We, modern people, continue to move away from traditional diets, those time-tested and handed down from earlier generations.
In most places, we no longer have to eat what our culture provides.
Groceries and restaurants offer freedom — and endless food options. It’s very likely up to you, alone, to build a diet.
So how do we build a diet?
Should we follow one arbitrary, or strict, rule? No dairy? No animal producs? No grains?
We need better guidance than that.
We need a system for wisely choosing foods that fit together synergistically. One that will meet our nutritional needs (few diets do), while supporting our gut microbiome, hormones, sleep, and recovery.
You need a diet that is most likely to lead to longevity — and ultimately, one that works for you.
After all, there’s no one diet that works for everyone. We all have different needs, tastes, and history with food.
But when we know how the macronutrients work, we can sculpt and create a diet that will work in any scenario, any challenge, and for any person. That includes you!
Best of all, a diet based around the macro’s is one that is adaptable. It can change as you do.
As your health changes, as your activity level changes, as your weight changes — so can your diet, with ease.
What Are Macronutrients?
3 Categories Of Food
All diets are built from three groups of food.
How you combine these three groups of food can have an incredible effect on digestion and overall health — for better or worse.
WISDOM: Get to Know the Macros
To be a healthy person in the modern world, it’s important to:
With the knowledge of the 3 macros, it becomes possible to:
FACTS: The 3 ‘Macros’
Macro = “big”
Each “macro” group is made of different building blocks.
All food contains energy. That energy is measured in calories.
The reason for eating is to extract that energy from food.
Will always break down to sugars (glucose or fructose).
Grains — Fruit — Starch — Sugar
100 grams of carbs
= 400 calories
Will always break down to amino acids.
Meat — Dairy — Collagen
100 grams of protein
= 400 calories
Will always break down to free fatty acids (& glycerol).
Cream — Lard — Oils
100 grams of fat
= 900 calories
Fat provides more than twice the calories (per gram) of carbs and protein.
A gram is just a unit to measure mass.
A raisin weighs about one gram.
EXAMPLE: Tracking Macros
(Daily Totals for 2100 Calorie Diet)
(4 calories per gram)
= 800 calories (total from carbs)
(4 calories per gram)
= 400 calories (total from protein)
(9 calories per gram)
= 900 calories (total from fat)
Do The Math…
800 calories (200g Carb)
+ 400 calories (100g Protein)
+ 900 calories (100g Fat)
= 2100 calories
If we avoid carbs, the body can synthesize sugars from fats and protein.
If we avoid protein, the body cannot synthesize basic amino acids.
If we avoid all fats, the body can synthesize only some fats — from sugars or protein.
Many diets talk about reducing the intake of a macro group.
What happens if we reduce — or completely remove — any group?
0% Carb Diets?
Very, very few people say 0% carbs is healthy.
A zero-carb diet is very difficult to follow, and extremely rare in practice. It’s no surprise that even very-low-carb diets still allow for some carbs daily.
OKAY, SO What About…
Low Carb Diets?
A low carb diet still allows 10% calories from carbs, or, about 50g/day (for 2000 calorie diet).
When lowering carbs this much, you must make up the difference with 70% (or more) of your calories from fat.
Examples: Atkins Diet, Keto Diet
Restricting carbs this much can harm the thyroid and slow the metabolism.
*(for 2000 calorie diet)
0% Protein Diets?
Nobody believes avoiding all protein is healthy.
In fact, even carb-rich foods have some protein. Avoiding all protein is as impossible as it is unhealthy.
OKAY, SO What about…
Low Protein Diets?
A true, low-protein diet will allow for about 8% calories from protein.
For a 2000 calorie diet, this is about 40g/day of protein.
That’s still a decent bit of protein: Believe it or not, it’s roughly the protein in two hamburger patties.
*(for 2000 calorie diet)
0% Fat Diets?
Zero-fat diets don’t really exist.
