Macronutrients vs Micronutrients. What are the Differences?

Macronutrients and Micronutrients are staples in our diet. Both of them provide much needed nutrients. However, the two are very different in what they provide to our bodies and our health. Macronutrients provide the much needed energy we need throughout the day. While Micronutrients provide nutrients that keep our bodies healthy and functioning. Micronutrients play roles in preventing disease, regulating metabolism, hormone regulation, and much more. Let’s take a look at Macronutrients vs Micronutrients, what their roles are, and what optimal intake look like.

But First, Some History…

1770 marks the discovery and subsequent study of the bodies relationship with food digestion, consumption, and usage – otherwise known as metabolism – by Antoine Lavoisier. In the early 1800’s, the studies continued into isolating carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen and connecting them with their roles in the health of the human body. Continuing into the early 20th century, the chemical nature of foods was studied along with vitamins. The term “vitamins” wasn’t coined until, in 1912, a Polish doctor by the name of Casimir Funk, combined the two words “vital” and “amine”. “Vital” because vitamins were understood to be vital in the human diet and “amine” because vitamins were thought to be compounds derived from ammonia.

Studies were continued in 1912 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin. It was found that rats were healthier when fed butter, rather then lard, because butter had more Vitamin A. Additionally, diseases were connected to the lack of vitamins, such as, diseases like beri-beri which is connected to a lack of Vitamin B.

Really this all marks landmark studies of Macronutrients vs Micronutrients. Not in the sense of comparing the two but more so in discovering them. While studies began in 1770, the idea of energy from food in the form of the calorie didn’t become a key topic of discussion until around 1918 when Lulu Hunt Peters detailed methods of counting calories in her book “Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories”. In her book she outlined how to count calories and encouraged people to count theirs in order to manage their weight better. Additionally, micro’s didn’t really start to appear in nutritional textbooks until the 1950’s.

Related Content: A brief history of micronutrients.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients or more commonly called “macros” are nutrients you need in your body in large amounts. When it comes to Macronutrients vs Micronutrients, one of the main differences is the amount your body needs. There are four different forms of macros:

  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • Fats
  • Alcohol (this one barely counts)

Each macro provides you with the energy you need to function from day-to-day along with nutrients that keep your body healthy. The only exception to this is alcohol. Alcohol provides calories but no nutritional value (especially alcohol such as vodka, whiskey, rum, etc…). Each macro has a defined amount of energy it provides to the body. Protein contributes 4kcals per gram of protein consumed, carbs contribute 4kcals per gram, and fats provide 9kcals per gram. They are literally the foundation of how we get all of our energy.

Carbohydrates

Macronutrients vs Micronutrients - image of a banana in carbs section.

Most carbs will eventually be broken down into glucose which is the main energy source of the body and its many organs. Many of your organs, such as your brain, require a constant supply of glucose in order to function correctly. Your body makes glucose when needed from proteins in a process called gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis occurs in the liver and kidneys and is a rather complex process.

In addition to being an energy source, carbs occupy a variety of functions in the body from synthesizing amino acids that build proteins and help keep your digestive track running smooth. Fiber, for example, is a carb that isn’t digested by the body. As a result, fiber doesn’t provide energy to the body but helps the body get rid of waist.

Carbs can additionally be broken down into two sub-groups:

  • Simple Carbs: are easy for your body to break down into an energy form. They typically have 1-2 energy molecules. Simple carbs are typically found in sweeter foods such as honey, nectar, sugar, syrup, and fruit.
  • Complex Carbs: take longer for your body to break down because they are larger molecules made up of sugars strung together. These typically are more savory in their flavor and are commonly associated with starches and grains. Examples include rice, pasta, starchy veggies (potatoes, peas, and corn), and bread. Additionally, complex carbs normally contain fiber unless they have been processed.

Protein

Macronutrients vs Micronutrients - image of meat in the protein section.

Protein, typically associated with muscle growth, has a lot of roles in the body. Protein takes up roles in the body that help the body grow, heal, and repair. In addition to this, proteins help the body produce enzymes, hormones, and a hand full of other chemicals in the body. In fact, proteins and peptides make up a majority of your bodies hormones.

Proteins are made from amino acids. There are two different types of amino acids: essential and non-essential. Don’t get me wrong, both of these are essential. However, non-essential amino acids can be produced in the body while essential amino acids cannot be produced in the body. Essential amino acids are needed in your diet.

Fats

Macronutrients vs Micronutrients - image of an avocado in the fats section.

Fats actually play a pretty dynamic role in the body. Whether it be storing energy, aiding in hormone production, absorbing fat soluble vitamins, or even cushioning organs. Fat often times gets a bad reputation because it provides twice the calories when compared to other macronutrients. However, if you take the time to pay attention to the type of fat you are consuming and how much of it you consume, you can reduce your risk greatly to heart disease and other diseases associated with fat consumption. Fat is actually a crucial aspect to a healthy diet.

