To understand nutritional balance—think of an incredibly delicious cake! You can’t make a delicious cake by putting just flour, or just eggs, or just sugar and spices into the oven! It’s the balance of these ingredients, combined together in the oven, that makes a delicious cake possible.
Your body is similar!
Your body is an incredible machine that does so many things—allowing you to move, talk, think, work, play, and more. But all those things are only made possible when your body has the right balance and mix of ingredients to work with!
So often, when it comes to nutritional health, people first want to focus on how much they should eat. But it’s often much more helpful to focus first on balancing what you eat. Once you’ve learned how to balance your diet, the “how much” part is much easier.
Nutritional Balance & Macronutrients
You have likely heard the term “a balanced diet”—but what does that even mean?
Foremostly, it means that the human body needs and thrives on three basic types of food. These three types of food are called the three basic “macronutrients”. And you’re typically going to need a substantial amount of each macronutrient (and a rough balance between the three) in your diet every day in order to be healthy!
What are these three macronutrients?
Each macronutrient contributes crucially to the body’s everyday basic functions. So it pays to take each macronutrient seriously!
We’ll break down the definitions, purpose, pitfalls, and basic concerns surrounding each macronutrient. And then we’ll discuss strategies for how to “balance” your diet between them.
Carbohydrates, or “carbs”, are essentially any food source that your body can break down into “glucose”.
This glucose enters the bloodstream, where the body can use it for bodily energy! If /when there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, however, the body will convert the extra glucose into bodily fat that it can use later as energy.
Carbs are often rated and categorized according to a few factors, such as:
- how fast they deliver glucose to the bloodstream
- how filling they are
- how much gut-healthy fiber they provide the body
- how many micronutrients (vitamins and healthy minerals) they provide to the body.
(Protein and fats, while important, typically don’t carry all the needed micronutrients your body needs and often don’t provide much in the way of fiber.)
These carb-categorization factors have led carbs to be broken down into three general groupings:
|Fastest-available form of glucose/energy.
Usually doesn’t contain much, if any, micronutrients or fiber.
Not very filling. So you are more likely to eat a lot of simple carbs in one sitting.
|Fairly-fast source of glucose/energy.
May contain some fiber and some micronutrients.
Quite filling. They often make up the “base” of a meal.
|Slowest available source of glucose/energy.
Often rich in fiber and micronutrients.
Very filling. So much so that it can be hard to get your full glucose/energy needs met with just complex carbs.
Sodas, chips, white breads, pizza crusts, candy, most desserts.
Potatoes, rice, pasta, breads, and cereals
Vegetables, legumes, grains
|Especially when we’re hungry or tired—it’s easy to reach for simple carb food sources first because they are often very tasty and, biologically, the “glucose” gets into our bloodstream
Special note: Fruit, despite being classified as a simple carb, does have more nutritional value than most simple carbs!
While fruit juices provide micronutrients, but little fiber, raw fruit provides some fiber along with the micronutrients, which helps the body absorb the glucose a little more slowly.
|Most cultures have one or more staple “starches” that make up a large portion of their cultural diet.
(i.e. Potatoes in Northern Europe and Northern Asia, wheat bread in Southern Europe, rice in Central Asia, yams in West Africa, South America, and many island cultures, etc.)
Some starches are, it should be noted, much more healthy than others. Whole-grain breads and brown rice, for example, provide more fiber and healthy micronutrients to the body than white-flour pastas, white rice, and simple, sugar-laden cereals.
|The best way to eat complex carbs is to diversify them, as different complex carbs provide different macronutrients (i.e. lots of Vitamin A in carrots and lots of Vitamin C in broccoli). Additionally, having a healthy, but diverse diet helps support your gut health!|
The biggest concern with carbs is generally that, when people have too many simple carbs in their diet (especially when those simple carbs aren’t balanced out with fiber and other macros in the same meal), they lose out on fiber, micronutrients, store more energy as fat, and spike their blood sugar more often.
Spiking your blood sugar with simple carbs, especially when eaten in the absence of fiber, can gradually teach your body to be insulin-resistant, which may eventually lead to type II diabetes.
Another concern in the health community, especially among those looking to lower their body fat levels, is that if you eat too many carbs (simple, starch, or complex), then your body will always use the carbs you eat for energy and not burn your stored fat.
