Nutrients: What are macros and micros?
What are macros and micros?
Macros and micros are a way of differentiating between two types of nutrients which you need to nourish your body. All whole foods contain macro and micronutrients in varying amounts, so whether you are eating a steak or a banana, you are getting both types of nutrients.
Macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats
Macronutrients are the things we need in large quantities such as fats, carbohydrates and proteins, which fuel your body and provide energy.
Micronutrients: Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals
Micronutrients are the nutrients we need in small quantities - vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and trace elements. These micronutrients help your body to function and are involved in every process from digestion to immune function to disease prevention.
Should you track your macros?
Chances are, you will know someone who is tracking their macros. The ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (a.k.a ‘IIFYM’) diet has become increasingly popular in the past couple of years, and gives you a lot more information about your dietary habits than simply counting calories. Tracking macros is a way of focusing on specific health goals through a tailored balance of proteins, carbs and fats.
At one end of the spectrum there are low fat diets, which are typically higher in carbs. Unfortunately these diets often include unhealthy levels of sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Followers of low fat diets also tend to skimp on healthy fats (we wrote more about the benefits of healthy fats here).
At the other end of the spectrum are high fat diets such as the ketogenic diet, which includes plenty of healthy fats, medium amounts of protein and very low amounts of carbs. (We have written more about the ketogenic diet here). A paleo diet such as the Bulletproof diet is somewhere in between, focusing on healthy fats, medium amounts of quality protein and low-to-medium amounts of carbohydrates (this would vary slightly depending on the person).
Upsides to tracking macros:
- A macro diet could help you to learn more about the foods you eat, particularly the ratios of protein, carbs in fats they contain. This can help you to fine tune the foods that work best for you.
- Your macro ratios can be tailored to your personalised health goals. Whether you are looking to run further, gain muscle or lose body fat you can find the right combination to suit your needs. Apps like My Fitness Pal or Keto diet tracker can help with this.
- Macro diets are flexible and allow you to eat a balanced diet, with no foods or food groups off limits, provided you stick to the macro range that works for you.
Potential downsides to tracking macros:
- Counting macros for every ingredient in your meals can be a bore, and for some people can become unhealthy and even obsessive.
- Tracking macros means you may not focus enough on the quality of the foods you eat. Recent research has shown that focusing on eating whole foods and sourcing quality ingredients is the healthiest and most sustainable way of achieving health goals such as weight loss(1).
No one-size-fits-all macronutrient profile
Whichever diet you choose, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to macronutrients. We all have a different eating preferences, and not everyone wants to be counting the nutrient breakdown of every single food they eat. Anyone who has tried to improve their diet will know that what works best for you may not necessarily work for your friends and family. One of the reasons behind this is that we all have individual metabolic biology and a unique gut microbiome.
Macros and gut microbiome
The microbiome of your gut can influence what you eat. Studies have shown that different strains of microbiota can impact the way you get energy from your food, as well as how hungry or full you feel after a meal(2). There are further studies which show that bacteria in your gut can change your taste preferences and induce cravings that will help the gut bacteria to survive and thrive - often at your expense(3). Changing your macros to a lower carb diet is one way to help reduce food cravings. Probiotics and fermented foods have also been shown to help you resist microbial control(4).
Look out for our upcoming post about micronutrients, why you need them and how to tell if you are getting enough.
1. The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds
2. Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Modulator of Host Metabolism and Appetite
3. Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota?
4. Modulation of Gut Microbiota-Brain Axis by Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Diet