What are Macronutrients?

Have you ever heard the term “counting macros” and thought to yourself “I have no idea what that means”? Fear not! It is the simple concept of counting energy that comes from food, AKA calories. This blog post will briefly talk about what macronutrients are, where they come from and in what forms, and why we need them.

There are three different categories of macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat.

Macronutrients are nutrients that provide energy to maintain the body’s structures, systems and function. Energy is referred to as calories. Macronutrients mean that our bodies need these nutrients in large amounts compared to micronutrients like vitamin C or sodium. Our bodies need calories to help sustain our daily lives and activities such as walking, running, talking, playing sports and so much more. Believe it or not, just sitting or sleeping requires energy. Our bodies’ systems require energy on a metabolic level, which are the most basic life-sustaining functions such as breathing.

Carbohydrates are actually our bodies’ main source of energy. Despite the bad coverage they receive in the media, carbohydrates are a part of a well-rounded and balanced diet (#carbsarefriends). Carbohydrates can naturally be found in grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables. They are also present in refined flour, crackers, cookies, bread, cereals, fruit juices, sodas and candy; these are foods to enjoy in moderation. But how many calories do carbohydrates provide?! One gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories.

Protein plays an important role in our bodies’ cellular structures such as muscle, hair, nails, organs and skin to name a few. Protein sources include meat, dairy products, eggs, seafood, soy products, nuts and some grains and legumes. The current dietary recommendation is to limit red meats 1-2 times a week and allowing other days to incorporate different sources of protein.  Same as carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein provides 4 calories.

Dietary fats or lipids are a key nutrient that allows our bodies to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Lipids are the most calorically dense macronutrient, coming in at 9 calories per 1 gram! Fats contribute to brain and heart health but not all fats are the same. There are different types of fat, which you may have heard be labeled either “good” or “bad”. Below is a breakdown of the different types.

  • Saturated fats are mainly found in animal foods, dairy and a few plant-based foods such as coconut. These have gained the “bad” fat reputation but there are recent studies that suggest saturated fats might not be as harmful as they were reported to be. The current recommendations state that saturated fats should be limited as they may contribute to the risk of heart disease.
  • Unsaturated fats are the ones that have been labeled “good” or “healthy fats” because they contain essential fats that serve as structural parts of cell membranes and as precursors to longer fatty acids. The longer fatty acids play a role in blood pressure regulation, blood clot formation, brain and eye function, cognitive development and the body’s immune system response to any injuries and infections. Unsaturated fats are found in certain types of oils such as olive and sunflower oil, and foods such as avocados, salmon, trout, olives and walnuts The two kinds of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – both of which provide essential lipids.

All in all, there is no food macronutrient group that trumps the others. We need all three to provide our bodies with fuel to help us function and live our best life all year long.


Carbohydrates. (2019, May 22). The Nutrition Source https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/

Nutrition. (2018, April 18). Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/nutrition.html

Rolfes, S. R., Pinna, K., & Whitney, E. (2014). Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (10th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Types of Fat. (2018, July 24). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/

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