Macronutrients & Micronutrients: Fuel Your Body & Support the Immune System

Key Points:

  • The terms macronutrients and micronutrients are used to classify different food groups, vitamins, and minerals and how they impact our health and diets.
  • Macronutrients are the protein, fats, and carbohydrates that we need significant amounts of in our diet. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that we need in smaller amounts.
  • We often don’t realize how directly our diet can impact our immune system health. By paying attention to the balance of macronutrients and micronutrients in our meals, we can cultivate a healthy and diverse diet that supports long-term cellular wellness.

Weight loss used to be all about decreasing fat in our diets.

Then we adjusted our recommendations based on a simplistic calories in and calories out model.

Eventually, that evolved into low-carb diets… and, you get the idea.

At lunch last week, your coworker started talking all about yet another new diet strategy: counting macros.

Maybe you thought, “That sounds like too much math and I’m tired of the bandwagons.

Perfectly reasonable.

But now you’re curious. Perhaps you’re reading this at midnight while carefully eyeing your snack cabinet. Googling, “What are macronutrients?” So you can be healthier — or at least, sound cool in the break room.

Whether you’re interested in trying a new diet or not, understanding macronutrients and micronutrients can help you better recognize how your body is fueled. This knowledge may empower you to stay fuller longer, experience more energy, or simply feed your kids a more balanced diet.

Keep reading to learn the science behind macronutrients and micronutrients — and why they matter to our cellular health and immune systems.

Table of Contents:

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients: What’s the Difference?

So what exactly are macronutrients and micronutrients? In layman’s terms, they’re a simple classification we use to organize food groups.

We can use macronutrients and micronutrients to glimpse our food's nutrition profile — allowing us to maintain weight loss goals or build up nutrient stores after illness. You’ll see macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) listed on every food label at the grocery store, and sometimes micronutrients (vitamins and minerals, i.e. vitamin A or selenium).

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the main components of foods like carbohydrates, protein, fiber, cholesterol, and fats — resources we need daily and in large quantities. They’re also referred to as “macros.

When you hear someone talk about “counting macros” or going on a “macronutrient diet” their goal is to carefully balance these foods in a specific ratio, and typically build nourishing meals that fit within a certain calorie goal.

This can be helpful for nutrition newbies who may not know how to create a balanced plate. Short term, it may also help people struggling with eating disorders or chronic illnesses to quantify how much food they should be consuming daily. 

Macronutrient Examples

Macronutrients are easy to identify! In fact, they’re already broken down for you in the ingredients label of foods. Each one serves a unique purpose and getting enough macronutrients is part of a healthy diet.

Carbohydrates

Your body quite literally runs on carbohydrates. The problem? A lot of the carbs available to us today are simple carbs, like doughnuts, cookies, crackers, and other processed foods. If you’re eating carbohydrates to sustain your energy, it’s better to choose complex carbs like brown rice, kamut, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, legumes, and salad. These carbs not only keep you fuller for longer, but they also provide more fiber to support a healthy gut microbiome.

Protein

Getting enough protein can be difficult — and counting macros can help you get an overview of exactly how much protein you’re consuming. Most likely, it’s not as much as you think. Healthy proteins can be found in grass-fed meat, eggs, bone broth, legumes, fish, nuts, and more. Most adults should be consuming at least 80-100 grams of protein per day, depending on goal weight and exercise level, but some may require more. 

Fats

Healthy fats fuel your brain and increase satiety. Like protein, you most likely aren’t getting enough of these, either. Counting macros can help, but make sure you’re consuming plenty of healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, and olives. Healthy saturated fats, like coconut oil and ghee, are important too, especially for your cellular health.

Fiber

Healthy fiber keeps your gut moving and feeds your microbiome. Since fiber primarily comes from fruits and veggies, it typically includes other benefits like antioxidants, polyphenols, and vitamins.

Should You Count Your Macros?

You shouldn’t count your macros if you’re simply trying to keep up with the next fad diet. The best thing you can do for your body is understand how nutrients work — and eat a diverse diet that follows your intuition and hunger and fullness cues.

However, if you’re struggling to get enough protein and fats, you want to “clean up” an unhealthy diet, or you regularly feel hungry and undernourished, then counting macros can be beneficial. Keeping track of your foods gives you a bird’s eye view of exactly what you’re eating and where you may need adjustments. 

What Are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are things like vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are essential to your health, but needed only in small quantities.

Think of micronutrients this way: While macronutrients are needed for more immediate survival and energy, micronutrients support organ function and cellular wellness behind the scenes. It’s possible to survive with micronutrient deficiencies, but you may eventually struggle in your day-to-day activities.

While they don’t have a specific diet named after them, we recommend paying just as much attention to your micronutrient intake as you do to your macronutrient intake (or maybe more).

Most of us are under the assumption that eating a healthy diet will “check the box” on vitamins and minerals, but this simply isn’t the case in our modern world. Foods are often more processed than we realize (meaning, stripped of nutrients). Even whole-food fruits and veggies that supply a lot of our micronutrients may have less nourishment than they once did, due to low-quality soil.

Micronutrient Examples

Let’s take a deep dive into micronutrients! While they aren’t commonly tested, a lack of these nutrients could easily cause a host of mystery symptoms and lead you on a wild goose chase to find the answer. Staying properly nourished is a great strategy for avoiding symptoms, expensive doctor’s visits, and immune system dysfunction.

