Most health-conscience people have personal rules for eating. I have some thoughts about rules for healthy macronutrient percentages.
Except for the energy content, a calorie is not a calorie, considering that the body processes food types differently. Consequently, it is more important to avoid a calorie of high fructose corn syrup than a calorie of whole wheat. It makes a difference whether you get carbohydrates from nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits or from added sugars and grains. The USDA makes a big deal of favoring whole grains. While it is better to choose whole grains over processed grains, there really is not much difference in the glycemic index. Two slices of whole wheat bread will affect insulin production more than a typical candy bar. What we eat obviously matters.
Macronutrient ratios also matter. Just as a calorie is not a calorie in terms of how our bodies process food, macronutrients are also not the same in the way they are processed. For instance, a calorie from a carbohydrate will have a much greater effect on insulin production than a calorie from fat.
Optimum macronutrient ratios will always vary with people and conditions, although there is value in having approximate targets. Continually measuring the actual ratios would be tedious and impractical. However, it is a good idea to find out what your typical levels are. An easy way to do this is by registering an account on the USDA’s SuperTracker website. This is a good tool as long as you ignore the bad advice that is given there, such as suggestions to eat margarine and grains. Enter everything you eat for a week and create a report that includes your macronutrient percentages. I did this for eight days and found my average carbohydrate level was at 18 percent of calories. This surprised me. I thought I consumed fewer carbs, considering that I avoid sugars and grains. At less than 20 percent carbs, my diet can best be described as low-carb Paleo. I eat real whole foods and not processed food products.
So, in case you didn’t notice the graphic, here are my targets…
Fat should be more than 60 percent of calories.
Average protein and carbohydrate levels should each be less than 20 percent of calories.
This has worked well for me in terms of weight, reduction of visceral fat, energy, oral health, and blood lipid metrics. More about this is described in Jeff’s Basic Health Notes.
Enjoy your favorite dessert or alcoholic drink occasionally, but keep your blood sugar low for the long term. Effects of a low-fat diet take years to accumulate before they are devastating. A short carbohydrate binge is nothing to be concerned with. However, realize that consistently following the extreme high-carb USDA dietary recommendations (45-65 percent) is damaging. If you plan to consistently eat carbs to that level, at least get them mostly from whole fruits and vegetables and avoid sugars and grains. Effects of bad habits can easily accumulate. For instance, drinking one 12 ounce can of soda per day would typically result in an additional 28 pounds of sugar per year in your diet. The little stuff can add up.
There are exceptions to my less-than-20-percent carbs rule. If I was starting from a condition of obesity, diabetes, or if I was diagnosed with cancer, I would strictly follow a ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates would be no more than five percent of calories. I would continue with this even after the condition was resolved.
What are your targets?
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1. Wright JD, Wang C-Y. Trends in intake of energy and macronutrients in adults from 1999–2000 through 2007–2008. NCHS data brief, no 49. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.
2. NAS. IOM. Food and Nutrition Board; Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
[After making this reference, this was made unavailable as of January 23, 2016]
3. Paleo Leap: The Question of Macronutrient Ratios
4. My Fitness Pal: Ask the Dietitian: Is a Calorie a Calorie?