The Scoop on Macronutrients

Macronutrients are the nutrients our body needs in the largest amounts. They are classified as carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber and water. 

Each of them play a different role in our body, and work together to help us look and feel our best:

Carbohydrates: Digests into glucose that your body uses for energy. Since the neurons in our brain cannot store glucose, our brains depend on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply it needs to function properly. It also improves digestion, mood, and brain health.

Signs of not eating enough carbohydrates (or too many low quality carbs): cravings for sugary and bready foods, low energy, headaches, dizziness, low energy, constipation or diarrhea, shakiness or weakness, muscle cramps, sleep issues, racing heart or jittery feeling, nausea, bad breath, weight loss resistance, mood issues.

Protein: Digests into amino acids that your body uses as building blocks for our bones, muscles, and many neurochemicals and neurotransmitters. It also helps with blood transportation, stress management, and immune support.

Signs of not eating enough protein: immune challenges, lowered resiliency to stress, hair loss, weakened digestive system, mood issues (irritable, depression, anxiety), muscle or joint pain, sleep issues, muscle mass decreases, slowed metabolism, inability to focus/concentrate, headaches, low sex drive, low motivation. 

Fat: Digests into essential fatty acids that your body doesn’t produce on its own so it relies on them coming from our diet. The body uses EFA’s to form healthy cell walls, development and functioning of the brain and nervous system, hormone and blood sugar regulation, digestion “regularity,” reducing inflammation, and absorption of nutrients.

Signs of not eating enough healthy fat: more easily store excess or unneeded calories as body fat, craving for processed food, insatiable hunger, lowered resiliency to stress, poor digestion, irritability, constipation, dry/brittle hair and nails, dandruff, oily or dry skin, dark circles or redness around eyes, stiff or painful joints.

Fiber: There are 2 types that provide support for the body in very different yet equally efficient ways: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber comes from veggies like carrots, brussels sprouts and broccoli. It dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer. 

Insoluble fiber in veggies comes from dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, and celery. They do not dissolve at all but helps add bulk to your stool which helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination. When getting fiber from vegetables you’ll also be loading up on micronutrients your body needs too!

macronutrient breakdown

All of our cells are made up of each of these types of nutrients too, so if we don’t eat them all regularly, in sufficient amounts, we starve our cells and experience imbalance in the body. This can show up in all kinds of ways, like weight gain/weight loss resistance, low energy, headaches, mood issues, weakened immune system, digestive issues, brain fog or difficulty focusing, sleep struggles, skin and hair issues, and more.

Aim to have representation from all 4 of these major macronutrients present at all of your meals.

When making any type of changes to your diet, set yourself up for success by going slow rather than overhauling everything. If you’re not used to eating all of the macronutrients at each of your meals, start by just focusing on 1 meal at a time.

Also start with the familiar, add whichever you’re missing to your usual meals you’re comfortable cooking.

For example, if you’re not used to eating healthy fats, but you commonly eat pasta with chicken, add some butter, ghee, or cheese to your dish. If you’re not used to eating carbohydrates, but you commonly eat cauliflower ‘rice’ with vegetables and turkey, add actual rice in with the cauliflower ‘rice.’

While many foods overlap into 2 or 3 categories, for simplicity’s sake, it’s easiest to designate a food as a protein, fat, carbohydrate, or fiber based on whichever macronutrient it contains most of.

For example, per serving, almond butter contains 7 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbs, and 16 grams of fat. I would count it as a fat. 

Once you have all nutrients present on your plate, then you can play around with the quantities/ratios for optimal blood sugar and hormone balance, optimizing metabolism and overall health.

I don’t recommend counting calories, grams or anything, but it is helpful to be mindful of portion sizes. Every person’s body is unique, there are no scientifically correct answers or amounts (it’s an inexact science) but research has found putting macronutrients in ratios like the ‘balanced plate’ concept is a great jump-off place to start experimenting with.

balanced plate

For this concept, I add “fiber” to the list of macronutrients in the form of vegetables.

Vegetables are loaded with micronutrients and antioxidants to help us get and stay healthy, even heal and protect against symptoms and side effects.

Here’s another way to look at it when constructing your meals:

  • Carbs: Approximately the size of the cup of your hand
  • Protein: Approximately the size of the palm of your hand 
  • Fats: Approximately the size from your thumb knuckle to the tip (2 of those/serving)
  • Fiber: Approximately the size of 2 cupped hands, heaping

Here are some more meal examples: