What Are Macronutrients? Fats, Proteins, and Carbs and Their Role in a Healthy Diet

Updated on March 3, 2018

There is a lot of miscommunication in the nutritional world. Fad diets abound, with misinformation coming at the public from all sides. When it comes to diets and nutrition, there are three big players known as macronutrients: fats, carbs, and proteins.

There is a lot more that goes into your sandwich than just bread, meat, and cheese.
There is a lot more that goes into your sandwich than just bread, meat, and cheese. | Source

So What is A Macronutrient?

As previously discussed, macronutrients are materials our body needs in large amounts in order to survive. We can think of these macronutrients like the walls, floor, and ceiling of a house. You're going to need more material to build a wall, and your home might not function the best with the same stuff you used to make the ceiling as the floor. No one structure is more important, but they all work together to make sure you and your family are protected from the elements, just like your body works together to protect you.

Of course, if there are macronutrients, then there are micronutrients. These micronutrients are things you need in small amounts in order to survive, like vitamins and minerals. Using the house metaphor from before, while the walls are important, you need nails to hold them together and glass to make windows. You don't need as much glass for a wall as you do brick, but it's still important.

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats.
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats. | Source

What is a Fat?

There are a lot of misconceptions around this particular macronutrient. Fats work together with proteins to keep them working in peak condition, as well as help store certain micronutrients. However, not all fats are made equal. You've probably heard of the terms "good fat" and "bad fat." Below we explain, with a little help from Harvard University, what the difference is.

Good fats, which include monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, come from plant-based sources like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, as well as fish. These are important to keep your body working like a well-oiled machine.

Bad fats, also known as transaturated fats, are found in highly-processed, animal-based products like meat and dairy. These should be limited in your daily diet. You should especially avoid sausage, bologna, and other treated meats.

While vegetable-based proteins are best, lean meats like grilled chicken are also heavy options.
While vegetable-based proteins are best, lean meats like grilled chicken are also heavy options. | Source

What is a Protein?

Protein is a macronutrient that is responsible for building and maintaining muscle mass. It also helps your maintain your metabolism, regulate your hormones, and keep your body working the way it was intended.

Protein is found in a variety of sources, including both animal and plant-based products. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, you should choose lean cuts of meat, preferably fish or poultry, or better yet, vegetable protein sources for the bulk of your dietary needs.

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What is a Carbohydrate?

You've probably heard a lot about the horrors of a carb-rich diet, but most of these horrors are just stories, some of which we have previously covered in this blog. In fact, the bulk of your diet should be composed of healthy carbohydrates found in whole grains. Foods that are minimally processed, like whole grain bread or quinoa, is the best source of healthy carbs. Vegetables are also another excellent source of carbohydrates as well as other vital micronutrients. The reason these sources are considered "good" is that your body burns them a little at a time - think wood instead of lighter fluid.

Bad carbohydrates, like those found in junk food, candies, and some starchy vegetables, are food that your body burns quickly, resulting in quick energy spikes and crashes. Your body has to work harder to maintain constant energy, and these spikes and crashes can lead you feeling sluggish.

Macadamia nuts are a healthy source of vegetable-based protein as well as complex carbohydrates.
Macadamia nuts are a healthy source of vegetable-based protein as well as complex carbohydrates. | Source

How Much of Each Macronutrient Should I Get?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating within the following ranges:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
  • Protein: 10-35% of calories

Be sure to remember that every body and lifestyle is different, and what works for one person may not be the perfect advice for the next person.

Resources Used

All about the Protein Foods Group. (2016, July 29). Retrieved July 04, 2017, from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/protein-foods

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 8th Edition. (n.d.). Retrieved July 04, 2017, from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

Fats and Cholesterol. (2016, July 25). Retrieved July 04, 2017, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/

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    © 2017 Katleigh Merrier

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