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What Are Macro & Micronutrients?

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 macro and micronutrients?

Before we investigate the differences between the two, 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, what are 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, so, 225 - 325g. Carbohydrates provide 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. Depending on your age and sex the recomendatiosn in grams changes, please refer to the guidelines to find your exact amount. 

Fat: 20-30% of an individual’s energy is recommended to come from fat, with no more than 10% from saturated fat, so, 45-75g. Fat 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 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

Well Balanced Meals For Macronutrients:

Lemon Caper Chicken with Potato Medley & Rainbow Slaw

Beef Chilli Con Carne with Mexican Rice

Southern Indian Vegetable Curry

Second up but not second place, micronutrients!

Think small but essential, mirconutrients 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:



Water Soluble:

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


Fat Soluble:

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

Sodium: anchovies, cheese, olives, prawns

Chloride: seaweed, tomatoes, celery, olives

Potassium: bananas, potatoes, mushrooms

Trace minerals:

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





Well Balanced Meals For Micronutrients

 Beef Bolognese with Broccoli & Pasta

Chicken Curry Laksa with Rice Noodles

Atlantic Salmon Risotto 

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 you're choosing food products, so you can make conscious choices of what you’re putting in your body.

Alicia McIntyre