What Are Macronutrients? Your Comprehensive Guide to Macros vs. MicrosArticle posted in: Diet & Nutrition
Information about nutrition can be confusing and hard to understand, often because the lingo is so unfamiliar. That’s why, here at The Leaf, we try to break it all down for you. From How to Read a Nutrition Label to Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Carbs and How to Know if You’re Eating Enough Protein, we try to give you all the information you need to navigate the often perplexing world of nutrition. Which is why, today, we’re talking macro- and micronutrients. You may have heard these terms before, but do you really know what they mean?
If you’re like the millions wondering what are macronutrients?, don’t fret… here’s everything you need to know:
THE MACROS: Macronutrients
Macronutrients are those nutrients that your body needs in large (“macro”) quantities, like carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Macros also supply energy for the body. Each gram of carbohydrate contains four calories; protein contains four and fat contains nine. Here’s a little more about macros:
Role in Body
Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen form carbohydrates, which, in turn, become sugars, starches and fiber in food. Carbohydrates supply your body with glucose, which is used as energy to support all of its functions and to fuel physical activity. This macronutrient also is vital to your brain, helping to regulate your memory, mood and more.
Many health magazine articles have demonized carbs for contributing to excess weight gain and some trendy diets even emphasize low- or no-carb eating. Not all carbohydrates are the same, though. Simple carbohydrates, such as those found in white bread and sweets, are quickly digested and absorbed, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels. Hunger pangs can result fairly shortly after eating these carbohydrates. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, or SmartCarbs, are slow-burning. These contain significant amounts of fiber, which help you feel full long after your meal is done.
Healthy carb intake for most adults is between 45 and 65 percent of your total daily calories, according to the National Institutes of Health. One gram of carbohydrates equals about four calories.
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates are whole, unprocessed foods with plenty of fiber. This includes the fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta, that appear on Nutrisystem’s list of SmartCarbs.
Role in Body
Despite stigma around their name, fats are an essential part of your diet. Also referred to as lipids, they provide plenty of energy and help your body absorb several key nutrients. Fats also ensure that you feel full after eating. Fatty acids are the basic elements of lipids and the ones that make up each fat source determine whether or not the it is solid, semi-solid or liquid at room temperature.
Dietary fats are divided into two main categories: Saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fat is abundant in foods that come from animals and, when eaten in excess, they tend to raise your body’s cholesterol levels. This leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, are mostly derived from plant foods like olives, nuts, and sunflower seeds. These are the fats we want to increase in our diets. Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to lower rates of depression and offer a wealth of other health benefits.
To stay healthy, you want to limit your dietary fat consumption to no more than 35 percent of your total daily calories, suggests the American Heart Association. A gram of fat has about nine calories.
The most nutritious sources of fats are whole foods. Fish, avocados and peanuts all provide you with the fats you need along with other vital nutrition. Certain seafood like tuna and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Role in Body
The building blocks of every cell in your body, proteins are composed of a variety of different amino acids. The way those amino acids are arranged in a sequence (or chain) determines the protein’s function in your body. Some proteins form enzymes and hormones, others build and repair tissues. Your hair and fingernails are mostly protein.
Proteins differ from the other macronutrients because your body doesn’t store them. That’s why you need to provide a constant supply. We tend to think of meat and fish as “protein” because they are concentrated sources of the nutrient. However, nearly all foods contain some amino acids and many plant-based foods—particularly beans and nuts—are protein-rich.
Adults need to get roughly 25 percent of their daily calories from protein, according to the American Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition. That’s about 46 grams of protein for a 140-pound woman.
The most critical concern when choosing protein is how much saturated fat it comes with. You get about 21 grams of protein in a three-ounce piece of beef or pork, but these protein sources tend to be loaded with unhealthy fats. The best types of protein are known as PowerFuels at Nutrisystem, because they are high-quality sources of protein without all the bad stuff. For example, turkey and seafood are leaner sources than other animal foods. An eight-ounce container of non-fat yogurt has about 11 grams of protein, while a cup of dry beans has a whopping 16 grams.
So, the next time someone asks you, “what are macronutrients…” you can reply, “they’re in everything we eat.” But, you’ll know which foods to emphasize.
THE MICROS: Micronutrients
Along with protein, carbohydrates and fats, your body depends on a variety of vitamins and minerals to produce enzymes. While we only need miniscule amounts of them—hence the name “micronutrients,” these vitamins and minerals form compounds and hormones essential for growing new cells and keeping us healthy as we age. There are a wide variety of micronutrients, but here are a few of the most important and why you need them.
Critical for healthy vision, your immune system and efficient functioning of your lungs and kidneys, vitamin A is abundant in seafood, dairy products and orange-colored fruits and vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes.
There are several different forms of vitamin B, each with its own role to play in your health. For instance, vitamin B1, known as thiamin, and B2, aka riboflavin, help your body make and convert food into energy. Vitamin B3, or niacin, aids in the digestive process. Folic acid, the other name for vitamin B9, is critical for pregnant women because it helps babies develop normally. Red meat and seafood contain lots of B-complex vitamins, as do dark leafy green vegetables.
Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C helps protect your body’s cells from damage and fend off unhealthy microbes. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit are well-known sources of vitamin C, but this micronutrient is also abundant in red peppers, broccoli and potatoes.
Calcium is an important building block of bones and teeth. Dairy products, including milk and yogurt, are loaded with calcium. Kale or fish with bones you eat, such as sardines, are other healthy sources.
You need this mineral to produce hemoglobin, the component of blood that transports oxygen to your muscles and other tissues. Meat, especially liver, is a concentrated source of iron, but you can also get the nutrient from legumes—dried beans—of all kinds.
Sodium helps your body regulate blood pressure and ensure muscles are working correctly. Most people have too much sodium in their diets—primarily from eating salt-laden, processed foods—based on reports by the American Heart Association. Vegetables like beets and spinach give you sodium along with other important nutrients, so opt for these over the bags of movie theater popcorn and cans of soup.
This mineral plays a central role in regulating your heart rate and supports the kidney in filtering the blood. Potassium is an important counterweight to sodium in your diet, helping to pull the excess salt from your body. Bananas and watermelon are popular sources of potassium, but it’s also found in tomatoes, avocados and dried fruits like figs.