Nutrients are the compounds in foods that help sustain your body’s physiological processes. Nutrients are divided into two classes, micronutrients and macronutrients, based on how much of the nutrient your body needs daily. All of the nutrients are an essential component of a healthy diet.
Micronutrients vs. Macronutrients
Micronutrients are so named because your body requires them in smaller amounts than macronutrients. In “Nutrition and You,” Joan Salge Blake notes that micronutrients are usually measured in micrograms or milligrams, whereas macronutrients are usually measured in grams. The micronutrient group is made up of vitamins and minerals and the macronutrient group consists of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for your body. Carbohydrates provide your body with the simple sugar glucose, which is carried to each of your tissues and cells and converted to energy. The best sources of carbohydrates are plant-based foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Carbohydrates provide you with 4 calories per 1g. The acceptable macronutrient distribution range, or AMDR, for carbohydrates is 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. If you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, you would need 225 to 325g of carbohydrates daily.
Protein provides the structure to all of the cells in your body. Proteins also help build enzymes and hormones, maintain the acid-base balance in your body, transport various substances throughout your cells and help keep your immune system healthy. In the absence of carbohydrates, proteins can provide your body with energy. Like carbohydrates, proteins provide you with 4 calories per 1g.
There are two ways to calculate your protein needs. You can use the AMDR, which is 10 to 35 percent of your daily calorie needs. If you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, you require 50 to 175g of protein per day. A more precise way to calculate protein needs is based on your body weight. Adults should consume 0.8g of protein per 1kg of body weight. Using this method, a 150 lb. person would require approximately 55g of protein per day.
Although fat is often associated with negative health implications, fat is essential for a healthy diet. Fat helps cushion your organs, provides insulation to help you maintain body temperature and allows you to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Your body has an unlimited ability to store fat, so fat can also provide with you energy when you haven’t eaten for an extended period of time, notes Blake.
Fat is a more concentrated source of calories than carbohydrates or protein, providing you with 9 calories per 1g. The AMDR for fat is 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories, so someone on a 2,000-calorie diet requires approximately 45 to 78g of fat every day.
It is important to note that micronutrients are just as essential to a healthy diet as macronutrients. Although they do not provide calories, the micronutrients are vital to proper growth, development and health. The micronutrients ensure that all of your body’s processes run smoothly and that your body is able to convert the calories the macronutrients provide to energy.
- "Nutrition and You"; Joan Salge Blake; 2008
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat