If you've ever used a food tracking app, you might have come across insights for your daily macronutrients and micronutrients intake (also referred to as macros or micros).
However you choose to say them, these types of nutrients help fuel our bodies and allow us to perform essential human functions. But what exactly is a macronutrient? How is it different from a micronutrient?
And most importantly…how do I know if I'm getting enough of either?
Difference Between Micro and Macro Nutrient
The next time you see (or hear) the word "macro", think of energy. Why? Because that's exactly what these nutrients do for us. They provide our bodies with fuel, which is why it's no wonder we need a good amount of them to get up each day and take on the world (Medical News Today).
According to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, a macronutrient is…"[a] dietary component that provides energy. Macronutrients include protein, fats, carbohydrates, and alcohol."
That's right! There's a fourth macro, and we bet you didn't think it was alcohol. This is because most experts put alcohol in its own league, as it doesn't contain any of the essential nutrients your body needs. That means you don't actually "need it" to survive like you do with the other three.
Since alcohol contains calories, those are typically turned into energy, which is why most food tracking apps categorize it as either a carb or fat.
Speaking of carbs and fats, let's quickly unpack what's in each macronutrient:
- Carbohydrates: Sugars, starches, and fiber
- Fat: Saturated, trans fat, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats
- Protein: amino acids
So, now that you're an expert on macronutrients, let's move on to micronutrients.
The simplest way to remember micros is by thinking about vitamins and minerals:
"Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients required by the body to carry out a range of normal functions. However, these micronutrients are not produced in our bodies and must be derived from the food we eat," (Harvard T.H. Chan).
Though you do need to ensure you're getting enough of both nutrients, micronutrients are typically needed in less quantities than macronutrients: "Macronutrients are nutrients that people regularly require in large quantities to provide their body with energy to perform bodily functions and daily activities," (Medical News Today).
So, How Much of Each Macronutrient Do You Need?
The USDA recommends that adults between the ages of 19 and up need 130 grams of carbohydrates daily and up to 20-35% of fat from their daily calorie intake.
Protein is recommended based on gender:
- Men need up to 56 grams of protein daily
- Women need up to 46 grams of protein daily
For more details on USDA recommendations for both macro and micronutrients, see Appendix 7 (pages 97-98) for a complete list of their guidelines by age and gender.
What Are Good Sources of Macronutrients?
In a previous article, we discussed how our bodies count on us to provide them with the essential macros and micros they need to not only sustain life but thrive each day. This means choosing nutrient-dense foods that make each calorie (and meal) count!
"Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods. Foods in nutrient dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects," (USDA).
As it's important to get a larger amount of macros each day—not to mention that many of the foods that offer macros also provide quality amounts of micros, too, we wanted to provide a list of some food options to add to your shopping cart!
- Carbs: According to Medical News Today, food items like brown rice, bananas, oats, and sweet potatoes are good sources of carbohydrates.
- Fats: Nuts, avocados, fatty fish (i.e., salmon, tuna, and sardines), and seed butter offer the fat content your body needs, plus essential vitamins and minerals, too!
- Protein: Nuts, nut butter, hummus, quinoa, and eggs are packed with protein, as well as other macros and micros.
Stay Tuned for More Nutrition 101
We'll continue to share helpful articles that aim to educate and empower you to make mindful snack and meal choices, so you feel your best and continue to pursue the right food/life balance for you!