“Fats” are any food source that is made of what chemistry calls “fatty-acids”.
The word “fat” has lots of negative connotations, but don’t let that bias you against this important macronutrient!
Your body needs fatty acids, regularly deposited through your diet, to:
- Absorb vital nutrients
- Support vital cell growth, nerve growth, and hormone production
- Keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels under control
- Protect your various organs
- Provide your body with a slower form of energy than carbs
That said, some fats are much, much healthier for you than others. The categories of fat are:
Monounsaturated & Polyunsaturated Fats
|Very unhealthy||Rather Unhealthy||Healthy|
|This kind of fat is known to increase LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in the human body, especially in the heart.||This kind of fat, when isolated, tends to be solid at room temperature and is known to increase LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in the human body and heart.||This kind of fat is known to lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and raise HDL (or “good”) cholesterol in the human body and heart.|
Trans fats are often found in fried foods, processed foods, and in many dairy products, especially.
Dark meat, especially fatty cuts of meat (like bacon or pork shoulder), high-fat dairy, coconut oil, and egg yolks,
Avocados, almonds, walnuts flax seeds, chia seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish
|Many countries, including the United States, have passed laws creating limits on trans fat content in commercial foods.||The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 13g of saturated fat in your diet per day.||Dietitians recommend that the bulk of the fat in your diet come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat sources.|
How much fat (especially healthy fat) it is best to have overall in your diet varies from person to person and, sometimes, depends on what you are trying to accomplish with your body (more on that later).
Professional dietitians’ greatest concern around dietary fat is typically the over-consumption of trans and saturated fats. Hyper-palatable, ready-to-eat foods and fast foods often contain higher levels of saturated and trans fats. And a diet filled with these foods contributes significantly to obesity, cardiovascular problems, and other health issues.
Protein is the last macronutrient and, like the others, it provides crucial nutritional value to the body!
You may already know that protein helps you build muscles; what you may not know is that protein also helps build and repair cells and tissues all over your body as well as building hormones, like insulin, estrogen, and more. Additionally, protein sources often provide important B vitamins and minerals to your body.
Without protein, your body simply can’t maintain itself the way it needs to in order to be healthy!
Luckily, protein is available in both plant and animal sources. And different sources of protein provide different advantages and disadvantages.
|Red/Dark Meat||White Meat||Dairy Protein|
|Red and dark meat, while often an excellent source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, is often higher in saturated fat.
Most dietitians recommend a consuming limited amount of red/dark meat in your daily diet—perhaps only as much as the volume of “a deck of cards”.
|White meat, in addition to providing B12 vitamins, is praised as being healthy for both the brain and the heart.||Different types of dairy protein can vary widely in terms of saturated fat content, sodium, and helpful micronutrients such as calcium, making some dairy sources of protein much healthier than others.||Protein from plant sources, though often lacking in certain vitamins like B12, often come combined with fiber, valuable micronutrients, healthy phytochemicals, and other nutritional pluses!|
*Eggs, while not technically dairy products, are often lumped into this category.
Eggs can provide lots of healthy protein and micronutrients, but their yolks typically also contain saturated fat.
How do I Balance My Macronutrients?
Carbs, fats, protein—how do you balance them?
We wish there was a one-macro-nutrient-ratio-fits-all suggestion that we could give you (we’ll give you a starting point in a minute). But the truth is, you’ll need to find the balance that’s right for you—your body, your lifestyle, and your goals.
How do I keep track?
As you learn to maintain a balanced diet, it often helps to keep a nutritional journal or, even easier (cause it will do the math for you), a nutrition-tracking app.
If you’re worried about getting overwhelmed, take it slow! If you’re just beginning your nutritional health journey, just use these tools to just help you be aware of what you are eating at first. Focus on building that habit of awareness before you start working on changing your eating habits.
Many dietitians recommend the following as a standard:
45-65% Carbohydrates + 10-35% Protein + 20-35% Fat = 100% of your daily diet
If you’ve never tracked or tried to balance your macros before, this is a good place to start. Once you feel confident in your ability to maintain this macronutrient balance, you can begin experimenting with other ratios based on more specific bodily needs and health goals.
Guidance from Your DNA
What is your body’s favorite macronutrient?
