Hi, I’m Edith Clogg, Director of Nutrition Strategy for Guckenheimer, part of the ISS family of services. Welcome to the latest edition of Health Hacks: Going Micro on Macros. There's a lot of talk about macros now.
You might hear people say that they are counting their macos ... but what does this mean, and even more importantly, should you be counting your macros also? Before I head out on my run, let's dig into macros.
Macros are an abbreviation for macronutrients. There are three macronutrients that make up the food we eat: carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
While many foods contain all of these macronutrients, most skew heavily toward one or two of them. For instance, bread is mostly carbohydrates, meat is primarily protein, and peanut oil is predominantly fat. Foods like black beans are a great mix of protein and carbohydrates. Your body needs all three macronutrients in some capacity to function.
So what’s all the hype with macros?
Some people use macro counting as a tool to determine how much and what they eat. Those who practice macro counting might be thinking about weight loss, weight maintenance, or may have specific strength & fitness goals that they are working towards. These can be great goals and watching macros can be a helpful way to get there.
Is there one macronutrient breakdown that’s best for everyone?
No! The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends ranges of each of the 3 macronutrients: 10-35% of calories from protein, 25-35% of calories to come from fat, and 45-65% of calories to come from carbohydrate. Within the recommendations, you can eat on the higher or lower side of any range and still be eating in a healthful way.
We won’t get into specific benefits and downsides of eating specific macronutrient amounts but in general, if you stick close to these dietary guideline’s ranges, you’ll likely have a great balance within your eating. Those who are very focused on weight maintenance, strength gain, or endurance activities might steer towards different macronutrients. Some people do well on lower-carbohydrate plans, and some people do well on lower-fat. It all depends on the person and the goal.
There are some benefits of macronutrient counting:
- It can help you make smart and intentional food choices. You’ll learn more about food in the process because you’ll need to look at food labels.
- It can also be a great way to get a handle on portion control by understanding where calories are coming from.
There are some downsides, too:
- The amount of each you should be eating can vary drastically from person to person. Determining a goal on your own can be a challenge.
- Counting macros doesn’t necessarily focus on diet quality. You could still be eating highly processed foods and be within your macro range.
- It can be time consuming and socially isolating to count macros for all of the food you eat. Going over to a friend’s house for dinner could turn into a nightmare if you’re not sure what the macronutrient count is.
- Also, each day is different – one day you may go on a long hike and eat differently than on a day when you’re working in an office.
But what is the part about macronutrients that we all should be thinking about?
The type of each macronutrient may be even more important than the quantity of each. There is strong evidence that cutting back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes might be the best way to eat for weight loss and maintenance. This research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association gives support to the idea that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run.
So should you count your macros? You could! And you could benefit from it. But you don’t have to in order to eat in a healthful way.
Overall, listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, eating a variety of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats throughout the day, and choosing lower processed options are some of the big keys to overall health and can help you meet the goals that those who are counting macros are working towards.
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