Ideal dietary caloric macronutrient distribution

We have seen that throughout the great majority of our evolution as primates, we have adopted a whole-food plant-based diet.  Let’s explore the ideal distribution of macronutrients with recommendations from science today.

The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board gives the following information for macronutrient composition:

Macronutrient                AMDR, % calories

Carbohydrate                45 - 65

Fat                                  20 - 35

Protein                            10 - 35

The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) given for carbohydrates is relatively low as it is assumed that up to 25% of calories are from simple, refined, processed sugars.  As this is not the case when eating whole fruits and vegetables, we shall set a suggested 75%.

The AMDR given for fat is somewhat high to adjust for the carbohydrate percentage being rather low.  This includes the essential omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, always present in significant quantities in animal products, is not recommended at any level.  The presence of some fats increases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and precursors such as vitamin A and pro-vitamin A carotenoids. We will favor a daily fat intake of 10%, assuming there is no substantial need for additional fat storage.

For protein, we will suggest a lower-range AMDR of 15%. The nine essential amino acids must be present in the diet. 

With these allotments for the daily intake of macronutrients, the distribution is given in the following pie chart, in relative percent calories.

This distribution is consistent with that suggested, for example, by Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for a whole-food plant-based diet that primates have subsisted on throughout their evolution, including the great majority of the Paleolithic Period. 

While some may argue that 15% protein is too low, consider the fact that human breast milk, a whole-food complete diet composition designed by nature as most nourishing, contains only 8% of its total calories as protein. 

It is perhaps useful to note that a leafy green food such as kale has a macronutrient composition of 73% carbohydrates, 12% fat, and 15% protein, closely approximating our suggested ideal.

The Okinawa traditional diet

People of the Okinawa archipelago in Japan have the nutritionally dense traditional diet of that region – they also have one of the highest longevity rates in the world.

Their macronutrient mix is shown in the following pie chart:

In addition to their long life expectancy, islanders are noted for their low mortality from cardiovascular disease (eight times less than Americans) and certain types of cancers, such as prostate, breast, and colon cancers.

Other factors in addition to diet undoubtedly contribute to the longevity of Okinawan centenarians. Most grew a garden, a source of daily physical activity as well as fresh organic vegetables.  Tending a garden also lowers stress and increases vitamin Dintake.

Standard American Diet (SAD)

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is the primary national data system which provides information to monitor the nutritional status of the U.S. population.  The macronutrient distribution is shown below:

The suggested macronutrient distribution of the New Ancestral Diet is closer to the Okinawa Diet than to the Standard American Diet, the SAD being lower in total carbohydrates but high in refined sugar and containing more than three times the fat content. This is shown in the following RAM graphic: