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Nutrients (Macro vs. Micro)
What are Nutrients?
Nutrients are the components of food that keep our body going. They are how our body gets energy, repairs itself, and maintains normal functions and processes. Our body cannot make these essential nutrients on its own, so they must be received from the food we eat. There are two categories of nutrients: Macronutrients and Micronutrients, which are often referred to as Macros and Micros for short.
Micronutrients are necessary to support the body’s metabolism and functions. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and organic acids that are essential to human survival. Because they are not broken down by the body, they cannot be used for energy, and are needed in fairly small quantities. Rather than acting as fuel, they ensure that the body’s organs are operating properly and efficiently.
Macronutrients are broken down by the body to provide energy and structure. Because of these essential roles, they are needed in larger amounts than micronutrients. Macronutrients are found in three types: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Each one has specific functions in the body.
Proteins are composed of amino acids and act as the building blocks of cells and our body. Out of the three macronutrients, our body uses the least amount of energy from protein. Instead, we use protein mainly for repairing cells and growing muscle. The most common protein sources are meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes, seeds, certain grains, as well as combinations of vegetables.
Carbohydrates, or Carbs, are made up of starches and sugars and are the body’s main source of energy. There are two main kind of carbs, complex and simple carbohydrates.
Complex Carbohydrates are composed of many sugar molecules combined together into a starch. They have fiber and digest slowly to provide a steady stream of energy. Complex carbs include whole grains, beans, and vegetables, and are great dietary staples.
Simple Carbohydrates are made up of just a few sugar molecules, and provide more of a quick energy boost. Examples of simple carbs include table sugar, honey, jams, juices and other refined sugars.
Fats are made up of glycerin and fatty acids and glycerin, and are another one of the body’s main sources of energy. Fat, unfortunately, has been demonized and known as something you want to avoid and get rid of. In reality, eating fat does not make you fat or make you unhealthy. Fat is absolutely essential to the body. It helps you absorb vitamins, keeps cell membanes functioning, and makes your hair and skin healthy. Base levels of body fat is useful for protecting organs and acts as insulation to stabilize body temperature.
As with carbohydrates, there are two main types of fats: saturated and unsaturated fats. The body needs a balance of both of these to function and stay healthy. Saturated fats refer to fatty acids with an abundance of hydrogen atoms in the molecule chains. These are solid at room temperature, and include butter, coconut oil, and cheese. Unsaturated fats, therefore, do not have as much hydrogen in their chains. They form a liquid at room temperature, and can be found in olive oil, fish, and red meat. Both saturated and unsaturated fats are essential to the body’s healthy function and should be consumed in moderate amounts.
Trans fats,are another type of fat, however they are not healthy or natural. Trans fats are hydrogenated oils found in processed foods, and should be avoided as much as possible.
How much you eat of each of these nutrients depends entirely on your body, your goals, and your activity levels. Without counting specifically how much of each nutrient to eat, opting for more nutrient dense food can help the body function more efficiently and lead to a healthier, happier life.