If you’re one who regularly seeks out the latest and greatest in health, fitness and nutrition information, you’ve likely heard the term “macros” tossed around. But, what does it actually mean? The answer is pretty simple. Macros is basically short for the word “macronutrients”, which are vital foodstuffs needed by the body in large amounts.
You take in macros every day and may not even know it!
Macronutrients are collectively the carbohydrates (saccharides) you get from grains, veggies and fruits, the dietary fat that’s housed in nearly everything that tastes good, and the protein that’s packed in meats and dairy foods. Each of these macros has a unique set of essential functions that support day-to-day living and overall good health.
Let me break this down a bit further.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are the body’s preferred fuel source as they are chemically structured in such a way that provides immediate energy for all the muscles and organs, including the brain and nerves. They’re also the body’s chief source of dietary fiber, which is important for digestive health and disease prevention.
Next, there’s dietary fat, which is mainly responsible for helping the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). These vitamins have numerous important functions that greatly support cellular growth and development, cardiovascular health, bone health, nervous system function, and immunity.
Finally, protein is primarily tasked with building, repairing and maintaining all the cells in the body. It’s also an important structural component of muscle, bone, skin, blood, and other tissues and organs.
Carbs, fat and protein are the body’s only direct source of calories, which are essentially a measure of energy. This is why all three are critical for optimal nutrition. With the aid of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) the calories in macronutrients are unleashed and then converted to a useable form of energy to fuel bodily functions.
Macros are measured in grams and each gram houses a certain amount of calories. Every gram of dietary fat yields about nine calories while carbohydrates and protein only yield four calories per gram.
For example, a food with 10 grams of protein would contain 40 calories from protein while a food with 10 grams of fat would contain 90 calories from fat. From this example, it’s obvious that fat-rich foods can really drive up calorie counts.
Most foods contain a combination of at least two of the three macros but the one that dominates usually dictates how a food is classified. Consider a slice of wheat bread, which contains an average of 12 gram of carbs, 1 gram of fat, and 4 grams of protein. In this case, carbohydrates clearly dominate; hence, bread is generally classified as a carb.
Now you’re probably wondering how much of each macronutrient you should regularly consume. This is where things get a bit tricky, as the recommendations for macros generally vary across different governing bodies worldwide.
The United States Food and Drug Administration recommends that an average sized person (150 pounds) consume a daily diet of 2,000 calories comprised of approximately 1,100-1,200 calories in carbohydrates (55-60 percent), 600 calories in fat (30 percent), and 200-300 calories in protein (10-15 percent).
At the very least, following general guidelines like those above will help you meet the minimal requirements for each macronutrient. However, it’s important to understand that these recommendations are general guidelines and not necessarily global standards.
Many countries follow diets with variable macronutrient compositions (higher intakes of dietary fat and/or protein) without any added health risks. For instance, people in Mediterranean regions are known to take in daily averages of 35-40 percent of calories as fat since their diets tend to be rich in foods like nuts, avocados, and olive oil.
All and all, a nutritionally balanced diet should incorporate carbohydrates, fat and protein from a variety of whole foods that are minimally processed.
These food sources include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats (nuts avocado, and olive oil), protein sources (fish and seafood, poultry, lean meats, low-fat dairy foods, eggs and/or high-quality soy foods). Since each macronutrient has a specific function in the body, it’s best not to exclude them from your diet.
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Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.