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Protein, Fat, Carbs: The 5 Healthiest Sources of Each Macronutrient

by Rebecca Jacobs

We hear the term macronutrient when talking about the foods we eat, but how much do you know about them?

There’s quite a bit to know about macros and what exactly they do for our health.

Read on to learn more about them, how they’re different from micronutrients, and why it’s so important to understand these categories to create a balanced diet. Plus, we’re sharing the healthiest and quickest food options for each macro that will work for even the busiest lifestyle.

What are Macros (protein, fat, carbs)?

When talking about macros, it’s important to know that there are three primary macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. We need all three for survival, and the body requires different macronutrients to help support energy levels, brain health, and even blood sugar support.

The Difference Between Macros & Micros

When looking at a more broad definition of nutrients as a whole, “nutrients” are considered to be environmental substances that are used for energy, growth, as well as different body functions. There are two different nutrients to look at, macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) are needed in larger amounts than micronutrients, which are vitamins, minerals, and enzymes found in food. Micronutrients are found in much smaller amounts than macronutrients when it comes to how many overall calories they provide us with.  

Why You Should Eat Every Macronutrient

A great way to create a well-balanced diet is to view your meals through these categories. This is the ideal way to make sure that you are getting a balance of each macronutrient in every single meal you eat.

Since each macronutrient has its own benefit and role in the body, getting enough of each is important for balanced health.

However, keep in mind that overall macronutrient balance is really going to vary from person to person. While we all need all three macros, some may find they do better on a lower carb and higher fat diet, while others may do better with a balanced mix of all three.

Let’s take a closer look at each macro, what they do, and the best and quickest sources of each.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, and unless you are following a low-carb diet, carbs will most likely take up the largest portion of your food intake.

So, what are carbs? Carbs are found in a number of foods such as starches, grains, fruits, and vegetables. When consumed, they are broken down into glucose to be used as an immediate source of energy or stored as glycogen for later use in either the liver or muscles.

Carbs are used as the body’s primary source of energy, but it’s important to know that not all carbs are created equal.

Avoid Simple Carbs

There’s a big difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.

  • Simple carbs come from sugary, and refined foods. Think sugar and sweetened beverages. Simple carbs should be avoided.
  • Complex carbohydrates are starches, which include things like grains and starchy vegetables.

A big difference between the two is how quickly they spike blood sugar. While all carbs turn into glucose and raise blood sugar, simple carbs like sweets don’t contain fiber to help slow down the release of glucose in the bloodstream.

How many complex carbs do you need in your daily diet?

As a general guideline, the acceptable macronutrient distribution range for carbs is 45-65% of your daily calorie intake.

  • Example: For a 2,000 calorie diet, this would equal out to be approximately 225-325 grams of carbs per day and roughly 900-1,300 calories from carbohydrates.  

You could do your own calculations by taking how many calories you consume per day and multiplying this by what percentage of carbs you want to consume.

  • Example: For 45% carb consumption, take your daily calorie intake and times it by 0.45. You would then take that number and divide it by four to get how many grams of carbs you should be consuming per day.

5 of the Healthiest & Quickest Carb Foods

#1 Sweet Potatoes

This starchy veggie makes a great addition to a healthy diet, and can be an easy grab and go complex carb option if you make some cubed sweet potatoes to have on hand for a healthy snack.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Sweet Potato

Try roasting sweet potato cubes with coconut oil, and serving them with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for added protein.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 sweet potato:

  • 103 calories
  • 24g carbs
  • 4g fiber
  • 2g protein
  • 0g fat

#2 Oats

Oats are an excellent complex carbohydrate choice and add in dietary fiber to help boost digestive health and stabilize blood sugar.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Oats

You can make overnight oats with almond milk, chia seeds, and low-sugar fruit to fuel your body first thing in the morning; and without having to put much prep time into making it at all.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 cup of cooked oats:

  • 310 calories
  • 55g carbs
  • 8g fiber
  • 11g protein
  • 5g fat

#3 Blueberries

This low sugar fruit packs in lots of antioxidants, and they are also rich in dietary fiber.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Blueberries

Blueberries make the perfect oatmeal topper or quick and healthy snack when paired with a handful of nuts and seeds. You can also make a creamy blueberry smoothie with almond or coconut milk.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 cup of blueberries:

  • 83 calories
  • 21g carbs
  • 4g fiber
  • 1g protein
  • 0.5g fat

#4 Black Beans

Beans are a great way to add some dietary fiber to your diet, and are a healthy source of complex carbs. Black beans are also rich in protein, so they are a great addition to a balanced diet.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Black Beans

They are also really inexpensive and easy to add to your diet, so consider tossing some into your salad, or mixing them into a gluten-free pasta dish. Bean patties are also great substitutes for the traditional meat patties used in burgers.

