What are macro and micro nutrients? Why are they important, and why should we care? I break down the 7 main nutrients for you, divided into 2 simple categories!
Nutrition: everyone believes in it, not everyone understands it. Nutrition is a simple yet complicated concept, something that works differently for every individual, yet a factor so important in our lives that we cannot ignore it.
But what is nutrition and why is it important? The World Health Organization defines nutrition as “the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs”. Ok, but what are those dietary needs exactly?
There are 7 major types of nutrients that the body needs to function, which can also be divided into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the main nutrients your body needs in larger quantities, such as carbohydrates, fat and protein, while micronutrients are nutrients your body requires in small amounts only. Below is a short explanation of each nutrient, separated by macro and micro categories, and information about the benefits of each.
1. Protein: Ah, protein. My favorite subject. All you vegans, vegetarians, or primarily plant based connoisseurs know what I’m talking about. When everyone starts asking about your protein intake when they find out you are eating mostly plants. Protein is one of the building blocks of the body, making up most of the cell structure and cell membrane. Protein is essential for growth, health and body maintenance. It’s made up of amino acids that your body derives from food. While it is essential for your overall health, it is not the only nutrient your body needs.
2. Carbohydrates: Carbs are fuel for your body. Have you talked to or been on a low carb diet? It’s horrible! You are agitated, irritated, sluggish and forgetful. That’s because carbs act as energy for the brain, heart and central nervous system. When you starve your body of this essential nutrient, you are essentially depriving yourself of optimum brain performance! The carbs you need for your body will vary between individuals, as it is based on activity level, health and a host of other factors.
3. Fat: Like carbs, fat is always demonized in diets. Healthy fats, however, are some of the best nutrients around and so important for your brain performance. Fats contain essential fatty acids and vitamin E, which feeds your heart, brain, immune system. Did you know that sixty percent of the solid weight of your brain is fat? Yes, 60 percent! So feeding your brain fat helps fat not only improves your overall brain performance, but it improves your mood and reduces your risk of dementia, keeping you sharp well beyond your years!
4. Water: Water is an interesting nutrient, as it is not always considered a macro nutrient. While it does not provide energy in the form of calories as the other macro nutrients do, it does helps to hydrate and detoxify the body, as well as improve your overall function by carrying nutrients to the cells. Water makes up about 60% of your own body weight. This is why hydration is so important. We need water daily, just to keep us going and hydrated! While the body can go without food for weeks, it cannot survive without water for more than a few days.
5. Minerals: Minerals are elements found in the earth, such as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and calcium. These are all vital micro nutrients needed to keep our hair, skin, bones and teeth strong, but we also require them in smaller amounts. Minerals are also considered antioxidants, elements that help to fight free radicals which damage tissue, cells and accelerate the aging process.
6. Vitamins: Unlike minerals, which are elements, vitamins are carbon-containing molecules activated or deactivated by heat, light, oxygen and chemical process. Vitamins are critical for disease prevention and well-being. They are typically derived in the diet and not produced by the body. According to the CDC, vitamin-A, B, C, iodine and folate are some of the most important vitamins that we nice, which ironically, many of us throughout the world are nutritionally deficient in.
7. Fiber: Like water, fiber is sometimes included in key nutrient lists, and sometimes not. Fiber, however, is a crucial part of nutrition and a key component for your gut bacteria. Fiber aids in digestion and detoxifying the body by elimination through the colon. Too little fiber leads to constipation, digestive issues and a host of other gastrointestinal health complications. Fiber can be found in beans, legumes, whole fruits, nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables.
Now that you have a basic idea of nutrition and its key components, see my other articles about why this information is important, why we are not getting the nutrients we need, why most “healthy” diet advice is wrong, and what you can do to fix it!