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Understanding Macronutrients: It's Easier Than it Sounds!

"Using these guidelines, we hope getting the right nutrients in your diet will be just a little simpler."

Today on the Dr. Nancy Lin Show she goes deeper into showing how to incorporate her anti-inflammatory diet into each meal – breaking down each macronutrient, and removing the mystery surrounding macronutrient serving-size. Dr. Nancy will demonstrate how much of each specific macronutrient we should be eating, and much more.

We’ll also share a great recipe for a delicious high protein shrimp (or chicken) bowl that shows how easy it is to make sure you are getting enough macronutrients in each meal! 

Video Highlights

  • 02:14: Introduction
  • 03:33: Macronutrients
  • 08:23: Protein
  • 12:29: High-Protein Shrimp or Chicken Quinoa Bowl
  • 13:27: Homemade Vinaigrette
  • 14:36: Estimating Serving Size
  • 18:47: Carbohydrates
  • 27:46: Carbohydrate serving sizes
  • 29:24: Fat
  • 31:40: Four types of fat
  • 38:41: Measuring portions with your hand
  • 39:49: Wrap-up


There are so many things we are told we need to consider when deciding what to eat, the number of decisions we need to make is really staggering! How many calories per serving? How much sodium? How many carbs? Are they complex carbs or simple carbs, how many grams of fat does it have? Is it good fat or bad fat?  Is it organic, is it all-natural? Did I make sure there are no GMO’s in it? Prebiotic? Probiotic? Does it cause inflammation? Does it prevent inflammation? Is it gluten-free? Does it contain the right amount of micronutrients — meaning vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants? How about macronutrients… does it have the right amount of those, too? Wait...Macronutrients — what is a macronutrient and why do we keep hearing that term?

There are so many things to think about, it can drive you crazy. We don’t you to feel crazy! We want to help you make your life healthy, but as easy as possible. That’s why Dr. Nancy put together herAnti-inflammatory E-Guide for you. It’s easy to follow and lays out which foods to include and which foods to avoid in your diet. Now, let’s talk about macronutrients.

What are Macronutrients?

“Macro” means “large part of the overall”, and it’s what we’re mainly focused on when choosing what to eat. Macronutrients — or macros, for short, are simply for carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It’s just a term nutritionists use to refer to these three things. So it’s not a scary term, it’s just food.

Macronutrients are what provide calories and energy for life. So, basically, pretty much everything you eat can be broken down into these three macronutrient categories: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins — all of which are essential for your health and wellness.

So, let's take a quick look at each of these essential macronutrients to learn a little more about how each helps or hurts us, discover quality sources of each, and discuss serving sizes.

We recently talked aboutpreventing muscle loss as we age and the importance of protein, so let’s start there 


You’ve heard it before, but protein truly is the building block of muscle and helps to repair your cells and tissues; you also might be surprised to know that protein is essential for healthy production of hormones and helps to make enzymes required to support important functions carried out by your immune system. And many people as they age get less and less in their diet, which is not good.

Macronutrients, including protein, provide energy and fuel to the body — they do this in the form of calories; protein has 4 calories per gram, and makes up about 15% of a healthy person’s body weight.

If you watched the video onmuscle loss (called sarcopenia), you know that we recommend eating at least 30 grams of protein at each meal. For some people, that might seem like it’s a lot of protein, but it’s not. For some reason, we tend to think we need less protein as we get older, but really, but we actually need more to sustain and build muscle mass.

While protein is commonly found inanimal products like meat and eggs, there are alsoseveral great vegetarian options as well, including nuts, quinoa, lentils, and beans.

For an example of what 30 grams of protein per meal looks like, let’s look at Dr. Nancy’s high-protein shrimp or chicken quinoa bowl.

High-Protein Shrimp or Chicken Quinoa Bowl

This is very simple to make! Simply preparecilantro quinoa and beans and top it with 4 ounces of grilled shrimp or chicken and an avocado, then serve it over 2 cups of chopped romaine lettuce. Add a squeeze of lime, some chopped cilantro, and a golf-ball sized serving of your favorite vinaigrette. You can even make your vinaigrette at home!

Homemade Vinaigrette

  • 1 part favorite vinegar to 3 parts olive oil
  • Add a little Dijon mustard, some chopped garlic, and a drop or two raw, local honey and salt and pepper to taste
  • Any optional herbs and spices you like
  • Add all those ingredients to a mason jar and shake it up

Estimating Serving Size

One serving of lean meat or fish, like salmon, tuna, chicken breast, or turkey, is about 4 ounces, which is roughly the size of the palm of your hand — or about the size of a deck of cards and 150 - 250 calories depending on how lean the meat is. 

4 ounces of lean meat is also equivalent to:

  •    5 egg whites or 2 two whole eggs and 3 egg whites
  •    If you do dairy, 1 cup of organic Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  •    ¾ cup of black or kidney beans or chickpeas


We hear a lot about the dangers of carbohydrates, but not all carbs are bad or dangerous. Yes, too many carbs, or too much of the wrong type of carbohydrates can lead to significant health issues, including blood sugar issues, diabetes, fatigue, metabolic syndrome, and can even contribute to chronic inflammation throughout the body.

However, when consumed from healthy sources, known ascomplex carbohydrates, carbs are essential for optimal health and energy, and specifically provide energy to your brain and muscles. 

In fact, of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are the ones you need the most of — they are the primary source of fuel for your body and should make up between 45 and 60% of the calories you consume in a day. We need extra calories to prevent muscle wasting too — complex carbohydrates, as well ashealthy fats, are both a great way to get those extra calories!

