- Brian Bender, PhD
Macronutrient Intake: America Averages [Interactive Charts]
Our free, interactive charts on sugar intake and micronutrient intake in America allow you to investigate how we eat (filter-able by age and gender).
Using the same NHANES survey data, we've created another free tool investigating macronutrient intake, along with some facts and macronutrient guidelines below.
Macronutrient Intake Chart
The chart is broken down, by age, into:
Saturated Fat Intake
Sugars are a subcategory of total carbohydrates, and saturated fats are a subcategory of total fats.
Each macronutrient category can be filtered by gender, as well as percentile.
What does the percentile filter do?
Say, for example, you'd like to see how much fat the top 10% of fat-consumers - that is, those of us who consume the largest percentage of their diet from fat - eat on average daily, you would set the percentile filter to 90%.
Why 90%? The 90% percentile of eaters eat more than 90% of the population.
Looking at the bottom 10% of sugar-eaters? Setting the sugar percentile filter to 10% means this is the portion of the population that eats more 10% of the population. Said differently, 90% of the population eats more sugar than this group.
Feel free to play around and publish any charts you make. Just reference us at Intake!
Average protein intake per day
The 2015–2020 USDA Guidelines suggest 10–35% of your daily calories should come from protein. Protein has roughly 4 calories per gram. So if you eating a 2,000 calorie diet, you’d want to eat around 50 - 175 grams of protein (2,000 calories * 10% / 4 grams = 50 grams of protein). This guideline also has some good estimates of protein content for common foods and suggestions for specific diets (e.g. vegetarian).
Another guideline estimates that a minimum should be about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (with variations for those who are pregnant [1.1 g/kg] or lactating [1.3 g/kg]). But this is debated, particularly among many sports nutritionists who suggest athletes should consume closer to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
There are Protein Calculators out there to do it for you if you are curious, with new tools coming online to help track consumption patterns as well.
It’s important to remember that protein is a broad term that includes 21 different amino acids, 9 of which are deemed essential because your body can’t make them. That means they need to come from your diet. For example, many vegetables contain only small amounts of, or are completely absent in, certain amino acids. So vegetarians should eat a mix of vegetables to get a well-balanced variety of protein.
Meat, on the other hand, is usually a go-to for many because it is a complete protein (all essential amino acids). But according to the American Cancer Society, this should be focused on poultry, fish, and beans, as opposed to red and processed meats. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed over 800 studies to determine processed meats are a Group 1 carcinogen - i.e., they cause cancer in humans. The evidence for red meat wasn’t as strong (although fatty red meat could still possibly be a problem), but the IARC and the American Heart Association suggests limiting lean meat consumption to 6 ounces (170 grams) per day.
How many carbs does the average American eat?
Similar to another post of ours on sugar intake, our interactive chart allows you to investigate average sugar consumption by age in America. However, this one allows you to vary the percentile to see just how much we consume.
For example, shifting sugar to the top 90% percentile shows how much the top sugar-eaters in America consume. And it's not pretty.
"90% of Americans eat too much sugar, everyday."
As recommended by the World Health Organization, no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from sugar. Ideally, no more than 5%.
Recommended daily sugar intake versus reality
The average sugar intake is over twice the recommended amount
Roughly 90% of Americans eat more than the 10% threshold everyday
The top 10% of sugar-consumers - ingest a whopping 40% of their calories from sugar!
What are carbohydrates made of?
The 2015–2020 USDA Guidelines suggest 45–65% of your daily calories should come from carbs. But don't forget that carbohydrates includes sugar.
For a quick recap of carbohydrates:
Carbs are composted of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, in varying quantities and structures.
Simple sugars are glucose, fructose, and galactose. Each of these by themselves is a carbohydrate, and these are bonded together to form other types of carbohydrates.
If you string two of these together, you get a disaccharide (di=2). These are also carbohydrates. For example:
Lactose = glucose + galactose (in milk)
Maltose = glucose + glucose (digestion product from starch)
Sucrose = glucose + fructose (i.e. table sugar)
These are longer strings of each sugar tied together. Examples are starch, cellulose, glycogen. They may be strung together linearly, or branched. There may be a few tied together, or quite a few. And different bonding structures may exist, too.
One particular noteworthy polysaccharide is fiber. It is recommended to consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories.
Fiber is important for the health of your digestive system, and it has been linked to improved cardiovascular health.
Unfortunately, we don't eat enough.
"Fiber is important for digestion and your heart, but #intake in the US is too low. Less than 15% of us get enough."
Below is another free interactive chart showing the average fiber intake in America by age and gender.
How much fat should the average American eat per day?
The 2015–2020 USDA Guidelines suggest the following:
30–40% of a child's calories (aged 1-3) should come from fat.
25-35% of an adolescent's calories (aged 4-18) should come from fat.
20-35% of an adult's calories (over age 18) should come from fat.
Although the average fat intake in America is near the top of this range, the majority of us stick to that ratio. But not all of us.
"The average fat intake is too high for over 30% of Americans."
Average American Saturated Fat Intake
Particularly, they recommend no more than 10% of your total calories should come from saturated fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC) Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk recommends reducing intake of saturated fat to less than 7% of calories for the rest of the population. Similarly, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) released its position paper on dietary fatty acids for healthy adults advising people to get no more than 7% to 10% of calories from saturated fat.
Non-Standard Macronutrient Guidelines
There are always new dietary regimes cropping up from time to time. Some, like the popular Atkins diet, is low in carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbs. Some promote high protein diets, while other research suggests high protein diets are is linked to accelerated aging and disease.
Other reviews simply suggest a well-balanced diet, high in vegetables, low in sugar and salt. In fact, Blue Zone diets are quite diverse, yet all contain inhabitants with low rates of disease and disproportionately high rate of individuals that live past 100.
Nutrition science can feel like a moving target. That's because, in large part, it is.
New science continues to refine our understanding of diet and nutrition, particularly with respect to its role in disease risk.
The guidelines of major institutions can be useful for general health and wellbeing. But as dietary goals, biochemistry, (epi)genetics, and microbiota diversity shed light on the highly personalized nature of diet and nutrition, it becomes important to collect data and find the diet that works right for you.