Today’s guest post comes from Monica Nichols…see her bio at the end of post!
The two most-used terms in nutrition nowadays are probably micronutrients and macronutrients. And it’s no surprise, since they’re one of the most important aspects of building a healthy diet and promoting a healthy lifestyle. When you know a sufficient amount about micro and macronutrients, it becomes much easier to plan a perfect meal that will give your body everything that it requires on a daily basis. Simply put, a “nutrient” is any organic or inorganic molecule that the body requires in order to properly maintain all the processes inside of our cells. It could be a vitamin, a protein or just about anything else. One of the most popular classifications of nutrients is based on how much of them our body needs. Hence, we get the following classification comprising of macronutrients (molecules that our bodies need a lot of) and micronutrients (those that we need in smaller quantities).
This article is going to be a quick guide to the most basic macro and micronutrients, precisely why our bodies require them and why it’s a really bad idea to let yourself become deficient in any of them.
As I already mentioned, macronutrients are molecules that our bodies require in large quantities. There are three types of macronutrients out there: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates (or carbs, as they’re regularly abbreviated) have a singular function within our organism – to provide energy. When food that contains carbohydrates is ingested, these molecules are metabolized into a more simple form of sugar called glucose. Glucose is incredibly important in our bodies, as it is the bread and butter of our body’s energy supply. Our brain needs it in ample doses to keep functioning properly, which is why people on low-carb diets can sometimes feel that their mental functions are somewhat impaired – their brains simply don’t have enough glucose to continue operating at 100% efficiency.
Carbs are somewhat of a double-edged sword, however; because they’re almost pure energy, over the centuries our bodies have adapted to respond really well to them by releasing large amounts of the feel-good hormone dopamine into our bloodstream. In other words, carbs are always welcome in our bodies and we don’t always know when we’ve had enough, which means that it’s really easy to overeat with carbs – much more so than with fats and proteins.
Fats are molecules whose primary function is to serve as an energy reserve within our organism, so that the body has something to use as an energy source in the event that it goes into starvation. Additionally, the fat molecules (also called lipids) function as integral parts of the membranes of our cells, and they’re also very important for breaking down certain fat-soluble vitamins. The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also incredibly important in maintaining healthy skin and proper brain function. Fats have been getting somewhat of a bad rep over the past few decades because of their apparent tie to obesity, but it appears that more and more studies are showing that the real culprit for this is sugar, and not fat.
Proteins are primarily the building blocks or our muscles and our internal organs, and as such they are one of the most important molecules in our organism. They serve a variety of other functions as well; hemoglobin is a protein that is responsible for transporting oxygen to all the cells in our bodies, and without it we’d suffocate in a matter of minutes. But as I already mentioned, proteins are best known as being the stuff that muscles are made of, which is why most fitness junkies will swear on protein as the single most important macronutrient out there.
Micros are an equally important type of nutrient, regardless of the fact that the body requires less of them. And since nature is really good at balancing things out, micronutrients are also far less widespread in the food that we eat, and there’s a lot less of them. Perhaps the most popular type of micronutrients is the vitamin, and depending on its type it can serve a variety of functions in our organism. Vitamin C, for example, is necessary for the growth and repair of tissues in the body, and is integral to maintaining a healthy immune system. Vitamin A assists in forming healthy skin, teeth and soft tissue, and it also produces pigments in the retina, contributing to healthy eyesight.
Apart from vitamins, there are also minerals like iron, potassium, calcium, zinc and many others that are also classified as micronutrients. Iron is a very important component of the aforementioned hemoglobin protein, which helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Calcium is the stuff of our skeleton, and significantly contributes to strong, trauma resistant bones and joints. Each of these nutrients has their own functions, and being deficient in just one of them can cause serious health issues.
Of course, there is much more to be said about the various functions and types of macro and micronutrients, but today I just wanted to cover most of the basics and give you a very simplified idea of why it’s very important to keep track of them. The more you know about your nutrition, the more you’ll be able to take care of your own health, so I strongly urge you to learn as much as possible, and use that knowledge to improve your diet. Stay healthy!
Monica Nichols is a 32-year-old writer and fashion designer from Omaha, Nebraska. When she’s not writing for http://www.diet.st, she enjoys ice skating and watching old movies.