app such as Chronometer is an excellent tool for ensuring one’s daily nutrient requirements are met.

Vegan Values

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