A “Very-Low-Fat Diet” still allows 10% of calories from fat. For 2000 calories/day, it would allow 22g of fat. So, even the diets lowest in fat allow for 22g of fat per day — which is about 2 tablespoons of butter.
This is because fat is essential for health. Even the most anti-fat diets don’t skip it entirely.
OKAY, SO What about…
Low Fat Diets?
Low-fat diets are pretty common in the diet world. They produce decent results for weight loss in people that are otherwise healthy.
Not all people respond well to a low-fat diet. Fat helps people feel satiated, curbs cravings, absorb fat-soluble vitamins and carries out many important biological functions. You might need more fat than 15% allows, and that’s okay.
*(for 2000 calorie diet)
There are virtually zero instances of diets that completely eliminate entire food groups. The only possible exceptions? Strict keto — but most of the time, even the strictest ketogenic diets still allow 20g carbs per day — because carbs are essential to health.
*The carnivore diet also attempts to restrict all carbohydrates. For every success story on a diet, there are many, many horror stories.
Anytime a food group is avoided, the body will try to re-create those nutrients itself.
But it cannot perfectly create — or synthesize — the missed macronutrient.
In chronic illness and aging, synthesizing macros becomes even more difficult. The body is overburdened already, and the need to manufacture macronutrients adds to the load.
In a burdened state, it’s much better for the body to absorb nutrients directly from food, rather than having to synthesize them in the tissues and organs.
Synthesizing these macronutrients is an inefficient process, and it requires extra nutritional and energy resources — which are often scarce.
Further, there are some nutrients the body simply can’t produce on its own. These must be received via the diet.
Synthesizing Nutrients is a Backup Plan — For Famine & Starvation
The body can synthesize sugars and some fats for energy — but that doesn’t mean it’s optimal for health.
In fact, the ability to synthesize sugars and some fats is most likely a “last-resort” tool to combat famine and starvation — a temporary safety net that should not be relied on unless absolutely necessary. There are dangers associated with cutting carbs, fat or protein too much — and each person has different, changing needs.
We can induce this “starvation mode” in the body simply by reducing the intake of any food group too low.
When the body is not receiving needed nutrients, it’s struggling to meet energy demands, so it slows the metabolism. Less energy is demanded, so less energy is required of the digestive system. It’s similar to being unable to pay the heating bill, so you turn down the thermostat to save energy.
“Starvation mode” is not an ‘on/off’ or black & white phenomenon. It exists on a spectrum — with lots of gray area — occurring to varying degrees as a result of diet, chronic stress, infection, and lifestyle factors like poor sleep.
Starvation mode is most likely to happen in chronic illness.
The sicker a person is, the more the body will struggle to adapt when macronutrients are lacking in the diet.
Too Much Restriction: What Happens?
Each Body is Different
Young, healthy people seem to tolerate an imbalanced, restricted diet better than older or sicker people.
Some folks may even, surprisingly, appear to defy convention and “thrive” or “survive” longer on a poor diet.
Don’t be fooled by these rare instances: There can be many potential reasons for this. Perhaps a person with better gut health, a less bumpy health history, a healthier environment — or stronger relationships — will tolerate various stressors (and absorb nutrients) better than someone with worse cases of those variables.
Keep in mind, though, most folks resorting to restricted diets do so precisely because gut health is weak. Removing some problematic foods can temporarily result in improved digestion, but correct the issue this will not.
Other folks may improve on a restricted diet simply because it’s a way to trick them into (finally) eating fewer calories, or stop eating junk food. These results will usually be transient. Calories almost always drop on restricted diets. It’s common to lose weight while eating fewer calories — but this doesn’t mean carbohydrates or fat intake is bad, and it doesn’t mean a restrictive diet as a great long-term solution.
Most people can only sustain a caloric deficit for a period of time before the dreaded — and harmful — starvation mode kicks in.
Is it actually healthy to remove — or drastically lower — a macro group?
