Your body requires two types of nutrients in order to stay healthy, macronutrients and micronutrients. Simply put, macronutrients include all the food categories that you must eat in large quantities while micronutrients are those foods that you need in trace amounts to maintain your health. In terms of importance, both categories are essential as a deficiency of any variety can lead to severe ailments and even death.
Dieticians and nutritionists often refer to macros and micros in your diet plan. They are actually referring to macronutrients and micronutrients. In this article, you will know the details about them, their functions, and the diseases that can result from the deficiencies.
Macronutrients comprise of those nutrients that you typically get from the food items classified as staples. The word macro comes from the Greek word makros that means large. Your body cannot manufacture these nutrients on its own so you need to procure them through food. You need far greater quantities of macronutrients than micronutrients. Macronutrients help you with growth and gives you the energy to perform various kinds of physiological, physical, and mental work.
The three main categories of macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. All cultures across the world include these three components in their local diets. No matter how widely different the taste and ingredients are, the basic components are the same i.e., some variations of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.
Carbohydrates constitute of those food items that can be broken down into glucose that provides energy to your cells and helps you to do different kinds of activities. They usually come in two varieties.
- Simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates are the bad carbohydrates that most diets warn you to stay away from. Cakes, pastries, bread, etc. contain a lot of processed carbohydrates that can be easily digested and broken down into sugar. While these food items also give you energy, they do not bring along any vitamins, minerals, or fibers. These carbohydrates are most likely to lead to weight gain and obesity-related disorders.
- Complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are naturally occurring food items like grains, veggies, fruits, etc. Along with starch and sugar, they are also rich in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. They take a long time to digest and give you a feeling of fullness and satiation for longer periods of time. These carbohydrates do not impact your health in a bad way and help you to remain active and energetic.
Whole grains, legumes, veggies, fruits, etc. are all sources of complex or good carbohydrates.
Daily requirement: Your daily recommended dose of carbohydrate will depend a lot on the amount of physical work you do. Someone leading a sedentary life will need much less carbohydrates than someone who performs hard manual labor for several hours in a day. However, in both cases, it is essential to choose nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates.
Proteins act as the building blocks of your body and make up your muscles, bones, connective tissue, hair, nails, etc. They are composed of amino acids and make up various hormones, enzymes, and antibodies of the immune system. High-quality proteins are those that contain a large number of essential amino acids in substantial quantities.
Fish, eggs, and meat are excellent sources of animal protein. Legumes, nuts, and seeds are good sources of plant protein.
Daily requirement: You need to consume 1gm of protein for every kilogram of your body weight to meet your daily requirement of proteins. Always choose high-quality proteins. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, please combine proteins from different sources as most plant-based proteins lack a few amino acids.
- Lipids (Fats)
Lipids or fats are essential for your health because they help to regulate metabolism, promote growth and regeneration of cells, maintain elasticity of cell membranes, circulate fat-soluble vitamins, provide insulation to body and improve blood flow. Like carbohydrates, fats are often unfairly criticized for their role in bringing upon various diseases in the human body. But fats too can be categorized into two classes.
- Saturated fats
Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms and their fatty acid carbon chains do not contain any double bond. Your body does not require saturated fats as they provide cholesterol which your body can manufacture on its own. A little amount of saturated fat is ok to consume as they can help in speeding up metabolism and synthesizing certain hormones. But excess of it will lead to diseases of the heart. They are usually called bad fats.
Most animal fats, coconut oil, and butter are examples of saturated fats.
- Unsaturated fats
Unsaturated fats contain at least one double bond in their fatty acid chain. Also, these fats are usually liquid at room temperature. They perform all the functions of lipids for your body and you need to get them through food sources as your body cannot manufacture them.
Olive oil, canola oil, nuts, chia seeds, avocados, fatty fish are all examples of healthy or unsaturated fats.
Daily requirement: About 30%-35% of your daily caloric intake should comprise of fats.
Micronutrients are those nutrients that you need to ingest in small quantities. The name comes from the Greek word mikros meaning small. These are also known as trace elements as very little amount of these nutrients can meet the daily demand of your body. However, this small amount is of utmost importance as it can potentially save you from various diseases that deficiency of the micronutrients can lead to. Since your body cannot manufacture these on its own you need to get them through food. Vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals are considered as micronutrients.
Vitamins are of two types, water-soluble and fat-soluble. Some examples of water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and the B vitamins. Vitamin A, D, E, and K, on the other hand, are fat-soluble vitamins. All vitamins are organic in nature and hence they are highly susceptible to small changes in temperature. Cooking or wrong methods of storage can break down vitamins so you need to be properly informed to make sure that you are getting all your vitamins before they decompose.
Minerals are inorganic substances that your body requires and they are stable elements that do not transform as easily as vitamins. Zinc, magnesium, calcium, manganese, etc. are all examples of essential minerals that your body requires.
Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is the best way to ensure that you are getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat colorful foods to include a wide range of nutrients in your diet.
Some of the micronutrient-dense food items are fatty fish, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, eggs, broccoli, berries, leafy vegetables, colorful fruits, and veggies.
Functions of the nutrients
Both macronutrients and micronutrients help your body to thrive and you to remain in perfect health. The important functions of the nutrients are listed below for your reference.
Functions of macronutrients
The most important functions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are:
- To supply and store energy
- To build and repair various tissues
- To build and sustain genetic material (DNA and RNA)
- To maintain body temperature
- To build various co-enzymes, enzymes, hormones, and neurochemicals
- To promote cellular health, growth, and signaling
- To maintain gut health
- To provide insulation and protection to various organs
- To maintain healthy immunity and fertility
- To prevent pathogenesis and blood clotting
Functions of micronutrients
Micronutrients also perform many important functions for your body.
- They help in protein synthesis and cell division
- They help to release energy from food for your use
- They are essential to keep your eyes and skin in ideal health
- They also preserve your digestive tract, lungs, bones, and other vital organs
- They maintain the immune system and guard you against diseases
- They build collagen that heals wounds and supports blood vessels
- They help in circulation of oxygen to different parts of your body
- They help to maintain water balance
- They stabilize the proteins that your body synthesizes
- They maintain your ability to taste and smell
Diseases related to incorrect intake of nutrients
Deficient as well as excess intake of macronutrients and micronutrients can cause various diseases.
Less than sufficient intake of macronutrients can cause diseases like malnutrition, marasmus, Kwashiorkor, etc.
Excess intake of macronutrients can cause cardiovascular diseases, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, etc.
Less than sufficient intake of micronutrients can cause diseases like Xeropthalmia, night blindness, Beriberi, stomatitis, Pellagra, scurvy, Anemia, Goiter, etc.
Excess intake of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals like calcium can cause liver damage and kidney damage respectively.
Macronutrients and micronutrients are a part of everybody’s life but it is important to be informed about exactly what they do to your body and why they are so important for your well-being. Leaving out a single type of nutrient can bring about fatal consequences for your health. That is why it is so important to pay more attention to what you eat. Eating balanced and nutrient-dense meals can help you to stay in the pink of health. So, do not neglect your diet, following a planned diet is the best way to protect yourself against diseases and malnutrition.