Did you know that your body is built to benefit more from certain macronutrients than others? The DNA you carry from birth sets up your body to benefit from or “utilize” certain macronutrients more efficiently than other macronutrients!
Once you know what your body’s genetic predispositions are, you can adjust your macronutrient balance to be more ideal for your body!
Real life examples:
|Sarah – Cutting Carbs||Jon – Tackling the Fats|
|Sarah, a single working woman, had been wanting to increase her energy levels and improve her nutritional health for some time. She knew diet was important, even more important than exercise, but had no idea how her body handled different macronutrients.
After taking iTOVi’s DNA test and getting the reports back, she could clearly see that her body was not set up to utilize carbs very well! She still needed some carbs in her diet to provide fiber and micronutrients, but she adjusted her macro-goals to 30% carbs, 35% protein, and 35% fat. Her new macro-ratio took some getting used to, but she has loved the experience of taking care of her body in a more personalized way!
|Jon, a busy, working father, had a friend highly recommend a high-fat, ketosis-targeted diet to him as a way to lose weight. A month later, Jon had gained significantly more weight! Something wasn’t working.
After getting his DNA tested with iTOVi, Jon discovered that his body was simply not set up to utilize dietary fat efficiently! Looking into his levels of dietary fat, Jon realized he was getting a lot of fat in his diet from processed foods. He set about eating more unprocessed foods, emphasizing more healthy carbs and proteins in his diet. And as a result, he quickly lost all the weight he had gained on the high-fat diet and more!
There are a lot of factors that can affect what macro balance may be ideal for you—DNA, DNA expression, lifestyle, and more! So, to find your ideal macro balance, you may need to experiment a little.
Don’t change too much at once (or, goodness forbid, throw one macronutrient out altogether). But feel free to try different macro ratios for a few days or weeks to see how you feel!
Feel better daily energy levels when you change up your carb sources or levels? If so, great! Keep at it! Experiencing fewer headaches or more success in weight management when you up your protein intake? Good for you!
Take pride in getting to know your body better! Because the better you know your body, through little macronutrient experiments or regular iTOVi scans, the better you will be able to take care of it and live your best life!
There may be times when you temporarily alter your macro balance to help you work towards specific goals.
For example, you may choose to eat a greater percentage of carbs when you know you have a high-energy-burning day ahead of you. You may choose to up your protein to maximize your workout gains! Or, you may be looking to support your hormones or encourage ketosis by eating more healthy fats!
Go for it!
You don’t have to be married to one set ratio for your macro balance, eating that way all the time. You can change things up! When you do, just be aware, be intentional, and let your love for your body be your ultimate reason for anything nutritional or lifestyle changes you make!
Balancing Your Micronutrients
Your macros aren’t the only things that need balancing.
Your body also needs adequate and balanced amounts of micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, and other “smaller” ingredients—in order to stay optimally healthy.
This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have variety in your diet! Varying your “macro” sources—getting different sources of carbs, proteins, and fats into your diet—will help you keep up a healthy profile of micronutrients.
For example, chicken breast is a great healthy choice of protein! In addition to the protein content, a chicken breast provides your body with iron, zinc, and vitamin B12! But then, if you only ever got your protein from chicken breasts, you could miss out on other micronutrients, like the healthy omega-6s in salmon, the Vitamin A and copper in liver protein, or the potassium and magnesium in pumpkin seeds or beans!
As another example, quinoa is a wonderfully healthy carb with lots of healthy minerals. But if you prioritize quinoa too much, getting most of your daily carbs from quinoa, you could miss out on the folate and calcium in broccoli, the vitamin C and antioxidants in citrus fruits, and other micronutrients from other carb sources!
Strive for a healthy varied diet.
Your body will thank you for it.
If (perhaps due to troubling symptoms or your doctor’s advice) you’re particularly worried about getting enough of a particular micronutrient (or getting too much of a particular micronutrient, like salt/iodine), a nutrition-tracking app like Noom, WeightWatchers, or MyFitnessPal can be very helpful.
You may also choose to bolster your micronutrient intake with supplements (multivitamins or specific supplements). If you want to use dietary supplements, just be sure to check with your doctor first, read all the safety information, follow safety guidelines, and note that it often takes a few weeks of regular intake with any supplement to see or feel a significant difference.