- Primary Fuel Source
- Hormone Production
- Supports Thyroid Function
- Nervous System
- Brain Function
- Structural: muscles and bones (“building blocks of life”)
- Hormones (sleep, mood, libido, digestion, pleasure, reproduction, energy production)
- Structural (cell walls, brain)
- Brain Function (& structure)
- Energy Levels
All nutrients are necessary for health, providing positive energy, and supporting health and vitality.
Each nutrient is needed to thrive and be healthy.
Across social media, nearly every nutrient is demonized by some group. But, to strictly avoid any nutrient indefinitely is unhealthy for the body — whether it is Vitamin C, D, A, or other micronutrients.
The same holds true for the macronutrients. We need all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) for optimal health. All of them.
MacroNutrients vs MicroNutrients
The “macros” are carbs, protein, and fats.
By contrast, micronutrients are (basically) just vitamins & minerals. Micronutrients aren’t a type of food, they’re in food.
We don’t bake with micronutrients. (Baking uses carbs and fat). We don’t grill micronutrients. (We grill protein).
We cook, bake, and grill with macros.
Micronutrients are present in tiny amounts in our food.
Whey people say “nutrients,” they often mean micronutrients (vitamins & minerals).
However, macronutrients are nutrients, too
(carbs, protein, & fats).
It’s convenient to think of the macronutrients in this order:
C : P : F
(Carbs : Protein : Fat)
This order emphasizes the carb-to-protein ratio — which is the most important ratio.
We also place carbohydrates front and center, as they are the basis for energetic balance & essential for keeping stress hormones low.
*There is no official ‘order’ for the macros. Some
calorie tracker apps use different orders.
The results suggest that longevity can be extended in ad libitum-fed animals by manipulating the ratio of macronutrientshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5087279/
Start With Your
Finding the right carb-to-protein ratio is fairly simple. Within a few days or weeks, a trend can be observed.
A solid middle ground C-to-P ratio is 2:1.
After you find your Carb-to-Protein ratio (again, 2 : 1 is common) — determine whether your body prefers to eat low/moderate/high fat.
It’s that easy: A two-step process. Find a carb-to-protein ratio, and then pick a fat intake.
There’s no perfect ratio for everybody. What matters is what makes you — and your gut — feel best.
Remember, too: what you need can change over time. Any results we find should always be considered temporary and subject to further experimentation.
Carbs and protein work synergistically in human metabolism.
A young, healthy person can often subsist on mostly carbs and protein for some time without issues.
After all, carbs and protein, when combined, are essential for feeling full after meals and reducing insatiable hunger cravings.
Carbohydrates spike insulin and supply muscles and brain with glucose. Protein is largely used to create hormones and repair tissues.
Getting the C-to-P ratio wrong can interfere with metabolic processes, gut health, and blood sugar.
Too few carbs could mean the muscles and brain run out of glucose too quickly, resorting to burning fat and protein (amino acids) for energy. This is much less efficient than utilizing glucose directly from carbs.
Eating too little protein impairs the metabolism and leads to storing excess carbs as fat. Both mistakes can affect gut health negatively. Too little protein is bad for the liver, especially (source).
Don’t worry about fat intake just yet. First — become familiar with the concept of the carb-to-protein ratio. Experiment with this ratio for yourself at each meal!
The Best C:P Starting Ratio is 2:1
This is a common, middle-ground ratio.
From here, carbs can be pushed a little higher — or dropped lower — without much issue. Keep in mind, the C:P ratio is highly individual, and often shifts over time as gut health heals, metabolism restores, sleep improves, and blood sugar stabilizes..
Running The Numbers
If you eat 25g protein in a meal, 50g of carbs are needed to balance it.
If you eat 200 calories of carbs, 100 calories of protein is needed to balance it.
You may focus more on daily totals close to the 2:1 ratio, or on meeting a 2:1 ratio at meals. Snacks can even be more energizing, tolerable, and satiating when they meet a similar carb-to-protein ratio.
