You may have heard both terms thrown around, whether it was at the gym, in a health article or maybe this is the first you’ve heard of them. Either way you’ve probably wondered, what's the difference between the two?
Before we investigate the differences between macro and micronutrients, first we need to understand what a nutrient is. Nutrients are the compounds in food and that are essential for life, health, energy, cellular repair, and growth. Sounds like a big job to fill right? Well luckily there are six major nutrient groups that are up for the task! These six groups are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. And like your Friday nights, alcohol can sometimes get thrown into the mix too, as it does provide energy, BUT alcohol doesn’t provide our body with nutrients so – unfortunately – alcohol is not essential!
So, where do macro and micronutrients come into all this? Well, these two groups are commonly spoken about by nutritionists and dietitians, who have placed the 6 groups above into two teams.
First up, macronutrients!
Think BIG—these guys are your major food groups carbohydrates, protein, fats and water. Our bodies need these in large amounts for energy. The quantity requirements of each macronutrient are unique to every individual due to dietary practice. You may have heard of people “counting their macros” when they’re on certain diets or particularly in the fitness world and each person may even tell you their breakdown is the best. But, there’s not necessarily a correct balance and the Australian Dietary Guidelines outlines a wide range of relative intakes of macronutrients that are acceptable. The current guidelines are:
Carbohydrates: 45-65% of an individual’s energy is recommended to come from carbohydrate, which provides 4 calories from 1g.
Protein: 15-25% of an individual’s energy is recommended to come from protein, which provides 4 calories from 1g protein.
Fat: 20-30% of an individual’s energy is recommended to come from fat, with no more than 10% from saturated fat, which provides 9 calories per 1g.
Water is the exception, with the recommended daily intake being 2.6L of water, read more about the importance of water in your day here.
Macronutrients contain micronutrients so the quality of our macronutrients is important, as some foods have better micronutrient profiles than others. This is why eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean meats, good fats, and minimising processed food is so important for our health.
What's are some examples of quality macronutrients?
Carbohydrates: oats, brown rice, quinoa, bananas, sweet potatoes, chickpeas
Proteins: eggs, liver, shellfish, yogurt, lentils, tofu, salmon
Fat: extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado oil, avocado
Second up but not second place, micronutrients!
Think small but essential, these guys may only be needed in small quantities compared to macronutrients, but they have huge and very complex roles within our bodies. Our bodies can make some micronutrients, but can't always produce enough to support bodily functions, so it’s important we get enough through our diet. However, there are some micronutrients that we can’t produce at all, so these are essential in our diet. Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients are hard to track and trace which is why you don’t hear people counting their micronutrients.
What roles do micronutrients have in our bodies?
We won’t deep dive into every role of each micronutrient, because we’d be here all day, but a few roles include growth, immune function, brain development, energy production, cell function, blood clotting, organ function, oxygen transport, digestion, and list goes on...
Essential micronutrients fall into two groups:
Vitamin C: broccoli, capsicum, pineapple, kiwifruit.
Vitamin group B:
- Thiamin: wholegrains, animals products, leafy greens.
- Riboflavin: eggs, organ meat
- Niacin: meat, mushrooms, brown rice
- Biotin: eggs, seafood, beans, peas
- Choline: cauliflower, broccoli, eggs, fish
- Folate: leafy greens, milk, oysters, salmon
- Pantothenic Acid: chicken, tuna, avocado
- B6: milk, ricotta, tuna, eggs, beef
- B12: animal products
Vitamin A: carrots, liver, sweet potato, spinach
Vitamin K: kale, broccoli, spinach, cabbage
Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado
Vitamin D: eggs, oily fish, red meat, liver
Calcium: dairy products, sardines, dark leafy greens, soybeans
Phosphorus: animal products, nuts, wholegrains
Magnesium: greens, nuts, seed, oats
Chloride: seaweed, tomatoes, celery, olives
Potassium: bananas, potatoes, mushrooms
Iron: red meat, dark greens, mushrooms
Manganese: wholegrains, shellfish, coffee
Copper: oysters, spirulina, dark chocolate
Zinc: chicken, eggs, seafood, beans, lentils
Iodine: seaweed, cod, dairy, tuna
Fluoride: spinach, grapes, black tea
Selenium: meat, beans, lentils, soy
Molybdenum: legumes, nuts, dairy , meat
Chromium: eggs, chicken, nuts, beans, peas
You can find a breakdown of your macro and micronutrients on the Nutritional Panels on your food products, so you have full visibility of what's really in your food. It's recommended to read the ingredients and Nutritional Panel when your choosing food products, so you can make conscious choices of what you’re putting in your body.