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The 4 Macronutrients

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

You may have noticed the subtle number 4 in the headline. That’s right, 4 macronutrients. When I became interested in nutrition, I didn’t know there were 4 macronutrients. And you’ll mostly hear about “the 3 macronutrients”. But yes, there are 4.


The big 3

You undoubtedly know the 3 biggies: Protein, fat, and carbs.

Fun fact: Only 2 of these 3 macronutrients are essential for us, humans. Essential meaning we need to consume them to survive and thrive. The third one is optional.

The two essentials are protein and fat. The optional one is carbohydrates.

Can you guess which one of those three we’re mostly consuming these days?

Right, the optional third one. Carbs. Ironic.


The 4th macronutrient

Apart from those 3, there is a 4th companion that is hardly ever talked about in nutritional lectures or papers.

The 4th one is

alcohol

Yep, right, alcohol.

Alcohol is rapidly absorbed in the body, similar to carbs, it has more calories than carbs or protein, however. Fat too has more calories than those two. Here’s a table of calories per gram:

  • Carbs: 4 calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Fats: 9 calories per gram
  • Alcohol: 7 calories per gram

What’s with alcohol

Alcohol — although technically serving as an energy source — is considered poisonous to the body in the sense that the body immediately starts to burn it off after intake.

This means while our bodies are trying to burn off the alcohol, they can’t burn the other macronutrients. They get stored. This results in two main things:

  1. hunger attacks after a lot of alcohol
  2. stored fat

This is why alcohol is a crucial (negative) factor in nutrition, dieting, and health. And thus unofficially categorized as the 4th macronutrient.


The bottom line

In a perfect world, nutrition would be easy. In reality, it’s one of the hardest things to master for us. Because nutrition is not only a necessity, it’s a source of pleasure, enjoyment, social interactions, and delight. And alcohol has certainly always had a place here.

Nutritionally speaking, however, alcohol as the 4th macronutrient is a non-essential and non-beneficial substance that hinders our metabolism from burning the other macronutrients and downregulates our hormone production, muscle protein synthesis, our immune system, liver function, and more.

All 4 macronutrients have positive and negative effects, but alcohol is certainly a uniquely dangerous one.

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