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Ketogenic Diet Macros: Understanding Your Body’s Needs

Keto macros - Keto Function

Considering a ketogenic diet? Before rushing into a low-carb diet, it is important you understand your body’s unique needs by calculating your keto macros, or how much fat, protein, and carbs you will need.

What are macros?

“Macros” is a common shorthand term for macronutrients. Macronutrients is not a term specific to the keto diet — every person consumes macronutrients and every person needs them to survive.

The nutrition that we gain from the food we eat will have both macronutrients and micronutrients.

Contrary to common misbelief, calories are not macronutrients or micronutrients. They are a measurement of the energy we gain from our food. The number of calories we can expect to eat every day will come from a combination of macro and micronutrients.

Macronutrients are nutrients that we need in large quantities. There are three macronutrients, and we depend on them as a primary source of energy for our body. Here are the three types of macros:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or just carbs for short, provide your body with energy in the form of sugar, or glucose. There are two kinds of carbs: simple and complex.

In the average American diet, a lot of simple carbs are consumed. Simple carbs are sugars, and we can find them in candy and baked goods, as well as fruit.

Complex carbs are starches and can be found in potatoes, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables. Diets that are particularly high in carbs often include very processed foods, like pasta, pizza, and sugary candies.

Protein

This macronutrient is essential to building muscle mass. [1] Protein can also help your immune system and help you feel full longer. [2]

Our modern idea of protein is often limited simply to meat. However, dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, are all protein sources. It is also possible to get enough protein from a plant-based diet, using nuts, legumes, and vegan milk varieties such as soy and almond.

Fats

Fats, or lipids, are the third macronutrients and often get a very bad rep. People mistake the idea of fats for the excess fat on your body and assume that foods with fat as a macro will ultimately cause you to gain weight. This is a common misconception, which we will explore a little later.

Lipids come in three forms: saturated, trans, and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are often considered the healthier options and are sometimes referred to as “good fats.”

Common sources of good fats include olives, avocados, nuts, coconut oil, dairy, and meats. Saturated fats are primarily found in meat and dairy products, as well as heavily processed snacks like cookies and crackers.

Trans fats are almost exclusively found in processed foods, like cupcakes, crackers, cookies, cream-filling, fried foods, and frozen dinners. It is also found in large amounts in margarine, which is why many health experts recommend using natural butter as an alternative.

Micronutrients are needed in much lower quantities but are still essential for our health. They work in tandem with macros to optimize our bodily functions. Various micronutrients can improve our vision, revitalize our skin, and help us keep our digestive tract healthy and regular.

Common micronutrients include vitamins, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, folate, niacin, and potassium. These are essential, and many can also be obtained from a good electrolyte supplement.

Keto Macros: How They’re Different

Although every person on every diet can anticipate eating carbs, fat, and protein daily, the amount of each nutrient required varies from person to person.

In an average American diet, carbs are by far the most prominent macronutrient. Up to 65% of the average American diet will consist of carbs. With a diet like this, your body will be in carb-burning mode, meaning it will be using the carbs you consume as a primary source of energy, making it hard to burn existing fat reserves.

A keto diet shakes this up completely. Under a keto diet, your macros will be divided like this: predominantly fats, a moderate amount of protein, and trace numbers of carbs.

Diets will vary from person to person but, in general, a person in ketosis will need carbs to make up less than ten percent of their daily calorie intake.

But wait, you might be wondering, aren’t fats bad for you? Are they not what cause you to become fat?

The short answer is no. The fats that you eat are not the same as the excess fat on your body. Having a diet that is high in fat will not necessarily cause your body to become fat. In fact, when you eat high amounts of fat and very low amounts of carbs, your body becomes “fat adapted,” and you will often notice weight loss. [3]

This is because when your body is fat adapted, it will no longer be depending on a steady intake of carbs as an energy source. Without carbs to burn, though, it will begin to look for an alternative energy source — the fat that already exists on your body.

Although a keto diet will often involve more fat than the standard American diet (up to 80% percent and at least 65%), it is still important to make smart choices about where your fats come from.

Good fats are strongly encouraged over saturated fats and although meat is a primary food source for keto dieters, choosing leaner options is always wise.

While the lots-of-fats-some-protein-minimal-carbs model is the essential template for a keto diet, the actual breakdown of macros is going to vary from person to person. Even on a specific diet, things must be individualized. You can start planning your meals and keto shopping lists by calculating your needed keto macros.

