All of the food we eat is made up of three main components called macronutrients. You may also hear them referred to as “macros.” Macronutrients are the three nutrients that provide our bodies with energy, which we measure in calories. We need these nutrients in larger amounts, compared with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals we need in tiny amounts). Each macronutrient is made up of building blocks that our bodies use for different important roles.
The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates (or carbs), for the most part, break down into glucose. Glucose is the form of sugar that gives our bodies a quick source of energy. Some carbs contain fiber, which your body cannot break down.
Each gram of carbs provides 4 calories.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends getting between 45% and 65% of your calories each day from carbs.
Sources of carbs include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and dairy foods.
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. Amino acids help create protein in the body that repairs tissues and muscles. They also give structure to our organs, skin, hair and more.
Each gram of protein provides 4 calories.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends getting between 10% and 35% of your calories from protein.
Sources of protein include fish, eggs, poultry, red meat, tofu, nuts, seeds and dairy products.
Fats are made up of fatty acids and glycerol. Fats help cell membranes to work. They also help to insulate your organs, and to absorb certain vitamins.
Each gram of fat provides 9 calories.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends getting between 20% and 35% of your calories from fat.
Sources of fat include olive oil, peanuts, pistachios, nut butters and avocado.
Eating a variety of foods made up of these three macronutrients is important for your body to function well. Keep in mind that many foods are a combination of different macronutrients—for example, dairy foods contain carbs, protein and fat. Some eating plans focus on “counting macros” to help people reach their goals. Macronutrient needs vary from person to person. Having a chronic disease can impact your needs. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine what balance is right for you. Using a tool like the balanced plate can help you manage your macros without having to count or calculate.