A Plant-Based Guide to Macronutrients
When studying nutrition, a huge point of focus is macronutrients, or the nutrients you use in the largest amounts. There are three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each macronutrient serves specific purposes, and together they allow your body to thrive. However, when you follow a plant-based diet, your macronutrient ratio will differ from that of the standard American diet. Below, we will break down what each macronutrient does and how much you need of it on a plant-based diet.
Carbohydrates are our primary fuel source, giving us energy, not just for exercise but for our body’s routine processes, including for our brains, muscles, and for breathing. Adults should be aiming for somewhere in the region of 260g a day, which equates to around half of our calories. When it comes to the sourcing of carbohydrates, however, not all sources are created equal. You should strive to get most of your carbohydrates from complex carbohydrates, which are starchy, high-fiber foods that take longer for our body to digest. This allows us to fill fuller for a longer time.
Grains, beans, and most vegetables and fruits are complex carbohydrates, and the fiber they contain is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer. It is also associated with a more steady flow of energy. To increase our complex carbohydrate intake, choose brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and oats, over white rice, white bread, and pasta. It is also important to eat lots of vegetables, beans, and lentils. Some fruits are also good sources of fiber including berries, apples, and bananas.
This is typically the macronutrient that everyone gets questioned about when following a plant-based diet. However, contrary to popular belief, it's quite easy to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. In fact, a lot of research is starting to indicate that it may be more beneficial to get the majority of your protein from plant-based sources instead of meat. Protein is essential for the proper functioning of the body and to provide structure to the tissues, as well as to regulate the metabolic, hormonal, and enzyme systems
On average, adults need around 0.8g of protein per kilo of body weight, which equates to around 45-55g of protein per day. However, current research suggests a higher protein diet may be beneficial and we should aim to consume 1.0 g per kilo of body weight. A great source of vegan protein is soy. This is one of the few sources of plant-based complete protein that can be eaten as edamame, tofu, or tempeh. But all beans are good sources of protein and so are peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Nuts and seeds are also good sources. Grains contain a good amount, too, especially buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, and oats. And let’s not forget vegetables contain protein too, especially Brussels sprouts, sweetcorn, asparagus, and broccoli. When building a meal try to pair a bean with grain in order to get a complete amino acid profile.
Last, but not least, we have fats. Fats help us absorb some vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and are needed to build cell membranes. It is also essential for blood clotting and muscle movement. There are three kinds of fats: monosaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated. We should strive to get the majority of our fats from monosaturated and polyunsaturated sources. The best food sources for these are avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. We want to minimize saturated fat, but this should be relatively easy on a plant-based diet, as most saturated fat is animal based in nature. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fats should make up 20-35% of our total daily calorie intake.