Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats 101

Proteins are very important to our bodies. It isn't just for bodybuilders who use them to gain muscle mass. Those who are sick use them to rebuild damaged tissue and even in normal states, our body uses protein for many different tasks.

Proteins are made of amino acids that are folded together. There are essential amino acids - those that our body cannot make, and non essential amino acids - those that our body can make. Proteins that are made up of all the essential amino acids are said to be complete while those that lack in one or more essential amino acid are incomplete. Complete proteins come from sources such as meat, eggs, cheese, dairy and soy. Incomplete proteins come mainly from vegetable sources with the one exception being soy.

The ideal source should be complete proteins. For most people that isn't a problem. If you are worried about fat intake, try lean cuts of beef, chicken and turkey. For vegetarians whose main source comes from incomplete proteins, getting a variety of vegetables and whole grains throughout the day will ensure that all essential amino acids are consumed. Also, using soy protein (which is the only complete vegetable source of protein) is very beneficial.

Carbohydrates

Normally carbohydrates are found in all foods except meat products. Recently, some diets have recommended stripping out all carbohydrates from what you eat. Many companies have bought into this and among other things, have introduced low-carb breads. Limiting bad carbohydrates such as sugar from your diet is a positive step but going further and refusing to eat fruits and whole grains can potentially deprive you of cancer fighting foods.

Carbohydrates can be broken down into two main categories; simple and complex. Sodas, candy and even fruits contain simple sugars while whole grains, fruits and cereals contain complex carbs. The main difference between the two groups are their chemical structures. Simple sugars are made up of a few sugar molecules while complex carbs are made up of hundreds and even thousands of these molecules put together. In you body, the end product of both is glucose.

Another difference between the two is the time needed to digest. If you consume 100 calories of simple sugars, your body can digest it a lot faster than if you eat the same amount of calories that are made of complex carbs. This is because simple sugars are closer to the end product than complex carbs which need more time to digest. Therefore if you take the meal of simple sugars, you will be hungrier sooner than if you ate the meal made of complex carbs. Making a habit of drinking soda and eating candy can add up to a lot of calories at the end of the day.

Studies have shown that simple sugars contribute to obesity and diabetes, especially in children. It has also been shown that eating the good carbs can shield you from many types of cancers. So next time you pick up the magazine about the newest low carb claim, throw it away and grab an apple.

Fats

With the low carbohydrate craze, many people have turned their attention to fats. They eat more of it and think its fine. Depending on what kind of fat you are consuming and how much of it you take in, fats can be beneficial or detrimental to your health.

There are three main types of fat. They are saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources such as meat and dairy. At room temperature, saturated fats are solid. Unsaturated fats come mainly from plant sources such as olives and nuts and contain no cholesterol. They are liquid (oil) at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are broken down further in monounsaturated (one double bond) and polyunsaturated (more than one double bond).

You might be asking yourself what a fat is saturated or unsaturated with. A fat molecule (without getting into too much chemistry) is made up of carbon atoms that have hydrogen atoms attached to them.

In saturated fats, all carbon atoms have a single bond to another carbon atom and are also bonded to hydrogen atoms. In unsaturated fats, not all carbons are saturated with hydrogens so double bonds form between carbons. Depending on what carbon the double bond is formed determines the fat's properties.

Trans fat is man made fat. It is made by taking an unsaturated fat and putting hydrogen through it in a process called hydrogenation. Trans fat is very bad for your health. Whole saturated fat increases LDL (bad) cholesterol and very slightly increases HDL (good) cholesterol, trans fat increases LDL cholesterol and decreases HDL cholesterol.