Macronutrients and micronutrients: what’s the difference?
There are two kinds of nutrients found in food:
- Macronutrients, which supply energy to the body. These are protein (1g = 4 calories), carbohydrates (1g = 4 calories) and fat (1g = 9 calories). They make up most of the food we eat, but the proportions are important: protein should represent 10-15% of your total energy intake, carbs 50-55% and fat 30-35%.
- Micronutrients do not provide energy but are essential. These are vitamins (C,B,A etc.), minerals and oligo-elements (calcium, iron, potassium, iodine etc.), fatty acids and amino acids. They guarantee a balanced diet and should be eaten in defined quantities which vary according to the individual's recommended daily amount (men, women, children, the elderly, pregnant women etc.).
Micronutrition, a new branch of nutrition?
Just a few decades ago, only macronutrients 'counted,' but today nutritionists, doctors and specialists have realised the importance of micronutrients. Hence micronutrition, which meets the body's micronutritional needs through a balanced diet combined with supplements if needs be.
The different micronutrients
There are several families:
Vitamins. There are 13 vitamins, plus Provitamin A. They are found in small amounts in all types of food, but are essential for function and growth. Newborn babies, pregnant women, sporty types, the elderly, people who suffer from chronic illness or stress have particularly great need of vitamins.
Minerals and trace elements. These are chemical elements found in traces in the body. However, even if their quantity is minute, they are essential as they help the muscles, organs, teeth and body fluids, and are required for chemical reactions in the body. These are calcium, potassium, magnesium, selenium, iron, copper and zinc.
Fatty acids. These include Omega 3 and Omega 6. They make up a major part of fat and are found in dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, oil, butter and magarine. They can be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids should be limited as they harm the cardio-vascular system, while unsaturated fatty acids actually help the cardio-vascular system.
Amino acids. These are the proteins present everywhere in the body (in muscles, tissue, enzymes, hormones, blood etc). There are 24 and 8 are essential as the body cannot produce them. They are found in animal produce, vegetables and cereals, and include tryptophan, cystine, lysine, taurine etc.
How micronutrition works
Today's diets contain less and less micronutrients thanks to harvesting methods (the use of pesticides, insecticides etc.), processing (refined food contains less nutrients), cooking methods (microwaving and frying) and preservation. It is common to be deficient in micronutrients, especially if you're in an at-risk goup (children, the elderly, pregnant women, smokers etc). Deficiencies often cause functional problems: chronic digestive problems, stress and weight problems. Basically they slow the body down.
Micronutrition helps you to stay healthy, whether by adjusting your diet and/or by taking supplements. Seek medical advice to ensure you get the right doses and don't overdose.