There are three types of nutrients -- called macronutrients -- that provide you with calories: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates and proteins each offer 4 calories per gram, and fat -- the most energy-dense nutrient -- offers 9 calories per gram. While some fad diets may try to convince you otherwise, it is important to eat balanced amounts of each of these nutrients every day. To simplify things, the Food and Nutrition Board provides recommendations for the macronutrients based on percentage of calorie intake.
Carbohydrates should provide the majority of your calories, or 45 to 65 percent. If you follow a standard 2,000-calorie diet, 900 to 1,300 calories should come from carbohydrates. Choose healthy carbohydrates like whole-wheat bread, oats, fruits and vegetables. Avoid white breads and sugary foods and drinks.
Certain carbohydrates – sugar and fiber – have their own recommendations. Because sugar provides a lot of calories and no nutrients, the American Heart Association recommends that woman get no more than 100 calories per day from sugar. This is equal to about 6 teaspoons. Fiber – a carbohydrate that helps promote bowel regularity, lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar – also has its own recommendations. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
Protein-rich foods should supply 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories. If you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, this means that 200 to 700 of these calories should come from protein. MayoClinic.com recommends emphasizing plant proteins, like legumes, nuts and seeds. When choosing animal proteins, select lean meats, like chicken breast and fish, and low-fat dairy products.
Although often shunned, fat is a vital nutrient that should provide between 20 and 35 percent of your daily calories. This means that on a 2,000-calorie diet, 400 to 700 calories should be in the form of fat. Not all fat is created equal, however. Meet your fat recommendations through the consumption of healthy fats, like nuts, nut butters, avocado and fatty fish. Limit intake of unhealthy fats that come from red meat, high-fat dairy, processed foods and sweets.
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.