Macronutrients and micronutrients are categories dietitians and nutrition experts may use to refer to your diet.

Macronutrients are big picture nutrition categories, such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Micronutrients are smaller nutritional categories, such as individual vitamins and minerals like calcium, zinc, and vitamin B-6.

You may have heard the phrase “counting macros” at some point. This refers to a diet approach where a person tries to eat a certain percentage of calories from each macronutrient group.

Keep reading to find out about the research available for this dietary approach and how some people put it to use.

The beginning of each word gives you a little clue into what they may mean. “Macro” comes from the Greek word makros, which means large.

Nutritionally speaking, macros are usually measured in grams, such as grams of fat or proteins. Many macros-based diets classify macronutrients in three ways:

  • Carbohydrates: found in foods such as breads, pastas, and fruits that provide 4 calories per gram
  • Fats: found in foods such as oils, nuts, and meats that provide 9 calories per gram
  • Protein: found in foods such as eggs, fish, and tofu that provide 4 calories per gram

Note that some diets will classify alcohol as its own macronutrient that has 7 calories per gram. However, because alcohol has very little nutritional value compared to the other three categories, some diets don’t include it.

Micros are much smaller measured values in terms of nutrition. “Micro” comes from the Greek word mikros, which means small. You measure most micronutrients in milligrams or even micrograms.

There are lots of micronutrients in the foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables that are plentiful in vitamins and minerals. Micronutrient examples include, but aren’t limited to:

  • calcium
  • folate
  • iron
  • vitamin B-6
  • vitamin B-12
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • zinc

Most macronutrient foods contain different micronutrients. However, most people wouldn’t use a micronutrient approach to dieting because it would be difficult to measure and track.

People may use different approaches in terms of daily macronutrients. For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans makes the following recommendations regarding macronutrient categories:

  • 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates
  • 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat
  • 10 to 35 percent of calories from protein

A person counting macros as a dietary approach would first calculate how much energy they need in the form of calories each day. Then, they would decide what percentage of calories from each food group they would eat based on their goals.

For example, bodybuilders looking to build muscle usually eat higher percentages of protein, a building block of muscle. Those who are closely watching their blood sugar may eat carbohydrates on the lower percentage because they’re trying to maintain their blood sugar.

Most scientific research regarding macronutrients involves tracking a person’s diet and breaking it down into macronutrients. This is different from asking a person to follow a certain amount of macronutrients and seeing if they lose weight or achieve other goals.

Therefore, it’s hard to say from a scientific perspective if a macro-based diet is effective or easy to follow for most people.

Several popular diets employ a macro-based approach, or a form of it. These include:

While some of these diets may not explicitly call themselves a macro diet, they involve eating a certain portion of each food group. Macro diets are those that emphasize portion control and eating a variety of foods instead of counting calories.

Some nutritional experts call macro diets “flexible diets” because they don’t restrict calories or foods, just guide a person as to what food types to eat more or less of.

These diets may help you reach a number of health goals, such as building muscle mass, losing weight, following a healthier diet, maintaining blood sugar levels, and more.

It’s important to note that a macro diet isn’t the same as a macrobiotic diet. The macrobiotic diet originated in Japan and is based on traditional Chinese medicine principles. It emphasizes eating simple, organic, and locally sourced foods.

Again, there isn’t a lot of research regarding a specific macro diet and its effectiveness for weight loss, weight control, or glycemic index control. Some people also argue there’s no specific macro diet, as the diet is based on the idea that macros are adjustable.

A keto diet, which is low in carbohydrates, and a low-fat diet are two macros approaches with very different-looking daily food plans.

A dietitian can work with you to determine what may be a good ratio of macros for your health goals.

Some health experts may advocate for a macro-based approach to dieting because it doesn’t restrict certain foods from your diet. No food is necessarily forbidden — it should just fit within the macro percentages you’re eating.

If you’ve tried the macros approach outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans without achieving the results you desire, it may be time to talk to a dietitian or your doctor.

A dietitian or nutrition expert may recommend adjusting your macronutrient percentages based on your overall health and dietary goals.

Make sure you give your new approach time to work, usually about 2 to 3 months, before deciding you need to change your percentages again.

A dietitian or nutrition expert can also talk with you to make sure your goals are realistic and your dietary approach is safe. You want to emphasize healthy eating and consuming a balanced diet to meet your goals and physical needs.

Macronutrients and micronutrients are present in your daily diet. Some people use macronutrient counting to guide their food intake. There are many diets today that use a macro counting-type approach, but there’s not a lot of research on counting macros.

If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.