Many people like to define their diet based on macro ranges, such as:
- high-protein, or
However, if you want to control your appetite, reduce body fat, and improve your health, you probably want to know if your chosen dietary preference works.
Everyone agrees that consciously restricting calories can be difficult. We want to understand how we can manipulate macronutrients and micronutrients to improve satiety and reduce hunger which will lead to a spontaneous reduction in appetite and sustained fat loss.
My Nutrient Optimiser partner Alex Zotov and I have been busy lately mining the database of half a million days of MyFitnessPal data for insights that can help us refine our algorithm to help people achieve their goal with more precision. It’s fascinating to be able to quantitatively answer common questions and dispel many myths about nutrition with this massive data set!
In order to focus on people trying to lose weight, we filtered for people with a calorie goal of between 1000 and 2500 calories and eliminated days where people consumed more than 300% or less than 50% of their target calorie intake. This trimmed reduced out data set down from the original 587,187 days of data to 438,014 days of completed food diaries.
Definitions of diets by macronutrient range
The table below shows how we sliced up the data based on macronutrient ranges that align with different popular dietary approaches.
- The “n” is the number of days in each ‘bucket’ of data.
- The “%” column shows the percentage of days that meet that criteria.
- The average row represents the average macronutrient breakdown of all 438,014 days of data. Each of the dietary approaches are subsets of this data.
|Low-protein, high-fat||< 15%||> 70%||1,887||0.43%|
|Junk food||< 20%||> 30%||> 35%||84,781||19%|
|Standard Western||10 – 20%||30 – 40%||35-50%||43,504||10%|
|Low-carb, higher-fat||> 60%||< 30%||18,581||4%|
|Very low carb||< 15%||21,644||5%|
|Low-carb, high-protein||> 20%||< 35%||34,870||8%|
|Very high protein||> 40%||15,205||3%|
Average macros (%)
The chart below shows what each of the diet approaches looks like in terms of macronutrients for the days that met the criteria for each ‘bucket’.
Average diet macros (grams)
Many people like to manage their diet by limiting or targeting a certain quantity of a particular macronutrient, so the table shows the average intake of each of the approaches in grams. If you currently track your diet you might like to see how you compare to these averages.
|Diet||Protein (g)||Fat (g)||Carbs (g)|
|Very high protein||165||45||97|
|Low carb, high protein||116||86||54|
|Very low carb||101||107||31|
|Low carb, high fat||81||120||40|
|Low protein, high fat||47||158||47|
Satiety of different macronutrient diet approaches
This table shows the average goal and actual calorie intake for each of the groups. The right-hand column shows the average of the actual intake divided by their calorie goal and multiplied by 100%.
A calorie goal in MyFitnessPal is set by a person’s Basal Metabolic Rate minus an allowance to ensure that they achieve an energy deficit if they are trying to achieve weight loss.
- A score of less than 100% means that someone was able to eat less than calorie goal for the day.
- A score of greater than 100% indicates that someone was able to eat less than they planned.
|Diet||Goal (cals)||Actual (cals)||% Goal|
|Low protein, high fat||1,698||1,796||106%|
|Low carb, high fat||1,721||1,569||91%|
|Very low carb||1,714||1,490||87%|
|Low carb, high protein||1,735||1,461||84%|
|Very high protein||1,804||1,453||81%|
This chart shows the goal vs actual calorie intake for each approach graphically.
The chart below shows the % goal achieved for each approach graphically.
Looking at the goal vs actual calories in the chart below we can see that:
- The people following a low-protein, high-fat approach were the only ones to exceed their calorie target consistently.
- The people using the high-protein diet had the highest target calorie intakes, suggesting that they were active and likely had more metabolically active muscle mass, and hence a higher BMR.
- The high-carb approaches seemed to have a lower goal intake, indicating that these people may have already been typically smaller or had less muscle mass.
Both the high-fat and low-protein approaches have a negative impact on satiety. Combining these two approaches (i.e. high-fat with low-protein) appears to lead to people to eat much more than planned.
Avoiding protein (i.e. in pursuit of ketones or due fear of gluconeogenesis) and consuming “fat to satiety” appears to significantly increase your chances of overeating.
Lowering carbohydrates provides slightly better than average satiety. Focusing on reducing carbohydrates while also prioritising protein seems to provide a better outcome.
When we look at the correlation between macronutrient consumption and the ability to achieve your target calorie goal, we see that higher protein has the strongest alignment with followed by lower fat. Restricting carbohydrate seems to have a much smaller impact on spontaneous calorie intake.
This observation from the data also aligns with this recent study that tested high protein low carb vs normal protein high fat and found that “Body-weight loss and weight-maintenance depends on the high-protein, but not on the ‘low-carb’ component of the diet, while it is unrelated to the concomitant fat-content of the diet.”
A higher protein approach with less fat may be more advantageous in terms of satiety if your goal is fat loss.
A high carb approach such as a Whole Food Plant Based approach may lead to weight loss. However, it may not provide adequate protein to prevent loss of lean muscle which is a real concern during weight loss.
Also, keep in mind that plant-based amino acids and some micronutrients such as vitamin A and omega 3s are less bioavailable from plant-based sources compared to animal-based sources.
Someone following a high carb plant-based approach should monitor their body fat levels during weight loss and look to add additional protein if they are losing excessive amounts of lean muscle mass or their % body fat is increasing even though they are losing weight.
Personally, I used to follow more of a low carb high-fat approach in an effort to manage my insulin levels and blood sugars. However, recently I have found much better results in terms of satiety and body composition by prioritising protein.
When you buy into the Carbohydrate-Insulin Hypothesis of Obesity, a lot of things get blamed on insulin resistance. I was a victim, and my obesity was beyond my control (or so I thought).
I now realise that following a diet that enables you to eat less and control hunger is what will reverse insulin resistance (see this article for more discussion) and lead to increased satiety and fat loss.