Making Sense of Those Pie Charts

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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Making Sense of Those Pie Charts

Today on Hello Healthy we’re digging into pies. It is Pi Day after all.

But before you go grabbing your fork, I should probably clarify that the pies we’re digging into aren’t sweet or savory. Disappointing, I know—but, hey, they’re calorie-free!

In honor of this silly mathematical holiday, I’d like to give you a little insight into those pie charts in your MyFitnessPal mobile app, and share a few tips for making use of them.

Our Nutrition 101 series explained the three macronutrients that provide us with energy—carbohydrates, protein and fat. The MyFitnessPal pie charts are simply a visual report of how those nutrients contribute to the balance of your diet.

The Institutes of Medicine (IOM) has established recommendations around how many calories carbohydrates, protein and fats should contribute to our diets:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Protein:  10-35% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
Why do these ranges matter? 
Eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat at each meal (and snacks if you can swing it) helps with satiety. This is because proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates take a bit more work to digest. The combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat also promote a more moderate rise in blood sugar, which helps temper cravings and the urge to overeat. According to the IOM, eating within these ranges has also been shown to be beneficial for weight management, reducing risk of chronic disease, and the adequate intake of important nutrients.

So how can these pie charts be helpful to you?

As you log foods throughout the day, these pie charts will show the relative amounts of fat, carbs, and protein you have eaten compared to your goal.

MyFitnessPal’s current guided nutrition settings are set at 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% of calories from protein and 30% of calories from fat, which fall within those recommended ranges. Of course, if you want your diet to slightly higher in carbohydrates (perhaps you’re training for a triathlon) or higher in protein, these percentages can be adjusted by customizing your goals—but no matter what, the pie chart will always add up to 100%.

Before eating: Adding foods to your diary in advance can help you plan a balanced meal. Start with tomorrow’s breakfast. Once that’s fairly balanced, plan out your lunch. If the numbers in your pie chart don’t change all that drastically, you know you’re on track.

During a meal: Say you log half of a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee with cream for breakfast. Your carbohydrates might be around 70% of calories, fat 20-25%, and protein 10% of calories. With extra calories to spare, you may want to choose a food higher in protein, like a low-fat yogurt, to make your meal more balanced.

After-the-fact: Looking back at the pie chart at the end of a typical day, or an average week, can give you a bigger picture of the general composition of your diet. If your ratios fall outside of those recommended ranges, you might want to look at them more frequently at mealtime, or meet with a nutritionist who can give you expert insight and tips for eating a more balanced diet.

Keep in mind, every day is different. Heck, every meal is different. Don’t get caught up in trying to hit your exact goals every meal of every day. Instead, use the pie charts as a tool to guide your upcoming meals, help you fill a gap once in a while, or give you a big picture of your diet in general.

For more info, check out our this article on pie charts.

Have you discovered another use for these pie charts? Share it in the comments below!

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

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12 responses to “Making Sense of Those Pie Charts”

  1. Avatar hmstix(Harry Meade) says:

    Can we please get the pie chart on the website? I use it all the time to keep things balanced correctly, but if I’m at my desk planning food for lunch and dinner, I have to keep looking at my phone at the same time to see how things are averaging out. Absolutely love the pie chart, just wish I could see it more often.

  2. Avatar Crashster says:

    I’m curious how much fluctuation of these percentages we should allow ourselves before we start adjusting our diet. I’ve been 2-4% off on each one since I started tracking and was wondering how much that was effecting my fat loss.

  3. Avatar Yuri says:

    +1 to having a Desktop pie chart. Your developers could implement the pie chard in JavaScript, load it inside a WebView on the device, and use the same one in the browser. Just a thought 🙂

  4. Avatar Seth McKinney says:

    +1 on Desktop Pie chart. There are multiple threads in the forum dedicated to this.

  5. Avatar Betty says:

    I would certainly like to see equal value given to carbs as calories. No, not on the pie chart…it’s already there, but on the main page where it tells how many calories you’ve used, & have left. I don’t count calories, so I find that part interesting, but to relevant. Thanks.

  6. Avatar jmleamon says:

    I was going to say I can’t figure out how to find the pie chart on my computer, but I see that’s not an option. I would like it to be!

  7. Avatar devans00 says:

    The recommended percentages helpful information

  8. Avatar Jess says:

    Love this 🙂

    I end up having so much fun planning out my meals >.>

    *Stage whisper* Needs desktop version.

  9. Avatar Goal179 says:

    We really need a few more charts on MFP. At a very minimum, we need to be able to download the data into our own spreadsheets so we can adhoc the charts that we need. For example, I would love to see a chart that tracked all of my macros on one chart and all of my measurements on one chart instead of isolating them one chart at a time.

  10. Avatar Catriona Helen Easdale says:

    Will this feature EVER be available on Windows phones?

  11. Avatar brista says:

    Too bad I had to download an extension to view charts on the MFP website. It’s nice being able to see it from your phone but when I want to take a screenshot and add it to my blog, it is much more convenient to access the cart on the regular browser.

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