A Higher Carb Option?
3:1 or 4:1
This is most common on low-fat diets, as well some very physically active diets.
When carb intake is this high, fat usually has to drop — for balance.
The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio truly is paramount. Keep it in mind every day, and even at each meal.
Perfection is not possible — nor is it required. When it comes to balancing macros, “close enough” absolutely counts.
This section is on both the MACROS page and the FATS Page.
Here’s a major difference betwen fat and other foods: Fat digests 3-10x slower than most carbs — for over 8 hours after eating.
Carbohydrates are typically digested in 30 minutes to 2-3 hours, but fat continues to provide energy — and remains in the gut — long after the meal.
Another big difference for fat: Fat is much, much less fermentable in the gut. Meaning, microbes in the are much less likely to be interested in digesting it. In fact, dietary fat has a very, very mild antimicrobial effect on the gut microbiome. When carbs are poorly tolerated, sometimes fat is a great alternative.
GUIDELINE: Low Fat Intake
(15% Fat) — 35g fat/day
Low fat means about 15% of calories per day from fat.
While moderate or high fat intake could be necessary for you, it could be best to start with low fat — especially as you as you begin exploring your carb-to protein ratio.
For a 2000 calorie diet, that means roughly 35 grams of fat per day. If eating more than 2000 calories/day, more fat will be needed than 35 grams.
Low Fat (15% of diet)
2000 calories = 35g fat/day
2300 calories = 40g fat/day
2600 calories = 45g fat/day
3000 calories = 50g fat/day
*These are all ballpark numbers. There’s no need to be more precise than this.
Eating low-fat doesn’t have to be hard: Focus on lean meats and low-fat/skim dairy. Go very light on the oils and butter.
Problems to watch for:
Sometimes, if fat intake is too low it can cause insomnia, digestive troubles, irritability, and difficulty relaxing.
GUIDELINE: Moderate Fat Intake
(20-35% Fat) — 45g-75g fat/day
Now for the likely best solution: a moderate fat intake.
Eat foods with more fat — and then see how you feel.
Moderate fat intake is from 20% to 35% fat intake.
Low-Moderate Fat (20% of diet)
2000 calories = 45g fat/day
2300 calories = 51g fat/day
2600 calories = 57g fat/day
3000 calories = 65g fat/day
High-Moderate Fat (35% of diet)
2000 calories = 75g fat/day
2300 calories = 90g fat/day
2600 calories = 100g fat/day
3000 calories = 115g fat/day
*These are all ballpark numbers. There’s no need to be more precise than this.
It shouldn’t take long to get a clear picture of which style of eating makes you feel better — low fat or moderate fat.
If you feel great both ways, opt for a moderate-to-low dietary fat intake.
Your Individual Needs
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong approach to fat intake — there’s only what your body seems to respond best to, now.
And as we’ve said multiple times already, what you need now will probably change as your health improves.
Remember, the macros are all nutrients. What you need depends on your body, not what people on the internet (even some medical sources) claim is best for everyone.
Blanket medical advice is often based on what average people do — and therefore cannot accurately apply to everyone.
In fact, many of my biggest problems with my health came from believing there was one set of advice that — if we just identified and followed it — would result in optimal results.
EXAMPLES: Two Balanced Ratios
A Balanced Ratio
Count 2:1:1 by calories instead of grams.
This ratio is moderate in carbs, moderate in protein, and moderate in fat. It’s a nice place to start — and possibly to stay.
1000 calories — 500 calories — 500 calories
Twice-the-carbs-as-protein is typically a safer middle ground for the thyroid and gut health, with moderate protein and fat.
Same Carb-to-protein ratio, with Slightly Lower Fat
Cut fat by half, while keeping the 2:1 C-to-P ratio the same (4:2 is equivalent to 2:1).
