The main difference between macronutrients and micronutrients is that the human body requires macronutrients in larger quantities, whereas micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities.
Nutrients required for the survival of mankind and other living creatures can be divided into two categories. They are macronutrients and micronutrients. The major macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat, which contribute to the bulk of our food. They are the structural and energy-giving caloric constituents of our foods. Meanwhile, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are essential for maintaining good health. In this article, let’s elaborate on the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients in terms of their chemical characteristics and properties.
Key Areas Covered
1. What are Macronutrients
– Definition, Features, Sources
2. What are Micronutrients
– Definition, Features, Sources
3. Similarities Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients
– Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients
– Comparison of Key Differences
What are Macronutrients
Macronutrients are chemical substances required for growth and other human body functions. Humans and animals need macronutrients in larger quantities compared to micronutrients. They contribute to the bulk energy needed for a living organism’s metabolic system.
Macronutrients serve as the body’s essential energy sources, with fats offering 9 kcal/g and proteins and carbohydrates providing 4 kcal/g each. They contribute to muscle development, tissue repair, and body temperature regulation. Carbohydrates store energy as starch and glycogen and also serve as structural components and coenzymes (e.g., ATP, FAD, NAD), forming the genetic backbone of DNA and RNA.
Fats store vitamins and support healthy cell function, the immune system, blood clotting, and more. Macronutrients are crucial for hormone and enzyme synthesis, protect organs, aid in cellular signalling, and maintain a balanced gut microbiome. In summary, macronutrients play diverse and essential roles in maintaining overall health and well-being.
What are Micronutrients
Micronutrients are chemical substances required for various functions of the body, growth, and disease prevention. Furthermore, they are essential for the overall health of human beings. Humans and animals consume micronutrients in smaller quantities compared to macronutrients. They provide the required cofactors for human body metabolism to be carried out.
Micronutrients encompass phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and various essential minerals, including iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc, and molybdenum. Vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, green leafy vegetables, fermented foods, and germinated foods are rich in micronutrients.
Difference Between Macronutrients and Micronutrients
Macronutrients are nutrients required in large amounts, while micronutrients are nutrients required in small amounts.
Examples of macronutrients include protein, fat, fiber, water, and carbohydrates, while examples of micronutrients include phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals such as iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc and molybdenum. However, minerals such as Calcium, Sodium chloride, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, and Sulfur are sometimes known as macronutrients because they are necessary in large quantities compared to other vitamins and minerals. Thus, they are also known as the macro-minerals.
Functions of macronutrients include:
- Provide calories or energy
- Muscle development
- Build and repair tissues
- Carbohydrates serve for the storage of energy (e.g. starch and glycogen)
- Structural components (e.g. cellulose in plants and chitin in arthropods)
- Carbohydrates are important component of coenzymes (e.g. ATP, FAD, and NAD) and the backbone of the genetic molecule known as DNA and RNA
- Fat serves for the storage of vitamins
- Maintain body temperature
- Promote healthy cell function
- Play key roles in the immune system, fertilization, preventing pathogenesis, blood clotting
- Hormone, enzymes, and other chemical compounds synthesis
- Protection of body organs and insulation
- Functions of cell membranes and cellular signaling mechanisms
- Maintain helpful gut microorganisms
Meanwhile, the functions of micronutrients include:
- Synthesis of enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development
- Vitamin A – Maintain vision cycle
- Iodine – Synthesis of thyroid hormones
- Folic acid – Neural tube development
- Prevent non-communicable diseases
- Act as coenzymes or cofactors for various enzymes
- Actively engaged in the human metabolism process (cellular respiration, cell cycle)
- Hemoglobin synthesis
Nutrients Rich Food
Cereals (rice, wheat, barley), legumes, meat, fish, yams, potatoes, nuts, and oil seeds are rich in macronutrients. However, vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, green leafy vegetables, fermented foods, and germinated foods are rich in micronutrients.
Daily Recommended Requirements
Daily recommended requirements of macronutrients include:
- 55–75% of total energy from carbohydrates
- 15-20% of total energy from protein or 1g/kg body weight per day – Protein
- 20-35% of total energy from total fat
- 20% of total energy from monounsaturated fats
- 10% of total energy from polyunsaturated fats
- 7% of total energy from saturated fats
Meanwhile, daily recommended requirements of macronutrients include:
- Vitamin A – 700 µg
- Vitamin E – 15 mg
- Vitamin C – 75 mg
- Pantothenic acid – 1.5 mg
- Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mg
- Pyridoxine – 3 mg
- Thiamine – 1 mg
- Riboflavin – 1.1 mg
- Niacin – 14 mg
- Folate – 400 mg
- Iron – 18 mg
- Selenium – 55 mg
- Calcium – 1000 mg
A deficiency of macronutrients can cause protein-energy malnutrition, Kwashiorkor, and marasmus, whereas a deficiency of micronutrients can cause:
- Vitamin A deficiency – Night blindness, Xerophthalmia, keratomalacia
- Iron deficiency – Anemia
- Iodine deficiency – Goiter
- Thiamin deficiency – Beriberi
- Riboflavin deficiency – Stomatitis
- Niacin deficiency – Pellagra
- Vitamin C – Scurvy
Obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome can be caused by the excess of macronutrients. However, vitamin overdoses can harm the human body organs such as the liver.
In conclusion, the quantity and quality of macronutrients and micronutrients vary greatly, depending on not only what types of food you consume but also the quality of that food. Daily diet tends to have more macronutrients than micronutrients, and they are essential nutrients to the human body.
1. “Flour Fortification Initiative, GAIN, Micronutrient Initiative”, USAID, The World Bank, UNICEF, Investing in the future: a united call to action on vitamin and mineral deficiencies, p. 17.
2. “UNICEF Canada, Global Child Survival and Health: A 50-year progress report from UNICEF Canada,” p. 68. Canadian UNICEF Committee, Global Child Survival and Health, 2006, p. 67.
1. “Oats, barley, and some products made from them” by Peggy Greb, USDA ARS (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia