Carbs, protein and fat – What are they and how much do we need a day?

Macronutrients… Not sure if everyone has heard about that word, but what is sure is that most people have heard about carbohydrates, proteins and fats. That is more familiar, right?

Well, these three big nutrient groups are macronutrients and they are called “Macro” precisely because we need them in MACRO (aka BIG) quantities in our diets.

Macronutrients are essential nutrients for the human body and keep us alive and full of energy throughout our lives. Therefore, they are super important!

No worries about food sources and other rules though. They are everywhere and, in fact, most foods include a mix of them all in different portions.

However, there are few things to remember when we talk about macros, as not all of them provide us with the same levels of energy (aka calories) and each of them help with different body functions. I will do another post about the functions and basic science behind each of them. For now, here is what is worth noting:

Calories per gram and daily intakes

When it comes to energy, proteins and carbs have the same amount of calories, 4 kcals per gram, whereas fat has more than double, 9 kcals per gram. Before anyone on a diet starts to panic, it is worth remembering that fats are not only super beneficial for a number of functions in our body (our brains are made of 60% fat, for example!), but actually essential and, in all honesty, not that bad at all.

Fats are our friends 🙂

bowl being poured with yellow liquid
Photo by Pixabay on

If you want a more specific guideline, here is how to calculate your macro daily intake:

  • Proteins – 4 kcal per gram

It is easier to start with proteins. Since the main job of proteins is to help build and repair muscle, the amount of protein we need to take a day greatly varies depending on our body mass. Therefore, the recommended protein intake for each individual is calculated by multiplying 0.83 grams of protein per kilo.

Someone who weighs 60 kgs will need 49,8 grams of protein, whereas someone whose weight is 80 kgs will need 66,4 grams of protein a day. This tends to equal to a range of 15% to 25% of the daily intake.

Examples of food heavy in protein are meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products (such as milk, cheese and yogurt), seeds, nuts, beans, legumes and soy products like tofu.

  • Fats – 9 kcal per gram

Once you got your protein sorted, the rest is easier. The average recommendation is to have 30% of fats in a day. As mentioned above, fat is not the enemy. The only true enemy is TRANS fat, which is the one found in processed foods –  both sweet and savoury – if the food has been heavily processed and mass produced, it is likely to contain trans fats.

The rest of the fat is good, especially unsaturated fats found in olive oil, oily fish or nuts and seeds. Saturated fat is also beneficial, but in smaller amounts. According to the NHS, men should not have more than 30g of saturated fat a day and women should not have more than 20g.

Examples of food heavy in good fats are avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. We can also find fat mixed in dairy and animal-based products such as cheese and meat.

  • Carbohydrates – 4 kcal per gram

Finally, the good old carbs. They should make up for the remaining percentage. Carbohydrates are present in almost every food group, except for oils. For example, vegetables are mainly carbs, chocolates are mainly carbs, meat has carbs (as well as protein)… So yes, carbs are everywhere and not just in rice, pasta or potatoes as some people might related them to.

Examples of carb-heavy food include are grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, cereal, starchy vegetables such as potato, sugary food and fruit.

Final note

There is not need to obsess and calculate our macro intake super accurately. In fact, it is quite difficult as most foods have a mix of them three. However, it is worth keeping mental track of the food we are eating every day, and try to follow that rough 20% protein, 30% fats and 50% carbs rule.

Here is handy Macronutrients daily calculator which was quite accurate when I tried it for myself.

More information: NHS, 2019. Eat Well

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