This is very straightforward. More carbs and protein will need to be eaten to compensate for reduced fat intake, but they should remain at the 2:1 ratio, no matter their amount.
The simpler and more straightforward way to count macros is by calorie.
That said, labels are often listed in grams, and it’s not uncommon to “think” in terms of grams, either.
The only catch when counting by grams? Fat has 9 calories per gram, rather than 4 calories (like carbs & protein).
A gram is simply a measure of mass. Weight can be measured in grams.
For instance: 1 gram of carbs weighs the same as 1 gram of protein, which weighs the same as 1 gram of fat.
(They each weigh 1g).
Calories per Gram
Fat has more than twice the energy (9 calories) of carbs (4) and protein (4). Fat is very energy-dense.
- Carbs …1 gram = 4 calories
- Protein …1 gram = 4 calories
- Fat …1 gram = 9 calories
Calories do not measure weight, they describe the energy present in a molecule.
1 gram of carb/protein (4 calories) has less energy than 1 gram of fat (9 calories).
a calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree (C).
One calorie from carbohydrate equals one calorie from protein or fat. The energy in each is the same.
Food’s Energy Must Be Extracted
Simply eating food
doesn’t guarantee proper absorption
of its nutrients and energy.
The nourishment received from food depends on these variables:
Apples vs Beef
One calorie from fruit will not behave the same in the body as one calorie from beef.
How each food is processed — and the role of microbes in the gut, your hormones, the time of day, your sleep quality, and the combination of foods eaten — all determine how well the body metabolizes the energy from both sources.
The health of the gut is perhaps the primary factor determining whether the energy in food is being properly extracted.
Inflammation Blunts Nutrient Absorption
When inflammation is high, insulin struggles to drive sugar, protein, and other nutrients into cells.
This is a primary cause of insulin resistance (a main factor in diabetes and high blood sugar). Chronic inflammation is a result of ongoing weakness in the body: poor gut health, poor nutritional status, and high pathogenic/viral load can all cause inflammation.
The result of chronic inflammation is ongoing, often sub-clinical, nutrient deficiencies. The body simply cannot process the nutrients eaten.
Discomfort in the stomach may make it impossible to eat the diverse foods you need.
When the body is dealing with chronic health challenges, it’s empowering to understand how each food group works in the body.
In chronic illness and aging, balancing food ratios can be a critical step toward optimization of gut health, immunity, sleep, metabolism & thyroid, exercise recovery, mental health, and more.
How we balance our macronutrients ensures proper absorption and metabolic utilization of all nutrients.
Of course, gut health matters even more than the food we eat. Nutrients must be properly absorbed — otherwise, any and all efforts on diet will be blunted in effect.
You’ve completed Macros! We’ve discussed the importance of balancing all foods — and the problems with restrictive diets (including the mistaken beliefs that can fuel them).
As we said in ‘Why Food?’, there is a lot to be learned — and, often, unlearned — from the endless labyrinth that is dietary advice.
I said this before, and I’ll say it many more times — I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to struggle with digestion, energy, sleep, and cognition.
Truth is, big mistakes in my macro balance were holding me back. Macro ratios don’t (often) work miracles, but their foundation can set the stage for miraculous progress with our health goals.
If we love our house, we don’t (usually) lay in bed at night feeling grateful for the amazing foundation it was built on. Yet the foundation is what holds up the wonderful features we do appreciate.
With a strong foundation, my new dietary freedom is here to stay. It’s sustainable.
And with a strong foundation, I can explore new avenues with more energy, more stable, more strong, more capable than I’d otherwise be.
Perhaps a new supplement could really help you! When your macros are well-balanced, you will see what that supplement can do for you more clearly.
You may also find that you depend on supplements less, with a strong foundation. Depending on unnecessary supplements is not a path toward health.
But a strong foundation — with your macronutrients — is!
This completes ‘MACROS.’
To continue, select ‘Carbohydrates.’
Explore the Food section
(click to return to home page)