What they are and where to find them.
Have you heard of counting macros for good health or weight loss? “Macro” is short for macronutrients, and they, along with micronutrients, are key to good health.
What are macronutrients?
Carbohydrates, protein and fat are known as macronutrients. Your body uses lots of macronutrients for energy and to function properly. Jennifer Franceschelli Hosterman, DO, a specialist in obesity medicine and weight management nutrition, recommends, “Don’t exclude — or significantly restrict — carbs, proteins or healthy fats. You need all three for a healthy diet.”
These are your body’s primary fuel source. The two main types are simple and complex carbs:
Simple carbs are broken down into sugar quickly, sending immediate bursts of energy into the bloodstream. Examples include fruits, dairy products, soft drinks, baked goods, juice and candy.
Complex carbs take longer to digest and are a more stable source of energy. They also provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole grain bread, rice, pasta, beans, legumes and vegetables are complex carbs. White rice, bread and pasta tend to be more processed and refined, which removes some of the fiber and nutrients. That makes them a less healthy option. Check your labels — look for whole grain as the first ingredient.
Daily recommended calories from carbohydrates: 45–65%
Fat supports many of your body’s functions, like absorbing and transporting vitamins and minerals, blood clotting, building cells and insulating and protecting your organs. There are three types:
Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products and are solid at room temperature. Eating a lot can raise your total cholesterol and your risk for heart disease. Foods high in these fats include poultry skin, fatty cuts of meat, whole milk dairy products, butter, eggs and palm and coconut oil.
Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered healthy because they play beneficial roles like improving cholesterol levels. They’re mostly found in foods from plants such as olive and peanut oil, fish, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Trans fats are artificial fats that lengthen shelf life and give a satisfying taste and texture to fried foods, baked goods, stick or tub margarines, potato chips and more. They might taste good, but they aren’t good for you, raising your cholesterol and leading to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Limit your daily calories from trans fats to no more than 1%. Read food labels — some brands use trans fats, while others don’t.
Daily recommended calories from fat: 20–35%, with less than 10% from saturated fat
Your body needs protein to maintain the strength of your blood, muscles and heart, as well as to heal wounds and protect your skin.
Protein-rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. But there are plant sources, too, like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy. Vary your protein routine by including different sources of protein in your diet. Your protein needs depend on several factors: age, sex, health status and activity level.
Daily recommended calories from protein: 10–35%
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients. They’re the vitamins and minerals you require in your diet for good health, proper development and disease prevention. Except for vitamin D, micronutrients aren’t made in the body and need to be consumed through your diet.
It’s critical — especially for growing children — to get enough micronutrients in your diet so you don’t end up with health problems from malnutrition.
There are four main micronutrients you should get from your diet:
B vitamins and vitamin C are two important water-soluble vitamins. Your body doesn’t store these, so you need them daily. Any water-soluble vitamins your body doesn’t use are flushed out with urine.
The benefits of these vitamins are helping you get energy and strengthening your cells. Some foods high in vitamin B are:
- Whole grains
- Citrus fruits
- Meat, poultry and fish
Foods loaded with vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Red bell peppers
- Kiwi fruit
Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat instead of water. They include vitamins A, D, E and K. Your body can store them for later use in fatty tissue and the liver.
Vitamin A helps eye health and supports your immune system. Vitamin D helps your body build strong bones by aiding calcium absorption. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to protect the tissues in your body and is important to blood, brain, skin, vision and reproduction. And vitamin K supports your body’s blood clotting process.
Foods high in vitamin A
- Sweet potatoes
Vitamin D foods
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified dairy
- Orange juice
Foods with higher amounts of vitamin E
- Wheat germ oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Red bell peppers
Vitamin K-loaded foods
- Leafy greens, like collard greens, raw spinach and raw kale
- Dry roasted cashews
- Roasted soybeans and soybean oil
- Canned pumpkin
Microminerals are necessary for muscle and bone health and help control your blood pressure. Some examples are calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Foods high in microminerals include dairy products, black beans, lentils, bananas and fish.
Worried that you’re not getting enough nutrition from your diet? Your doctor can order tests to find out if you’re low on any particular nutrient and recommend a dietary supplement. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new supplements — you could be getting too much of a good thing! “The best way to make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need is to get it from healthy eating,” says Dr. Franceschelli Hosterman.