Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients

Main Difference – Macronutrients vs Micronutrients   

Nutrients required for the survival of mankind and other living creatures can be divided into two categories. They are macronutrients and micronutrients. There seems to be a lot of confusion over the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients. The main difference between macronutrients and micronutrients is that human body requires macronutrients in larger quantities whereas micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities. The major macronutrients are carbohydrate, protein and fat which contribute to the bulk of our food. They are the structural and energy-giving caloric constituents of our foods. Meanwhile, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are essential for maintaining a good health.  In this article, let’s elaborate the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients in terms of their chemical characteristics and properties.

What are Macronutrients

Macronutrients are chemical substances required for growth and other human body functions. Humans and animals need macronutrients in larger quantities compared to micronutrients. They contribute to the bulk energy needed for a living organism’s metabolic system.

Main Difference - Macronutrients vs Micronutrients

What are Micronutrients

Micronutrients are chemical substances required for various functions of the body, growth, and disease prevention. Furthermore, they are essential for overall health of human beings. Humans and animals consume micronutrients in smaller quantities compared to macronutrients. They provide the required cofactors for human body metabolism to be carried out.

Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients

Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients

The differences between macronutrients and micronutrients can be divided into following categories. They are; 

Definition

Macronutrients: “macro” indicates large and macronutrients are nutrients required in large amounts.

Micronutrients: “micro” indicates small and micronutrients are nutrients required in small amounts.

Examples

Macronutrients: Examples include protein, fat, fiber, water, and carbohydrate.

Micronutrients:

  • Phytochemicals and antioxidants
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals such as iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc and molybdenum

Exception: Minerals such as Calcium, Sodium chloride, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, and Sulfur are sometimes known as macronutrients because they are necessary in large quantities compared to other vitamins and minerals. Thus, they are also known as the macro-minerals.

Body Function

Macronutrients:

  • Provide calories or energy – Fat has an energy content of 9 kcal/g and proteins and carbohydrates 4 kcal/g
  • Muscle development
  • Build and repair tissues
  • Carbohydrates serve for the storage of energy (e.g. starch and glycogen)
  • Structural components (e.g. cellulose in plants and chitin in arthropods)
  • Carbohydrates are important component of coenzymes (e.g. ATP, FAD, and NAD) and the backbone of the genetic molecule known as DNA and RNA
  • Fat serve for the storage of vitamins
  • Maintaining body temperature
  • Promoting healthy cell function
  • Play key roles in the immune system, fertilization, preventing pathogenesis, blood clotting
  • Hormone, enzymes, and other chemical compounds synthesis
  • Protection of body organs and insulation
  • Cell membrane functioning and cellular signaling mechanism
  • To maintain helpful gut microorganisms

Micronutrients:

  • Synthesis of enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development
  • Vitamin A – Maintain vision cycle
  • Iodine – Synthesis of thyroid hormones
  • Folic acid – Neural tube development
  • Prevent non-communicable diseases
  • Act as coenzymes or cofactors for various enzymes
  • Actively engaged in the human metabolism process (cellular respiration, cell cycle)
  • Hemoglobin synthesis

Nutrients Rich Food

Macronutrients: Cereals (rice, wheat, barley), legumes, meat, fish, yams, potatoes, nuts, oil seeds are rich in macronutrients.

Micronutrients: Mainly vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, green leafy vegetables, fermented foods, germinated foods are rich in micronutrients.

Daily Recommended Requirements

Macronutrients:

  • 55–75% of total energy from carbohydrates
  • 15-20% of total energy from protein or 1g/kg body weight per day – Protein
  • 20-35% of total energy from total fat
  • 20% of total energy from Monounsaturated fats
  • 10% of total energy from Polyunsaturated fats
  • 7% of total energy from Saturated fats

Micronutrients:

  • Vitamin A – 700 µg
  • Vitamin E – 15 mg
  • Vitamin C – 75 mg
  • Pantothenic acid – 1.5 mg
  • Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mg
  • Pyridoxine – 3 mg
  • Thiamine – 1 mg
  • Riboflavin – 1.1 mg
  • Niacin – 14 mg
  • Folate – 400 mg
  • Iron – 18 mg
  • Selenium – 55 mg
  • Calcium – 1000 mg

Deficiency Diseases

Macronutrients: Deficiency of macronutrients can cause protein-energy malnutrition, Kwashiorkor, marasmus.

Micronutrients: Deficiency of micronutrients can cause

  • Vitamin A deficiency night blindness, Xerophthalmia, keratomalacia
  • Iron deficiency – Anemia
  • Iodine deficiency – Goiter
  • Thiamin deficiency – Beriberi
  • Riboflavin deficiency – Stomatitis
  • Niacin deficiency – Pellagra
  • Vitamin C – Scurvy

Excesses Diseases

Macronutrients: Obesity, Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome can be caused by the excess of macronutrients.

Micronutrients: Vitamin overdoses can harm to the human body organs such as the liver.Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients - infographic

In conclusion, the quantity and quality of macronutrients and micronutrients vary greatly, dependent on not only what types of food you consume but also the quality of that food. Daily diet tends to have more macronutrients than micronutrients and they are essential nutrients to the human body.

References:

Flour Fortification Initiative, GAIN, Micronutrient Initiative, USAID, The World Bank, UNICEF, Investing in the future: a united call to action on vitamin and mineral deficiencies, p. 17.

UNICEF Canada, Global Child Survival and Health: A 50-year progress report from UNICEF Canada, p. 68.

Canadian UNICEF Committee, Global Child Survival and Health, 2006, p. 67.

Image Courtesy:

“Oats, barley, and some products made from them” by Peggy Greb, USDA ARS (Public Domain) via commons.wikimedia.org 

“powerful-combinations-of-fruits-and-vegetables-for-healthy-life-part-1″ by Honolulu Media (CC BY 2.0) via flickr

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