Why our food system is screwed (in charts)

You may have noticed that we’re getting fatter.  Obesity seems to be the new normal.

Some people say we’re lazy and that we just need to be more disciplined and move more.


But it likely also has something to do with what we’re putting in our mouth.[2]


In this article we crunch the numbers in an effort to understand what it is about our food is so different.  What changed in parallel with the booming obesity epidemic?

As they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

Why should you care?

The cost of obesity, both personally and to our economy, is massive, at $2 trillion or 2.8% of the global GDP in 2014.[3] [4]

In the US alone, the cost of obesity to the healthcare system is $210 billion per year, with $4.3b lost due to absenteeism[5] and a further $506 per obese worker due to reduced productivity per year.[6]

At a personal level, being overweight will increase your chance of dying earlier with one of the common metabolic-related diseases.[7]


The cost of type 2 diabetes (which occurs when our fat stores can no longer absorb the excess energy coming in from our diet) is massive! And it’s about to get a lot worse!


But it wasn’t always this way.  Many people have asked, “Why are we suddenly eating so much more?  What changed?”


Energy availability

Thanks to the USDA we have some great data to help us answer this question.[8]  As shown in the chart below, the energy available to each American started to increase around 1960.

Screenshot 2018-09-13 05.20.18.png

Since 1910 when the USDA, carbohydrate took a dip but has risen again since the 1960s back to around the levels they were a century ago.  Meanwhile, fat has been on a steady upward trend.  There are more than 600 calories of fat available per day person in the food system compared to a century ago.

Screenshot 2018-09-13 05.14.30

Since 1960, protein availability has increased by about 100 calories per day.  However, during the same time, fat and carbohydrate have both increased by between 400 and 600 calories per day per person.

Screenshot 2018-09-13 05.26.37.png

The reasons for this shift in our food system are complex and multifaceted.  However, I think the central factor is our appetite for foods that are cheaper and more convenient, whether that be at home, at work, when you go out to eat or on the battlefield feeding an army.

If you want to understand the politics behind the agricultural subsidies that contributed this explosion in energy availability I highly recommend you read Robb Wolf’s bonus chapter from his Wired to Eat which you can download for free here.

Loss-adjusted consumption

The data below is based on the “loss-adjusted” consumption data which accounts for wastage and gives us a better indication of the amount of food eaten.


Energy intake increased from around 2000 to 2500 calories per person per day between 1970 and 2010.  On average, we’re eating about 500 calories more than when I was born.  Overall, it seems, vegetables and fruit don’t make up a large proportion of our energy intake compared to:

  • added sugars,
  • meat, eggs and nuts,
  • flours and cereals, and
  • added fats and oils.

The chart below shows the change in intake from each food group.

  • Added sugars increased until around 2000 and then declined.
  • Flours and cereals increased, but have also decreased since 2000.
  • The big change is the added fats and oils.


Based on this data, if you wanted to play it safe, you could simply focus on consuming the foods that haven’t changed in the last forty years and avoid the foods that have exploded in our food system in parallel with the explosion in diabesity.

Added sugar

If we drill down into the added sugars category, we can see that high fructose corn syrup (which is made from the oversupply of corn due to the agriculture subsidies) increased by up to 170 calories per day, replacing the unsubsidised cane and beet sugar as the sweetener of choice.


Since 2000, use of HFCS has fallen, with a lot of people trying to reduce added sugar and the increasing use of artificial sweeteners.

Sugar has made a slight come back since the late 80s (to about 190 calories per day or about 8% of our energy intake in 2015), but nowhere near the levels of sugar used in the early 70s before the agricultural subsidies were ramped up (280 calories per day or 14% of energy intake in 1970).

Grain products

Wheat and corn products increased until the turn of the century.  But similar to added sugars, they have decreased since then.


Added fat intake

Now here is the real clanger, the breakdown of the change in added fat!


  • Shortening has fallen out of favour since 2004 after the banning of trans fat.
  • Margarine has been in decline for a while.
  • Butter, lard and dairy fats only make up a negligible amount of our dietary fat intake.
  • Increases in “salad and cooking oils” accounts for nearly 300 calories per day or about 60% of our energy increase.

Despite the innocuous sounding title, the increase in ‘salad and cooking oils’ is not just people adding a bit of extra olive oil to their salads.

Soy, canola and corn oil make up the vast majority of the added fats in our diet.


