You’ve probably heard that weight loss is 80% diet—and it’s true! No matter how much exercise you do, eventually eating poorly is going to catch up to you. That’s why it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet containing high quality carbs, proteins, and fats.
And yet, there are so many fad diets out there leading to mass confusion. You’ve probably come across people who shun carbs and others who are terrified of eating fat. Others are obsessed with large amounts of protein. This can lead to a lot of confusion, so we’re here to set the record straight.
What’s the best Carb, Protein, Fat ratio? Well, that’s a loaded question and depends a lot on who you are. A small elderly woman will have different needs than a body building college age man. But here’s some great info on macro nutrients generally, and thoughts on the Carb, Protein, Fat ratio, and why you ought to get it right with EVERY MEAL.
Here are some great guidelines:
According to My Fitness Pal’s “Ask the dietitian:
And from Bodybuilding.com:
-Healthy Carbs: The size of your closed fist.
-Healthy Protein the size of your palm
-Healthy Fat the size of your thumb.
- Carbohydrates contain 4 calories/gram
- Proteins contain 4 calories/gram
- Fats contain 9 calories/gram
- Carbohydrates break down to sugars
- Proteins break down to amino acids
- Fats break down to both fatty acids and glycerol
- Table sugar
- Corn syrup
- Cakes and cookies
- Breads and pastas
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, corn, and rye
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and legumes
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
The body needs protein to function properly and support the structure of the body, so it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
Protein is made up of amino acids. There are a total of twenty-two amino acids, but nine of them are known as essential amino acids. Like with essential fatty acids, “essential” means we can only get them through our diets. The essential amino acids are:
All proteins either fall into the category of a complete protein or incomplete protein. Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids and are found in animal products (like meat, cheese, and eggs) as well as soy products and grains like quinoa.
An incomplete protein does not contain one or more of the essential amino acids. These types of proteins are contained in most vegetarian protein sources like beans, grains, and legumes, and they can be combined to form a “complete” essential amino acid profile.
- Fats are good for your heart.
- They coat your nerves to make sure all signals are sent from the brain throughout the body efficiently.
- Fat is a substrate for eicosanoids, the set of hormones that are crucial for body functions that regulate inflammation, blood pressure, blood clotting, and more.
Now, let’s break down the different types of fats and how they factor into your meals.
Monounsaturated fats, also known as MUFAs, help raise HDL (good) cholesterol in the body and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They might even be able to help reduce overall body fat.
You can get monounsaturated fats from nuts like walnuts, cashews, and almonds, avocados, and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated fats, also known as PUFAs, are found in foods like fish (especially salmon), fish oil, nuts, and seeds.
PUFAs contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids (EFAs), meaning the body cannot make them itself, but it needs them to function correctly so we have to get them through our diet.
Like MUFAs, PUFAs also help raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.
Saturated fat is found mostly in animals foods, especially meats, and in coconut and coconut oil.
Saturated fats are a little more tricky than the other fats. There are studies showing that higher saturated fat intake is linked to heart disease. However, later analysis of that data has shown no actual link between death from heart disease and consumption of fat and that saturated fat might not be as bad as we once thought.
The best approach seems to be focusing mostly on the MUFAs and PUFAs but not completely shunning saturated fats.
This is the one type of fat you want to stay far away from. Trans fats can be found in fast foods and processed, packaged foods, and they’re one of the worst things you can eat.
You see, trans fats are man-made fats. They’re made by manufacturers through partial hydrogenation, meaning hydrogen atoms are added monounsaturated fats (vegetable oils) to make them solid and shelf-stable. But they are also terrible for your health.
As you can see, carbs, fats, and proteins each have their specific roles in promoting a healthy body and healthy weight—therefore, it’s important to get a good amount of each. A great way to do this is by making sure you include a good balance using healthy sources of each nutrient in every meal.
Note that this doesn’t mean you need to count calories, portions, or percentages at each meal. Just focus on getting healthy carbs, proteins, and fats each time you eat a meal. Although almost all foods contain at least a little bit of each nutrient, try to include ones that are good sources of one or more.
Some foods are good sources of more than one nutrient, such as peanut butter (good source of protein and fat), unsweetened yogurt (protein and carbs), eggs (fat and protein), or quinoa (protein and carbs). Here are some example meals that follow these guidelines to get you started:
- Yogurt and berry smoothie
- Peanut butter and banana smoothie with protein powder
- Peanut butter and strawberry slices on a whole grain English muffin
- Toast topped with avocado and an egg
- Oatmeal with milk, fruit, and walnuts
- Black bean and sweet potato breakfast burrito
- Pumpkin chocolate oatmeal
- Tofu scramble with veggies and a side of potatoes
- Stir-fried brown rice with egg, peas, and carrots
- Veggie and ham sandwich on whole grain bread
- Vegetable minestrone soup with whole grain noodles
- Barley and lentil soup
- Steak salad with blue cheese
- Spinach salad with salmon, barley, and oranges
- Shrimp and veggie noodle bowl
- Veggie pizza on whole grain crust olive oil crust