You know that eating nutrient-rich foods is key if you want to be healthy. That’s because “nutrients” is the catch-all category for substances found in food that provide nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life. But what about macronutrients and micronutrients—how are they different, and what do they actually do? Let’s dive in.
What are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients refer to the nutrients that your body requires in relatively large amounts on a daily basis. They provide your body with calories, which are then converted into energy, and they help maintain various structures and systems within the body (e.g. your muscles). There are three macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary form of fuel and provide the quickest source of energy to your muscles, brain and nervous system, and other cells. Your body converts carbs into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and can either be used right away to fuel bodily processes or stored for later use.
Fiber also falls under the category of carbohydrates, but instead of being absorbed into your circulation, fiber sticks around in your digestive tract providing a range of benefits for gut health, digestion, and metabolic health.
Current USDA dietary guidelines suggest getting around 45-65% of your daily caloric needs from carbohydrates, however, this may vary depending on your health goals or medical issues. For example, you may want to go a bit lower if you’re concerned about your blood sugar or are struggling to maintain a healthy weight (since protein and fat tend to help balance blood sugar and keep you feeling fuller).
Generally, it’s a good idea to obtain your carbohydrates from whole foods or minimally processed sources such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (since these contain a variety of additional nutrients) as opposed to highly processed breads, crackers, cereals, etc.
Protein is the macro most commonly associated with building muscle. The body breaks down protein from foods like chicken, fish, peas, and lentils into individual amino acids during digestion, and then uses them to build structural components of the body such as bones, muscles, skin, hair, nails, and tendons. Amino acids also function as enzymes and hormones.
Protein is also the most satiating (or filling) macro, so getting enough is key for curbing cravings and maintaining a healthy weight. According to the Institute of Medicine’s dietary reference intake (DRI) recommendations, most people should be consuming around 0.8 g of protein per kg body weight (for someone who weighs 150 pounds, which equates to about 54 grams of protein per day); or, per the USDA dietary guidelines, around 10-35% of your calories should be coming from protein. However, highly active individuals, those trying to lose weight, or aging individuals may need closer to 1.2-1.4 g per kg.
Keep in mind, proteins from meat and other animal products are complete (meaning, they contain all 9 essential amino acids that the body can’t make on its own), but plant proteins typically aren’t. So, if you’re following a plant-based diet, you should eat a variety of different plant protein sources every day—like what you’d find in Ka’Chava.
Fats are the final macro—and nope, they’re not inherently more fattening than protein or carbs. Dietary fat from foods like avocado, walnuts, and olive oil is broken down into fatty acids in the body, which are important for proper brain and neural development, energy production, absorption of vitamins and antioxidants, hormone production, and so much more. Fat also provides more energy (9 calories per gram) than carbs or protein (4 calories per gram).
According to USDA dietary guidelines, your total daily fat intake shouldn’t exceed 20-35% of your daily calories, and your saturated fat intake shouldn’t exceed 10% of your daily calories. This means that the rest of your fat intake (approximately 10-25% of your daily calories) should come from a combination of good-for-you monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats..
Prioritizing fat sources from sources like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and minimally processed cooking oils (e.g. olive oil and avocado oil) is always a good idea.
What Are Micronutrients
Micronutrients are basically “the rest of the nutrients” in food, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a range of phytochemicals (i.e. health-supporting plant compounds). The fancy sounding compounds you read about in health articles—lycopene, beta-carotene, anthocyanins, flavonoids, etc—are micronutrients, too.
These nutrients are needed in much smaller quantities than macros, and they’re often measured in milligrams as opposed to grams, but they are absolutely critical for driving countless processes in the body and promoting optimal health. Many micronutrients play quite a few different roles in the body. For example, magnesium is an essential mineral used in more than 300 biochemical reactions that regulate physical and mental balance.
Micronutrients are truly what give healthy foods their edge. The problem is, not all foods contain them in significant quantities. While macros are easy to come by, even in highly processed foods like donuts, micronutrients are predominantly found in whole or minimally processed foods, especially vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
Ka’Chava contains 26 micronutrients, including magnesium, zinc, selenium, biotin, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and more. See the full list of micros here