How do I calculate keto macros?

Calculating your keto macros can be a tricky process, especially if you are new to a keto diet and might not know a lot of essential information about your own body.

Of course, you may never be able to calculate your needed macros to a tee. The best solution is to get a strong estimate, try things out, and make changes if something does not feel right.

You can start by using an online keto macros calculator. We love using this one because it is fairly comprehensive and is catered to keto dieters. Using a non-keto calculator to calculate macros for keto will likely give you a breakdown that’s far too carb heavy to get you into the state of ketosis.

This calculator will ask you several questions about health, including your height, weight, gender, and activity level. There are also advanced fields, such as your net carb intake, as well as the percentage of your body weight that comes from fat. The average person may not be able to answer these questions, but if you think you can give a reasonable estimate, it can make your breakdown all the more accurate.

Once you have your keto macros calculated, you can begin to consider dietary choices that accommodate these macros.

For general guidance, the average keto macros ratios or percentages are 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs.

How can I start cutting out carbs?

The keto diet is so beneficial to the human body, but that does not mean it is necessarily easy for newbies to adjust. After all, the American diet is based around eating exceptionally high amounts of carbs, and carb-heavy options can be found everywhere from school cafeterias to coffee shops to upscale restaurants.

Carbs might be everywhere, but once you adapt to your keto diet, you will likely feel so great, you will not miss the days where pizza deliveries and sugary drinks were dietary staples.

Until then, though, it is normal if you find things challenging. Before taking the plunge and committing to a diet where less than a tenth of your calorie intake is from carbs, instead start making choices that will help you slowly replace carbs with protein and fats.

Swap your chips and cookies for low-carb alternatives, like almonds, vegetables, and dip or a cheese plate.

With a little bit of research, you can also find keto-friendly alternatives to your favorite carb-loading treats both online and in various stories. From pizza and pasta to desserts like pies and smoothies, you can find recipes or pre-made products that offer the same delicious taste but are made with exclusively keto-friendly ingredients. Often, brands who focus on keto-acceptable foods will also take other steps to make their products optimal for your health, by only using grass-fed meat, choosing organic ingredients, and so on. Curious about sugar alcohols in keto products? Learn more here.

Once you feel comfortable enough to go from the stage of “fewer carbs” to “almost no carbs,” you can begin to look at ways to meet the necessary macros for a keto diet.

How do I fulfill my macros?

The keto diet is often dependent on meat, dairy, eggs, avocados, and oils like MCT, coconut, or olive. Some products that are heavy in fats and ideal for keto include full-fat cheese, heavy cream, seafood, poultry, yogurt, and beef.

Some keto dieters go for fatty cuts of meat but, as said above, you can still choose leaner meats if you would like. Ultimately, good fats are still essential to keto diets and should not be overlooked.

Some plant-based keto options include oils (olive oil, MCT oil, and coconut oil are popular choices), nuts, seeds and low-carb fruits and vegetables including spinach, kale, avocados, Brussels sprouts, and other leafy greens. Smaller quantities of broccoli, cauliflower, and berries are acceptable as well, although it is important not to go overboard, as these foods are a higher source of carbs.

If you are concerned that your diet may become a never-ending cycle of overcooked chicken breast, wilting leafy greens, and runny scrambled eggs, you have no reason to fear. The keto diet can be as diverse, unique, and delicious as any standard American diet is.

Overall, you can still enjoy a full palette of tastes and flavors with this low-carb diet. Enjoy savory meals like smoked salmon or bacon and cheese omelets; enjoy sweets with keto-friendly fat bombs and almond milk smoothies, or go for something lighter like grilled chicken and leafy green salads with an olive oil or MCT dressing.

Conclusion

Ultimately, food is your fuel. The choices you make when it comes to how you fuel your body are essential to your health. By cutting carbs — both simple and complex — from your keto diet plan and instead focus on fats (both saturated and unsaturated) and protein for each meal, you can shift your entire metabolic state. In doing so, your body and mind can enjoy the enhanced energy and clarity that comes from burning fat, rather than staying dependent on a constant stream of carbs to leave you fulfilled.

If you believe you have any special concerns to be taken into consideration when calculating your keto diet macros and finding enough ways to fulfill them, speak to your doctor. They can help you determine your unique dietary needs and restrictions, your body fat percentage, and other useful information that can help you on your keto diet journey.

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4960974/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2105184
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5506682/

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