What Are Macronutrients?

What Are Macronutrients?

Last week we looked at the ketogenic, or keto, diet. For a quick overview, on the keto diet amounts of fat are allowed with low amounts of carbs and moderate amounts of protein. This throws the body into a state of ketosis, where the body burns fat for energy instead of carbs, thereby decreasing fat levels and, ideally, decreasing weight.

This week let’s take a look at the types, functions, and sources of macronutrients.

What are Macronutrients?

A macronutrient is a substance that is needed in a large amount by a living organism. The term can refer to both a type of food such as fat, protein or carbohydrate, and to a chemical element, such as potassium and calcium. Macronutrients are needed in large amounts for healthy growth (hence the “macro” part of “macronutrient”). [1]

Types of Macronutrients

What Are Macronutrients?


There are two major types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.

  • Simple – Simple carbs are also referred to as simple sugars. These simple carbs are found in refined sugars such as white sugar. These sugars can be found in both unhealthy and healthy foods. So the same sugars found in candy are also found in fruit and dairy. The key is getting your sugars from the healthy foods instead of the unhealthy, and in controlling your intake. When you obtain these simple carbs from healthy sources you can be certain you’re not getting any added sugars, as you would be getting in the unhealthy foods.
  • Complex – Complex carbs are also called starches. Again, there are healthy sources and less healthy sources. When referring to complex carbs “refined” means “processed.” This tells you nutrients and fiber have been removed. “Unrefined” carbs can still contain vitamins and minerals and fiber. Be cautious around grain products, including:
    • Bread
    • Rice
    • Pasta
    • Crackers

All carbs are broken down into simple sugars, including complex carbs. The difference lies in the speed of this break-down. A slower break-down carb process helps you to feel satisfied for longer periods of time; a faster break-down process is quicker and will result in feelings of hunger returning more quickly. Bottom line: limit simple sugars found in candy and pastries and focus on complex carbs such as vegetables, oatmeal and whole-grain breads. [2[

Protein and Amino Acids

Protein is necessary in your diet because it assists your body in cell repair and development. They are the building blocks of all life and are in every cell in the human body. Amino acids are a chain of acids that make up the structure of protein and are classified into three groups:

  • Essential – Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through food sources.
  • Nonessential – Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from either essential acids or protein break-down.
  • Conditional – Conditional amino acids are acids needed in cases of stress, injuries and/or illness.

Sources of protein include:

Animal Sources

  • Meat such as turkey or chicken with the skin removed
  • Milk and low-fat dairy sources
  • Eggs
  • Fish or Shellfish

Plant Sources

  • Soy as tofu and tempeh
  • Nut Butters from almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter
  • Legumes
  • Beans such as pinto, black, split, garbanzo beans
  • Grains such as wheat germ and quinoa [3]

Fats and Cholesterol

Fats are needed by the body for energy and vitamin absorption. Fats have gotten a bad rap but not all fats are the bad guy.

Some fats to avoid:

  • Saturated Fats such as butter and lard
  • Trans Fats such as shortenings, cookies, foods made with partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)

Replace fats such as these with:

  • Canola Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Olive Oil [4]


Dietary fiber helps your digestion stay working, preventing constipation, adds bulk to the diet and causes feelings of fullness to last longer.

Fiber is a plant-based nutrient. It can be classified as:

  • Soluble
  • Insoluble

Healthy sources of fiber include:

  • Whole Grains
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Fruit and Vegetables [5]


Water is the basis for body fluids and is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. It makes up over ⅔ of the body’s weight. Water:

  • Regulates body temperature
  • Prevents and relieves constipation
  • Is a lubricant
  • Makes up fluids that surround the joints

The human body can go without food for much longer than it can go without water. Water is necessary for every cell and every organ in the human body. [6]

Calculating Your Optimal Macronutrients

A person’s optimal macronutrient intake depends on many different factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • BMI
  • Activity levels

To best determine what you should be eating, you’d need to decide what “diet” to follow. Every diet is different. A ketogenic diet is very low in carbs and high in fat. It’s suggested that 70% of your macro intake come from fat and about 5% of macro intake comes from carbs. [7]  

Each person’s necessary level of macronutrients is different so it’s very important that you calculate what’s necessary for YOU.





Image Credit: Nutrisystem

Image Credit: crfitness.net

Post by Andrea Rogers