Macronutrients and micronutrients: What’s the difference?

Macronutrients and micronutrients: What’s the difference?

Whether you’re ‘counting macros’, making nutritious meals for the family, trying to strengthen immunity, or using supplements for specific conditions, understanding what we put into our bodies is key to living a healthy life.

All food contains nutrients – the organic substances our bodies need for the maintenance of life and growth. These can be divided into six general categories: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. These are then classed into macronutrients and micronutrients; here are the differences:

A healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables is the first step in consuming enough micronutrients, but if you are unable to, consider supplementation.

Macronutrients Micronutrients
1. Requirement
This means that these nutrients are needed in large quantities for normal growth and development.

Our bodies require these nutrients in small quantities.
2. Also Known As
Major elements

Trace elements
3. Function
The macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, provide energy (calories); they are essential for the growth, repair and development of new tissues (carbohydrates), maintaining body temperature (fats), conducting nerve impulses, and regulating life processes. A unit of measurement of food energy is the calorie.
The macronutrient, water, which is essential for cell and organ function, serves as a lubricant, regulates body temperature, helps dissolve minerals and other nutrients to make them accessible to the body, flushes out waste products and carries nutrients and oxygen to cells.

They assist as cofactors or coenzymes in various bodily processes and are essential for disease prevention and promoting quality health.
4. Types
Macronutrients that provide energy (caloric):
Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source. Made up of chains of sugar molecules, carbohydrates contain about 4 calories per gram. A monosaccharide is the simplest form of sugar.

Protein – Proteins contain 4 calories per gram and are the building blocks of human and animal structure.

Fats – The most energy-dense of the macronutrients, fat provides 9 calories per gram.

Macronutrients that don’t provide energy (non-caloric):

Vitamins – organic, non-caloric micronutrients:
Water-soluble vitamins (not stored in the body; they enter the bloodstream, and whatever isn’t used, gets eliminated with urine)

Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2
Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5
Vitamin B6 Vitamin B7
Vitamin B9 Vitamin B12
Vitamin C

Fat-soluble vitamins (absorbed from the food you eat and stored in the body’s fat tissue and liver)

Vitamin A Vitamin D
Vitamin E Vitamin K

Calcium, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Potassium,
Sodium, Magnesium, Chloride

Zinc, Iron, Iodine, Chromium, Molybdenum,
Selenium, Copper, Fluoride Manganese

We also need trace amounts of several other minerals, including iodine, biotin and silicon.
5. Main Food Sources
Carbohydrates: grains, fruit, potatoes and peas, dairy and sugar

Proteins: legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts), soy products, nuts, whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, oats, corn, quinoa, sorghum, millet, etc.), seeds, animal sources

Fats: oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and meat, fish and dairy

Water: drinking water, liquid foods, and beverages such as soup, milk, tea, coffee, soft drinks and juices. (Alcohol is not a source of water because it’s considered a diuretic – it causes the body to release water.)

Mainly vegetables, fruits, eggs, green leafy vegetables, fermented foods
6. Consequences of Deficiency
Insufficient macronutrients can also lead to problems such as malnutrition and kwashiorkor.

Micronutrient insufficiency can lead to health problems. Deficiencies can cause diseases such as scurvy and goitre.


1. American Council on Exercise. (n.d.). ‘Macronutrients, micronutrients and water’ in Understanding Nutritional Strategies and the Keys to Macronutrient Balance‘. American Council on Exercise. Accessed on 31 August 2022. Available from 

2. Brennan, D. (2021). Water-Soluble vs. Fat-Soluble Vitamins. WebMD [Online]. Accessed on 29 August 2022. Available from 

3. Dugdale, D.C. (2021). Water in diet. Medline Plus [Online]. Accessed on 30 August 2022. Available from

4. Green, S, & Shallal, K. (n.d.) ‘Essential Nutrients’ in Nutrition Essentials. Maricopa Community Colleges’. Accessed on 31 August 2022. Available from 

5. Mark, T. (2019). Difference between Micronutrients and Macronutrients. Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects [Online]. Accessed on 29 August 2022. Available from 

6. Wagle, K. (2019). 15 Differences between Macro-nutrients and Micro-nutrients. Public Health Notes [Online]. Accessed on 29 August 2022. Available from 

7. Washington State University. (n.d.) Nutrition Basics. Washington State University [Online]. Accessed on 29 August 2022. Available from 


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