A human body cannot produce everything it needs to function optimally by itself. That is why we have to eat, since it is through food that we receive the optimal nutrients. Nutrients are the substances that our bodies need to perform essential functions such as maintenance, repair, and growth. We have to consume several essential nutrients through dietary sources in order for us to achieve and maintain optimal health. These nutrients are further divided into macronutrients and micronutrients, but here we will focus only on four macronutrients. What exactly are the 4 macronutrients?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), essential nutrients are crucial in the process that provides support to a person’s good health, growth, and reproduction. Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients, which the body only needs in small quantities, yet without them it easily becomes sick. Macronutrients, on the other hand, are those nutrients required by the body in large amounts. What are the four significant categories of macronutrient nutrition – They are water, protein, carbohydrates, and fats (8).
What are macronutrients? Their name is derived from the term macro, which means large. Macronutrients are those nutrients required by the body in large numbers, and they serve to provide the energy (calories) the body uses. There are four essential macronutrients, and they are:
- Water (7)
Read More: Macro Calculator: How Much Of Each Nutrient Does Your Body Need?
What Are The 4 Main Macronutrients?
Your four-week meal planner that includes calories and macronutrients must never lack carbs. When they enter the body, all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which happens to be the primary source of energy for the body. Furthermore, individual organs such as the brain cannot function properly in the absence of glucose. In certain situations, your body can make glucose from proteins through gluconeogenesis.
Besides being the primary energy source, certain carbohydrates also help synthesize specific amino acids (which are the protein building blocks). Fiber, which is sometimes listed as a macronutrient by itself, is a carbohydrate type that your GI tract cannot break down. As a result, this nutrient is not able to give the body energy. However, fiber has a significant function in regular bowel movements. Fiber does an essential job of helping the body get rid of waste and keeping the intestinal tract healthy.
It is worth noting that carbohydrates are not all the same. In this regard, there are two major classifications, with some being simple carbs while others are complex carbohydrates (13):
They are named simple carbs because they are easy for the body to break down into glucose and then energy. They contain just 1-2 sugar molecules and can be found in foods that are usually sweet, such as syrup, table sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar, milk/yogurt, and fruit. Fruits have a natural sugar called fructose. Where do vitamins fit into the four macronutrients?
Fruits also have vitamins and minerals (vitamins and minerals are micronutrients), phytochemicals (although these nutrients are not needed, can still have positive effects on health), and fiber. While fiber is not digested, it increases the amount of time required to break down the digestible nutrients (9).
These are those carbohydrates that require more time to be broken down by the body. They are long strands of sugar molecules that are strung together and usually have a savory taste. They can be found in foods like starches and grains, including bread, pasta, rice, corn, peas, and potatoes.
Carbohydrates can also be found in other plant-based foods, including non-starchy vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts but generally in smaller amounts. All complex carbohydrates should have fiber, but this is not the case for the ones that have been processed.
During processing, the grain’s bran (outer coating) is removed, resulting in a product that is used in things such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice, among others. Through this processing these types of carbohydrates become more accessible for the body to digest. Although they may not be as sweet, they release glucose quickly, as is the case with simple carbohydrates (2).
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Protein is equally essential because it allows the body to grow, build and repair tissues, and protect lean body mass (your muscle mass). If you are looking for macros for weight loss, protein is an excellent place to start. Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.
The body constantly breaks them down and replaces them. These nutrients are involved in the body’s metabolic, transport, and hormone systems. They also make up enzymes that regulate metabolism. These nutrients also play the crucial role in defending the body against disease by supporting the immune system.
Protein is composed of substances called amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are divided into two types; non-essential and essential amino acids.
Non-essential amino acids are those which you do not have to consume through the diet because the body can make them by itself. Essential amino acids, on the other hand, are needed throughout your diet. Even though crucial amino acids can be used on their own, in some cases, they end up being transformed into non-essential amino acids (6).
Some of the protein-rich foods are poultry, fish, meat, milk, cheese, egg, and other animal by-product foods. These sources of protein have all of the essential amino acids. That said, this does not imply that you have to eat animal foods for you to be healthy. The proper kinds and amounts of amino acids can still be obtained by consuming various plant proteins that may include lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, and soy and smaller amounts in vegetables, grains, and fruits.
The primary function of fat is to allow the body to store energy, making certain hormones, cushioning organs, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, and helping with cell membrane integrity. There are three basic types of fat: trans fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat.
This is the type of fat that should never find its way into the diet. In most cases, trans fat comes from hydrogenating or the addition of hydrogen molecules to unsaturated fats. The result is something called hydrogenated oil. This is found in margarine products, baked goods, shortening, fried foods, and doughs. It is recommended to avoid this type of fat at all costs (11).