Canola oil was marketed as a low cholesterol alternative to saturated fat.  The theory was that Canola was safe because it didn’t turn solid at room temperature and hence would not clog our arteries and cause heart disease like saturated fat.  As an aside, if your arteries are ever at room temperature you have some bigger issues than your choice of fat.

Our use of them is booming everywhere![9]


The availability of saturated fat, which is more prevalent in dairy and animal-based products, has increased by about 80 calories per person per day over the past century.  However, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which are more prevalent in subsidised plant-based sources, have increased by 300 to 400 calories each!


There are some who believe that many of our health woes are primarily due to saturated fat and or excess consumption of animal-based foods.  However, the published consumption data does not support this belief.

Growth in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (mostly from subsidised soy, canola and corn) have increased by six times that of saturated fat.  Given that meat and dairy consumption has been fairly stagnant, it is likely that even the increase in saturated fat is mostly from plant-based sources!

oils breakdown

When we combine subsided starches with subsidised fats we get a combination that is hyperpalatable and cheap.   Unsubsidised unprocessed whole food doesn’t stand a chance!

The cost of good nutrition

Unfortunately, good nutrition comes with a price.

The table below shows common grocery items sorted in terms of macros and cost per 2000 calories.[10]

food $/2000 cals % protein % fat % carbs
Canola oil $0.50 0 100 0
sugar $0.93 0 0 100
flour $1.18 14 6 80
mayonnaise $1.76 0 100 0
white bread $2.18 18 74 8
Weet-Bix $2.23 14 3 75
olive oil $2.26 0 100 0
corn flakes $3.01 6 1 92
coconut oil $3.21 0 100 0
cheese $3.71 23 74 3
pizza $4.34 19 36 45
Oreo cookies $4.62 3 38 58
milk chocolate $4.67 6 50 44
milk $4.92 22 47 31
potato chips $5.61 3 60 37
garlic bread $5.61 10 41 49
plain potato $6.49 7 1 92
Coke $9.30 0 0 100
Greek yogurt $9.46 13 73 14
bananas $10 4 3 93
avocado $14 6 70 24
chicken breast $14 76 24 0
broccoli $14 10 0 74
eggs $15 36 62 3
orange $17 7 2 91
apple $19 2 3 96
grapes $26 4 2 95
kangaroo steak $28 90 8 2
rump steak $34 48 52 0
sirloin steak $46 75 25 0
salmon $47 59 40 1
blueberries $98 4 5 91
spinach $139 30 14 56
  • Seed oils and flours are the cheapest sources of calories.
  • Foods with a higher energy density are cheaper per calorie.
  • Foods with more protein are more expensive.
  • Olive oil and coconut oil, which do not enjoy subsidies, are significantly more expensive than canola oil.

While most people won’t drink a lot of canola oil or eat a lot of plain sugar or flour, cheap processed food is typically a mix of refined fat and carbs with less protein and fibre.  And it’s not just about supermarket foods.  Any time you eat out there is a very high chance that the oils being used are the vegetable oils.

This isn’t fair!

At a fundamental level, I believe this is an issue of equity and discrimination against the most vulnerable people who can’t afford to invest in their health, whether in the supermarket, the gym, or the medical system.

  • They are not able to afford quality food even if they wanted to.
  • They are addicted to low satiety, hyperpalatable foods which are engineered to be over-consumed.
  • Eventually, they end up in the hands of the medical system which sells them drugs and surgeries to cure their ills.

Given the expense of obesity-related disease on our economy it would make sense to remove the subsidies from grain products and do what we could to make nutritious high satiety foods more affordable for the people who desperately need them.

I would love to see an economic analysis of the benefits to farmers who receive subsidies to help them create cheap energy versus the whole of system cost of health care, lost productivity and drugs one the economy as a whole.  Perhaps this will help to change policy in the future? But for now, you need to make an investment in your health.

Hopefully, providing people with better nutritional education and an understanding of what is really happening to them will help to cause a shift in the food market, with manufacturers responding to the demands of consumers for high satiety nutrient-dense foods.

What does this all mean?

Natural foods found in nature tend to contain either carb (e.g. summer or tropical foods) or fat and protein (e.g. winter or foods found closer to the north or south poles) but very rarely both at the same time.  The closest we get is milk (which is designed to help babies grow) and some nuts like acorns (which are available in autumn to help animals store fat to survive the coming winter).


However, our modern food system is full of the cheap products of subsidised agriculture which are a blend of fat and starchy refined grain products from wheat and corn that fuel our fat and glucose metabolisms at the same time in a way that has never occurred before!

These highly processed ingredients are mixed together and then artificially flavoured and sweetened to taste better than nutritious whole foods ever could!  Due to our survival instincts, we have no “off switch” for these modern Frankenfoods.  We just keep eating as long as we have access to them, even though they don’t provide much in the way of the nutrients we need to thrive.

What should you do?

Correlation doesn’t equal causation but is going to be a safe bet to avoid foods that contain the ingredients that have exploded in parallel with the obesity epidemic.

Avoid these foods


So what’s left to eat?


Addendum – How to read food labels

To help you understand what this means in practice, I thought it would be useful to highlight what to look out for on food labels.

Potato chips

While you probably won’t be able to eat a lot of plain potatoes, once you fry them in oil and add some salt you probably won’t stop until that packet is all gone.


Unfortunately, our taste buds have acclimatised to potato chips.  Our bliss point keeps on moving, requiring foods to be sweeter and with more and more flavour just to keep achieving the same stimulatory effect.


“Once you pop you just can’t stop”, but that’s because they’re made from a mixture of potato, oils, corn flour, wheat starch and flavourings.




Try to find a mayo on your supermarket shelves that isn’t mainly seed oils.



While Ritz crackers claim to be the “rich buttery classic” ironically they don’t actually contain butter, just a mix of flour, vegetable oils, salt and HFCS!


Tim Tams

It seems even chocolate needs a healthy dose of vegetable oils these days!



Before you graduate to practice on your own in the supermarket, I’ll leave you to spot the processed starches and oils in the last couple by yourself…






Your mission, if you choose to accept it…  Next time you go to the supermarket try to put nothing in your trolley that contains some combination of vegetable oils and flour listed on the ingredients.  Good luck!


[1] http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/06/calories-still-matter.html

[2] http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/06/calories-still-matter.html

[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Economic%20Studies%20TEMP/Our%20Insights/How%20the%20world%20could%20better%20fight%20obesity/MGI_Overcoming_obesity_Full_report.ashx

[4] https://alexleaf.com/2018/09/06/is-healthy-obesity-a-thing/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18231079

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18188080

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2667420/

[8] https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-per-capita-data-system/loss-adjusted-food-availability-documentation/

[9] https://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/conservation-and-development/can-palm-oil-deforestation-be-stopped

[10] https://shop.coles.com.au/a/a-national/everything/browse

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper  

A popular adage suggests we should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.  [1] [2] [3]  [4] [5] [6]

We interrogated more than half a million days of food diaries to see whether it is actually helpful.


The chart below shows the proportion daily calories consumed at breakfast versus the proportion of a person’s daily target calories consumed based on their food diaries.  A score of 100% would mean that they achieved their calorie goal.  A score of less than 100% indicates the individual was able to consume less than their goal intake for the day.


The data from people eating three or more times a day indicates that, on average:

  • people who ate the least for breakfast tended to eat more across the day, while
  • people who consumed more of their daily calories at breakfast tended to eat less during the day.

People who front-loaded their calories at breakfast tended to eat around 20% less across the day!


Looking at the data for lunch, we see a similar trend.


If you can fit it into your lifestyle, a larger lunch seems to be better.


Where this data gets interesting is when we look at dinner.


People seem to do OK if their dinner is similar in size to breakfast and lunch.  However, we tend to overeat if we consume the majority of our calories at night.

Putting it all together

When we overlay all three meals, we see that prioritising breakfast is a good idea if you want to get or stay lean.


To prevent overeating, try to start your day with a hearty breakfast with a solid dose of protein and you’ll be less likely to overeat later in the day.

If you are already lean and need to recover from a hard day of activity, then eating at night will help you consume more energy and store it more effectively.

But is this result due to behaviour or biology?  Or perhaps a bit of both?


It’s possible to explain why we overeat at night from a purely behavioural perspective.

It can be hard to eat a lot at breakfast when you need to get off to work or at lunch when we might be at work or school and have to prepare a lunch and bring it from home.

But then at night, we have the fridge.


We have our friends and family.


We have Netflix.


We have the perfect storm of comfort food, social eating and self-soothing combined with being surrounded by less than optimal food choices that we tend to fill our patry and fridge with.


Food eaten later also has to be stored, at least until the next day to be used when we are more active.

