Macronutrients Made Simple: Carbs, Protein, and Fat

Macronutrients Made Simple: Carbs, Protein & Fat
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It’s common knowledge that counting calories is important for weight loss. But a new school of thought involves paying close attention to where calories come from, a.k.a. tracking your macros. I’m Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and I've got the 411 on macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients (a.k.a. macros) are the three vital nutrients that our bodies need to survive.

I’m talking about carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each gram of carbs contains 4 calories. A gram of protein also has 4 calories. Fat contains 9 calories per gram.

A macro-based eating plan involves consuming a certain percentage of each macronutrient. Opinions vary, but most experts recommend a 40-30-30 formula for weight loss: 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. With this ratio, experts claim blood sugar will be balanced and weight loss will be possible without a constant state of hunger.

How to Calculate Your Daily Macros

If you want to give it a try, there's some math required! Choose how many calories you want to consume per day. (Use a calorie calculator to determine a number that fits your goals). Then calculate accordingly:

Carbs: # calories per day x 0.4 ÷ 4 (the number of calories in each gram of carbs) = # grams of carbs to eat per day

Protein: # calories per day x 0.3 ÷ 4 (the number of calories in each gram of protein) = # grams of protein to eat per day

Fat: # calories per day x 0.3 ÷ 9 (the number of calories in each gram of carbs) = # grams of fat to eat per day

My Take on Macro-Based Eating

I’m all for incorporating healthy foods that contain the big three macros into your diet. But following a strict macro-based diet requires a fair amount of time, energy, and mathematical prowess.

If you're up for it, give it a try! Either way, here are some of my favorite foods that are rich in each macro. Worth incorporating into your diet, for sure!

Carbohydrates
Carbs get a bad rap! People assume that carb consumption equals weight gain, but not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs—like the ones found in white bread and sugary cereal—are the kind you want to avoid. But we need the good ones, a.k.a. complex carbs. Carbs provide our bodies with fuel and keep our brains and nervous systems up and running. Here are some of my favorite carb-based foods:

  • Whole-Grain Bread: The unrefined carbohydrates in whole-grain bread still have their nutrients intact, and these products are readily available. Look for thin slices, like the kinds by Dave’s Killer Bread, to keep calories in check. La Tortilla Factory and Flatout Flatbreads also make some spectacular whole-grain options.
  • Oats: Old-fashioned oats and steel-cut oats are two of my favorite carb sources in existence! The trick is to prepare them with light add-ins and smart cooking methods so you get a nice big serving size that's truly satisfying. Try making overnight oats with old-fashioned oats (and lots of fruit!), and use the steel-cut kind for my slow-cooker oatmeal.
  • Fruits: Surprise! Fruits are mainly made up of carbohydrates. Take in all the nutrients fruit has to offer by enjoying a wide variety in your diet. Berries, bananas, apples, oranges... Pick your favorites, and start snacking. Wondering which are the best for weight loss? Wonder no more.
  • Vegetables: You know they’re nutritious, but did you know that veggies are primarily made up of carbs? Again, there are so many options. My favorites these days include cauliflower, spaghetti squash, zucchini—they all make excellent starch swaps! Make rice out of cauliflower, replace traditional spaghetti with spaghetti squash, and turn zucchini into noodles.


    Protein
    Protein is vital for our muscles as well as tissue maintenance and repair. The amino acids also help supply oxygen to our blood cells and regulate our immune systems. If weight loss is a goal, you may benefit from a protein-rich diet. Find protein in these picks.

    • Lean Meat: Chicken, turkey, pork... even red meat! Yes, you can eat beef when you're counting calories. You just need to choose the right types.
    • Eggs: Scramble them, hard-boil them, bake with them... You name it! Because eggs are full of protein they've been associated with weight loss. I usually stick with egg whites only to save calories, but the yolks are good for you too.
    • Beans: Beans are a great protein source, especially for vegetarians and vegans. Study after study has touted their ability to aid in weight loss. Black beans and chickpeas top my list.
    • Yogurt: For the most protein, go Greek! Asides from being a delicious snack, fat-free Greek yogurt is an excellent swap for mayo and sour cream.
    • Protein Powder: This is an easy way to add protein to your diet. You can toss it into smoothies, pancake batter, crepes.

    Fat
    In the early 1990s we were taught to fear fat. Boy, was that wrong! Our bodies need fat to function. It supplies essential fatty acids and protects our organs. The key is to focus on the right kinds of fat. Avoid saturated and trans fats and look for monounsaturated fats. Where to find those?

    • Fatty Fish: Go for wild salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, and trout to get those omega-3s (a must-have fatty acid). Here’s an easy salmon recipe to start you off. Bonus: It’s a breeze to clean up!
    • Healthy Oils: Some types of oil are perfect for cooking. Others are best for drizzling. Read up on six common types and you’ll be set.
    • Nuts & Nut Butters: Almonds and pistachios are my go-to nuts, and I love peanut butter. These are all calorie dense, though, so measure out those portions!

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