Micronutrients vs Macronutrients – What are the Differences?
Micronutrients and Macronutrients are both staples in our diet. Both of them provide much-needed nutrients. However, the two are very different in what exactly they provide to our bodies and our health. Below, we will compare micronutrients vs macronutrients. Macronutrients provide the 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 Micronutrients vs Macronutrients, what their roles are, and what optimal intake looks like.
But First, Some History…
Discovery of the Body’s Relationship to Food
1770 marks the discovery and subsequent study of the body’s relationship with food digestion, consumption, and usage. Antoine Lavoisier made this discovery of what we call metabolism. In the early 1800s, the studies continued into isolating carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. These elements were studied with respect to 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 1912. At that time, a Polish doctor by the name of Casimir Funk, combined the two words “vital” and “amine”. “Vital” because Funk considered vitamins to be vital in the human diet. “Amine” because Funk thought vitamins were compounds derived from ammonia.
Discovery of Health Effect of Nutrients
The U.S. Department of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin continued its studies in 1912. They found rats were healthier when fed butter, rather than lard because butter had more Vitamin A. Additionally, they connected diseases to the lack of vitamins. One example of such a disease was beriberi. The lack of Vitamin B can cause beriberi.
Really this all marks landmark studies of Micronutrients vs Macronutrients. Not in the sense of comparing the two but more so in discovering them. Studies into energy and foods began in the 1770s. However, the idea of energy from food in the form of calories didn’t become a key topic until 1918. 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. She also encouraged people to count theirs in order to manage their weight better. Additionally, micronutrients didn’t really start to appear in nutritional textbooks until the 1950s.
Macronutrients or more commonly called “macros” are nutrients you need in your body in large amounts. When it comes to Micronutrients vs Macronutrients, one of the main differences is the amount your body needs. There are four different forms of macros:
- Alcohol (this one barely counts)
Each macro provides you with the energy you need to function from one day to the next. In addition, these nutrients 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.
Your body will eventually break down most carbs into glucose. Glucose 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. These range from synthesizing amino acids that build proteins to helping keep your digestive tract running smoothly. Fiber, for example, is a carb that the body does not digest. As a result, fiber doesn’t provide energy to the body but helps the body get rid of waste.
We can break carbs down into two sub-groups:
- Simple Carbs: These are easy for your body to break down into an energy form. They typically have 1-2 energy molecules. We find simple carbs in sweeter foods such as honey, nectar, sugar, syrup, and fruit.
- Complex Carbs: These take longer for your body to break down because they are larger molecules. Sugars are strung together to make these larger molecules. These typically are more savory in their flavor and we commonly associate these 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, typically associated with muscle growth, has a lot of roles in the body. It takes up roles in the body that help the body grow, heal, and repair. Additionally, proteins help the body produce enzymes and hormones. They also help produce a hand full of other chemicals in the body. In fact, proteins and peptides make up a majority of your body’s hormones.
Amino acids make proteins. There are two different types of amino acids: essential and non-essential. Don’t get me wrong, both of these are essential. However, the body can produce non-essential amino acids. Conversely, the body cannot produce essential amino acids. Therefore, you need to include essential amino acids in your diet.
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 oftentimes gets a bad reputation because it provides twice the calories when compared to other macronutrients. However, take the time to pay attention to the type of fat you are consuming. Additionally, note how much of it you consume. This can help you greatly reduce the risk of heart disease and other diseases associated with fat consumption. Fat is actually a crucial aspect of 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 of 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 than that becomes unhealthy.
- Unsaturated fats: These are your healthy fats. Consuming this type of fat has a lower risk of heart disease than the other two fats. These can be found in plant sources such as avocados, nuts, nut butter, seeds, and olive oil.
How Much of Each 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. This is helpful for events such as running a marathon or participating in a high-energy sporting event.
Diets are often time subjective really. Some people might need to consume more of one macro than the others. If you are unsure about what an optimal diet for you could be, then you can try consulting a physician. You can even try consulting a nutritionist or personal trainer with a nutrition certification. There are a lot of trainers who specialize in nutrition. They can often help you find a diet that fits your needs. Whatever diet you choose, make sure you enjoy it and properly chew your food.
The human body does not need micronutrients (“micros”) at the scale macros are needed. 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 Micronutrients vs Macronutrients, the main differences are the amounts you need and the roles they play in your diet. Macros primarily provide energy. Micros, on the other hand, take up more active roles in preventing disease, hormone regulation, and metabolic function. Most people don’t track micros but we have talked about tracking micronutrients before.
We can divide micronutrients 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 and providing antioxidants that fight inflammation. Additionally, they help with 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 than their fat-soluble counterpart. These vitamins take roles in producing energy for the body, protecting cells from damage, and even producing blood.
- 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 micro minerals are leafy greens, milk products, lentils, and fish.
- Trace minerals: Are needed in smaller quantities than 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 enabling your nervous system to function smoothly. Good sources of trace minerals are fish, pecans, cashews, and grass-fed meats.
Micronutrients vs Macronutrients Comparison
When comparing micronutrients vs macronutrients, there are definitely some key differences between the two. To start, you need a lot more macros than 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 micronutrients vs macronutrients, it’s also important to understand how one impacts the other. Many people track their macros. Some do it to help them lose weight. Others may want to consume some necessary amount of macros in order to hit a fitness goal of theirs.
However, it’s important to know that if you are tracking your macros, you should also track your micros as well. At the very least, you should implement foods into your diet that you know are going to provide much-needed micronutrients. If you focus on eating a lot of protein, and leave carbs out, you could be sacrificing some important nutrients. In this case, you could be leaving probiotics and prebiotics out of your diet. Probiotics and prebiotics 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 on micronutrients. For example, the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet recommends eating a lot of fruits and veggies. This leads to an increase in 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 is a great example of macros and micros being combined to promote good overall health.