Locking in your circadian rhythm

There have also been a number of interesting studies looking at the relationship between food timing and how it affects our body.


Compressing your feeding window to give your body a chance to spend time in a fasted state is useful.  However, it seems shifting your eating window earlier in the day is also beneficial.  This is commonly known as Early Time-Restricted Feeding (or eTRF).

Just like it’s beneficial to get sunlight in the morning and not gaze at blue light from our screens all night, it seems it’s also important to lock in our circadian rhythm with food in the morning and not overdo it at night.[8]


Being a shift worker is not good for your health.  Neither is eating like one.  [9] [10]


While keeping body fat levels low is important for diabetes management, eating earlier seems to improve our insulin sensitivity independent of weight loss.


We have greater insulin sensitivity in the morning.   Our body is primed to use food.  Food eaten later in the day is more likely to be stored for longer.

How to do it

eTRF is not always the most convenient thing.

Lots of people are not hungry in the morning, particularly if they tend to eat a large evening meal.

Left to our own devices, we tend to optimise for maximum storage to prepare for the coming winter.

Most people find it takes a week or two to get into the new groove of eating earlier.

Eating your main meal with the family at night is more social and eating in front of the TV when you’re relaxing can be fun.  But if you need that extra edge to manage your weight or diabetes then moving some of your dinner calories to breakfast might just be worth the effort.



[1] http://theconversation.com/should-we-eat-breakfast-like-a-king-lunch-like-a-prince-and-dinner-like-a-pauper-86840

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/07/21/breakfast-like-king-lunch-like-prince-dine-like-pauper-lose/

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-12/should-we-eat-breakfast-like-king-dinner-like-pauper/9250960

[4] https://www.livestrong.com/article/13429520-how-eating-breakfast-like-a-king-can-help-you-lose-weight/

[5] https://www.institutefornaturalhealing.com/2017/09/heres-why-you-should-eat-breakfast-like-a-king-dinner-like-a-pauper/

[6] https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/well/eat/the-case-for-a-breakfast-feast.html

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305709786_Online_Food_Diary_Dataset

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/11161204/

[9] http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/05/15/1714813115

[10] https://m.medicalxpress.com/news/2018-05-night-day-swiftly-key-blood.html

Will Tim Ferriss’ 30g of protein at breakfast help you lose weight? 

You’ve probably heard that dietary adage about getting 30g of protein at breakfast to help manage your appetite.  Tim Ferriss popularised in his Four Hour Body and recently reiterated in this video.

But does more protein at breakfast actually help you manage your hunger and keep you satisfied?

To understand whether protein at breakfast helps with satiety, we plotted the proportion of daily calories eaten at breakfast versus the % goal calories logged for half a million days of MyFitnessPal data.


If someone recorded less than 100% it means that they successfully consumed less than their goal calorie intake for the day.  However, if they logged more than 100%, for whatever reason, they overshot their calorie goal.

This plot has a ton of scatter, but we can see towards the top left of the chart that a lower protein intake aligns with overeating.  Towards the lower right of the chart, we see that higher protein intake at breakfast aligns with decrease intake across the day.  Interestingly, foods with more protein tend to correspond to a higher nutrient density (i.e. more vitamins and minerals per calorie).

To help make sense of all the data we broke it up into a number of ‘buckets’ and took the average for each as shown by the dots in the chart below.


It seems that the people who ate the least protein at breakfast (left-hand side of the chart) ended up eating the most across the entire day.  While the people who ate the most protein at breakfast were more likely to consume less.

Interestingly, there seems to be an inflection point when you consume more than 11% of your daily energy intake as protein at breakfast.   Beyond this level, you don’t seem to get a lot more benefit from loading up on more protein.

That is, you get the “minimum effective dose” of protein with 11% of your daily energy intake as protein at breakfast.

The table below shows what this would look like for a typical female and male consuming 1600 and 2000 calories per day respectively.

calories per day

11% of calories

minimum protein at breakfast (g)









So, it seems that the 30g of protein at breakfast thing is true to an extent, it’s just on the low side if your goal is to manage hunger and control your energy intake with less effort.

The “typical female” would need to consume 45g of protein at breakfast to get the minimum effective dose for satiety while the “typical male” would need to consume 55g of protein for breakfast to reach their minimum effective dose of protein to optimise for maximum satiety.

