Nutrition 101: Macronutrients & Micronutrients
In my last blog post, we started discussing one of the largest impacts to mental health: the food we eat. As more and more research is showing, good nutrition is vitally important for all aspects of health: physical and mental. But what is the optimal diet (i.e., way of eating) for sound mental health? Before we start comparing the different diets out there, we need to talk about the nutritional basics: macronutrients (“macros”) and micronutrients.
What are Macronutrients?(1)
Basically, macros are the ingredients the body needs in large quantities to survive:
- Carbohydrates are the brain’s primary source for energy. Every cell in the body needs carbohydrates, especially the brain. The brain cannot store energy and it needs constant energy for every function it performs. Examples of natural forms of carbohydrates include fruits and vegetables. Did you know most food (including meat) includes some amount of carbohydrates? But not all sources of carbohydrates are good for you or your brain. There are certain carbohydrates, primarily refined “white” sugar, that are not good for your brain. Refined sugar can cause a spike in blood sugar to the point the brain starts to shrink.When carbohydrates are not available, such as when eating a low carbohydrate diet, the brain will use alternative sources of energy such as amino acids or ketones. We will talk in more detail about these alternative energy sources in a few weeks when we discuss the ketogenic and low carb/high fat diets.
- Opposite of what we’ve had beat into our brains for the last 30+ years, fat is not bad for you and will not make you fat. Read that sentence again if it didn’t sink in! In fact, a diet low in fat, especially low in cholesterol, is detrimental to the brain and is shown to lead to an increase in mental issues, such as suicide. Did you know the brain is made up of 60% fat(2)! The key here is to consume healthy fats, such as whole dairy, avocados and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, nuts and nut oil, tuna, and salmon.It’s important to stay away from trans-fats that are unnatural and found in a lot of processed foods. Also vegetable oils, including canola oil, are no bueno as they turn into trans-fats when heated. Trans-fats have been shown to increase the chances of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
- Protein is another macronutrient and is essential for brain health because it is the matter (that breaks up into amino acids) that builds the body and brain. In the brain, that matter is cneurotransmitters. Without sufficient levels of protein, the brain struggles with concentration, moods, cravings, addictions and sleep. Amazing sources of protein include eggs, pasture-fed beef, free-range chicken and fish.
- Did you know there is a fourth macronutrient? It’s alcohol. It’s not included on nutrition labels because it isn’t essential to life. The calories consumed with alcohol are considered “empty” because they don’t contain any nutritional value. Alcohol is made from sugar or starch and contains a lot of calories. Our bodies can’t store alcohol so our systems must get rid of it as priority. This means digestion of critical fats, carbs, protein, vitamins and minerals are put on hold until the body can digest and get rid of the alcohol.(3)
What are Micronutrients?(4)
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals the body needs in smaller amounts. They are also vitally important for mental health. Below are the essential micronutrients:
- Vitamin A (Retinol): Needed for vision and immunity, cell growth and development. Good sources include liver, eggs, butter, fortified milk, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, carrots, kale, mangoes, spinach, broccoli, collards, butternut squash.
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1): Assists with release of energy from carbohydrates and proteins. Good sources include: pork, enriched white rice, enriched bread, brown rice, peas, macadamia nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, cantalopes.
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Assists with the release of energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Good sources include: milk, almonds, eggs, clams, spinach, chicken, beef, asparagus, salmon, cheese.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3): Assists with the release of energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Good sources include: fish, chicken, turkey, beef, mushrooms, peanuts, avocados.
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): Assists with the release of energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Assists fat, cholesterol, steriod hormones, and hemoglobin synthesis. Good sources include: avocados, yogurt, chicken, sweet potatoes, milk, lentils, eggs, peas, mushrooms, fish, broccoli.
- Vitamin B6: Supports a wide variety of metabolic reactions. Assists neurotransmitters, hemoglobin, and DNA production. Good sources includes: turkey, chicken, bread, potatoes (with skin), fish, prunes, hazelnuts, walnuts, pork, beans.
There you have it! The basics around macro and microntrients. I know it’s not the most riveting information but it’s important to understand as we compare and contrast the possible ways of eating for optimal mental health.
What I’m Loving Now!
My absolute favorite thing to do when I’m travelling or passing through a new town is to visit a local natural food store. This week my family and I are on vacation near Branson, Missouri. On our way to Branson, we stop in Springfield, Missouri, where my husband went to college. I discovered the most adorable store there selling local produce, meats, and other goods. My favorite find there was Date Lady products: Balsamic Vinegar and Caramel Sauce. I first heard about these delicious goodies – which use dates instead of sugar as a sweetener – from Paleo guru, @diannesanfilippo. I’d never seen any Date Lady products in person before now and, apparently the Date Lady is from Springfield.
Check out my doTERRA page and Facebook Group
Interested in learning more about doTerra’s amazing therapy-grade essential oils? This page on my website gives you all the info you need about their exceptional quality and how to order. I also have a new Facebook community page for anyone interested in helpful hints and tips for using essential oils! Search for KWH essential oil community and request to be added to the group. You can also contact me with any questions or if you’d like free samples.