What is the macro diet?
Dietitian Tai Ibitoye explains what the macro diet is, whether it is healthy and how to count your macros.
What is the macro diet?
The macro diet has gained popularity over the past few years, with individuals able to consume any foods that fit within their daily macronutrient (‘macro’) requirements. Instead of solely focusing on counting calories, there is an emphasis on counting and tracking macronutrients. Some advocates of the diet believe that manipulating macronutrient intake may be useful for helping people lose weight and reach their health and fitness goals.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are nutrients that we need to consume in relatively large amounts as they provide our body with energy and support many bodily functions. There are three main types of macronutrients:
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They’re broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the blood. They are needed to support the nervous system, kidneys, brain and muscles.
Sources of carbohydrates can be found in all starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and breakfast cereals. Starchy carbohydrates that are higher in fibre, like wholegrain varieties, release glucose into the blood slower than high sugary foods and drinks.
Fibre is vital for general health and reduces the risk of some diseases like bowel cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also helps to promote good digestive health.
Protein is key to building and maintaining body tissues, such as the muscles, and is also a source of energy. Top sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, soya products, nuts and pulses.
Fats are essential for maintaining the normal structure of cells in the body. They also carry fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A, D, E and K.
How do you count macros?
With regards to the macro diet, there are many variations of it. Some followers of the diet suggest that the daily calorie intake should be based around 40 per cent carbohydrates, 30 per cent protein and 30 per cent fat (30/30/40 macro split), while others argue this should be 40 per cent carbohydrates, 40 per cent protein and 20 per cent fat (40/40/20 macro split) or 50 per cent of their calories from carbohydrates, 30 per cent from protein and 20 per cent from fat (50/30/20 macro split).
The UK government recommendation for the general population suggests that 50 per cent of total dietary energy should come from carbohydrates. In addition, no more than 35 per cent of energy should come from fat with no more than 11 per cent from saturated fat.
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For protein, the reference nutrient intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kg body weight per day in adults living in the UK. This equates to approximately 56g/day and 45g/day for men and women aged 19-64 years, respectively. However, amounts can vary from person to person according to their age, body weight, activity and health status.
Should people try the macro diet?
The macro diet does offer some flexibility and freedom for people to eat any food they wish if it matches up to their macronutrient ratio and daily energy requirements. However, there are also challenges with the macro diet that mean it may not be suitable for everyone:
- Precise calculations are required in order to track macros, which can be both time-consuming and frustrating, and may contribute to disordered eating behaviours.
- Focusing solely on macronutrients may cause some to overlook the importance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Though they're needed in small quantities in the diet, they're still vital for health.
- Some individuals might need to count and adjust specific macronutrients, such as those with type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes – who need to be able to balance the amount of insulin with the carbohydrate they eat – are normally offered education supervised by a dietitian on carbohydrate counting to keep their blood sugar levels in the target range.
- Older adults, athletes and people with severe illness or at risk of malnutrition would need to ensure they have adequate amounts of protein. Older adults have higher protein requirements compared to younger adults and the need for protein is increased with disease severity. Thus, following the macro diet may not be suitable for them.
In general, everyone should aim to have a balanced and varied diet. Those who wish to embark on a macro diet should consult with a registered dietitian or nutrition professional to determine if it’s suitable for them, and to ensure their nutritional needs are met.
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This article was reviewed on 15 June 2022 by Tracey Raye.
Tai Ibitoye is a registered dietitian and a doctoral researcher in food & nutritional sciences. Tai has experience working in different sectors such as in the NHS, public health, non-government organisations and academia.
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