Carbohydrates (carbs), fats, and proteins are the only three forms in which you can derive energy from your diet. They are popularly referred to as “macros” as they are the large macronutrient building blocks that keep all of your physiological functions going day to day
The science on macronutrients
Ample research concludes that a variety of nutrients, both on the macro level (carbs/fiber, fats, and proteins) as well as on the micro level (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) are necessary for human health and reducing risk of chronic disease and early death. In fact, more and more research is mounting showing that extreme ends of the spectrum, either extremely low carb or extremely high carb, are equally risky for early death.
While popular diets promote extremely low carb (e.g., Atkins, Zone, Ketogenic), and others promote very low fat (e.g., Ornish, Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes - TLC), overwhelming evidence is in support of somewhere in the middle.
Enter the Mediterranean diet. As shown below, typical macro distributions show that the popular ketogenic diet is far outside what is even considered a therapeutically “low carb” diet and what is considered an “acceptable macronutrient distribution range” by the respectable Institute of Medicine (IOM). Macro distributions are percentages of total daily calorie intake.
While all distributions recommend some amount of carbs, <10% of those carbs should come from refined sources (i.e. white flour, sugar). Similarly, no matter the distribution, <10% of total fats should come from saturated fats (i.e. coconut oil, high fat meats). Excess consumption of any one macro or calories in total will lead to excess weight gain and energy stored in the form of fat.
Keep in mind, fats are calorically dense with 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for proteins and carbohydrates. Hence, a diet with 35% fat, 25% protein and 40% carbohydrate would yield a dinner plate that actually looks more like 50% vegetables, 25% starch and 25% protein, with a small dash of fat.
Also, as nature cleverly has it, no one food is made up of just one nutrient. Most foods fit in several categories, although we often categorize foods by which macro they have the most of. A few examples:
½ cup kidney beans = 20 g carbs (6 g fiber), 7 g protein, 1 g fat
3 oz salmon = 0 g carbs, 17 g protein, 11 g fat
½ cup quinoa = 20 g carbs (3 g fiber), 4 g protein, 3 g fat
¼ medium avocado = 4 g carbs (3 g fiber), 1 g protein, 8 g fat
1 cup spinach (raw) = 1 g carbs (1 g fiber), 1 g protein, <0.1 g fat
Eat carbs. Eat fat. Eat protein. In balance. In moderation.
While different variations of a healthy diet work for different people, there is little scientific debate about which foods are healthful and which are not. There is no question that highly processed, refined carbohydrates negatively impact your health, as do high amounts of refined fats. Overgeneralizing and demonizing all carbs or all fats is outright fear mongering media for the sake of product sales and is irresponsible with people’s health. While not generally done for the sake of diet promotion, this tactic is used with excess protein promotion in the form of refined powders and bars which should not be a staple of any diet, no matter your fitness goals.
Undoubtedly, whole plant foods - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds - positively impact your health and should be included in ample quantities in your diet. The Mediterranean Diet has been long-standing on solid scientific ground and continues to be an example of how to balance your macros to support health, performance and longevity - all at once. The scientific validity, practicality, and environmental sustainability guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet is why it is our foundation diet of choice at Apeiron Life. Work with your Apeiron Life Client Advocate to find the right balance for you. And lastly...
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” - Michael Pollan