If you’re not typical and want to refine your calculations, you should target 0.8 g/kg lean body mass (or 0.36 g/lb LBM) of protein at breakfast to optimise satiety. This is about a third of the daily protein requirement to optimise maximise satiety across the day shown determined by our previous analysis shown in the chart below.


So, in summary:

  • Satiety improves with increased protein at breakfast.
  • A low protein intake at breakfast appears to increase your chance of overeating.
  • The minimum effective dose of protein at breakfast appears to be about 11% of your daily calories, approx 45 g for women and 55 g for men or 0.8 g/kg LBM at breakfast.

How many times should you eat a day to lose weight?

Having access to half a million days of MyFitnessPal data to validate and bust dietary myths recently has been a lot of fun (in a nerdy data geek sort of way).

Another obvious question to ask is how many times a day should you eat to reduce your chance of overeating to stay lean, manage diabetes or lose body fat.


Most MyFitnessPal users seem to log their foods as meals rather than just entering them in one big lump.  And even after we clean up the data, we have nearly four hundred thousand days of data to analyse.

The chart below shows the number of times people said they ate per day versus the percentage of their goal calories that they consumed.


If someone logged less than 100% of their goal intake for the day, it means that they ate less than their goal intake.  If they recorded more than 100% of their goal, it indicates that they were not able to keep their intake below their target.

The data analysis suggests that:

  • If you ate more than three meals a day, you’re likely to consume more calories than average.
  • One meal a day (OMAD) seems to help you eat less than average. However, the optimum daily meal frequency appears to be two meals if you are looking to maintain a sustained calorie deficit.

The table below shows the numbers that sit behind the graph.

meals per day average calories % target n difference (calories)
1 1283 81% 5,553 -227
2 1244 79% 26,896 -266
3 1403 87% 93,062 -107
average 1510 90% 397,221 0
4 1536 91% 183,346 26
5 1632 93% 59,877 123
6 1730 95% 28,487 220
  •  The majority of people seem to eat four times per day (e.g. three meals and a snack).
  • Eating six times per means you’ll likely to eat around 220 calories per day more on average.
  • Limiting yourself to three meals a day and not snacking will help you cut more than 100 calories per day.
  • Cutting down to two meals a day will, on average, help you cut around 266 calories per day from your diet.

Why is it so?

Some people recommend keeping the metabolic fire soaked with lots of small meals.  However, the data confirms that most people aren’t able to restrain themselves if given the opportunity to eat frequently.


A recent study by Satchin Panda tracked via a smartphone app and found that the 10% of people who ate the least frequently actually ate 3.3 times per day!   The top 10% of people ate more than ten times per day.  As shown in the ‘feedogram’ below, the only time people didn’t eat was while sleeping.  People typically met their calorie needs for weight maintenance by 6:36 pm but kept on eating until they got to sleep at 11 or 12 o’clock.


Perhaps one meal a day doesn’t work so well because you are SOOOO hungry by the time you get to eat that you keep on eating and eating and eating; more than you would if you weren’t as hungry when you started eating.  And if you are at home with unlimited access to the fridge and cupboard from dinner time until you go to bed, you can still get a lot of food in!

It’s likely that you would find it difficult to get as much high-satiety protein in one large meal compared two smaller meals.  To get all your daily calories in one sitting you’ll probably need to reach for more energy dense, lower nutrient density lower protein foods.

Perhaps three meals a day doesn’t work so well because we have more opportunities to eat than we really need, especially at home in front of the TV with unlimited access to the fridge and cupboard that are often stacked with low protein comfort foods.

Two meals per day is a nice balance that enables us to eat satiating nutrient-dense whole food meals while still providing a significant fasting window during which time the body is able to practice drawing on our fat reserves.

It’s also easier psychologically because you’re not always thinking about food and restrict your intake.  You eat well in the allotted time and then get on with your day, knowing that you have had the food you need.

What about insulin resistance?

To be clear, as discussed in detail in this article, I’m not saying that reducing meal frequency works because it reduces insulin which leads to fat loss without regard to energy intake.   Limiting your opportunities to eat by compressing your eating window is merely a great hack to manage your energy intake.  This, in turn, leads to a reduction in body fat levels, lower insulin levels and reversal of diabetes.

Which two meals?

So by now, you’re probably wondering “If you’re going to eat only two meals per day, which two meals should they be?”

