Cutting calories to lose weight? Learn how to get the right macronutrients and micronutrients to protect your health as you lose pounds
Stay Mindful of Nutrients to Stay on Track with Weight Loss
As we embark on a weight loss journey, the first thing we tend to focus on is cutting calories. If we’re not careful, that calorie deficit can mean falling short on key nutrients we need for good health. So, when eating mindfully for weight loss, the motto should be quality over quantity.
“As you reduce calories to lose weight, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right balance of macro- and micronutrients,” says Molly Morgan, RDN, CDN – Owner of Creative Nutrition Solutions. Macronutrients and micronutrients each play critical roles in the body, and you need the right amounts of both to lose weight healthfully.
Macronutrients and micronutrients: what’s the difference?
“The main difference between macronutrients and micronutrients is that macronutrients supply energy in the form of calories, and micronutrients help support vital functions in your body,” Morgan says.
There are three macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Carbohydrates have four calories per gram and serve as quick fuel for energy. Proteins also have four calories per gram and help with the structure, function and regulation of organs and tissues. And the most energy dense macronutrient—fat—serves nine calories per gram. Fat acts as an energy reserve, insulates and protects your organs, and absorbs and transports fat-soluble vitamins.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals we get from foods. They include vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K, and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron.
Micronutrients support life-sustaining processes, such as bone building, eyesight, brain health, and immunity.
Now that you know a little more about macronutrients and micronutrients, here’s how to make sure you’re getting enough of each if you’re trying to lose weight:
Pay attention to protein. Morgan says it’s critical to watch your protein intake when you follow a weight loss eating plan. “Protein helps support muscles and minimizes loss of muscle mass,” she says. Muscle tissue uses more energy than fat, so the more muscle on your body, the more calories you burn. Good protein sources include lean meats, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Create the perfect balance. “The ‘right balance’ of macronutrients varies from person to person,” Morgan says. “An athlete training for two hours a day needs more carbohydrates than someone who engages in a 30-minute low intensity exercise routine.” She says a good general rule of thumb is to get 50 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 30-35 percent from fat (mostly unsaturated sources), and 15 percent from protein.
Take a macro perspective when it comes to micronutrients. Rather than zeroing in on a particular food source of micronutrients, Morgan suggests you include a variety of nutrient-rich foods. The best foods are low in calories and nutrient dense. These include spinach, kale, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, apples, and oranges.
Balance macronutrients in every meal and snack. Choose combinations of foods that deliver all three macronutrients. “For breakfast, have whole grain toast with hummus and a hard-boiled egg,” Morgan says. “At dinner, fill half your plate with fruits and/or vegetables, a quarter with protein such as grilled chicken or fish, and the other quarter with whole grains or nutrient-rich carbs, such as sweet potato, quinoa, or brown rice.”
Eat a fruit or veggie with every meal or snack. “This strategy helps you eat more lower-calorie, micronutrient-rich foods. Plus, fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which makes you feel full,” she says. Try combinations like an apple and a cheese stick, banana with almond butter, yogurt topped with berries, and kale chips with celery and hummus.
Go straight to the source: To get individualized advice on how you should balance macro- and micronutrients for your goals, activity level, and medical history, Morgan suggests consulting a nutritionist or registered dietitian. “And whenever you read about nutrition in a book or on the internet, make sure the expertise is coming from an RD or RDN,” she says.
As you get started with a weight loss plan, remember, an important part of mindfulness is staying mindful of what you eat. As you drop pounds, make it a point to balance macro- and micronutrients to sustain a healthy body and mind.