nutrition

Micronutrients vs. Macronutrients: What's the Difference and Why it Matters

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

4 min read

a photo of a giant salad

While your body needs fewer micronutrients than macronutrients to function properly, both are essential to your health. Let’s look at some of the differences.

In order to function properly, your body needs nutrients. The kinds of nutrients your body needs can be divided into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Let’s take a look at why they’re important and what sets them apart.

Micronutrients

When you hear the term “micronutrients,” you can think of vitamins and minerals – the sorts of nutrients you might take in supplemental form or get through food. For the most part – there are some exceptions – vitamins and minerals are what’s called “essential nutrients,” which means your body doesn’t produce them on its own and must obtain them through outside sources.

Here’s how that works: Vitamins are the organic compounds plants and animals make, which can be broken down, and minerals are inorganic, existing in soil and water, and can’t be broken down. When you eat, you’re getting the vitamins created by plants and animals or the minerals they have absorbed.

Micronutrients are vitally important for the health of your mind and body. They can help support growth, brain health, immune function – indeed, there’s not much about you that micronutrients don’t affect in some way. Some micronutrients even have antioxidant properties that can help fight off illness. That’s why it’s so important to have a balanced diet with broad intake of vitamins and minerals. You can ask a medical professional about your vitamin and mineral levels and see any modifications, including possible supplementation, you should make.

Your body needs fewer micronutrients relative to macronutrients. That’s why they’re called “micro” instead of “macro.”

Your body needs smaller amounts of micronutrients relative to macronutrients. That’s why they’re labeled “micro.”

Examples of common micronutrients

Micronutrients can be broken down into distinct categories: vitamins, macrominerals, and trace minerals.

Micronutrient vitamins include fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. They also include the vitamin B complex family.

Examples of macrominerals include:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur
  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Phosphorous

Examples of trace minerals include:

  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Iodine
  • Selenium

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are another type of nutrient your body needs – and your body needs them to a larger degree than it needs micronutrients. That’s why they’re called “macro.” Your body needs a lot of these nutrients to function properly.

There are three main types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Like many micronutrients, these nutrients are what we call “essential,” which means that your body either doesn’t make enough of them or can’t make them at all. Thus you need to get them from outside sources.

Generally speaking, here’s what the three types of macronutrients do for your body.

Your body digests protein into amino acids (nine of which are essential and must be derived from food), which then help your body: build and repair muscle, create much-needed hormones and enzymes, maintain a proper pH balance, and provide structure. Protein is also important for hair, skin, nails, and organs. Simply put, carbs are broken down into sugar to provide and store energy. They help support feelings of satiety and promote digestion. And fats protect your organs, are good for cell health, help transport fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body, and store energy.

Your body needs all three of these to perform particular functions, and they all provide fuel for energizing the body.

Examples of common macronutrients

Let’s take a look at some common macronutrients.

Some sources of protein include:

  • Chicken and turkey
  • Eggs
  • Red meat
  • Seafood
  • Soy products
  • Dairy products
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Some sources of carbs include:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dairy products

Some sources of fat include:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Coconut
  • Avocados
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products

Do macros vs. micros matter for dieting?

Your health goals are specific to you. The key is to get adequate nutrients, both macro and micro. You should have a general goal of having each macro group represented in your meals.

Talk to a medical professional about your dietary needs and strategies.

How to make sure you’re absorbing nutrients

If you’re concerned that you’re not absorbing nutrients, you should consult a medical professional. Your doctor might consider lab testing of blood or stool.

You can also check out the Bristol Stool Chart, which can help you identify potential issues with your bowel movements. Your bowel movements can indicate the quality of your nutrient absorption.

If digestion is a problem, you can consider some slight tweaks to your diet, eliminating foods that upset your digestive system.

Key takeaways

Micronutrients and macronutrients are both vitally important for your health. You need more macronutrients than micronutrients, but both categories serve important functions. The three types of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, while micronutrients mainly comprise the vitamins and minerals that you need to get from outside sources.

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