The body requires a wide range of food in order to function properly and meet all its nutritional needs. By including food from each of the main groups, such as fruit and vegetables, dairy, fish, lean meats, whole grains, pulses and healthy oils, you’ll be less likely to miss out on vital nutrients, which are essential for optimum health. The components that make up our food are called macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients, with each having a specific role to play in the human body.
What are micro and macro-nutrients?
Micro-nutrients, otherwise known as vitamins and minerals, are found in varying quantities inside most of the food we eat. Micro-nutrients include vitamins A, C, D, E, K and all the vitamin B complex group as well as biotin, folate and phytochemicals. The large group of minerals includes calcium, iron, potassium and sodium plus many more. Macro-nutrients form the foundation of our diet and are needed in much larger quantities each day in comparison with micro-nutrients. They include proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
What do micronutrients do?
Micro-nutrients play a crucial role in maintaining the daily functioning of the body and all its processes. Although we only need tiny amounts of these nutrients, each of them has a important contribution for ensuring normal metabolism, growth and our physical well-being. For example, vitamin A is necessary for good vision, bone growth and healthy skin. Many of the B vitamins are essential for converting proteins, carbohydrates and fats into forms the body can use. A deficiency in micro-nutrients such as iron and vitamin A can lead to severe illnesses including anemia, impaired vision or infectious diseases.
While some vitamins such as vitamin K are stored by the body, others such as vitamin C are not and therefore need to be eaten on a daily basis. Yet other vitamins such as vitamins A and D, are able to be manufactured by the body as well as obtained through food sources. Government guidelines provide recommendations as to the typical quantities which should be consumed for good health.
What do macro-nutrients do?
Macronutrients are needed for the energy they provide. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel as they provide a readily available source of energy. They help fuel the central nervous system, the brain, muscles and kidneys and excess carbohydrates can be stored for later use. Carbohydrates also contain fiber, which is needed for a healthy digestive system.
Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of muscles, tissues, bones and body organs as well as regulating metabolism and keeping the immune system strong. It also provides another source of energy when carbohydrates are low. Since protein isn’t stored by the body, it must be eaten on a daily basis.
Fat is also essential for survival and we need roughly the same amount of fat in our diet as protein. However, this should come from healthier unsaturated fats. Fats provide a concentrated form of energy while being needed for growth, development and absorption of some vitamins. They also help to maintain the cell membranes and provide cushioning for the body’s organs.
While obtaining the recommended amounts of nutrients each day would be ideal, it’s often the case that people miss out on important micro-nutrients from time to time by not eating a wide variety of healthy food. In some cases, taking a supplement can be useful for topping up any deficiencies. However, macro-nutrients have to be eaten each day as they cannot be replaced by supplements. Since the different components of food work together to keep the body healthy, eating a varied diet containing the main food groups is the best way of enabling this to happen.