You’ve likely heard about macro and micronutrients. The words may sound like just another healthcare trend, but they’re so much more than that.
They’re part of any healthy eating plan and impact everything from your nervous system and weight loss to blood sugar levels and cholesterol. But what are these nutrients, and why is the wellness world so obsessed? Read on to find out more.
What are Macronutrients and Micronutrients?
Macronutrients and micronutrients are two essential types of nutrients for your body. The two terms may seem alien to you, but include all the nutrient sources of a typical healthy diet. For example, your body needs macronutrients in large quantities—these usually include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—as they provide your body with energy.
On the other hand, you may only need micronutrients in smaller quantities. They include vitamins and minerals and play an essential role in keeping your body healthy. For example, vitamin A is helpful for good vision, while iron helps carry oxygen through your bloodstream.
Your body needs a variety of macronutrients and micronutrients to function optimally. And a balanced diet is the best way to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
Breaking Down What Macro and Micronutrients Do For You
According to the CDC, more than half of children younger than five years old suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies worldwide. So it’s safe to say you need nutrients! All nutrients can be classified as either macronutrients or micronutrients.
And as we mentioned above, macronutrients are nutrients your body needs in large quantities like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and micronutrients are nutrients your body needs in small amounts, like vitamins and minerals.
Both macronutrients and micronutrients are essential for good health, but they play different roles in the body. Macronutrients are used in large amounts by your body for energy, growth, and repair, while micronutrients are involved in numerous biochemical processes, including cell growth. Here’s a little more about each one:
As the term ‘micro’ in the name suggests, your body needs micronutrients in small amounts. They include vitamins and organic compounds that your body needs for various functions, including cell growth, and immune system function. They also contain minerals, and inorganic elements necessary for bone health, fluid balance, and nerve function.
While all micronutrients are essential, four are particularly crucial to human health according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, and iodine. Other micronutrients include vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and other antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E.
1) Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that your liver stores until it needs it and that your body needs to function correctly. Vitamin A helps keep your skin and eyes healthy and boosts your immune system.
Vitamin A is found in two forms: the provitamin A found in carotenoid-rich foods like carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes, and the preformed or active form of vitamin A found in egg yolks and dairy and liver. Provitamin A is a precursor to the active form of vitamin A.
2) Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is crucial for bone health. Your bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen without enough vitamin D. It’s also vital for your immune system, muscles, and nerves. Some research has also suggested that vitamin D may play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer and colon cancer. It can be absorbed through your diet or UV light from the sun.
A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to several health problems, including rickets (a condition that results in soft, weak bones), osteoporosis (a condition that leads to thinning of the bones), and muscle weakness.
Iron is a mineral found in hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in your blood, and it is also in myoglobin, a protein that helps muscle cells store oxygen. Because iron is involved in these processes, it is essential for maintaining healthy blood cells and muscle tissue. Your body also needs iron for muscle function, cell growth, and proper immune function.
Despite its importance, iron deficiency is a common problem. According to the World Health Organization, it affects 42 percent of children under five and 40 percent of pregnant women. There are many reasons why people may not get enough iron, including poor diet, intestinal disorders, and blood loss. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which can cause fatigue, weakness, and other problems.
Iodine is an essential element. It’s classified as a micronutrient because, while your body only needs small amounts of iodine, it is necessary for proper metabolism. Iodine is typically in food, water, and soil, and your body usually absorbs most of it through your diet.
Once iodine is absorbed, it is stored in your thyroid gland and used to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones play an essential role in regulating your metabolism, and they are also involved in your brain development and function. As a result, iodine deficiency can lead to a range of problems, including cognitive impairments, goiters, and Hypothyroidism.
The best way to get iodine is through dietary sources, such as fish, shellfish, sea veggies like nori and kelp, and eggs. Iodized salt is also a good source of iodine, and it is recommended that people living in iodine-deficient areas use iodized salt to help prevent iodine deficiency disorders.
Macronutrients provide your body with the energy it needs to function properly. As the term ‘macro’ in the name suggests, these are the nutrients that you need in large quantities to survive and include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They provide you with the energy you need to perform daily activities.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients your body needs to function properly. They are essential for energy production, cell growth and repair, and brain function and are the body's preferred fuel source. Carbohydrates can be found in various foods, including bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. While some people believe that carbs are bad for your health, the truth is that they are an essential part of a healthy diet.
One of the main benefits of carbohydrates is that they provide your body with energy. When you eat carbs, they are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver.
Your body uses proteins to build and repair tissues. Proteins are made up of amino acids—20 different ones can be combined to make a protein. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential because your body cannot make them. You get these amino acids from the food you eat. The other 11 are ‘nonessential’ because your body can make them.
Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is essential for cell growth and repair, hormone production, building muscle mass, and a healthy immune system. Unlike fat and carbs, which your body stores for energy, you have to consume protein regularly as you cannot store it the same way. It's why it's so important to include protein in every meal. Protein is also essential for the production of enzymes and hormones.
Both animal and plant foods can be good sources of protein. Animal sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, and plant sources include beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Most people can meet their protein needs by eating various animal products and plant foods throughout the day.
While most people think of fat as something bad for you, there are two different types of fats—saturated and unsaturated. Unhealthy fats, such as trans fats, can increase your risk of heart disease and other chronic health conditions. On the other hand, healthy fats are essential for a balanced diet and offer several health benefits.
Healthy fats are a good source of energy and help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. They also play a role in maintaining cell membranes and protecting against inflammation.
Healthy fats also play a role in maintaining brain function and reducing inflammation. While all fats are essential, some are better for our health than others. Unsaturated fats, for example, have been shown to promote heart health and lower cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat that is particularly beneficial for our health, found in fish, nuts, and seeds.
The Importance of Getting the Right Balance of Macro and Micronutrients in Your Diet
You need to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. But what does that mean? To maintain a healthy diet for overall wellness, you need the right mix of macronutrients and micronutrients.
While macronutrients and micronutrients are essential for good health, getting the right mix every day is vital. If you consume too many macronutrients, you may experience weight gain or develop health problems such as diabetes. If you consume too few micronutrients, you may become deficient in vitamins and minerals, leading to other health problems.
There’s no one-size-fits-all for nutrition, so remember that this ‘balance’ will depend on your individual needs. It’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian to find the right nutrient balance for your body.
Good Sources of Macro and Micronutrients to Include in Your Diet
Macronutrients are nutrients that the body needs in large quantities to function properly. They include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guideline for Americans published by the USDA recommends getting 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat, and 10 to 35 percent of calories from protein.
Micronutrients are nutrients that provide the building blocks that the body needs in smaller amounts to function properly. Because they include vitamins and minerals, you will find them in everything from whole, unprocessed foods to supplements and your environment—like sunshine!
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Heather has worked in healthcare and nutrition for over 15 years, with bachelor's degrees in Microbiology and Philosophy and a master's degree in Nutrition Science. Her professional background includes nutrition and diabetes research, nutrition education, medical writing, and extensive clinical work in a functional neuroendocrine specialty practice.