Macro v micro nutrients: What’s the difference? And why do we need both?
In the popular hype over “tracking macros” that’s pervaded much of the diet space lately, micronutrients have largely fallen out of conversation. Foods are more often advertised these days as being “packed with protein” than “full of folate” or “maxed out on magnesium.”
But just because we don’t hear much about micronutrients doesn’t make them any less important. We may not need things like Vitamin D or zinc in large quantities, but we certainly do in small ones! Micronutrients are vitally important to maintaining a healthy body.
Let’s take a look at what macro and micro nutrients are, compare how macro v micro nutrients can help you to perform at your best, then pinpoint where to find these essential nutrients.
The Big Things
Macronutrients are those nutrients that the body needs in large quantities. These are the main sources by which we get the calories we need for everyday functions. They include fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Alcohol is sometimes included as a macronutrient, but it does not have nutritional value and generally detracts from your health.
Feed Your Brain
Carbohydrates are an essential part of the body’s everyday needs. They provide the main source of energy our bodies need to perform daily tasks and are especially important for cognitive functions.
Average people should consume 45–65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates to meet the body’s needs. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. It’s important to make sure you consume the right kind.
Highly-refined carbohydrates are those carbohydrates that have been stripped of most of their nutrients, leaving little more than calories to be consumed. These “empty” calories are often digested quickly, resulting in spikes in blood sugar which can leave you crashing later. Skip these and instead focus on whole carbs that keep you fuller, longer.
Chew the Fat
Fats are another essential macronutrient responsible for several vital functions. In addition to being a compact source of energy (9 calories per gram of fat), they’re an important part of cell composition and aid in the regulation of hormones. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to absorb several of the vital nutrients we need to survive.
Fats are also vital to brain function; recent studies have shown that regular consumption of “healthy” fats have a positive effect on neurological functioning. Some participants, while consuming healthy fats, even showed cognitive function equal to that of a person 7 years younger.
Protein is essential for repairing muscle, regulating metabolism, and building the antibodies needed for our immune systems. Average humans need anywhere from 10–30% of their daily calories to come from protein. That protein can come from any of a variety of sources — meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all great options.
Starting around the age of 30 years old, the human body begins to lose muscle in a process called sarcopenia. Because of this, it can be difficult for aging adults to gain muscle. Though physically inactive people generally lose the most muscle, even active adults can anticipate some muscle loss.
It’s important to prepare early to combat sarcopenia so that you can keep your body functioning healthily and avoid the negative effects of muscle loss. This is why it is crucially important to ensure you get an adequate amount of protein throughout your life and supplement a healthy diet with regular exercise: the fitter you are, the less you can expect your muscles to atrophy.
The Little Things—There’s Nothing Bigger
Micronutrients are those nutrients that we only need to consume in small amounts. These small amounts, however, can make a huge difference in the way our bodies and even our brains function. In fact, these small doses are vital to our health.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals we need for healthy development and disease prevention. But while only small amounts need to be consumed (sometimes even just micrograms!), a micronutrient deficiency can have serious consequences.
Sweating the Small Stuff
Several illnesses can result from micronutrient deficiencies. For example, iron is necessary for both body and brain development. Iron deficiencies can lead to anemia—which affects up to 40% of children under five all over the globe.
Vitamin A helps with our eyesight and immune system. Deficiencies in this micronutrient can lead to blindness and death from even common ailments (like diarrhea).
Iodine is a micronutrient that you likely only recognize from it’s presence in your salt—did you know it’s an essential mineral? Lack of sufficient iodine has been known to affect hormonal health, leading to large, painful goiters. Iodine deficiency was a common ailment until iodized salt was introduced in the 1920’s and helped a large part of the global population receive necessary levels of iodine.
Vitamin D is the one micronutrient the human body can produce on its own—by soaking up UV rays! This micronutrient helps bones absorb calcium, thus keeping them strong and preventing premature deterioration.
Macro v Micro Nutrients: Why Not Both?
While several contemporary diets focus solely on macro nutrients, a healthy, sustainable diet relies on an adequate consumption of both. Maintaining a diet that is varied with attention to foods that are particularly nutrient dense can help you meet both your macro and micronutrient needs.
Variety is key to ensuring that you take in enough micronutrients to meet your daily requirement. By adding different fruits and vegetables to your daily meals, you can better meet your micronutrient needs—and enjoy some tasty combinations in the process.
A meal of chicken and rice, a solid source of both protein and carbs, can be easily enhanced by some sauteed spinach (high in iron) or some red bell peppers (high in Vitamin A).
A breakfast of oatmeal, likewise, can be enhanced by strawberries (high in Vitamin A) and nuts (high in magnesium). You could even stir in some cream for a velvety texture with plenty of calcium!
Sometimes it’s best—or at least, easiest—to get all the nutrients we need in one place. There are several nutrient-dense snacks and meals that can help you get adequate macros AND micros.
Smoothies are a great way to meet both your macro and micro nutrient needs. Start with protein powder, rolled oats, and a spoonful of nut butter to get your protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Then, add in vegetables and fruits like spinach (iron), kale (calcium), beets (folate), strawberries (Vitamin A), or bananas (potassium) for a nutrient-dense meal on the go.
Or—how about a big bowl of ramen?
Believe it or not, ramen can be quite healthy if made properly. Swap out the processed packaged ramen noodles and high sodium seasoning packet for some buckwheat soba noodles and low sodium miso broth. While the broth boils, stir it quickly and add a raw egg into the liquid for a creamy broth with plenty of protein.
Once the noodles and egg have cooked, remove from heat and add vegetables like fresh cucumber (Vitamin B), carrots (iron), bean sprouts (calcium), and green onions (Vitamin A). Add some toasted sesame seeds on top for some extra magnesium and healthy fats.
Good Things Come in “Mod” Packages
ModBalls are another great way to meet both your macro and micro needs. They’re composed of 85 naturally-derived ingredients that ensure you get the best of both worlds. This wide variety of clean whole foods, (from acai to turmeric) can more than help you meet those tricky micronutrient needs—in addition to your macro goals.
ModBalls are one of the most nutrient dense snacks available today. With no artificial flavors or preservatives, what you taste is what you get! With each bite, you know you’re getting clean energy with the most vitamins and minerals possible packed into each bite (not to mention—they taste amazing!).
Knowing the difference between macro v micro nutrients and how each contributes to your overall health can help you better develop a diet that keeps your body and brain functioning at their best.
ModBalls can help you balance both types of nutrients at the same time—learn more about these nutrient powerhouses today.