Between all the different diet trends and conflicting research nowadays, most of us are more confused than ever about what and how much to eat, particularly when it comes to protein, carbohydrates, and fat. That's why I'm into the 60/20/20 diet when it comes to everyday eating. While there’s no single magic combination or one size fits all approach, a healthy diet is pretty simple: it's all about balance.
The 60/20/20 meal plan provides a well-balanced approach by properly portioning out your carbohydrates, proteins, and fats throughout the day. The idea behind this meal plan is to maximize your energy levels, muscle tone, promote cardiovascular functioning, and improve overall health.
The 60/20/20 diet was derived from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends eating within the following ranges:
Carbohydrates: 50–65% of calories
Fat: 15–30% of calories
Protein: 15–30% of calories
By focusing on digesting approximately 60% of your total calories from carbohydrates, 20% from healthy fats, and 20% from lean protein, you can achieve long-term sustainable weight loss, increase energy levels, and build lean muscle.
Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for our muscles during exercise and are the only source of energy for our brain and red blood cells. Fat is equally important, playing a major role in everything from brain function to cell structure, but if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to trade some percentage of your carbohydrates and/or fat calories for a boost in protein. Studies show that calorie for calorie, protein has the most metabolic benefits for weight loss, specifically—it increases satiety (keeps you fuller for longer), energy levels, and preserves muscle.
Feel free to experiment with the percentage ranges a bit to find what works best for you, but remember: the quality of the protein, fat, and carbs you eat is just as important as the quantity.
If you're thinking about trying the 60/20/20 diet, here are a few key things to keep in mind:
Carbs get a bad rap, but according to Harvard Health:
What’s most important are the types of carbohydrates you choose to eat, because some sources are much healthier than others. The amount of carbohydrates in your diet – high or low – is far less important than the type.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as whole fruits, non-starchy vegetables, (e.g., artichoke, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, eggplant, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber, and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans) promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important nutrients to our blood and central nervous systems. Whole grain products such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, steel-cut oats, muesli, barley, or wheat bran are other good choices.
Unhealthier sources contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, decrease energy levels, and promote diabetes and heart disease. These include foods like white bread, cornflakes, rice crackers, white rice, and fruit juice.
Getting enough protein on a daily basis is important to keep your body functioning properly and in sync. Protein is used to build and repair tissues (like skeletal muscle, bone, hair, fingernails, cartilage, skin, and blood), as well as make enzymes and hormones that help regulate metabolism and growth.
Check out the Essential Guide to Protein for information on plant-based protein sources as well as lean cuts of meat, poultry, and fish options for healthy eating before starting the 60/20/20 diet.
Fats have many benefits ranging from satiety to brain health – especially those rich in omega-3s. Read over the Essential Guide to Fat if you’re looking for some heart-healthy options. Remember: fat is crucial -- don't be afraid of fat!
If you're looking for some inspo on how to get started on the 60/20/20 diet, we've got you covered. Scroll on for a few of our favorite recipes that include healthy carbs, fats, and lean sources of protein that will keep your body and brain balanced, healthy, and happy from sunrise to sunset.
You can't go wrong with a classic avocado toast, and Camille's version kicks it up a notch with jammy eggs, burst tomatoes, and everyone's favorite: Trader Joe's Everything Bagel Seasoning. It's the ideal breakfast but let's face it, it's perfect any time of day or night.
This hearty hash can be thrown together in a single skillet, making it as easy and convenient as it is delicious. If you're a savory breakfast kind of person then you'll definitely want to try this tasty combo of sweet potato, sausage, and eggs that will be sure to keep you full for hours.
Dessert for breakfast? Count me in. Apples, walnuts, and oats baked in cinnamon and sugar are a surefire way to start the day enveloped in warmth and comfort. You can even use gluten-free oats and vegan substitutions so that everyone can dig in regardless of dietary restrictions.
You'll feel like you're in Paris next time you make these baked egg crepes with spring herbs and avocado. All it takes is a few simple ingredients you likely already have in your kitchen. Impress your family or just treat yourself to an extra special at-home brunch. You've earned it.
Load your pancakes with protein like chia seeds and you'll be shocked at how much energy you'll have for hours to come. This incredibly delicious crowd-pleasing recipe is perfect for the picky eaters in your family.
Satisfy that craving for Chinese with this quick and easy meal. Chock full of veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and mushrooms, this filling and flavorful bowl will give you the energy you need to power through the rest of the workday without making you feel bogged down or foggy.
It doesn't get more nourishing than this perfectly balanced salmon and veggie grain bowl. The salmon and avocado are the perfect complements to the cozy grains and absolutely delightful turmeric dressing. This recipe is also a fabulous springboard for your own lunch creations—the possibilities are endless when it comes to creating a grain bowl.
This simple pasta dish will be just as delicious served warm as it will be cold for your lunch the following day. The combination of veggies and comforting pasta will keep you full and focused for the day and keep you from wandering to the cookie jar in the late afternoon. And how beautiful are those colors?
This light and refreshing quinoa bowl is loaded with crisp radishes, sweet and juicy tomatoes, and a delicious smattering of feta cheese, hitting all the necessary 60/20/20 diet spots. Make your own green goddess dressing or buy some from the store for a truly delectable lunchtime feast.
It doesn't get much better than a poke bowl, and this vegan version of the Hawaiian classic is a real lunchtime treat. The fresh flavors all come together for a truly transportive meal that will make you feel like you're on a beach far, far away. Tofu substitutes traditional tuna, but you won't miss it.
Tuck into this single pot pasta next time you get a hankering for Mexican food. It's got all those familiar comforting flavors but with an unexpected twist. And best of all, it's gluten-free and dairy-free so those with dietary restrictions can enjoy it as well.
Check out Camille's spin on the classic chicken soup for an ultra-cozy, elevated meal that looks decadent while being healthful and simple at the same time. The rich Thai flavors pack a punch, and you can even make it vegetarian by substituting the chicken with your veggie of choice.
Few things are more potent than the desire for a good meatball, and these sheet pan meatballs might just be the easiest way to appease the call. Combined with the crispy turmeric chickpeas and roasted onion, this recipe is not only healthy and filling but is good for the soul as well. I can practically smell them through the screen.
These enchilada-stuffed zucchini boats are absolutely ingenious. They're loaded with veggies and ground turkey for a beautifully balanced meal full of vitamins and minerals. It'll be impossible to not ask for seconds.
This healthy comfort food is positively elegant and full of a beautiful array of colors and flavors. As with most grain bowls, it lends itself well to substitutions depending on what vegetables are in season, so you'll never get tired of making it.
A pot of chili is always in season, especially when it's as wholesome and delicious as this turkey and white bean recipe. It's abundant, filling, and full of delicious smoky flavors. There's just nothing quite like the comfort of knowing there are beans simmering in the kitchen.
This post was originally published on March 7, 2019, and has since been updated.