The saturated fat does not contain any bends resulting from double bonds in their molecule. This is because it is saturated in hydrogen molecules. When found in large amounts, saturated fat can increase blood lipid levels, thus increasing heart disease risk. That is why it is essential to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet to benefit your health.
In most cases, saturated fat is found in animal sources high in fat content and may include fatty lamb, beef, poultry with skin, pork, cream, lard, whole fat cheese, butter, and dairy. Only 5-6% of your daily kcals should come from saturated fat.
If, for instance, your daily kcal needs are 2000, only 120 kcals should come from saturated fat. 120 kcals/9 kcals/g = ~13 grams of saturated fat per day. You are advised to decrease saturated fat intake and instead opt for the more healthy fats known as unsaturated fats (4).
Read More: 3 Macronutrients: What You Need To Know About Macros And How To Count Them
The unsaturated fat contains at least one double bond that causes bends in the molecule. This makes it harder for them to stack, so they are usually found in a liquid state when at room temperature.
The naming of unsaturated fats is based on the number of double bonds. Monounsaturated fats have just one double bond, while those with two or more double bonds are called polyunsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats are labeled as healthy fats because they can decrease your risk for heart disease. They typically originate from plant sources such as avocado, olives, seeds, nuts, and nut butter, as well as oils such as canola, olive, and safflower. They also can be found in animal sources, especially fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring (12).
Fat has such a bad reputation because it is number one when it comes to kcals. Some types of fats are unhealthy for the human body. In short, to have a healthy diet, you have to focus on the type of fat and the amount of fat you are consuming.
This refers to the recommended amounts of the different macronutrients. According to the USDA recommendations, the proportion of calories you get from each macronutrient should be:
- Carbohydrates: 45-65%
- Protein: 10-35%
- Fat: 20-35%
Generally, these ranges are considered healthy, but there may be a different combination based on particular goals and needs, such as managing specific diseases. Each individual may cope well with varying combinations of percentages; hence, one person’s works may not work for another (10).
A key consideration in choosing the percentage of a combination is to ensure that you get sufficient kcals. You are trying to lose weight, gain weight, or even maintain the level you are at, you have to know the kcal range that will cause you to succeed in your goal.
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Water can easily be overlooked, but it is probably the most essential nutrient needed by the body. A macros diet can never be complete without this element. A person can survive for longer without the other three macronutrients, but without water, you can last no more than a few days. Even slight dehydration can result in headaches and impairment of physical, as well as mental functioning (3).
A significant percentage of the human body is composed of water, and each cell requires water to function. Some of the functions of water in the body include:
- Transporting nutrients
- Flushing out toxins
- Shock absorption
- Preventing constipation
When it comes to good drinking water, the best source is natural, unsweetened water from the tap or bottled sources. Some people may not have a liking for the taste of plain water. The remedy for this is to add a squeeze of lemon or some other fruit or herb.
Apart from drinking water physically, the body usually gets extra water through foods, especially lots of fruits. It is recommended to eat those fruits that have a large amount of water, such as watermelons.
You should avoid getting your water intake from sugary drinks. This may include things such as sweetened teas, fruit juices, soda, sweetened coffees, and lemonade (1).
You need to consume all the six types of essential nutrients to achieve optimum health. All those nutrients play their distinct roles in supporting vital functions such as growth, the immune and central nervous systems, and preventing illnesses.
Typically, if you eat a healthful and balanced diet that incorporates lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and water, you will receive the nutrients you need (5).
If you have any digestive issues, take certain medications, or have other conditions, you may need additional supplements so that the body gets enough essential nutrients. In case of any medical condition, you ought to speak with a medical practitioner before introducing any supplements to your diet.
Even though there are several essential nutrients, we divide them further into those that are micronutrients and the remaining four macronutrients. Regardless of the type of nutrients, all are very important not only for good health but also for the body’s overall optimal functioning. Life as we know it cannot exist without water, and as such, it is one of the macronutrients. That alone should tell you just how important this substance is to your body.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Choosing water instead of sugary drinks could cut diabetes 2 risk by a quarter (2015, theguardian.com)
- Complex carbohydrates (2020, medlineplus.gov)
- Dehydration Influences Mood and Cognition: A Plausible Hypothesis? (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Facts about saturated fats (2020, medlineplus.gov)
- Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight (2021, cdc.gov)
- Medical Definition of Amino acid, nonessential (2018, medicinenet.com)
- Micros vs. macros: Everything you need to know (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Nutrients (2021, who.int)
- Simple carbohydrates (2020, medlineplus.gov)
- The Ratio of Macronutrients, Not Caloric Intake, Dictates Cardiometabolic Health, Aging, and Longevity in Ad Libitum-Fed Mice (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Understanding the unsaturated fats (2015, health.harvard.edu)
- What you need to know about carbs (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)