How Many Carbs, Fats & Proteins You Need on a 1,200-Calorie Diet

Considering that the average moderately active woman needs about 2,000 calories per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 1,200 calories is not much. In this case, it's even more important to get the proper amounts of carbs, fats and protein. The daily nutritional values to lose weight will ensure that you get all the macronutrients and micronutrients you need.

You can slightly increase your protein intake for weight loss. (Image: samael334/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

According to the National Academy of Medicine, 45 to 65 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates and 20 to 35 percent should come from fats. The official recommendation for protein is 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight, but eating slightly more than that may aid weight loss.

Carbs Aren't Bad for You

Carbs get a lot of negative media, being blamed for weight gain and diabetes, among other things. While some carbs can contribute to these conditions, many carbs don't, and they're required for good health.

Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy. Your brain relies on the glucose from carbohydrate metabolism for proper functioning. If you're exercising, another key component of weight loss, your muscles need carbs for energy and to recover properly after strenuous workouts.

Carbohydrates also provide dietary fiber, the parts of plant foods that your body can only minimally digest. Fiber is crucial for optimal digestive function and heart health, and it also aids weight loss. According to a 2018 study in Nutrition, a diet high in fiber can promote weight loss even without calorie restriction.

Tip

A prospective cohort study and meta-analysis in The Lancet in 2018 found that low-carbohydrate diets that included a lot of animal fat and protein were associated with a higher risk of mortality than low-carbohydrate diets that included more plant-based sources of proteins and fats.

How Much You Need

How many carbs you need depends on a lot of factors, but the main one is how active you are. If you're very active, you need quite a few carbs. (If you're very active, you also need more than 1,200 calories per day.) If you're moderately active or sedentary, you don't need as many carbs.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, adults should get 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbs. On a 1,200-calorie diet, that's 540 to 780 calories or 135 to 195 grams.

Tip

If you've decided to follow one of the many low-carbohydrate diets out there, remember that fiber doesn't count toward your total carb intake. That means you don't have to cut out vegetables. In fact, you should be eating a lot of vegetables.

Healthy Carb Sources

The healthiest carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates from vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Complex carbohydrates are rich in fiber, and their more complex chemical structure means the body takes longer to digest them. This keeps you feeling fuller for a longer period of time, which can help you control your calorie intake.

Examples of healthy carbs include:

  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Red peppers
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Lentils
  • Black beans

Some complex carbs are higher in calories than others. These include whole-grain breads and pastas, potatoes and sweeter fruits such as bananas and pineapple. This doesn't mean you can't eat these foods; just know they will take up more of your calorie quota.

Carbs to Avoid

On a low-calorie diet, you don't have many, if any, "discretionary calories,"or extra calories to spend on calorie-dense foods and treats. Refined carbohydrate foods fall into this category.

Refined carbs, such as white rice, pasta and bread; pastries and other baked goods; snack foods; and any other products made with refined grains, have been stripped of nutrients, including fiber, during processing. They are broken down quickly and immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a surge in blood sugar. Eating these carbs can make you feel sluggish and hungry quickly, and they will not help you control your calorie intake like complex carbs

In addition to refined grains, sugars are also a no-no. Sugar offers no nutrients, yet it is high in calories. That means you're not getting any bang for your buck if you include it in your diet. Eating sugary foods and drinking sweetened beverages will not leave enough calories for the nutrient-packed foods you need for good health.

Pack in Protein

The same 2018 Nutrition study that concluded high-fiber diets lead to weight loss in the absence of caloric restriction came to a similar conclusion about protein. Protein is also digested slowly, creating lasting fullness and aiding appetite control.

In addition, protein has a higher diet-induced thermogenic (DIT) value than protein or carbs. Thermogenesis is the increase in metabolic rate caused by food digestion. The body expends 15 to 30 percent of the caloric content of protein just to digest it, while it expends only 5 to 10 percent for carbs and 0 to 3 percent for fats, according to a 2014 review in Nutrition & Metabolism.

How Much Do You Need?

The official recommendation for protein is 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight, rather than a percentage of your calories. If you weigh 135 pounds, you need 49 grams of protein per day.

However, you may benefit from increasing your protein intake slightly, as long as it does not cause you to exceed your calorie goal. According to a review of research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, data suggest that 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the recommended nutrient intake for weight loss. Additionally, it may also help to aim for 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.

Best Protein Sources

Lean protein is your best choice on a 1,200-calorie diet. Fatty meats, cheese, full-fat milk and yogurt are rich in protein, but they are also high in fat and calories. Instead, choose protein-packed foods that are lower in calories such as:

  • White meat and skinless chicken
  • Beans and tofu
  • White-fleshed fish
  • Nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Lean beef
  • Egg whites

You can eat small portions of higher-calorie protein foods occasionally; just get the majority of your protein from these low-calorie sources.

Fat: Recommended Nutrient Intake for Weight Loss

Low-fat diets don't spur weight loss any better than other diets, according to a 2015 research review in The Lancet. Plus, you need fats for good health, especially polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from plant foods, which help control cholesterol and protect heart health, according to the American Heart Association.

That doesn't mean you should overdo it, though. Fat is higher in calories than protein and carbs, gram for gram. One gram of fat has 9 calories, whereas 1 gram of protein or carbs has 4 calories, according to the USDA.

Fat Intake and Sources

What is the 1,000 to 1,200 calorie diet nutritional breakdown? The recommendation for fat intake from the National Academy of Medicine is 20 to 35 percent of calories. That's 240 to 420 calories or 27 to 47 grams of fat per day.

The majority of those fats should come from plant foods and fish. Meat, dairy and eggs contain saturated fat, which the American Heart Association recommends limiting to 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories or 60 to 72 calories for a 1,200-calorie diet.

Nutritious sources of healthy fats include nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado and fish, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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