Nutritional Breakdown for ½ cup of canned black beans

  • 55 calories
  • 9.5g carbs
  • 3.5g fiber
  • 3.5g protein
  • 0.5g fat

#5 Dark Leafy Greens

We all know just how important our daily dose of dark leafy greens is, right? They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Dark Leafy Greens

Try adding a handful of greens to a smoothie, or saute some kale or spinach into a stir-fry or taco recipe for a superfood boost.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 cup of Kale:

  • 33 calorie
  • 7g carbs
  • 1g fiber
  • 2g protein
  • 0g fat

Protein

Protein, just like carbs, contains 4 calories per gram, and are most known for supporting muscle recovery and building tissue. However, proteins do much more than that. We need to make sure we are eating enough protein to support immune health and for building both hormones and enzymes.

How much protein should you consume daily?

As a general guideline, the adult Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 g/kg of body weight of protein per day.

The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range is 10-35% of calories from protein per day.

To put this into practice:

If you weigh 150 pounds, take 150 divide that by 2.2 to get your weight in kg. You would then take that number and multiply it by 0.8 to get the total recommended amount of protein you should be consuming in grams per day. In this case, the total recommended protein intake would be 55 grams.

  • Formula: 150/2.2 = 68.18 kg ---> 68.18 x 0.8 = 55 grams of protein per day.

5 of the Healthiest & Quickest High-Protein Foods

Here are some of the healthiest and quickest high protein foods you can include in your diet to support optimal health.

#1 Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of dietary protein, and are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Eggs

Try making some hard-boiled eggs to have on hand for an easy grab and go protein-rich snack.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 Egg:

  • 63 calories
  • 0.3g carbs
  • 0g fiber
  • 5.5g protein
  • 4.4g fat

#2 Lentils

Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein and dietary fiber. They are a go-to option for vegans and vegetarians to help satisfy their daily protein requirements.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Lentils

You can prep your lentils ahead of time and store them in the fridge to toss into salads or try making a vegan Bolognese sauce.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 cup of cooked lentils:

  • 226 calories
  • 38.7g carbs
  • 15.6g fiber
  • 18g protein
  • 0.8g fat

#3 Chicken Breast

Lean meats like chicken are packed full of protein and make for a really easy meal.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Chicken Breast

You can pre-cook a chicken breast, shred it, and make a healthier version of the traditional chicken salad with some mashed avocado.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 chicken breast:

  • 143 calories
  • 0g carbs
  • 0g fiber
  • 27.5g protein
  • 3g fat

#4 Turkey Breast

Turkey is another easy and high protein food choice to enjoy and prep with little time.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Turkey Breast

You can make ground turkey tacos, or make a turkey burger for a healthy and protein-rich dinner.

Nutritional Breakdown for one 3-ounce serving of turkey:

  • 145 calories
  • 0g carbs
  • 0g fiber
  • 25g protein
  • 4g fat

#5 Quinoa

Quinoa is another excellent plant-based protein-rich food that also happens to be high in fiber, and makes for a healthy gluten-free grain alternative.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Quinoa

Quinoa, while often thought of as a grain is actually a seed, and can be enjoyed as a breakfast cereal, mixed into salads, or enjoyed in place of rice.

Nutritional Breakdown for one cup of cooked quinoa:

  • 222 calories
  • 39g carbs
  • 5g fiber
  • 8g protein
  • 2.5g fat

Fats

The last macronutrient we need to look at are fats. Fats are the most energy-dense, providing us with 9 calories per gram.

While fats often receive a bad rap, the body needs fat for hormone balance, energy production, brain health, temperature regulation, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

How much fat should you consume daily?

The key here is to stick to healthy fat sources while staying away from trans and hydrogenated fats which are commonly found in pastries, margarine, as well as fried and processed foods.

For a balanced diet, strive to consume about 20-35% of your daily calories from healthy fats.

  • For a 2,000 calorie diet, if you follow the recommended 20-35% guideline, this would mean you would consume 44-78 grams of fat per day.

If you want to consume less fat, remove 20% by doing the following:

  • Step 1 - Multiply how many calories you consume per day by 0.20 to know how many calories should be coming from fat. Ex: 2,000 x .20 = 400
  • Step 2: Take the resulting number from the previous equation and divide it by 9 to determine how many grams you should be consuming. Ex: 400/9 = 44g/daily

If you wanted to consume a higher fat diet closer to the 35% guideline:

  • Take 2,000 calories and times that by 0.35. Ex: 2,000 x .35 = 700g.
  • Divide this number by 9. 700/9 = 78 g/daily

Here are five quick and healthy foods high in fat to consider adding to a balanced diet.

5 of the Healthiest & Quickest Foods High in Fat

#1 Avocado

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, making them a great healthy fat choice to add to your balanced diet. They are also rich in dietary fiber and magnesium, and can easily be added to your diet.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Avocado

Try using mashed avocado in place of mayonnaise, enjoy sliced avocado in a salad, blend avocado into a smoothie, or enjoy half of an avocado with freshly squeezed lemon juice for a healthy snack.