The table below shows a summary of the data for people who logged two meals per day.

meal combination goal (cals) total (cals) meal 1 (cals) meal 2 (cals) % target n
breakfast + lunch 1541 1100 423 677 72% 9041
lunch + dinner 1608 1234 561 672 78% 4935
dinner + breakfast 1575 1328 521 807 85% 4072
average 1575 1221 502 719 78% 18048

The chart comparing the three scenarios is shown below.  The analysis of the data suggests that:

  • The combination of breakfast and lunch is the stand out winner if your goal is to eat less.
  • Though not as good as the breakfast + lunch combo, combining our meals closer together at lunch and dinner seems to also be beneficial.
  • The worst outcome is for the two meals spread apart at breakfast and dinner.


If you chose to cut down to two meals per day then consuming them as breakfast and lunch may help you cut around 200 calories per day (or 17%) of your intake compared to consuming breakfast and dinner.


The table below shows the scenarios sorted from smallest intake to largest.

meal frequency average (cals) % target n delta
breakfast + lunch 1,100 72% 9,041 -410
lunch + dinner 1,234 78% 4,935 -276
one meal a day 1,283 81% 5,553 -227
dinner + breakfast 1,328 85% 4,072 -182
three meals a day 1,403 87% 93,062 -107
four meals 1,536 91% 183,346 +26
five meals 1,632 93% 59,877 +123
six meals 1,730 95% 28,487 +220

This chart shows the comparison of meal scenarios in terms of calories per day.


Whether you view it as restricting opportunities for overeating or better alignment with your natural circadian rhythm (or a bit of both), it seems that limiting your feeding window to earlier in the day (eTRF) is potentially a useful way to manage your food intake.

micronutrient ratios and why they are important

A number of people have asked for more info on the micronutrient ratios that we include in the Nutrient Optimiser reports. But it has been hard to find a reliable go-to resource to recommend on the topic.

So I thought it would be worth putting something together on the pros and cons of micronutrient ratios and how we use them to make sure we’re not exacerbating any micronutrient imbalances that may already have.


How we use micronutrient ratios

As you’re likely already aware, the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm reviews your micronutrient profile to pinpoint identify any shortcomings and recommend foods that contain more of the nutrients you are not getting enough of.

The chart below shows a typical micronutrient profile.  The nutrients that this person is getting plenty of are shown at the bottom of the chart, while the ones that they are not getting as much of are at the top.


By focusing on the weakest links we can improve your overall diet quality or nutrient density.  Identifying foods that contain more of these harder-to-find nutrients, the Nutrient Optimiser helps you to move your diet quality forward.

We’ve seen some fantastic results from people incrementally upgrading their micronutrient profiles!  With improved nutrient density typically comes improved satiety and energy levels.


Refining your priorities

You’ve probably heard it said that “if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

It’s a bit like that when we use the Nutrient Optimiser Algorithm to refine your nutrition at a micronutrient level.

We want to target the micronutrients that you need more of so you get the most ‘bang for your buck’ from the food you eat.

But, as well as identifying the nutrients that you need more of, it is also important to not prioritize the nutrients that you don’t need more of.

The Nutrient Optimiser considers your gender, eating patterns, food log, as well as nutrient deficiencies correlated with disease conditions to identify the nutrients that you are not getting enough

In addition to looking at which nutrients you’re lacking, we also look at a range of nutrient balance ratios to refine your shortlist of nutrients to emphasise by knocking out nutrients you may need less of.

There are a wide range of complex and interrelated interactions that occur between the numerous minerals in our environment.  We just look at the interactions ones that have some quantitative research for.


What do you do with the nutrient ratios?

Let’s look at an example to demonstrate how the Nutrient Optimiser refines the shortlist of nutrients we prioritise in your diet.


In the instance shown above, the micronutrient balance dials above suggest that we should:

  • not emphasise zinc due to the high zinc:copper ratio,
  • not emphasise sodium due to the low potassium:sodium ratio,
  • not emphasise calcium due to the high calcium:magnesium ratio,
  • not emphasise copper due to the low iron:copper ratio, and
  • not emphasise phosphorus due to the low calcium:phosphorus.

To be clear, we don’t emphasise nutrients or recommend supplements to manipulate these ratios.  Instead, we eliminate micronutrients from your shortlist to avoid worsening any current imbalances.

Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio

One of the best-known micronutrient ratios is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

Before the advent of agriculture, we would likely have obtained more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6.  However, these days, the typical omega-6:omega-3 ratio in the grain and seed oil based western diet is between 12:1 to 25:1.[1]


Even if you avoid bread and vegetable oils, the omega 6:omega 3 ratio in the food system is still quite high in a lot of the animal-based foods that are fed on grains (including farmed fish).


