Find out more on the macronutrients and micronutrients our bodies need.

We all eat food because it provides the five fundamental types of materials required to keep our bodies functioning. Learn more about the structure and function of these materials.

This resource provides explanations of the key concepts encountered when exploring food function and structure – the ‘basics’ that every student should understand.

Organic chemistry

Organic chemistry is the study of the compounds of carbon, excluding the oxides of carbon, the bicarbonates and carbonates of metals and the metal cyanides.

Nutrients

Nutrients are substances needed for growth, energy provision and other body functions.

Macronutrient

Macronutrients are those nutrients required in large amounts that provide the energy needed to maintain body functions and carry out the activities of daily life. There are three macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Micronutrient

Micronutrients are substances such as vitamins and minerals that are necessary dietary components. Although needed in only small amounts, they are essential for health and wellbeing.

Fats and oils

Fats and oils are the fatty acid esters of glycerol and are an important source of energy in the diet. They are also referred to as triglycerides.

Proteins

Proteins are complex organic macromolecules composed of one or more chains of amino acids. They are essential dietary components providing the body with essential amino acids.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are organic compounds containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The best-known carbohydrates are sugars and starches, which can provide the largest single source of energy in the diet.

Vitamins

Vitamins are complex carbon compounds found in very small quantities in the foods we eat. They are essential for health and wellbeing, and their absence from the diet causes a specific deficiency disease.

Minerals

The foods we eat contain small amounts of inorganic compounds as well as metal and non-metal ions. These ‘minerals’ are involved in a large number of chemical reactions in the body. Amounts needed vary from milligrams (macrominerals) to micrograms (trace minerals).

Dietary fibre

Dietary fibre is the portion of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains we eat that is resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. It is an important ingredient of a healthy diet.

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are biologically active compounds that are found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables. These compounds have been linked to human health by contributing to protection against degenerative diseases.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are chemical substances that prevent oxidation by chemical means. Dietary antioxidants present in foods, like vitamins A, C and E, can assist the body to resist the damaging effects of reactive free radicals produced by the body’s metabolic processes.

Functional food

Functional food is any processed food claimed to have a health-promoting or disease-preventing property that goes beyond the basic macronutrient and micronutrient functions.

    Published 9 December 2015