Percentages of Fat, Protein & Carbohydrates Needed for Good Health

Different health organizations recommend that you eat different amounts of proteins, fats and carbohydrates each day, with most agreeing that complex carbohydrates should make up the largest percentage of your calories. Fats and protein percentages should be roughly equivalent. A number of fad diets suggest a high-protein, low-carbohydrate approach, but more and more studies are showing this is an unhealthy way to eat — and high-protein diets not only pose numerous health problems, it’s been confirmed you don’t lose any more weight on them than traditional diets. What a waste of 20 years of low-carb hysteria!


Carbohydrates come from grains, vegetables and fruits, with fruits providing simple sugars and grains and vegetables comprising complex carbohydrates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends between 50 and 65 percent of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. Whole grains should form the base of your daily diet, followed by equal servings of fruits and vegetables. The Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Weight pyramid reverses this, recommending fruits and vegetables as your dietary base, followed by whole grains. Mayo recommends that carbohydrates comprise 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. The Harvard School of Public Medicine, which believes the USDA’s food pyramid is slightly flawed, suggests eating carbohydrates as the base of your calories, but decreases the percentage slightly and increases healthy fats. This pyramid recommends equal percentages–about 20 percent each–of the whole grains and fruits and vegetables categories. The Harvard guidelines specifically do not provide recommend daily servings or percentages, asking you to focus on the quality of foods you eat in each group.


Surprisingly, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard pyramids for healthy eating recommend that fat make up a good percentage of your daily calories. These calories should come from healthy fat sources, such a nuts, fish and monounsaturated cooking oils like olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are important, as well, with coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines good sources. The Mayo Clinic recommends you get 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat, while the USDA’s food pyramid recommends that you eat fats sparingly. This may be because the foods the USDA recommends in the rest of its pyramid include adequate fats.


The USDA recommends you eat more protein than fat in your daily diet, while the Mayo Clinic recommends the opposite. Based on the USDA’s recommended 11 to 20 servings of carbohydrates per day (very high if you’re eating processed carbs), compared to four to six servings of proteins, you should eat approximately 30 to 35 percent of your daily calories from proteins such as meat, fish, poultry, game, beans and dairy products. Harvard’s pyramid aligns more closely with the Mayo Clinic’s recommendation of 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories come from protein.


Based on everything credible I’ve read for 25+ years and my discussions with world-class dietitians and exercise physiologists, it seems that 50 to 60 percent of your daily calories should come from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. White bread, common cereals and many pastas are made from refined, sugary carbs. Choose carbs that provide a variety of color (e.g. red tomatoes, green peppers, purple eggplant, yellow squash, orange sweet potatoes, etc.). Eat about 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories from healthy fats and lean proteins (nuts, rice and beans are sources of protein). If you’re an active, growing youngster or an athlete trying to repair muscle after strength workouts, you might want to eat a bit more protein, but not much. Remember, protein is a building block, while carbs and fats provide the fuel you need for your daily activities and sports competitions.

Additional Resources

Mayo Clinic: Food Pyramids: Explore These Healthy Diet Options

Harvard School of Public Health: Food Pyramids: What Should You Really Eat?