What’s the Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients?
Ever heard someone talking about tracking their macros? It’s a big part of the paleo diet, but macronutrients are crucial to any diet. So are micronutrients, BTW. Let’s back up a second for some nutrition 101: Your body uses nutrients for growth, maintenance, and energy. Like their names imply, macronutrients are necessary for your body in relatively large amounts; micronutrients are required in minute amounts.
Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fats, protein, water, and macrominerals (like sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium). They’re your body’s main sources of energy and essential nutrients, and make up the largest part of your daily diet.
There are way more micronutrients—or what are more typically called vitamins or minerals—than macronutrients. But your body only needs them in small amounts (and yes, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing). Even though you don’t need that much of them, micronutrients are essential for development, disease prevention, and general well-being. If you’re not getting enough vitamins or minerals from your diet, you can get them from a dietary supplement like Centrum, which contains key micronutrients to feed your cells and help support your energy, immunity, and metabolism.
Macronutrients and micronutrients work together to keep you healthy. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your brain. There are two groups: simple carbs, which provide energy quickly; and complex carbs, which provide energy more slowly but over a longer period of time. Starches, which can be found in whole grains and veggies, are complex carbs, while sugars (think: fruits and juices) are simple carbs.
Another major energy source, fats help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and insulate our bodies and protect our organs. Healthy fats (these are unsaturated fats, which help lower cholesterol levels when consumed instead of saturated fats) are found in olive, canola, and peanut oils; nuts and nut butters; olives; and avocados.
The final major energy source, we need protein to power almost all cell functions. Animal proteins are considered complete because they provide all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of life. Plant proteins tend to not have all the essential amino acids, but vegans, fear not! By eating a variety of plant proteins, you can still get all the essentials.
Sodium, which is in table salt, helps control your body’s fluid balance, which is important to your health. It’s found in almost all foods; most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged or prepared foods, or the food we eat at restaurants. Most Americans consume way more than they should, which puts them at risk for conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Like sodium, chloride is also found in table salt and helps balance your body fluids, too. Beyond table salt and prepared foods, you can find it in many vegetables, like seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and olives.
Potassium in a mineral that helps with high blood pressure. You probably already know you can get it from bananas, but it’s also in dried fruits like prunes, raisins, and dates, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. You can also find it in dairy foods and fish.
The most abundant mineral in the body, 99 percent of your calcium goes to support your bone and tooth health; the rest is for important heart, muscle, and nerve functions. Dairy is the best source, but you can get it from lots of dairy-free options, too.
Phosphorus is the second-most abundant mineral in the body and is important for bone and teeth strength. It also helps the body use carbs and fats, and helps the body grow and maintain cells and tissues. It’s primarily found in meat and dairy products.
Magnesium plays a role in hundreds of reactions your body is performing constantly, including energy production and blood glucose control. Good sources are green leafy vegetables like spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
You need vitamin A for proper eye health; it also helps your immune system and organs work properly. You can get vitamin A from meat and fish, and also from fruits and vegetables. Keep an eye out for leafy vegetables and orange and yellow vegetables.
Folate, one of the B vitamins, is important for DNA synthesis and the metabolism of amino acids. It’s especially important when you’re pregnant. Spinach, liver, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts have some of the highest folate levels.
Your body relies on zinc for a number of functions, including supporting your immune system, making DNA, helping heal wounds, and even tasting and smelling. Oysters have the most zinc, but other types of seafood are good sources, too.
Vitamin C protects cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and is crucial in collagen production (collagen is the thing that keeps your skin healthy). Vitamin C also helps keep you healthy by supporting the immune system. Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruits, are vitamin C all-stars, but generally, fruits and vegetables are the best sources of the vitamin.
Another B vitamin, biotin plays a major role in synthesizing energy from fats and carbohydrates. It also supports your skin, nervous system, and cell health. You can get it from a ton of foods, like organ meats (think: beef liver), fish, eggs, and seeds.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which makes it important for bone health. You can find it in fatty fish like mackerel and tuna, as well as fortified products like milk. It’s also produced by the body when your skin is directly exposed to the sun. Wearing sunscreen limits the amount of vitamin D your skin makes, but it’s still important to wear sunscreen when you’re outside!
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is another vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, protecting your cells from oxidative damage. It also supports your immune system and prevents blood from clotting. Vegetable oils—like wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils—and nuts are among the best sources of vitamin E.
Vitamin K is a nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy. It helps with bone health, blood clotting, and more. You can get vitamin K from green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and lettuce.
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