Food as Medicine: A Guide to Macronutrients Across Life Stages

Food as Medicine: A Guide to Macronutrients Across Life Stages

Food as Medicine: A Guide to Macronutrients Across Life Stages

Date: May 02, 2024

Source: Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Summary: In the long history of recommendations for nutritional intake, current research is trending toward the concept of ‘food as medicine’ — a philosophy in which food and nutrition are positioned within interventions to support health and wellness.


Dieticians and researchers have constantly refined dietary recommendations throughout history. A new trend emphasizes “food as medicine,” where nutrition plays a central role in supporting health and wellness. This philosophy is reflected in a recent paper by Dr. Steven Heymsfield of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, titled “Guidance on Energy and Macronutrients Across the Lifespan.”

The paper builds upon past research, offering clearer guidelines on protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, and water intake for various age groups. Dr. Heymsfield, a professor of Metabolism & Body Composition, highlights the importance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) in shaping health throughout life.

He emphasizes that even with diverse needs across the global population, effective dietary plans are possible – especially for the growing number with diet-related diseases – as long as we understand the subtle effects of these key nutrients.

The research dives deep into energy and the three main macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat – along with their breakdown products (amino acids, glucose, and free fatty acids). It explains how these fuel growth and maintenance at different life stages. The study provides recommended dietary intakes for these nutrients across nine distinct age groups:

  • 0 to 6 months
  • 7 months to under 1 year
  • 1 year to 3 years
  • 4 to 8 years
  • 9 to 13 years
  • 14 to 18 years
  • Over 19 years
  • Pregnancy
  • Lactation

The paper guides patients and caregivers on healthy eating patterns aligned with these guidelines. While specific needs vary, some overarching goals exist. An online calculator helps determine individual requirements.

Common components of these healthy meal patterns include a variety of vegetables, whole fruits, lean protein sources (meat, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts), whole grains, and healthy fats (plant-based and seafood oils).

Incorporating all the necessary nutrients becomes even more complex when considering factors like finances, personal preferences, cultural backgrounds, and traditional foods. The paper addresses this by offering a framework for tailoring diets to manage specific chronic conditions like obesity or type 2 diabetes.

Dr. John Kirwan, Executive Director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, emphasizes the paper’s contribution to the ongoing research on dietary needs. He states, “Dr. Heymsfield’s work furthers our understanding of how tailored diets rich in key macronutrients can support long-term health.

It promotes the concept of ‘food as medicine,’ highlighting the potential to improve health across the lifespan through personalized, nutrient-rich diets.”

In conclusion, this research from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center underscores the importance of “food as medicine.” By understanding our macronutrient needs at different stages of life, we can create personalized dietary plans that promote optimal health and well-being.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Pennington Biomedical Research CenterNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Steven B. Heymsfield, Sue A. Shapses. Guidance on Energy and Macronutrients across the Life SpanNew England Journal of Medicine, 2024; 390 (14): 1299 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2214275