There are three different types of fats; trans fat, saturated fats, and unsaturated fats.

  • Trans fat: these are the fats that ruin the reputation for the unsaturated fats. They are, in general, understood to not be good for you. Trans fats raise the bad cholesterol levels in your blood and lower the good cholesterol levels. You should heavily moderate your consumption of trans fats. Heavy trans fat consumption increases your risk of heart disease, greatly.
  • Saturated fats: In large amounts, saturated fats are also known to raise your cholesterol levels. These types of fats are found in animal sources such as fatty beef and lamb. It’s recommended that only 5-6% of your daily calorie intake is coming from saturated fats. Any more then that becomes unhealthy.
  • Unsaturated fats: These are your healthy fats. Consuming this type of fat does not put you at as much of a risk of heart disease then the other two fats. These can be found in plant sources such as avocados, nut, nut butter, seeds, and olive oil.

How Much of What Macro Should I Consume Each Day?

There is no “one size fits all” answer for this. The USDA recommends your diet is:

  • 45% – 65% carbs
  • 10% – 35% protein
  • 20%-25% fat

This is, in general, a good place to start. However, there are many diets that are designed to help people accomplish certain physical feats. For example, some diets might call to increase protein intake if you are trying to train physically for strength. Additionally, some diets might call for “carb loading”. Carb loading is typically done a week or so prior to a high-endurance event, such as, running a marathon, or playing in a sporting event.

Diets are often time subjective really. Some people might need to consume more of one macro then the others. If you are unsure about what an optimal diet for you could be, then you can try consulting a physician or a personal trainer. There are a lot of trainers who are specialized in nutrition and can help you find a diet that fits your needs.

Micronutrients

Micro’s are not needed at such a large scale like macros are. However, this shouldn’t take away from how important they are. There are a variety of medical conditions that are connected to deficiencies in micronutrients.

When looking at Macronutrients vs Micronutrients, the main differences are the amounts you need and the roles they play in your diet. Macro’s are primarily associated with providing energy while micro’s take up more active roles in preventing disease, hormone regulation, and metabolic function.

Micro’s can be divided into four main categories:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins: Are vitamins that are able to dissolve in fat but not water. This means they stay in your body longer. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins play active roles in helping blood clot, providing antioxidants that fight inflammation, boosting the immune system, and even in protecting your vision. Good sources of these types of vitamins are leafy greens such as, turnip greens, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Water-soluble vitamins: These are vitamins that don’t stay in the body for very long because they do not get stored in fat. Because of this, these vitamins need to be replenished more frequently then their fat-soluble counter part. These vitamins take roles in producing energy for the body, protecting cells from damage, and even in producing blood.
  • Trace minerals: Are needed in smaller quantities then your microminerals are. Examples of trace minerals include, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. They help with transporting oxygen in the body, protecting your cells from damage, and help your nervous system function smoothly. Good sources of trace minerals are, fish, pecans, cashews, and grass-fed meats.
  • Microminerals: These are some of the more common minerals you hear or read about in your daily multi-vitamins. These minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. Microminerals take up roles in bone strength, muscle strength, and regulating blood pressure. Good sources for microminerals are leafy greens, milk products, lentils, and fish.

Macronutrients vs Micronutrients.

When comparing macronutrients vs micronutrients, there are definitely some key differences in the two. To start, you need a lot more macros then you do micros. Macros give you calories while micros do not. However, micros still help with energy production.

Understanding these two different nutrient groups can help you in making more informed choices with your diet.

Tracking Macro’s, Diet, and Gut Health

While we understand the differences in comparing macronutrients vs micronutrients, it’s also important to understand how one impacts the other. Many people track their macros, whether it’s because they want to lose weight, or need to consume some necessary amount of macros to hit a fitness goal of theirs.

However, its important to know that if you are tracking your macros, you should also track your micros as well or at least implement foods into your diet that you know are going to provide much needed micronutrients. The primary reason for this is because, if you focus on eating a lot of protein for example, and leave carbs out, you could be sacrificing some important pro and prebiotics that are necessary for maintaining good gut health.

Modern society places a lot of emphasis on calorie and macro counting based on various health needs/goals. However, it’s not often emphasized to promote diets that are also partially based in micronutrients. For example, the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet recommends eating a lot of fruits and veggies to increase the consumption of blood pressure reducing nutrients (potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber).

Notice how some of the main components of the DASH diet are macros AND micros? This type of diet is a great example of how macros and micros can be combined to promote good overall health.

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