Proper body nourishment means more than hitting that calorie count. It’s also about the sources of your energy — the macronutrients or macros. What are macros in food? These are your carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Compared to micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, you need macros in large amounts because they are essential for life sustenance and maintaining health (5).
We prepared a macro food list that will help you tell which food has which macro, thus, making meal-planning and grocery shopping times easier! So let’s sort them out.
Macros are interchangeable meaning your body can use only one source of energy in the absence of others. However, to stay healthy, you need a combination of fats, carbs, and protein. That’s why you should consult with a dietitian or a doctor before strictly limiting or cutting out a certain group of foods.
- Protein — 10-30%
- Fat — 25-35%
- Carbohydrates — 45-65%
But this is not a golden rule. Tweaking the ratio to fit health conditions or fitness goals is normal. Historically, humans had vastly different proportions of macronutrients depending on region, food culture and time period (2).
While you can find different recommendations of macros online, it’s still inconclusive. We recommend to:
- Identify your necessary energy intake in calories based on your lifestyle, fitness goals, and current body weight.
- Calculate how many calories should come from each macronutrient. From that, you can also see your preferred intake in grams because fats are 9 kcal/g, carbohydrates — 4 kcal/g, and protein — 4 kcal/g.
Keep in mind that certain foods can be a source of several macros, so tracking macros gram by gram is only possible with a good digital tracker like BetterMe’s. But you can stick to the ratios of suggested foods in your meal and still experience a vast improvement in your diet.
What Are Carbohydrates?
- They are needed for healthy brain functioning.
- They are the quickest to digest, as, in the body, carbohydrates are turned into glucose, that can be used immediately. If there’s excess, it’s stored in the liver and muscles.
Essentially, carbs are sugar molecules, but they come in different shapes with some being better for you than others (1).
- Simple carbs include monosaccharides like fructose, glucose, galactose and disaccharides like sucrose, lactose and maltose (1). Fructose and lactose are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
- Complex carbohydrates are starches and fiber and are the same simple sugar molecules bonded in more complex structures. However, it makes a world of a difference! Your body takes longer to break down scratches and cannot do that for fiber, which means they make you feel full for longer (1).
So choosing carbohydrate-rich food, rely on complex carbs rather than simple ones. Also, try to avoid processed foods with added sugars.
What Are Fats?
Western culture marks “low-fat” as good and “fatty” as bad. Yet, your body needs fat to function properly and in larger amounts than protein. Dietary fats provide fatty acids that are not produced within the body and help absorb many vitamins (5).
But the type of fat does matter. According to The Nutrition Source by Harvard, the rule of thumb is to:
- choose unsaturated fats (vegetable oils, fish, seeds, nuts);
- limit saturated ones (red meat, butter, milk and dairy, palm, and coconut oil);
- and avoid trans fats found in processed foods (6).
Following these recommendations lowers disease risks.
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What Are Proteins?
The smallest fraction falls for protein because our organism can’t store it and turns leftovers into body fat (5). Yet, we can get nine essential amino acids only from dietary protein, so make sure to meet your daily protein goal (6). Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins which are needed to build and repair the body’s tissues.
When choosing between plant- and animal-based protein, the former is a safer option because animal products usually contain saturated fats (6). But no need to worry, in our cheat “sheet of macro” food list, we included lean animal-based protein sources to pick from.
Macro Diet: How To Balance Macros?
Now, we’ve answered the question “what are macronutrients?” What’s next?
- You can strive for a balanced diet by tracking your macros — also known as a macro diet. Keeping up with all the macros can be challenging but you can use the BetterMe app to calculate macro goals and log what you eat quickly.
- You can use this knowledge to follow a specific diet plan that fits your needs, e.g. Keto (high-fat, low-carb).
- You can make minimal changes to make your nutrition healthier by swapping some sources of your macros for more healthful options.
Read More: 4 Macronutrients: A Simple Guide to Macros
Macro Food List
Our macro list for food contains the best sources of each macronutrient, so you can plan your meals and know what to reach for at the grocery store. As each category is so varied, this macro friendly food list is not exhaustive but rather meant to give you an idea of how many options you have for a balanced diet!
|Broccoli and cauliflower
|Brown rice and buckwheat
|Berries (raspberries, strawberries)
|Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach)
|Nuts and nut butter
|Vegetable oils (excluding palm and coconut)
|Butter and full-fat dairy
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|Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
|Plain yogurt (especially Greek)
|Other dairy products (also a source of carbs)
|White-meat poultry (chicken and turkey breast without skin)
|Chicken wings and thighs
|Seafood (shellfish, scallops)
|White-fleshed fish (cod, tilapia) and tuna
Understanding what’s on your plate is the first step to being more mindful about nutrition. An app like BetterMe makes calculating your needs and tracking daily macros easy. However, you can use a macro diet food list to compose healthy balanced meals with all three necessary macronutrients without too much hassle.
So as long as you keep the macros in mind, you craft a varied diet that’s both enjoyable and brings you closer to your goals.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Carbohydrates (n.d., medlineplus.gov)
- Macronutrients and Human Health for the 21st Century (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Micros vs. macros: Everything you need to know (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- The benefits of counting macros and how to do it (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Are Macronutrients? (2021, webmd.com)
- What Should I Eat?: Protein, Fats and Cholesterol (n.d., hsph.harvard.edu)