Macronutrients are defined as chemical substances required in large amounts by the body for survival. They include fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
The food and beverages that you consume have an impact on your body’s function and overall health.
- About 74% of adults are overweight or have obesity
- About 18.2 million adults have coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.
- Almost 11% of Americans have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
What you eat matters. Based on the above statistics many of us our failing in consuming the correct amounts of food and macronutrients. It is important to understand the role that “macros,” the three major types of nutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
The ideal macronutrient ratio for each person varies depending on their age, lifestyle, gender, health status, and health goals.
Types of Macronutrients
When we read nutrition labels or read recommendations for how much nutrient is in a product, the assumption is that the person is consuming 2000 calories per day. Not all of us require 2000 calories to maintain a healthy weight. Those that do physical work may require more calories than 2000.
A calorie is a unit that measures the amount of energy in food. If something contains 100 calories, your body needs to use 100 calories of energy to metabolize it.
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs to function. Using your body weight to calculate your basal metabolic rate, men should multiply by 11 and women should multiply by 10. Or you can go to Health Surgeon’s easy to use health calculator basil metabolic rate.
Physical activity causes an increase in the basal metabolic rate.
Different diets focus on different macronutrient ratios to produce different results.
An example of this would be if you were to consume protein and do weight training, this could help you gain muscle mass. However, if you were to consume fewer carbohydrates and do weight training then this could encourage weight loss.
Calories per Macronutrient
- 9 calories per gram of fat
- 4 calories per gram of protein
- 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates
Since proteins, carbohydrates, and fats vary slightly, these are average values.
Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber. Carbohydrates contain, on average, four calories per gram. Your body uses carbohydrates to fuel your body.
Carbohydrates come in two forms: complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates include sugars like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which have one or two sugar molecules. Honey and maple syrup are both high in simple sugars, as well as containing other nutrients.
Long chains of simple sugars stuck together are called complex carbohydrates or polysaccharides. There are two types of carbohydrates: starches and fiber. Starches come from plants, and fiber comes from cellulose. Complex carbohydrates are found in food like whole wheat pasta and white potatoes
Carbohydrates can either be complex or simple:
- Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides) are made up of long strings of sugar units that take longer for the body to break down and use. Complex carbs have a more steady impact on blood glucose levels.
- Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides) are made up of either one or two sugar units and can be broken down fairly quickly in the body. Simple carbs have a fleeting impact on blood sugar levels. Some types of simple carbohydrates (when consumed in isolation), such as juice or sugary candy can cause blood sugar and energy to rise quickly and then drop shortly after.
Complex carbohydrates provide fuel to the body and also help the body maintain healthy digestive function and cholesterol levels.
Some examples of high carbohydrate foods are starchy items like grains (such as bread, cereal, and pasta), potatoes, and rice. Fruits, vegetables, and dairy products also provide carbohydrates.
- Peas, beans, and other legumes
- Whole grains
- Breads and cereals
- Starchy vegetables
- Table sugar
- Maple and other syrups
- Fruit juice, sweetened tea, and soda
The government department responsible for agriculture in the United States of America has stated that a healthy person’s diet should consist of between 45% and 65% carbohydrates. Some people choose to eat fewer carbohydrates than this due to medical conditions or weight concerns.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend limiting sugar intake to less than 10% of daily calories, while the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend an even lower limit of less than 6%.
How much carbohydrates do you need?
Adults should get between 45-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates.
The amount of carbohydrates that American adults should consume every day should be between 45-65% of their daily calorie intake, as stated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Though human cannot produce enzymes to digest fiber, it is still required by the body. The microbiota in your gut breaks down fiber by fermenting it and using it as their energy source.
It is important to maintain a balance of healthy microbes in your gut in order to stay healthy overall. Be sure to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods every day to promote this balance.
Sources of Carbohydrates
The best carbohydrates are those that come with attached sugars or starches, which help to provide additional nutrients and fiber. There is no confusion about whole fruit being a simple carbohydrate under this definition.
Fruit is an essential part of a healthy diet, but only 24% of Americans consume the recommended amount. Other sources of carbohydrates that are just as good as winter squash, beans, and ancient grains like quinoa are.
Protein is the essential nutrient responsible for the growth and maintenance of your eyes, skin, hair, nails, organs, and muscle tissue. Proteins are broken down into smaller chains (polypeptides) and individual units (amino acids) during digestion so that they can be absorbed.
Nine amino acids are considered “essential” because our bodies cannot produce them. We must get these amino acids from food.
The essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Histidine is only needed during infancy.
Proteins do a lot of work throughout the body. Protein has been found to play a key role in the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen in the body. Blood cells not only carry oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells, they also remove carbon dioxide and other waste products. They even transport some molecules to other locations in the body.
The enzymes that help with chemical reactions in your body are made of folded chains of amino acids. The body creates hormones like leptin, immune proteins like interferon, and antibodies by stringing together amino acids.
