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What are macronutrients, micronutrients and why do we need them?

Macronutrients The Practical Nutritionist

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are needed in large quantities by living organisms, including humans. We need three types of macronutrients: fats, protein and carbohydrates.

Fat, protein and carbohydrates have different functions in the body, here I have given a brief outline of how they support the body and what foods should be eaten for optimal health.

Fats:

Fat is in every cell of our body. It is vital for the brain, skin and cells. It cushions our organs and does much more. I am talking healthy fats that the body recognizes and uses. For many years, fat of every description has been labelled the enemy but the reality is that the right fats are crucial for good health. Note my comment about the right fats because you should avoid the bad fats (transfats found in many processed foods like fried food). You should also avoid low fat labelled foods that may substitute fat for sugar (excess sugar in your body ends up being transformed by the body and stored as fat). Flavoured yogurt is a good example, with many brands and products being marketed as low fat while packing a lot of sugar.

Healthly Fat Foods

  • Avocado
  • Eggs
  • Olives
  • Seeds (pumpkin, chia, hemp, etc.)
  • Fish
  • Olive Oil
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.)

Protein:

Protein is essentially for hair and nails and tissue repair (grazes or cuts). A popular misconception pushed by the beef and poultry industries is that protein is just found in meat. Protein has many sources and it is good to vary your diets because eating meat heavy dishes can be hard on the digestion. Therefore opting for non-meat protein from time to time gives your digestive system a break and allows you to access other sources of nutrition.

Healthy Protein food

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Quinoa
  • Chia seeds
  • Beans
  • Raw nuts
  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Kale
  • Spinach

Carbs

Carbohydrates give us energy but for many of us, fast-carbs outweigh every other type. When I say fast carbs I’m talking about pastries, bread, pasta, fries, chips/crisps, beer, breakfast cereals and more. If you lead a very physically active life you can get away with a certain amount of fast carbs. However, if your lifestyle is less energetic, moderation is the key. I’ve noted a selection of healthy foods with carbs below:

  • Colourful vegetables
  • Fruits (apples, bananas)
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams
  • Pumpkin
  • Whole grains
  • Chickpeas
  • Cauliflower
  • Leafy greens
  • Millet
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Kidney beans
  • Gluten free rolled oats

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are needed in much smaller quantities. Micronutrients work together with macronutrients to keep the body functioning efficiently. Micronutrients help maintain and support energy levels, cell function, metabolism and overall well-being. Types of micronutrients can be found in both vitamins and minerals.

A good example is zinc, which is commonly deficient in the modern diet. Zinc is an important mineral that helps to make proteins and DNA and supports the immune system. Food rich in zinc, includes: oysters, crab, cashews, chickpeas.

Another mineral is magnesium – another victim in the modern diet. Magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure, balance blood glucose, helps to reduce muscle cramps, enzyme reactions, nerve conduction and more. Foods rich in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, beans, bananas, figs, spinach etc.

You can find a full list of minerals and food sources here.

Vitamins also play a key role in the body’s functioning. Some of these are made by our body and others we need to consume. For example, vitamins B and C are water soluble and can easily be lost throughout the day therefore must be replaced daily. In times of stress, we can burn through vitamins at an accelerated rate and need to consume them more often (vitamin C is an excellent example of this).

Types of food that contain B vitamins are nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, fish and more. Most people are familiar with vitamin C and is available in food like peppers, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, kale etc. Last but not least are the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K which tend to accumulate in the body therefore they are not always needed on a daily basis. Fat soluble foods can be found in fish, daily, olive oil, hazelnuts, carrots, avocados, kale, diary products and more.

You can find a full list of vitamins and food sources here.

Healthy food choices can support the body and may help reduce the chances of disease and illness.

Stephanie Matthews

The Practical Nutritionist

 

The Practical Nutritionist – personal, and above all, practical nutritional advice and services to help you improve your health.

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