Understanding Macronutrients and How to Count Them
What Are Macros and Micros?
The term "macro" refers to macronutrients which include the larger nutrient categories of carbohydrates, protein and fats. There are also "micros" or micronutrients which include vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are found in all the foods you eat and are just as important.
Carbohydrates are found in sugary and starchy foods like grains, wheat, oats, bread, pasta, rice, beans, starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes), fruit, soda, and candy. Proteins can either be animal-sourced or non-animal sourced and are found in meat, fish, seafood, dairy, milk, cheese, and eggs. Non-animal sources of protein include soy, beans, hemp, quinoa, chia, nuts/seeds, and lentils. Fats are found in dairy products, meat, fish, seeds, nuts, oils, avocados, coconut, and olives.
How to Count Macros
The dietary strategy of "counting macros" refers to counting grams of each category in your daily diet. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins have different amounts of calories per gram. When you're counting macros, you start with a set calorie goal for the day and then determine how many grams of each group you'll eat.
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
Fats: 9 calories per gram
Protein: 4 calories per gram
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests these macronutrient percentages:
Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
Fat: 20-35% of calories
Protein: 10-35% of calories
The percentages that are right for you can vary depending on what style of diet you're aiming for. A low-carb, Paleo and ketogenic diet will have different ratios of each macro.
To figure out macro amounts:
Determine how many calories you'll eat in a day
Determine what ratio of each group you'll eat
Total calories x percent = total daily calories/calories per gram
For example, if you're calorie goal is 1500 calories/day and you wanted to eat an equal ratio of each group at 33%:
1500 calories x 0.33 = 495 calories
495 calories/4 calories per gram (for carbs and protein) =123 g of carbs and protein per day
1500 calories x 0.33 = 495 calories
495 calories/9 calories per gram (for fats) = 55 g of fats per day
This way of eating can be flexible because it acts like a guide to eating rather than restricting any certain foods or counting calories. If you're doing this type of eating, I'd recommend using an app like Carb Manager, My FitnessPal or Lose It to help you determine calorie intake, the amounts to eat, the ratio of each group and help you track your intake of each one. It's much easier that way!
Dietary Sources of Micronutrients
While it can be beneficial to get nutrients in supplement form for certain health issues, I always recommend getting them in your diet too. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that our body needs to carry out important body functions.
Calcium: used for bone structure, muscle function and blood vessel function. Found in milk, leafy greens, broccoli.
Phosphorus: used for bone structure and cell membrane structure. Found in salmon, yogurt, turkey.
Magnesium: used for 300+ enzyme reactions and blood pressure regulation. Found in almonds, cashews, beans.
Potassium: an important electrolyte that maintains fluid balance and helps with nerve signal transmission and muscle function. Found in lentils, squash, bananas.
Sodium: an important electrolyte that maintains fluid balance and blood pressure. Found in salt, canned soups.
Chloride: an important electrolyte that maintains fluid balance, often found along with sodium. Used for making digestive juices. Found in seaweed, salt, celery.
Sulfur: used for making amino acids and detoxification reactions. Found in garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, eggs and mineral water.
Iron: helps provide oxygen and create hormones. Found in oysters, beans, meat, spinach.
Manganese: used for carb, amino acid, and cholesterol metabolism. Found in pineapples, pecans, peanuts.
Copper: used for connective tissue formation and brain function. Found in liver, crab, oyster, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.
Zinc: used for growth, immunity and wound healing. Found in oyster, crab, pumpkin seeds, beans, cashews, shrimp, quinoa, and chickpeas.
Iodine: for thyroid function. Found in seaweed, cod, scallops, milk, eggs, yogurt.
Fluoride: for bone and teeth structure. Found in crab, water, fruit juice.
Selenium: important for thyroid health, reproduction and protects against oxidative damage. Found in Brazil nuts, sardines, fish, meat, whole grains and seeds.
Water Soluble Vitamins
These vitamins are not stored in the body and get flushed out in urine if too much is consumed.
B vitamins: used for energy production, fat and protein metabolism, blood sugar regulation, and red blood cell production. Found in whole grains, meat, fish, eggs, milk, leafy greens, salmon, beans, mushrooms, avocado, potatoes, carrots, almonds, and some vegetables.
B12: used for red blood cell production and brain function. Found in fish and meat.
Folate/folic acid: used for cell division and reproduction. Found in beef, spinach, asparagus.
Vitamin C: used for creating collagen and for maintaining connective tissue and skin. Found in citrus fruit, bell peppers and brussels sprouts.
Fat Soluble Vitamins
These vitamins are best absorbed along with fat and are stored in our own body's fatty tissue and our liver.
Vitamin A: used for vision and organ function. Found in liver, dairy, fish, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach.
Vitamin D: used for immune function and bone health. Found in fish, milk and through skin exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin E: used for immune function and as a protective antioxidant. Found in seeds, wheat germ and almonds.
Vitamin K: used for blood clotting and bone health. Found in leafy greens, soy, pumpkin.
The term "macro" refers to macronutrients which include the larger nutrient categories of carbohydrates, protein and fats. There are also "micros" or micronutrients which include vitamins and minerals. The dietary strategy of "counting macros" refers to counting grams of each category in your daily diet. When you're counting macros, you start with a set calorie goal for the day and then determine how many grams of each group you'll eat. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals and trace minerals that our body needs to carry out important body functions. Water soluble vitamins include the B vitamins, folate and vitamin C. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, K.
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