Phosphatidylcholine

The outer membrane of your cells is composed of phosphatidylcholine (a type of phospholipid and an essential micronutrient). This nutrient allows the cell membrane to be resilient, flexible, and sustain its integrity. With strong cell membranes, the immune system is better prepared to fight against inflammation and disease. If you’re not getting enough phosphatidylcholine in your diet, your cells may be left defenseless.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Linoleic acid, particularly, is a fatty acid that we can’t synthesize in the body. This means the only way to get it is through diet. Linoleic acid is required for healthy mitochondria — so it’s directly related to our energy levels and cellular wellness.

All omega-6 fatty acids play a role in gene regulation inside the cell. Many of them are precursors to prostaglandins, substances that evolve into important mediators for immunity and the immune response.

The most important thing about omega-6 fatty acids? Making sure we find the ideal balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in our diet.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are a vital micronutrient but often get over-hyped in the wellness community. With omega 3s, the most important thing is to find a healthy balance between them and omega 6 fatty acids (we recommend a 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3). A few servings of fatty fish per week should help you reach your omega-3 goals.

Vitamin A

Getting your daily dose of vitamin A is crucial to maintaining your immune system health. It plays a role in the production of antibodies and can modulate tissue-specific immune responses, and even prevent and treat excess inflammation. Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, remember to supplement it carefully. Whole food sources (like beef liver, leafy greens, tomatoes, eggs, and milk) are typically the best way to consume vitamin A.

Vitamin D

In an ideal world, we would synthesize appropriate levels of vitamin D from the sun. Sadly, most of us spend a lot of time indoors.

Normally, vitamin D is synthesized by cholesterol in the skin, then metabolized in the liver and the kidneys, where it’s converted to an active form. For this process to occur, we need to expose bare skin to the sun for about 20-30 minutes.

Vitamin D can also be consumed through healthy foods like grass-fed beef liver, cod liver oil, and fish.

Vitamin C

The myriad of roles that vitamin C plays in the body to support our health is nothing short of mind-blowing.

Vitamin C supports cellular function in both the innate and adaptive immune system. It supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens, enhances differentiation and proliferation of B cells and T cells, and lowers your chance of infection. It’s super essential for adrenal health and stress management too!

Vitamin B

There is plenty of evidence that vitamins B2, B6, B12, and folate (vitamin B9) play a crucial role in the healthy balance of the immune system, specifically in methylation, cell metabolism, and brain health. If you’re fighting a chronic illness or infection, it’s important to pay attention to your vitamin B levels — as they are easily depleted and can majorly impact your energy levels.

Zinc

Zinc (a powerful mineral and antioxidant) affects multiple aspects of the immune system, from the barrier of the skin to gene regulation. It’s needed for the normal development and function of cells.

One pivotal cell that is involved in many immunologic functions is the macrophage. Without zinc, these key immunologic mediators are threatened — and so are basic cellular functions like DNA replication, RNA transcription, cell division, and cell activation.

Iron

Iron is fundamental not only for the proper development of the immune system but also for proper maintenance. An iron deficiency creates an inability to mount an appropriate immune response, and it is needed for immune cells. However, iron is easily stored in the body and often doesn’t need to be supplemented. Instead, it needs to be unlocked and released into circulation, and balanced by other nutrients like vitamin A and copper.

Selenium

Another important antioxidant, selenium is required for efficient and effective operation of the immune system. Most people aren’t profoundly deficient in selenium, but since it can work powerfully against heart disease, thyroid conditions, mental decline, mental illness, and asthma, it’s worth checking on your selenium levels, and ensuring you get enough from your diet.

Eating to Strengthen Your Immune System

A well-functioning immune system is the key to providing a good defense against incoming pathogens, protecting against age-related illness, and preventing chronic illness.

The immune system does its work by:

  • Providing an exclusive barrier to unhealthy bacteria
  • Identifying and eliminating pathogens
  • Identifying and tolerating non-threatening sources of antigens
  • Maintaining a memory of immunological encounters

The immune system is very complex. It consists of many different cell types differentiated throughout the body with many different chemical mediators; some are involved in defense and some are involved in regulatory roles.

Age, combined with poor nutrition may potentially be an immune system disaster. We often underestimate how deeply our dietary choices control our immune health. 

You might have noticed that many of the micronutrients we covered concern immune system wellness.

Remember, we don’t need a large quantity of micronutrients, but paying attention to our levels can seriously impact our body's longevity and how we feel.

What Micro and Macro Nutrients Should You Care Most About?

It’s a trick question — because the answer is all of them. Most of us don’t realize exactly how much micronutrients and macronutrients are doing to regulate our immune system, increase our energy, and safeguard our bodies from pathogens behind the scenes.

A healthy and diverse diet really is the key to good cellular health, plus targeted high-quality supplements when needed.

If we could pick one nutrient to recommend, though, it would be liposomal vitamin C.

This powerful antioxidant is a do-it-all immune system boost. It helps with wound healing, other nutrient absorption (iron specifically), bone health, and so much more.

We created our BodyBio Liposomal Vitamin C to perpetrate and nourish the cells, for optimal whole-body health.

References

Shenkin A. (2006). Micronutrients in health and disease. Postgraduate medical journal, 82(971), 559–567. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.2006.047670

Venn B. J. (2020). Macronutrients and Human Health for the 21st Century. Nutrients, 12(8), 2363. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082363

Doaei, S., Mardi, A., & Zare, M. (2023, September 15). Role of micronutrients in the modulation of immune system and platelet activating factor in patients with COVID-19; a narrative review. Frontiers. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1207237

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