By: Dr. Keith Kantor
“Count your macros,” has become a popular recommendation among fitness, health and diet enthusiasts. What is this new nutritional logging method mean and how can it help you reach our health goals? I will explain macronutrient counting, give you percentage targets , the benefits, along with meal timing and how to easily apply it to your meals with the plate method.
Macronutrients vs. Calorie Counting
One of the problems with traditional calorie counting is that it doesn’t take into account what you’re eating, just how many calories. Sure, portion control alone might work for a while, but unless you switch to the right foods—foods that leave you satiated or even stuffed while on a caloric deficit—your self-control will eventually break down.
This is when most people feel helpless, frustrated and sometimes angry. The scary part is that most health professionals still recommend calorie counting as the best way to lose weight, and when their patient does not see results everyone is frustrated and the patient feels ashamed despite their best efforts. We have to remember that most medical doctors specialize in reactive health care and unfortunately have very little (4 college hours) of nutrition education. The education they do receive is very basic information based on the USDA guidelines.
The Breakdown of Macronutrients
The term macronutrients refers to carbohydrates, protein and fat as compared to micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals. Macronutrient counting has become more popular in the nutrition community because we have finally realized that counting calories, points and/or servings is not the recipe for long term weight loss or optimal health, if it were then the calorie counters would not be as frustrated as they are.
I see several clients who eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fiber but they are so frustrated because they are not dropping weight, inches or body fat. These same clients are regular exercisers who truly are “doing everything right.” The old term move more and eat less has proven us wrong for long-term weight loss. Yo-yo dieting and metabolic damage is the only result of cutting calories and over exercising.
The deeper issue and key to success with weight management is finding the right hormonal balance, specifically insulin to promote optimal fat burn and utilization.
The start to achieving this optimal hormonal balance starts with counting macronutrients and aiming for a range that promotes steady insulin levels. This can be done with a food log application such as myfitnesspal, fitbit, etc.
Standard recommendations given by most health professionals include:
These recommendations actually promote weight gain due to insulin fluctuations and work against our body’s ability to burn stored fat as fuel source. These recommendations were created for many reasons, one of them being old research that has now been proven to be false stating that a low fat diet will prevent heart disease. Unsaturated dietary fats and dietary cholesterol have now been shown to be completely unrelated to increased risk for heart disease. Sugar on the other hand contributes to increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes, non alcoholic fatty liver and obesity, which are all related to increased risk for heart disease.
Preventive and holistic health professionals recommend a higher fat, moderate protein and lower carbohydrate diet. Optimal recommendations include:
25 % protein
These macronutrient targets promote steady insulin levels and will eventually train the body to use stored fat as a fuel source. These targets promote weight loss, while maintaining muscle mass and brain health. When insulin levels increase after consuming sugar, carbohydrates or when the body is in a state of stress the metabolism is no longer able to use stored fat as a fuel source, resulting in increased fat storage and weight gain. Consuming a high fat diet (natural healthy fats) promote satiety, and optimal brain health. This is a great diet for children who have attention issues or behavior problems due to poor ability to focus.
Low fat was the beginning of the end.
The low fat craze of the 80’s and 90’s is when the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic hit Americans hard. The low fat products are full of sugar and preservatives to make the product low fat they were promoting insulin fluctuations along with unhealthy cancer causing preservatives. People were microwaving their meals and eating their snacks out of bags instead of focusing on real whole unprocessed healthy foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, oils, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, eggs, quality beef and pork. Finally we as a society are starting to realize that low fat and low calorie diets do not promote long-term heath and weight management. The key is to promote optimal hormone levels, specifically insulin by consuming more healthy fats and less sugar and carbohydrates.
Meal Timing and quantities.
I have been guilty in the past of recommending patients to eat 5-6 small meals all through the day to keep the metabolism burning. We were taught to graze to promote a fast metabolism. This is probably the worst recommendation, all this meal schedule does is promotes fluctuations of insulin levels. It can be done but not for a long period of time and it will result in metabolic damage making the patient more sensitive to insulin and harder to see results the longer they yo-yo diet.
Intermittent Fasting and 3 meals per day.
As crazy as intermittent fasting once sounded to me, I now recommend this schedule especially to those who have insulin resistance. The short version of intermittent fasting is limiting your window of eating to 6-8 hours per day. This allows for your body , organs and pancreas to rest and learn how to use fat as a fuel source.
The research on the health benefits of fasting and intermittent fasting is growing, proving to:
- Improve insulin resistance and reverse type 2 diabetes
· Intermittent Fasting Changes The Function of Cells, Genes and Hormones
- Reduces risk for cancer
- Helps lose weight specifically belly fat
- Intermittent fasting improves various metabolic features known to be important for brain health
- Intermittent Fasting Induces Various Cellular Repair Processes, specifically reducing risk for Alzheimer’s
· Intermittent Fasting Can Reduce Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in The Body
Some research links intermittent fasting to an extended life span
It is best to try this under the care of a health professional, especially if you are on medications for diabetes or any heart condition.
If you are completely new to counting macronutrients then it is good to log your food daily for a few weeks to develop healthy habits and get a feel for what your daily food intake should look like. Once you have developed a high fat, moderate protein and lower carbohydrate lifestyle, instead of counting grams, and logging into an app before each meal, make your life a little simpler and follow the plate method.
- ½ plate non starchy all natural vegetables such as leafy greens, asparagus, cabbage, green beans, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.
- ¼ plate quality protein such as all natural chicken, fish, pork, beef, or eggs
- ¼ plate complex unprocessed carbohydrates such as sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
- Heart healthy fats to cook with or use as toppings. Heart healthy fats include coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, hummus, all natural butter, etc.
The Obesity Code, By: Dr. Jason Fung, MD