WEIGHT MANAGEMENT ∙ 4 minutes read

Explained: macronutrients and micronutrients

By Riya Lakhani-Kanji

Accessing food and nutrition information over social media is becoming increasingly popular these days, thanks to the likes of TikTok and Instagram. But how simple is it to separate fact from fiction when you have thousands of influencers who claim to have the latest solution for weight loss?

It’s time to clear the noise around nutrition and get down to the basics – that’s where micronutrients and macronutrients come in. 

Macronutrients and micronutrients are both essential building blocks of healthy nutrition. It’s the macronutrients that make up your total caloric intake, and include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts, and these include vitamins and minerals. 

Both macronutrients and micronutrients work in synergy to ensure that your body is working as it should be. Getting the recommended amount of macros and micros is a delicate dance, and when the balance is off, your body tends to have a clear way of sending signals (think: trouble with maintaining a healthy weight and nutritional deficiencies). 

You might be left wondering, what are the differences between macronutrients and micronutrients? And what role do they play in your diet? Here, we explain everything you need to know about the two and how they can influence your weight loss journey.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the key building blocks of any diet and they’re where all your calories come from. Essentially, everything we eat is made up of some form of macronutrients and micronutrients (but we’ll get to that shortly).

The three main macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. They’re regarded as essential nutrients, as our bodies are unable to make them or make enough of them. 

Macronutrients provide energy in the form of calories:

  • Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram
  • Proteins contain 4 calories per gram
  • Fats contain 9 calories per gram  

Each macronutrient serves a specific purpose, but collectively, they supply the energy, fuel and nutrients your body needs to function properly. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and the brain’s primary fuel. They’re made up of chains of starch and sugar that get broken down into glucose or sugar molecules. 

Some of the key functions of carbohydrates are:

  • Energy storage: Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in muscles. During physical exercise, stored glycogen is converted into energy to power the muscles.
  • Brain fuel: Your brain relies on glucose for fuel in order to power electrical signals and carry out its normal cognitive function.
  • Promote digestive health: Dietary fibre, a type of carbohydrate, aids digestion, helps you feel fuller for longer, and keeps your blood cholesterol levels in check.  

Because carbohydrates are so vital to many of your body functions, any extra carbohydrates you eat are stored in your muscles, liver and fat for future use.

Best dietary sources for carbohydrates

Not all carbohydrates are created equally. The healthiest types of carbohydrates include complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, oats and lentils. These foods pack in more nutrients and will take longer in your body to break down compared to refined sugars (think: white bread, pasta, sugar and chocolates), helping you stay fuller for longer. 

Proteins

Protein provides the body with amino acids, organic compounds that are the foundation of cell and muscle structure. In total, there are 20 different types of amino acids, nine of which are considered essential and must be obtained from the foods that you eat. 

Amino acids are used in the growth and repair of body tissues and muscles, and they help create new proteins, enzymes and hormones within your body. Amino acids also help provide structure to your body’s cell membranes, such as your organs, hair, skin and nails. 

Best dietary sources for proteins

Protein-rich foods include seafood, eggs, milk, fish and lean meats. You can also easily get a variety of amino acids when eating plant-based, by including pulses, nuts, seeds, grains and soya-based foods in your diet.

Fats

Fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol in the body. They play an important role in building the exterior of your cell membranes, the transport and absorption of certain fat-soluble micronutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K), and protect your vital organs. 

There are fatty acids that the body cannot make, and so need to be consumed from the foods that you eat. These include alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).

Fats also have the highest calorie count per gram, which means that they require more energy to burn. 

Best dietary sources for fats

The healthiest sources of fats include avocados, olive oil, seeds, almonds, peanuts, walnuts and seafood – they’re all rich in unsaturated fats (the healthy kind of fats). 

What are micronutrients?

Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and polyphenols that are found alongside the macronutrients, in smaller amounts. 

Micronutrients play a vital role in maintaining every reaction that occurs in the body. From assisting in hormone production and maintaining energy levels to regulating metabolism and facilitating DNA synthesis, they are crucial nutritional compounds!

Consider vitamin B2, which contributes to energy-yielding metabolism. Or vitamin D, which facilities calcium absorption, bone health and normal immune function. Vitamin E is an antioxidant. Then there’s magnesium which helps with proper muscle and nerve function, and in the maintenance of normal bones and teeth. Considering that we need at least 27 different micronutrients in our bodies, the list truly goes on! 

Best dietary sources for micronutrients

You can find a wide range of micronutrients in the food you eat. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lentils and heart-healthy fats, as they’re plentiful in micronutrients. Micronutrients are best consumed as part of a balanced diet, but you can also top up your levels by taking a daily multivitamin if you want.

What’s the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients?

Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients do not provide energy or fuel in the form of calories – but as you already know, they are just as important for our health. 

As the prefix “macro” indicates, we need far larger quantities of macronutrients than micronutrients. That’s one of the reasons why macros are measured in grams, such as grams of carbohydrates or fats. Micronutrients have a smaller unit of measurement – most micronutrients are measured in milligrams or micrograms.  

How do macronutrients relate to weight loss?

Macronutrients are essentially everything when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. It’s one of the reasons why some people even count their macronutrients to help with weight loss. 

Counting macronutrients is seen as a flexible way of eating for many as it allows people to choose what they like – as long as they stick to a certain carbohydrate, protein and fat ratio. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all macronutrient ratio, since these values depend on your current health status, your metabolism, levels of physical activity, and the goals that you would like to achieve. But in general, you should aim to eat 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates (the more complex, the better), 25-35% of your calories from fat (opt for unsaturated fats) and around 10-30% of calories from proteins. 

The bottom line

You can find macronutrients and micronutrients in all types of foods that you consume. Focusing on the quantity and the quality of the type of macronutrients that you get can help your body function effectively, and may even help you with your weight loss goals. 

The main thing to remember is that the quality of macros in your diet is far more important than meeting a set ratio per day. For the best results, focus on an overall high-quality and balanced diet. A diet that is rich in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, will give you all the macronutrients your body needs for maintaining a healthy weight.