The Triple Crown of Nutrition

Aside from the typo in his name, American Pharoah is perfect. For the first time in 37 years, he dominated the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Winning the Triple Crown is one of the rarest achievements in sports history.

Another perfect combination shouldn’t be so rare. You should be consuming the three macronutrients--protein, carbohydrates and fats—every day. Each play an important role in a healthful diet. Together, they make up the Triple Crown of Nutrition.

 

Protein

Dietary protein plays a key role in improving health. It contributes to weight management, weight loss, and bone health, preventing bone issues like Sarcopenia (loss of skeletal muscle) and osteoporosis. Eating a diet higher in protein and staying active may help you manage your weight through curbing your hunger. It can also preserve lean body muscle, which can help you burn more calories throughout the day.

protein

You can get protein from a number of sources. Beef, chicken, ham, fish and eggs are considered animal proteins. They provide essential B-vitamins such as folate, zinc, and iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.  Dairy products like as milk, cheese, and yogurt provide protein and the added bonus of calcium. Plant proteins such as nuts, whole grains, legumes, and soy foods are low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free, which may play a role in reducing risk of heart disease.

Looking for specific information on how you should be consuming protein? Check out our Protein Fact Sheets for advice on how much protein is right for you.

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Carbohydrates

carbsCarbohydrates are found in many foods that give you a variety of important nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. Fruits, vegetables, grain foods, and many dairy products naturally contain carbohydrates in varying amounts. That includes sugars, which are a type of carbohydrate that can add taste appeal to a nutritious diet.

Once ingested—whether from fruits, vegetables, cereal, pasta, bread, or beverages—carbohydrates are eventually broken down into monosaccharides, one of which is glucose. Glucose is the primary fuel utilized by the brain and working muscles. Carbohydrates are the foundation of a healthful diet. Depending on your activity level and calorie needs, 45 to 65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Active people require more carbohydrates in their diet than those who are less active or those on a low-calorie diet.

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Fats

Fats, whether saturated or unsaturated, play a vital role in foods. Fats can affect food appearance (with a shiny or glossy look) and texture (with crispness, density, and flakiness). They also aid in the browning process, absorb and transport flavors, and transfer heat to food. Fats are found in several types of food including oils and spreads, dairy, beef, poultry, pork, seafood, nuts, and seeds.

fats-for-heart-health

Fats are not to be feared! They have many different beneficial roles in your health. Did you know that about 60% of the brain is made up of fat? In fact, lower levels of brain fat alter brain function. Certain fats are critical for proper visual and cognitive development in young infants.

Did you know that the absorption of key vitamins can be affected by the fat in your diet? That right, the fat you eat helps us store fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

All fats, however, are not created equal—some are more beneficial than others. It’s recommended that we consume 10 - 35% of our calories from fat, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fat. Eating excessive amounts of saturated and trans fats may increase cholesterol levels. But some types of fats can actually help reduce or maintain cholesterol levels.  You can improve your cholesterol by replacing saturated and trans fat in your diet with polyunsaturated (PUFA) and monounsaturated (MUFA) fats.

To eat healthfully, we should focus on replacing saturated and trans fats with these MUFA and PUFA fats, not simply reducing total fat intake. To determine the amount of unsaturated fat in food, use the nutrition facts panel. Just subtract saturated and trans fat from the total fat content.

For more information on the variety of fats we eat, check out IFIC Foundation’s guide Dietary Fats: Balancing Health & Flavor.

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It is unrealistic to expect a perfect diet, but you can come close to achieving the Triple Crown of Nutrition every day by including fats, carbohydrates, and protein in every meal.