“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -Virginia Woolf
Have you ever heard this famous quote? It’s one of our favorites because it rings so true to life.
Meeting our nutritional needs on a regular basis is necessary for our bodies to perform at their best. It leads to increased energy levels and productivity, better mood, and decreased hunger.
Meeting your nutritional needs not only means simply eating within your body’s calorie needs, but also eating the right balance of protein, fat and carbs (PFC) throughout the day. This provides your body with energy, vital vitamins and minerals–the building blocks your body uses to function.
Depriving your body of any of these major nutrients by following popular ultra-low or high carb/fat/protein diets puts your body out of balance and may cause excessive cravings, nutritional deficiencies and various dysfunctions within the body.
Understanding PFC is the first step to figuring out what’s right for you; then, you can track it to consistently do what makes you feel your best.
A key component of optimum macronutrient levels is how they are distributed in the diet. In other words, the percentage of calories coming from protein, carbohydrates and fat.
The DRIs, or Dietary Reference Intakes, express this distribution as the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range or AMDR. Sound confusing? We promise, it’s not.
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges for Adults (as a percentage of calories) are as follows:
These each represent the portion of your day’s calories that should be made up of that particular nutrient group.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, following the AMDR is associated with a reduced risk for chronic diseases, while still providing essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
People whose diet falls outside the AMDR have a potential increased risk of developing a disease of nutritional deficiency. Thus, the best recipe for lasting weight loss and optimal health is a balanced macronutrient distribution.
Know your Nutrients!
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for protein is between 10% – 35% of total calories.
High protein diets that fall above safe range, or more than 35%, may mean you’re eating too much saturated fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium. All of these may increase risk for heart disease.
Protein is essential – it’s a building block of every cell, muscle and many other things in your body. It’s not stored for later use the way carbs and fat are. So, we need to have a minimum amount every day to keep our muscles and immune system in check. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg body weight for adults. On average, that’s between 45-65 grams of protein per day. While Americans are in a habit of saving the highest protein foods for dinner time, protein is actually best absorbed and used for muscle growth and maintenance when distributed evenly throughout the day.
Types of protein
- Complete (animal sources)
- Incomplete (mainly plant sources)
Your best choices and portions are lean meats (grass-fed, organic preferably to avoid hormones and antibiotics), skinless poultry and fatty fish. Two portions (one portion = 3 ounces or size of your palm) per day is recommended on average.
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat is between 20% – 35% of total calories.
Fats are necessary since they provide our body with energy and support cell growth. They also help protect our organs and keep the body warm. Moreover, they help our body absorb some vitamins and produce important hormones.
Low-fat diet diets may mean you’re eating too many processed carbs and not enough essential fatty acids.
High-fat diets make it easy to go over your daily calorie budget and may mean not getting enough of other macronutrients (fat is a more concentrated source of energy than protein and carbs, since it contains 9 calories of energy per gram versus 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein).
Types of fat
- Unsaturated (an important source of essential fatty acids which cab help reduce “bad”cholesterol in blood and lower risk of heart disease and stroke)
- Saturated – (aim for less than 10% of daily calories) comes from animal sources, and may increase risk for heart disease when combined with processed carbohydrates (fried foods, pastries).
- Trans Fats (avoid completely or limit to 1% of daily calories). Can increase the level of “bad” cholesterol and decreased the level of “good” cholesterol in blood, increasing risk of heart disease and stroke. Mainly comes from fried foods and pastries, snacks, margarine, etc.
Your best choices and portions are polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in flaxseeds, walnuts, fatty fish like sardines, herring, trout and salmon. Other healthy fats to focus on are olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for carbs is between 45% – 65% of total calories.
Going too low (<30%) may mean getting too much protein or fat, and too high may mean getting too much added sugar which in turn may lead to excessive weight gain, diabetes and high triglycerides.
Types of carbohydrates
- Simple: Sugars: (Limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories) Natural occurring sugar is found from milk and fruit, while added sugar is found is sodas, juices and desserts, candy, etc.
- Complex: Starches, Fiber (women need at least 25 grams of fiber per day, while men need 38 grams per day). Fiber is most important in the carb category and should be included with every meal. The best sources are variety of vegetables and fruits.
Your best choices and portions are unprocessed, unrefined carbohydrates with the highest amount of fiber (chose at least 3 grams per serving or at least 10% of daily value per serving, which can be found on the Nutrition Facts Label). Include at least five servings of high-fiber carbohydrates choices each day (e.g. vegetables, fruits, whole-grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa).
Start focusing on balanced eating to obtain optimal health and energy and prevent chronic disease. Remember, it’s not about perfection and trying to nail the PFC balance at every meal every day—instead, it’s about making more mindful and healthful choices every chance you get, and starting over when you fall off track.
A healthy calorie tracker like Mealviser is a helpful tool if your goal is to learn more about and practice balanced eating. Mealviser sends alerts at every meal when you’re out of balance and gives you a PFC summary at the end of the day so you know what to pay attention to going forward.