Like protein, carbohydrates contain 4 calories of energy per gram.  In our body, starches and sugars from carbohydrates are broken down in the digestive system to glucose.

Glucose is the fuel that provides energy and powers all of the body’s functions.  While all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, there is a huge difference between complex and simple carbohydrates. Actually, these are more often referred to as “good” carbohydrates and “bad” carbohydrates. 

For the purposes of health and sustained energy, we want to eat more “good” carbs and fewer “bad” carbs.  Good carbs or complex carbohydrates are foods that are high in fiber. Foods like sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, quinoa, oatmeal, and organic vegetables and fruits like broccoli, leafy greens, peas, beets, and apples. Carbohydrates from these sources take longer to break down by the body and also take longer to burn as energy, especially when compared to simple carbohydrates such as sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk as well as brown sugar, white sugar, honey, and any sugar added to foods during processing. These simple or “bad” carbs are quickly converted to glucose and causeblood sugar and insulin levels to spike and crash and contribute tofatigue,brain fog, lack of energy, and other long-term health issues.

So how many good carbohydrates do we need each day? That is a great question — instead of specifically counting carbohydrates, dietitians now recommend planning meals using the “Healthy Plate.” At each meal, half of the plate should be filled with vegetables and a quarter of the plate should be filled with whole grains. And white potatoes or french fries don’t count as vegetables! The last quarter, or 30% of the plate should be protein — meat, fish, beans, or nuts. 

Some serving sizes to be aware of for carbohydrates:

  • One serving of quinoa or brown rice is 1/2 cup, about the size of a tennis ball.
  • One serving of fruit is 1 medium fruit, about the same size.
  • One serving of vegetables is 1 cup, or about the size of a baseball.


The final, macronutrient is fat. Like carbohydrates, fat tends to get a bad rap, but not all fat is bad. Healthy fat is your friend! It’s important to point out that fat is calorically dense. It actually has 9 calories per gram — more than twice the calories of carbohydrates or proteins — so we obviously don’t need as much fat in our diet. But we do needsome fat — and the right types of fat — in our diet in order to be healthy.  Dietary fat is essential as: 

  •    A source of energy
  •    A source of essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot make
  •    A component of cell walls
  •    A way to absorb fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K
  •    A way to insulate our bodies and protect our organs

Fat tends to be considered “bad” because it is associated with weight gain, heart disease, and high cholesterol. However, certain types of fat give protective benefits to the heart if appropriate portions are consumed. The key is to understand how to choose the right amount of each type of fat.

There are four types of fat:

Saturated fat

Saturated fats are generally solid or waxy at room temperature and come mostly from animal products, with the exception of tropical oils. Taking in too much saturated fat is linked with raising levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) in the blood and increasing internal inflammation. Healthy adults should limit their saturated fat intake to no more than 5-10% of total calories.

Trans fat

Trans fatty acids are formed when a liquid fat is changed into a solid fat through a process called hydrogenation. Many manufacturers use hydrogenated oils as an ingredient because it extends the shelf life and consistency of foods. Trans fat will raise levels of  LDL cholesterol and decrease levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). There are no safe levels of trans fat to eat each day, so try to avoid trans fat completely.

Unsaturated fat (Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats)

These fats are usually liquid at room temperature. Sources of unsaturated fat include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered healthy fats as they can help lower cholesterol levels and help to reduce levels of inflammation in your body

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fat

These fats come from plant-based sources and include:

  •    Olive oil
  •    Nuts and nut butters
  •    Olives
  •    Avocado

If you’ve watched our shows before, you know that Omega-3 fats are also a type of polyunsaturated fat that have benefits for your heart and are associated with lowering inflammation in the body. Cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna contain omega-3 fats. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fats include flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

One serving of any fat has 45 calories and 5 grams of fat. Examples include:

  •    1 tsp. olive oil or avocado oil
  •    1 tbsp. salad dressing
  •    1 tbsp. seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
  •    16 pistachios
  •    10 peanuts
  •    6 almonds, cashews, or mixed nuts
  •    4 pecans or walnuts halves
  •    2 tbsp. avocado
  •    2 tbsp. natural peanut butter
  •    8 to 10 olives

One serving of olive oil, salad dressing, or butter is 1 tablespoon, or about the size of the space between the tip of the thumb to the first joint.  

One serving of nuts is 1 ounce, or about the size of a golf ball.

You really want 25 - 30% of your total caloric intake to come from healthy fats like nuts and nut butter, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, and seeds.

Measuring portions with your hand

So we’ve given you some simple tools to ensure you are eating the right amount of macronutrients, but here’s one more: no props needed, just your hands. Your protein serving should be the size of your palm, your vegetable serving should be the size of your fist, carbs should fill your cupped hand, and fats should be about the size of your thumb.

Wrap Up 

Today we talked about making sure you are eating the right amounts of macronutrients for optimal health. Macronutrients are the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins found in nearly every food you eat. You can find a simple guide to these foods in theanti-inflammatory e-guide.

We also talked about the benefits of each, dispelled some common myths to learn that all carbs and fats are not bad, right? We showed you a number of ways to ensure you are eating the right serving size of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. There are multiple ways to measure this, but the easiest way is to just use your hand as a guide. 

  • A serving of protein: size of your palm
  • A serving of fat: size of your thumb
  • A serving of carbs: size of your cupped hand
  • A serving of vegetables: size of your fist 

We also showed you a great shrimp/chicken bowl that’s loaded with protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Using these guidelines, we hope getting the right nutrients in your diet will be just a little simpler! 

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