Paleo, Keto, Low Carb. The types of diets are endless, and new ones seem to pop up every day. So what are the differences, and which ones are worth my time? We go to the experts in our Diets Deconstructed series.
Below, OhioHealth dietitian Marlys Slone, MS, RD, LD, gives the low-down on counting macros so you can decide if it’s the right diet approach for you.
Counting macros is turning the food you eat into data to reach your weight loss and/or muscle-building goals. Instead of counting the calories of what you consume, you count macronutrients, or macros — carbohydrates, protein and fat — the nutrients that make up the calorie content of food. The focus isn’t on calories, but rather the kind of calories.
Counting macros involves math. First, you must figure out your basal metabolism rate (BMR), the rate your body burns calories. From there you factor in physical activity to calculate a daily calorie target. You then determine what percentage of each macro should make up the daily calories you eat.
The theory behind counting macros is that you can better optimize your diet for your personal needs and goals. Determining a safe and healthy percentage for each macro will depend on things such as age, activity level and health conditions you may have (such as diabetes). You can also modify the ratios of macros to focus on boosting your metabolism, losing weight or building muscle. Fans of the diet also say it helps make you more aware of what you’re eating.
This diet focuses on high-quality foods that pack the most nutritional punch for your macros. Those include whole foods: lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy fats.
There are no banned foods when it comes to counting macros. The diet has room for an occasional treat and eating all foods in moderation. But to keep your energy levels up, not feel hungry, and meet your nutritional needs, healthy foods need to become your go-to favorites. The foods that chew up macros without giving you what you need include:
- Processed foods (all those convenience foods)
- Added sugar (cookies, candy, baked goods, soft drinks)
- Processed meats
- Unhealthy fats (margarine, butter, soybean and corn oil; high-fat red meats and dairy products)
Who It’s For
Counting macros is a good approach for someone who wants to lose weight by learning moderation and portion control of healthy foods, rather than elimination of certain foods or food groups.
Ease of Use
Counting macros takes work. Calculations and daily tracking can become tedious at best, though you may find that counting macros helps keep you accountable and on track.
With a focus on portion control, eating a variety of high-quality food without eliminating certain foods, counting macros may be a diet that’s easier to stick to.
Because you’re eating a variety of whole, high-quality foods, there are no dietary supplements needed when you count macros.
With this diet, as with all healthy diets, exercise is recommended as the diet’s flip side, to help develop a healthy lifestyle.
Overall this diet is safe, nutritious and one that you can use to make healthy eating a life-long habit. It supports portion control and eating all foods in moderation — keys to long-term health. However, the calculations required may sabotage your success. Slone says , a simple graphic that uses portions on a plate to illustrate healthy ratios of macronutrients, does the math for you. She says it’s not so much the math that’s important as it is the overall balance of foods. You should eat to fuel your body, so you feel your best — energetic and healthy.
If you choose to try counting macros, talk to your doctor or to a dietitian about the macro ratios that are right for you.