Have you ever been told to mind your macros? Maybe it wasn’t in those exact words, but there is a good chance that you have worked with your coach on building the correct proportion of macronutrients into our diet, (and if they haven’t, it will probably come up soon!). So, what are they talking about? Here’s a quick guide to macros, which is short for macronutrients – the essential parts of your diet.
What are Macros?
There are three basic macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins. A typical recommendation for the proportions of macros to include in your daily diet are as follows:
Typical macronutrient recommendations
- Carbohydrates: 45–65% of total calories
- Fats: 20–35% of total calories
- Proteins: 10–35% of total calories
Everyone may have different dietary needs, so keep in mind that these recommendations are just a guide. Your ratio can be fine-tuned by working with your Level2 care team in order to achieve specific objectives or goals. For example, a person who wants to obtain better glucose control and lose excess body fat may excel on a meal plan consisting of 35% carbs, 30% fat and 35% protein.
Regardless, building your diet around macros is a great way to achieve a range of health goals – from lowering blood glucose levels (see the graphic below) to losing weight.
How to Build a Diet with Macros
Following the ratio above for building a diet with macros is helpful, but be warned, it isn’t as simple as just making carbs 45 % of your calories. Some carbs are healthier than others – specifically, complex carbs are better than simple carbs because they’re higher in fiber and nutrients.
Three types of carbs in food are sugar, starches and fiber. They are categorized as simple or complex. The rate at which food is digested depends on its chemical structure.
Similarly, some fats are healthier than others. It’s a good idea to limit saturated fats, for example, and avoid trans fats. We’ll break it down in the next section.
Better Understanding Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats
First, let’s discuss proteins, which should be 10 to 35% of your total calories as a basic recommendation.
Have you been told you should avoid eating meat (which typically refers to beef, pork and lamb)? Some people prefer a plant-based diet, but it is OK to eat meat as long as you try to limit the amount and choose healthier types of meat. What do we mean by “healthier”? Look for leaner cuts of red meat. These usually will contain the words “round,” “loin” or “sirloin” on the package; it is also good to look for grass-fed beef if you are able.
If cooking meat, try to trim off as much of the fat as possible before cooking and pour off the melted fat after cooking.
Also, watch your portion sizes when consuming meat. One healthy portion of meat is 2 to 3 ounces or about the size of a deck of cards.
Additionally, try to eat fewer processed meats like bacon, ham, salami, sausages, hot dogs, beef jerky and slices of deli meats.
Often, you will find less fat in poultry (chicken and turkey, for example) and fish, which are great sources of protein. Don’t bread and fry them in oil, though – stick to baking, broiling, stewing and roasting.
Would you like to learn about adding healthy protein to your diet? Watch this video.
Simple carbs (sometimes known as simple sugars) are digested quickly and send an immediate rush of glucose into the blood stream. They’re often found in refined sugars and added sugars that provide calories but lack any vitamins, minerals and fiber (i.e. anything with real nutritional value). We know that you have special dishes and treats you’d like to eat on occasion that contain a lot of simple carbs by way of added sugar (for example, cookies), but you should try to limit them as you plan a diet with healthy macros.
(Something you might find surprising about simple carbs? They can be found in fruit and milk, which DO contain vitamins, minerals and fiber!)
Complex carbs are digested slowly and supply a lower and more steady release of glucose into the blood stream than simple carbs. You will find them in a variety of foods – from beans to rice to bread.
However, you need to really read the label when it comes to knowing whether grains are complex or simple carbs – and the key is to try to eat more unrefined whole grains. These are whole grains that retain nutrients and fibers, and they will be labeled as “whole grain.” Unrefined whole grains include foods like steel cut oats, wheat bread and brown rice. You should try to limit and avoid refined grains like white flour and white rice because many nutrients and fiber are removed in the refining process for those foods.
Make a note that complex carbs also include fiber-rich fruits, beans/legumes and vegetables. Typically, starchy vegetables (like potatoes) contain three to six times the number of calories and carbs than non-starchy vegetables (like green beans) so whenever you can, choose to eat the non-starchy kind.
Would you like to learn more about simple vs. complex carbohydrates? Watch this video.
Many people were raised believing that fat was unhealthy and that consuming fat would in fact, make you fat. This is old thinking and could not be farther from the truth. In fact, healthy fat is an important part of a healthy diet.
Like the other macronutrients, however, some fats are healthier choices than others. Specifically, healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) can give you energy and help you feel satisfied; these include foods like avocados and nuts. However, trans fats (which include margarine and frozen pizza) and saturated fats (which include fried foods) should be avoided.
Trans fats can be tricky to spot, but read the labels: If they say hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, they contain trans fats and should be avoided.
Would you like to learn more about fats? Watch this video.
Quick List: This list can help you identify macronutrients to include in your diet:
|Complex Carbs||Starchy Vegetables and Legumes (Part of Complex Carbs)||Healthy Protein||Healthy Fats|
|Whole wheat bread||Potatoes||Fish||Soybean oil|
|Steel cut oats||Peas||Poultry without skin||Avocado|
|Fresh fruit (apples, berries)||Beans and chickpeas||Lean cuts of meat||Tofu|
|Leafy vegetables||Butternut squash||Baked or broiled lean meats||Peanut oil|
|Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots||Lentils||Stewed or roasted lean meats||Olive oil|
|Brown or wild rice||Corn||Eggs||Soybeans|
Quick List: This list can help you identify which macronutrients to avoid
|Simple Carbs||Less Healthy Protein||Saturated/Trans Fats|
|Candy||Fatty cuts of beef||Margarine|
|Non-diet soda||Salami||Baked goods|
|Table sugar||Bacon||Non-dairy coffee creamer|
|Instant white rice||Fried proteins||Microwave popcorn|
|Corn syrup||Deli meats||French fries|
|Fruit juice concentrate||Fatty beef||Cheese|
|Fruit canned in juice|