The Real Difference Between Micros And Macros

When you start reading up on nutrition, you'll run into two common, casually-used terms: micros and macros, or micronutrients and macronutrients. Both play important roles in your overall nutrition, and depending on your goals, you may want to pay attention to specific macro or micronutrients in your overall daily diet. Here's what you need to know to understand the difference.

Think of macronutrients as the building blocks of food: Fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Foods generally fall into one or more of these categories: olive oil is a fat, chicken breast is primarily protein, and bread is mostly made up of carbohydrates. These macronutrients are measured in grams, and they're listed at the top of nutrition labels on all of your processed foods. While your macronutrient breakdown will vary depending on the diet that you're on — keto diets are primarily fat based, with moderate protein and low carbohydrate intake, for example — it's rare that a diet will completely cut out any of the primary macronutrients (via Healthline).

Micronutrients, on the other hand, are measured in much smaller quantities, but are equally important to overall health. Micronutrients include all vitamins and minerals, and can have a major impact on your body's ability to function, from brain to muscle to blood flow. There are 30 essential micronutrients that the body cannot produce on its own, which means you need to ensure that you're eating foods that are rich in these micronutrients regularly.

How do you know what to eat?

Remember how sailors used to get scurvy when on ships for a long time at sea with minimal food options? Harvard Health Publishing explains that the scurvy was primarily due to a lack of vitamin C, since the sailors had little access to fresh fruits or vegetables that would be rich in the immune-boosting vitamin.

Focus on eating a balanced diet that's rich in fruits and vegetables in order to get your micronutrients from whole food sources rather than relying on vitamins. "You should ideally try to meet your vitamin and mineral needs through your diet rather than supplements," Dr. Howard D. Sesso told Harvard Health Publishing. He notes that vitamin C doesn't just come from eating oranges, it's found in tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli as well. 

While your preferred macronutrient balance may depend on the diet you're following, it may take a while to get used to what foods are high in protein versus high in fat or carbohydrates. Often, foods contain all three macronutrients in varying quantities, so sticking to a specific macronutrient balance requires paying close attention to your food. Using trackers like MyFitnessPal will help you get a better sense of both your micro and macronutrient intake, and let you know if you're getting low on a certain nutrient (via MyFitnessPal).