What Is the Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients?

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The McKinley Health Center reports that macronutrients are those that provide calories for energy, including proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals, are those that are necessary for maintaining good health. Humans need to consume relatively large amounts of macronutrients, but micronutrients are generally required in much smaller quantities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a balanced diet contains carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Eating foods from the six major food groups provides most people with the macronutrients and micronutrients they need.

Carbohydrates provide glucose, the fuel that provides the body with energy. Examples of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, cereals, breads and grains. Foods that contain added sugar, such as cookies, cakes and sweetened milk products, also contain carbohydrates. The CDC recommends that Americans consume fewer calories from sugary foods and refined carbohydrates and that they consume more calories from complex carbohydrates with higher fiber content, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Adults require between 28 and 34 grams of dietary fiber per day.

The CDC explains that protein is another macronutrient that people need for health. Every cell in the human body contains protein. Dietary protein is broken down into amino acids that are used to rebuild these cells. Protein containing foods are meats, poultry, fish, dairy products and some vegetables, such as beans, nuts and seeds. Tofu, a soybean-based product that is high in protein, is often eaten by people who choose to avoid meat.

Fat is also is an essential nutrient. However, some fats are unhealthy; the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that Americans consume less than 10 percent of their total calories from fat. In general, oils are healthier than solid fats, and unsaturated fats, such as those found in some vegetable oils, nuts and certain types of fish, are the best.

According to the CDC, most Americans do not require extra minerals or vitamins if they consume a balanced diet. However, some people, such as pregnant women, children or those with certain illnesses, may need supplements.