We all know how big an impact diet and nutrition has on our health and wellbeing. Consuming high quality foods is so important in fuelling our bodies and protecting them from inflammation and oxidative stress. If we’re not consuming enough of the right nutrients then we can suffer with anything from low mood and energy levels all the way up to chronic and serious health conditions.
Being able to have an understanding of the different types of nutrients in the foods we eat and the effect they have on our bodies makes it simpler to incorporate them into our diets. Nutrients can be divided into two groups – micronutrients and macronutrients. Let’s look at what exactly they are and how they promote growth and development and regulate the daily processes in our bodies.
Micronutrients Vs Macronutrients – What’s The Difference?
The nutrients we get from the food we eat can be divided into two groups: micronutrients and macronutrients. Micronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in smaller amounts and are generally referred to as vitamins and minerals. Macronutrients are nutrients your body needs in larger amounts and include protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and provide your body with calories, or energy, to support your body’s main functions.
Both sets of nutrients work in harmony to provide you with everything you need to be healthy.
A Look At Micronutrients
Our bodies don’t produce micronutrients in any great quantity and so eating a diet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals is so important in maintaining good health. Vitamins are organic nutrients and can therefore be broken down by the elements (air, heat, acid) which makes them much more likely to de-nature when cooked or exposed to air. This tends to mean they are more difficult to get into our diets. Minerals are inorganic and can’t be broken down this way which means our bodies can absorb the minerals in the water and soil the food has come from.
Vitamins and minerals each have a defined role in the body and so the best way of ensuring you’re meeting all of your body’s needs is to eat a varied diet. Micronutrients are essential for every process in the body and also act as antioxidants – substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals (unstable molecules produced by the body as a reaction to environmental and other pressures). When we consume micronutrients in the right amounts, they can protect against disease and deficiencies.
- – Keep your eyes, skin, lungs, digestion and nervous system in good health
- – Protect you against disease
- – Grow and strengthen your bones and teeth, heal wounds and support blood vessels
- – Build protein and encourage cells to multiply
- – Help to release the energy we get from the food we eat into the body
- – Promote healthy bones and help regulate the protein you consume to ensure healthy skin, nails and hair
- – Transport oxygen around the body
- – Assist in our ability to taste and smell
- – Maintain the right water balance in our bodies
A Look At Macronutrients
Macronutrients help our bodies to grow and function. Like micronutrients, they are all obtained through our diet as we can’t produce them ourselves. The three main types of macronutrient are protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and all provide different, but equally valuable, functions to your body.
Made up of amino acids, proteins are used by the body to function as hormones, enzymes and antibodies in the immune system. Protein makes up part of our bodies including skin, hair, muscle fibre and connective tissues – they are essentially the building blocks of the body. How nutritious a protein is depends on the quantity of amino acids it contains and the food source.
Meat and fish all contain the essential amino acids as well as soy, quinoa and leafy greens such as Amaranth. The recommended daily intake of protein is between 0.75 and 1 gram per kilogram of body weight.
Fats are distinguished as saturated and unsaturated, however your body only requires unsaturated fats to function properly. Unsaturated fat helps promote cell growth and regeneration, improve blood flow, regulate the metabolism and maintain cell membrane elasticity. They also help transport fat-soluble vitamins around the body including vitamins A, D, E and K.
Although we don’t require saturated fats in our diet, they do provide us with cholesterol which plays an important part in the production of hormones. A small amount of saturated fat in our diets can also help to build cell membranes, produce oestrogen and testosterone, support our metabolism, produce vitamin D, and aid our digestive system. Too much saturated fat however can lead to high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease so any consumption should be kept to a minimum.
Carbohydrates are found in sugars, starches and fibres from fruit, grains and vegetables. Essentially they provide our bodies with energy as they’re easily broken down into glucose which is then used by the brain and muscles to function.
Carbohydrates can be found in both healthy foods, such as vegetables, as well as unhealthy foods including cakes, chocolate and doughnuts. You can make a clear distinction here by labelling them as simple and complex carbohydrates – the difference between the two being the chemical structure which affects how quickly they are absorbed into the body. Simple carbohydrates obtained from unhealthier foods tend to release sugar faster because they are made from refined and processed sugar and lack fibres, minerals and vitamins. Complex carbohydrates are processed by the body much more slowly and contain various nutrients. When choosing the source of your carbohydrates, you should choose the most energy and nutrient dense source you can. Examples of healthy (or complex) carbohydrate sources are below.
How Much Should You Be Consuming?
People approach daily macronutrient consumption differently. The recommended daily guidance for each macronutrient is typically as follows:
- Protein: 10 to 35 per cent of calories
- Fat: 20 to 35 per cent of calories
- Carbohydrates: 45 to 65 per cent of calories
This of course differs from person to person. For instance, if you are a bodybuilder looking to gain muscle then you would look to eat a higher percentage of protein. Conversely, if you are watching your blood sugar level then you might eat fewer carbohydrates. For more information on good nutrition and the steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients in your diet read my article on the basics of nutrition.
Be In The Know
Micronutrients and macronutrients are both present in our daily diet and form the basis of the foods we eat. Knowing more about what they are and the benefits they provide our bodies helps us ensure we’re eating the right foods and in the right amounts to keep us healthy and functioning at our optimum levels.
Do you keep track of your daily intake of micronutrients and macronutrients and, if so, is this part of a calorie-controlled diet? Or perhaps you didn’t know much about the importance of these nutrients and this has opened your eyes a little, in which case has this article helped you out? Comment underneath and let me know.