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Macronutrient Structure & Metabolism

In order to survive, the human organism needs to take in oxygen, water, and food.

We can survive only about three minutes without air, three days without water, and

three weeks without food. Because food is so important to our survival, it's been studied extensively.

And since 1827 when a British physician by the name of William Prout first proposed that humans need three macronutrients to survive, physicians, scientists, and increasingly

the general public have been trying to figure out exactly how much of each of

these nutrients will optimize our health. But to some extent,

the focus on nutrients rather than food has confused many people.

A basic understanding of the nutrients can give us a helpful background for our discussions about food. So lets review the nutrients and learn how the body uses them. Dietary carbohydrates are combinations of sugar units that come in both simple and complex forms. Simple carbohydrates include the monosaccharides, or single sugar units like glucose and

fructose. As well as the disaccharides, or two-sugar units like sucrose, or table sugar. Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, include the dietary starches that

our body can break down and digest, and also the indigestible polysaccharides

that make up dietary fiber. During the process of digestion, carbohydrates are broken down and converted to glucose, which can then be metabolized by the body to produce usable energy in the form of ATP(Adenosine triphosphate).

Adenosine triphosphate is an organic compound that provides energy to drive many processes in living cells, such as muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, condensate dissolution, and chemical synthesis.

If energy demands are low, glucose can be stored, and most of the time it's

stored as adipose tissue. Dietary proteins are also broken down into their component parts, amino acids, during the process of digestion. And these amino acids

can be used to build and repair lean tissues in the body and

perform many other important functions. But amino acids can also be

broken down and used for energy. And if they're consumed in excess, they can contribute to fat stores in the body as well. Dietary fats can also be broken down into

smaller components and used for energy. Or, they can be stored as

adipose tissue, depending on our energy needs. Fats are the most energy dense storage

form, providing nine calories of energy for every gram, and alcohol provides seven calories per gram. In contrast, carbohydrates and proteins provide only four calories per gram. This is one of the reasons we've evolved to store excess nutrients as adipose tissue, and

this brings us to the underlying physiologic cause of overweight and obesity.

Any calories that aren't converted into usable energy in the form of ATP are stored

in the body for later use.

Most of the time they're stored as adipose tissue. So disturbing the energy balance

to favour energy expenditure over energy storage needs to be one of the priorities for people who are trying to lose excess weight. This can be achieved by consuming fewer calories, burning more calories through exercise, or a combination of both. But in addition,

when long term health is the end goal, the quality of our food matters just as

much as the number of calories we consume. Within each category of macronutrients,

we need to choose foods that will support our health, rather than working against it.

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