Micronutrients vs. Macronutrients: What’s the Difference?
All the food we eat contains macronutrients and micronutrients. Here’s what these terms mean and why they matter to your health.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and water. Our bodies need these nutrients in larger quantities. Aside from water, every macronutrient provides energy that helps the body to:
- Grow new cells and tissues.
- Conduct nerve impulses that allow us to sense and interact with our environment.
- Develop and repair new tissues.
- Regulate vital bodily processes, like fueling muscles, regulating the central nervous system, creating enzymes, eliminating waste, and much more.
Here’s how each macronutrient helps your body thrive:
Carbs are the body’s primary source of energy. In addition to providing immediate fuel, carbohydrates form the majority of stored energy reserves in our body.
For instance, glucose is used as fuel for the brain and is stored in the liver as glycogen. Carbohydrates also play a role in fat oxidation.
These macronutrients help the body make hormones. They also act as solvents for hormones and essential fat-soluble vitamins.
Fats have the highest caloric content of any macronutrient, which is why they provide the most substantial amount of energy (nine calories per gram). That means fats are twice as energy-rich as carbohydrates and proteins. Excess fat is stored in adipose tissue, which is burned when the body runs out of carbohydrates.
When you eat something with protein, it gives your body essential amino acids. This macronutrient is also crucial for cellular structure, including the membrane. Like carbohydrates, proteins provide four calories per gram.
In cases of extreme nutrient depletion, the muscles in the body can be used to provide energy. This is an emergency survival response known as muscle atrophy or muscle wasting.
Water is the main component of our body fluids and this macronutrient:
- Lubricates and distributes nutrients to cells
- Eliminates waste through urine
- Regulates internal body temperature
- Creates an ionic balance of the blood
- Plays a key role in the body’s metabolism, which is one of the many reasons it’s so critical to stay hydrated.
What are micronutrients?
Our bodies require micronutrients, aka vitamins and minerals, in small amounts. Vitamins are vital for healthy growth, metabolism, and development. They also regulate cell function.
Vitamins fall into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. The body can store fat-soluble vitamins for later use.
Our bodies need water-soluble vitamins every day because these vitamins are excreted in our urine. Vitamin C and B are examples of water-soluble vitamins.
Citrus fruits are rich in Vitamin C. Meats and leafy, green vegetables are rich in Vitamin B.
Fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin K, E, D, and A) are also found in leafy, green vegetables. You can also get them from plant oils and dairy products.
Minerals are also classified as microminerals and macrominerals. Some of the primary macrominerals include magnesium, sodium, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Macrominerals are needed in greater quantities compared to microminerals. Microminerals include zinc, copper, chromium, cobalt, and fluoride. While they are needed for proper growth, development, and function, minerals only make up about 4% of your body’s mass.
To make sure you are getting an adequate balance of micronutrients, it’s important to eat a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and sources of calcium.