Nutritional Breakdown for half of an avocado:

  • 205 calories
  • 8.6g carbs
  • 6.7g fiber
  • 2g protein
  • 20g fat

#2 Almonds

Almonds pack in a hefty dose of antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, and monounsaturated fat.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Almonds

If you’re looking for an easy snack that’s rich in healthy fat to keep you full in between meals, try snacking on a handful of almonds or throwing them on top of your salad.

Nutritional Breakdown for ¼ cup of raw whole almonds:

  • 205 calories
  • 7.6g carbs
  • 4.4g fiber
  • 7.5g protein
  • 18g fat

#3 Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a wonderful high-fat food that comes with a host of health benefits. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

When consumed, these fats go straight to your liver to be used as an immediate source of energy. Not only that, but coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid which has been known to help fight off bacteria and viruses

Quick Ways to Enjoy Coconut Oil

This fat is also very easy to add to your diet as you can easily mix a tablespoon into your morning cup of coffee or tea, or blend it right into your smoothie. This healthy fat also makes an excellent cooking oil.

Nutritional Breakdown for 1 Tbsp. coconut oil:

  • 117 calories
  • 0g carbs
  • 0g fiber
  • 0g protein
  • 14 g fat

#4 Wild-Caught Salmon

Fatty fish like wild-caught salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are fats that we must obtain from our diet.

Omega-3’s hold powerful anti-inflammatory properties to keep inflammation at bay. These fats are also important for brain health.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Salmon

Strive to enjoy wild-caught salmon a couple of times per week, and for a quick and easy meal, you can even use canned wild-caught salmon served with some freshly squeezed lemon juice over a salad.

Nutritional Breakdown for 3 ounces of Atlantic wild salmon:

  • 121 calories
  • 0g carbs
  • 0g fiber
  • 17g protein
  • 5.4g fat

#5 Olives

If you are looking for a snack or a healthy fat to add to your meal, olives are a simple and easy option.

Olives are rich in monounsaturated fatty acid, are a rich source of antioxidants, and their oleic acid content helps support heart health.

Quick Ways to Enjoy Olives

Throw them in your salad, sandwich or just munch on them in between meals. They also make great toppers for cheesy garlic bread or hummus.

Nutritional Breakdown for ¼ cup of olives:

  • 39 calories
  • 2g carbs
  • 1g fiber
  • 0.3g protein
  • 4g fat

How to Stay Motivated and Consistent With Your Diet Choices

Eating a balanced diet doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive, or lack flavor. You can make eating a balanced diet easy, delicious, and fun with just a handful of tips to help you stay on track.

Here are some easy to implement tips to help you stay motivated and consistent with your diet choices.

  • Make a Meal Plan: Making a meal plan is a great way to stay on track. You can map out a week or even a month of meals ahead of time, so you never have to question what’s for dinner after a long day at work. This will streamline your balanced eating, and you will be less likely to grab takeout on your way home.
  • Meal Prep: After you make a meal plan, meal prepping is the next step to making healthy eating much easier. Try to dedicate a few hours over the weekend or when you have a day off to prepare some of the meals on your meal plan. Double or triple the recipes to store them in the freezer to easily reheat when your schedule in crazy during the busy week.
  • Batch Cooking: Batch cooking involves cooking large portions of various foods that you can mix to then create different meals. For example, when you go to the store, stock up on chicken breasts with lots of fresh veggies, herbs, and spices. You can then mix and match ingredients like chicken and broccoli with balsamic vinegar or chicken with bell peppers with an almond butter stir-fry sauce. Prep everything at once and store in the freezer, so you have multiple balanced meals to enjoy throughout the week.
  • Stay on Track at the Grocery Store: When it comes time to go out and stock up on food for the week, stay on track at the grocery store by not going hungry, and having a detailed list. If you can manage to get in and out with just the items you have on your list, you will have a much better chance at staying on track, and saving yourself some cash as well.
  • Pack Your Lunch: If you’re used to eating out for lunch, try to make a new habit of packing your lunch to bring with you to work. Packing your lunch is a great way to pack in a balanced meal in the middle of your day, while also saving you money. It’s a win, win.
  • Prep Healthy Snacks: Snacking is often a pitfall for many people as it’s easy to just grab whatever is available when blood sugar levels plummet. This is where having healthy snacks prepped and ready to go comes in. Try having fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, avocados, and hard-boiled eggs always available for easy snack options to fuel your body with what it needs to support energy and balanced blood sugar.

The Bottom Line

Eating a balanced diet doesn’t have to be super complicated. It also doesn’t have to take a lot of meal preparation time or increase your grocery bill.

Start by looking at your diet and ways that you can include each macronutrient into each meal. Add variety wherever you can while keeping it simple. You will quickly find that finding balance in your diet isn’t all that complicated and that the more balanced you eat, the better you feel.

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1 comments

  • Michael 01:49 PM

    Great information. Thank you

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