I asked a Holistic Nutritionist about macronutrients and their ratios…

A photo of a variety of cut vegetables including tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber and carrots as well as cooked quinoa.

When I started being more mindful about what I was eating, I really wondered if I was getting all the nutrients my body needed. I was a vegetarian for about 20 years, but those years also encompassed my 20’s and 30’s where plenty of “vegetarian” meals were things like pizza and cupcakes (note: I still eat pizza and cupcakes, I’m just more mindful about it). I leaned on supplements a lot for vitamins and minerals I probably wasn’t getting eating a ton of carbs and not a variety of veggies and fruits.

I’d say, 3 important things I’ve learned about food and nutrients over time would be:

  1. There doesn’t seem to be a “ceiling” for how much vegetables you can eat (basically, go wild, the more the merrier).
  2. Variety is key! And if you can swing it, eating “in season” (eating stuff that is currently growing in your particular neck of the woods) is also good.
  3. You do have to be more mindful of getting all the nutrients you need if you’re plant-based and avoid meat.

This info alone can help you make much more healthy and easy choices when it comes to food, and if you are getting the variety, that helps obtain the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs to do its thing.

But, one can’t really surf the web for too long trying to find information on nutrition and food without bumping into “macros”. I think this comes more into play when it comes to weight loss and fitness. For me, it was fitness that led me down the macros rabbit hole.

So, I turned to a friend of mine, who happens to be a Holistic Nutritionist – Tammera Karr (and you can visit her website here to learn more about what she does), for some insights and answers to my questions regarding macronutrients and their ratios.

Question: What exactly are macronutrients (aka “macros”)?

Macro, in the simplest terms, are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Each of these often contains the other – for example, beans contain starches from the carbohydrate family, protein, and fat, but they are categorized as carbohydrates. Fat might seem like a no-brainer; however, it can also contain trace amounts of carbohydrates and protein. An example here would be butter or coconut oil.

The easiest way to remember these:

  • Carbohydrates = all foods from plants, roots or fungi
  • Protein = all foods from animals, fish and some plants
  • Fat = foods from animals, nuts/seeds, fish, algae, and some plants example, olive oil comes from the meat of the olive fruit (seed = corn, soy, sunflower, coconut, rape, canola, mustard, sesame, etc)

Question: Also, I’ve seen a number of different “ratios” when it comes to macronutrients … what ratio do you recommend and why?

When we look at the ratio, think of a three-section picnic plate, next the exact percentage fluctuates based on age, gender, pregnancy and activity levels.

For simplicity, think 40% total carbohydrates, preferably low to moderate glycemic load vegetables in the largest opening on your plate. The two smaller sections are 30% each.

Now, here’s where some confusion can come in – what we see and interpret for volume does not equal a percentage, calories, or food quality. For example, 1 teaspoon of butter may be a person’s 30% fat for one meal, but the seeds on the salad and oil in the fish also count.

This is why counting food by numbers can drive one crazy and set them up for failure in trying to achieve a balanced diet.

Let’s look at protein: The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg). This is the minimum amount of protein required to meet your body’s needs, not endurance or extreme workouts, chronic illness, or pregnancy.

Question: Can different ratios be good for different things (average person just trying to eat healthier, lose weight, fitness performance, etc.)?

Yes, we are all individuals with different blood types and activities. Work schedules, hormones, age and family genetics all play a role.

Work schedules, for example, are a key point. Research has shown people working swing and graveyard shifts have much higher rates of metabolic syndrome resulting in type two diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver and cancer.

Question: Then, once you have a ratio you’re going to use, how exactly do you figure out how to make a meal to fit that ratio?

The old fashioned way is just doing conversions from percentages to ounces and pounds and weighing food. There are also now a lot of apps that do that for you and many find that easier and more enjoyable. (One of the free apps you can try is Cronometer.)

Question: Is it important to be “exact” here if you’re just trying to eat healthier?

No, it is more important to make mindful choices and enjoy the adventure of introducing new foods. This has positive and lasting influence on the immune system and microbiome. In order for positive changes to become lifestyles, they need to be sustainable. Restrictive plans have been proven to be unsustainable.

Question: Does every meal have to be a “balanced” meal?

No, many cultures eat only one or two meals a day, and they are made up of seasonally abundant foods.

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