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What is a Healthy Carb Protein Fat Ratio?

By Kris Roudebush
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Casual dining and fast food portions have worked with various fad diets to distort our understanding of what we should eat and in what portion sizes. There can be dangerous consequences from radically reducing or increasing our carb protein fat ratio over an extended period of time. Still, many people focused on their diets focus on a proper carb protein fat ratio. People disagree on what the proper ratio is, but most agree it is 40-45% carbohydrates or carbs, 25-30% protein and 30-35% fat each day. Each macronutrient is important so let’s look at why.

Carbs, short for carbohydrates, are a ready and easy supply of energy since they break down quickly. Most carbs will digest completely in about two hours. With that in mind, you should eat carbs that are high in fiber to slow the rush of sugar to the blood stream.

Simple carbs, like low and no fat chips, cookies, and snacks are usually high in calories, but low in nutrients like fiber. If eaten in excess, simple carbs will be stored as fat in the body. This is where carbs get their bad reputation.

Carbs supply much needed energy to the heart, brain and kidneys which is why they play a prominent role in the healthy carb protein fat ratio. A severe lack of carbs will cause our bodies to take additional measures to get the energy it needs. Our bodies will attempt to remove the carbs from our muscles, causing muscle loss.

Proteins should be eaten in portions about the size of a deck of cards. Three to four of these portions will provide 60-80 grams (2.1 to 2.8 ounces) of the protein needed each day. If you’re trying to build muscle, it’s a good idea to add a few more grams of protein each day to promote muscle growth. Children should also take in a little more protein.

Fats break down into the good, the bad and the ugly. The really horrible fats are trans-fats which should be avoided entirely. They promote an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the bad kind) and reduce high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the good kind). When looking to add fats to your diet be on the look out for the ingredients. Don't just rely on a label that says no trans-fat because foods with half a gram (0.02 ounce) of trans-fats or less are labeled as trans-fat free. Trans-fats include anything that is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.

Saturated fats are not as heart healthy as mono-unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, but they are important and as much as 10% of your fat intake can come from saturated fats. You’ll find that a lot of animal fats, including fat from dairy products, are saturated fats.

Finally, there’s the good. Extra virgin olive oil is good for our hearts in moderation. Most nut, canola, grape seed, and avocado oils are also good sources of fat. The usual rule of thumb for fats is you don’t get a lot of them, so make them count.

Whenever we examine what we should be eating we should be looking for a healthy carb protein fat ratio. Your plate should be about one half healthy carbs such as a vegetable or salad, one-fourth lean protein like chicken, and finally, one fourth should be a starchy food like bread, potatoes, or brown rice.

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Discussion Comments

By anon189568 — On Jun 23, 2011

"Diets alone generally don't work..." Except in ketogenic diets. In ketosis, the body is forced to burn fat to supply ketones to use for energy. Even among people who don't exercise, there is very little muscle loss.

On the high carb/low fat diet where not enough calories are provided (the standard American weight loss plan doomed to failure), the body will eat its own muscles, converting the body's own protein into glycogen to use for energy.

The ratio for a ketogenic diet is 4:1 (four parts fat to one part protein/carbohydrate combined). This diet is used not only for weight loss, but it also being studied as a way to reduce tumor size in certain types of cancer (cancer cells thrive on glucose and starve on ketones), and a very effective treatment for epilepsy.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that a ketogenic diet leads to heart disease or kidney failure. The ketogenic diet has been studied and used by doctors since the 1930s or 40s to treat epilepsy, and those doctors are not reporting high rates of heart disease or cancer or any diet related health problems in their patients.

By anon113888 — On Sep 26, 2010

anon65772: you are right to say the body has two sources when there is a lack of carbs. And it is misleading to mention muscle as the only source of energy - but your post is a little misleading too when you say it is natural to burn fat when carbs are not available.

It is, but it is probably fairer to say the body will tend to burn a mixture of muscle/fat in most people. Diets alone generally don't work because when weight loss is in part from muscle loss, the basic metabolic rate falls, meaning you burn off calories slower. More muscle = higher basic metabolic rate = higher calorie burn which is why any diet should be complimented with exercise to replenish any muscle loss.

In cases where a diet is low fat, low carb and no exercise then it will be predominantly muscle loss that contributes to the weight loss. The body needs fat for a variety of reasons and it will try and keep hold of that because the low fat diet isn't providing enough. The body in that case will prefer to use muscle and break the proteins in that down to carbs.

By anon65772 — On Feb 15, 2010

The lack of carbs will cause the body to get energy from two sources muscle, yes, but also fat. Fat is the body's natural way to store energy. Therefore, it is natural to burn fat when carbs are not available. It is inaccurate and misleading to only mention muscle as a source of energy.

By anon41099 — On Aug 12, 2009

Some articles discuss ratios based on calories and others based on weight. Most, like yours, do not specify. It would be helpful to be clear about this measure.

By anon39145 — On Jul 30, 2009

What a great article, thanks Kris! I came here searching for the ratio because I eat about 50 percent carbs, 25 percent fat, 25 percent protein and wanted to see if that is healthy, normal, whatever. You provided a lot more information about the nutrients. Thanks!

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