There are many ways to get the amino acids your body needs. You can consume different types of protein to get these amino acids.
- Complete proteins provide all of the amino acids that your body needs in appropriate amounts. The most common sources of complete protein are meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and milk, quinoa, and edamame.
- Incomplete proteins provide some, but not all, of the amino acids you need. Many plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins. However, when they are consumed together as complementary proteins, you can get all the amino acids that your body needs. Nuts, seeds, and (most) grains are examples of incomplete proteins. You can consume these foods separately or together throughout the day to get the essential amino acids you need.
- Poultry and eggs
- Beef and pork
- Whole grains
The daily requirements for protein vary. The USDA recommends that we consume 10-35% of our daily calories from protein sources.
Protein guidelines vary depending on age, sex, and activity level. Some people will consume more protein than others to reach certain fitness or wellness goals.
Although protein is an essential part of the diet, most Americans consume more than the recommended amount through their diet. In many cases, protein supplements are unnecessary.
How much protein do you need?
Adults should get 10-35% of their calories from protein.
The USDA recommends adults to consume 10-35% of their daily caloric intake from protein. The ideal range for most people is 97-98%. Your needs may differ based on age and health status.
Protein provides the same amount of energy per gram as carbohydrates.
Dietary fats are the least-required macronutrient, with only a few grams per day needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, among other functions.
While people might try to avoid consuming fat, it is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Fat is an important source of energy when you’re starving or don’t have enough calories.
Eating too many calories in the form of saturated and trans fat has been linked to diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
When creating a meal plan, remember that fat contains twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrates.
The different types of fat that can be part of your daily diet are: saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fats. Specifically, dietary fats might be saturated or unsaturated:
- Saturated fats mostly come from meat and dairy sources. These fats are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be shelf-stable for a long time. However, when it comes to cardiovascular risk, saturated fat should be avoided from meats versus dairy. Full-fat dairy products either has a neutral or beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.
- Unsaturated fats include two other types of fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats come from plant-sources and fortified foods such as eggs and dairy, as well as fish, seaweed, and grass-fed animal products. They provide the body with many health benefits. These fats are generally liquid even when refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life than saturated fats.
If someone were to replace the saturated fats in their diet with poly or monounsaturated fats, it could lead to a decrease in their risk for diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
- Fatty meats
- Full fat dairy products
- Plant-based oils, such as olive oil
- Fatty seafood (e.g., salmon and tuna)
Another type of fat called trans fat is being gradually removed from foods. Trans fat is a polyunsaturated fat that has been chemically processed to make it more stable. Processed foods such as crackers, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods usually contain these hydrogenated fats.
Most dietary guidelines suggest that a person’s daily caloric intake should be 20-35% fat.
No more than 10% of your daily caloric intake should come from saturated fats.
Trans fats are not good for you and experts say you should avoid them. Because of this, food manufacturers have begun to take them out of their products.
Some foods contain tiny amounts of naturally-occurring trans fat, such as meat and dairy products, but it’s not clear if these have the same effects as the manufactured kind.
It is important to consume all three macronutrients every day. If you want this to be easier, then you should make each meal include a combination of protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Macros are the nutrients in your food that provide calories. Finding the right balance of macros for your body can be tricky.
The recommended macronutrient intake varies widely, so there is room for experimentation. Everyone’s body functions differently when various ratios are consumed.
The USDA’s MyPlate system is a simple way to plan your meals. It encourages you to use a divided plate icon to plan your meals. Approximately one fourth of the plate should be filled with fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. There is also a small icon for dairy.
The Healthy Eating Plate, provided by Harvard Health, is a similar system to the one proposed by the USDA. The images on each plate can serve as a reminder to get your nutrition from different sources to ensure that your macro and micronutrient needs are met.
Macronutrients aren’t the only thing to focus on!
If you concentrate on ensuring that the proportions of your macro nutrients are balanced, you may overlook the need to make sure that the food itself is of a good quality. It is important to eat a combination of whole, plant-based foods that are good for your health.
Macro goals may change from day to day, but they can also be influenced by variables like physical activity, health, and scheduling.
Making a big change in your diet and lifestyle can be difficult, but working with a certified dietitian or nutrition counselor can help. They can assess your needs, set goals with you, and come up with a personalized diet plan.
This means that if you want to increase the proportion of protein in your diet, you will have to decrease the proportion of carbohydrates or fat.
A high-fat diet typically has low levels of carbohydrates and proteins, while a high protein diet has lower levels of carbohydrates and fat.
The three major macronutrients are not the only things you need for a healthy diet, but you can consume them in various proportions and still be healthy.
A recent study has found that an imbalance of macronutrients can lead to deficiencies in micronutrients, and may even increase the risk of developing diseases.
Diets with very little protein can lead to health problems like a weak immune system, low birth weight, and slow development. A diet should have a lower limit of 10% protein for a properly functioning and healthy body.