While you need some omega-6 fatty acids, excessive amounts can cause inflammation and overwhelm the anti-inflammatory omega-3s in the body.

Epidemiological studies suggest that a low intake of omega-3 fats may contribute to the development of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, ADHD, personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.[4][5]

It appears that we should ideally have a ratio of less than 4:1 omega-6:omega-3,[2] and ideally closer to 1:1.[3]

If you find that your omega-6:omega-3 ratio is elevated, you can consider reducing foods that contain significant amounts of vegetable oils and prioritise wild-caught seafood.

Zinc : copper ratio

Copper and zinc are both essential nutrients, but they also need to be kept in balance.


Copper is vital for heart health, brain development and bone health.

Zinc is an immune system booster, ensures that your body stays healthy, and is used by more than 300 enzymes in the human body.  Zinc provides cell structure, regulates communication between cells, influences gene expression, supports a healthy immune system, and promotes healthy growth and development in children.

Zinc also helps other nutrients to work in the body (e.g. in the transportation of vitamin A into the bloodstream and in the absorption of folate).[6]  Too much zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper, potentially leading to a copper deficiency and neurological ailments.[7]

Excessive copper with low zinc, on the other hand, has been attributed to a number of serious conditions, including:

  • Anxiety, panic attacks, general inner tension
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hypothyroid symptoms (cold hands and feet, brain fog, dry skin)
  • Overly sensitive, obsessive thinking
  • Insomnia/interrupted sleep
  • PMS
  • Fluctuating blood sugar, causing cravings
  • Mood swings, paranoia
  • Constipation
  • Racing heart/palpitations
  • Adverse reaction to vitamins and minerals (due to copper dumping from the supplements)
  • Poor attention span, spacey feeling
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, overeating)
  • Yeast infections (candida and fungus)
  • Cramping and body aches.[8][9][10][11][12]

The optimal dietary zinc:copper ratio is said to be between 10:1 and 15:1.[13]

Generally, it’s not advisable to supplement with zinc or copper.  But instead you should make sure your diet has adequate amounts of whole foods that contain these nutrients, ideally in a reasonable balance.  Your body will absorb what it needs and excrete the rest.

Following the recommendations of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm will help move your zinc:copper ratio towards optimal.

Potassium : Sodium ratio

The potassium:sodium ratio is possibly the most important of all the nutrient ratios.


Managing sodium and potassium is a major priority for our body, with 40% of the body’s energy and 70% of the brain’s energy devoted just to managing the sodium-potassium pump, which is fundamental to our energy production.[15]


Recently there has been a lot of focus on sodium, which is an essential nutrient.[16]

Sodium is essential to help you to hold on to potassium if you are not getting high levels of potassium.  However, if you focus on getting enough potassium, you likely don’t need to worry so much about sodium.

It’s said that we have an appetite for salt because in times past it was hard to find while potassium was relatively plentiful, so we don’t tend to crave it the same way.  However, these days potassium is less abundant in our water supply and has been depleted in our soils.

Very few people meet the Adequate Intake level for potassium (i.e. 2.8g/day for women and 3.8g/day for men).[17][18][19]  Even fewer get close to the ideal potassium:sodium ratio of 2:1 which is crucial if you want to manage your risk of cardiovascular disease and tame elevated blood pressure.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29]

In summary, there’s no need to avoid sodium.  If you’re active and sweat a lot, you may actually need to supplement with more of it.[30][31]  There’s nothing wrong with salting your food to taste.  But if you are thinking of supplementing, you most likely need more potassium rather than sodium.

Calcium : phosphorus ratio

Higher calcium:phosphorus ratios tend to be associated with reduced risk of obesity.[32][33]

A calcium:phosphorus ratio of greater than 1:1.3 is said to be optimal.[34]

Supplementing calcium does not appear to be beneficial.  Whole foods are best.

Calcium : magnesium ratio

The human body needs adequate levels of magnesium to properly use calcium.[35]  Almost half of the US population is not meeting recommended requirements for magnesium.[36]


Meanwhile, magnesium deficiency affects calcium metabolism and alters levels of certain hormones that regulate calcium in the body.

High intakes of calcium may interfere with magnesium status by reducing intestinal absorption and increasing urinary losses.[37]

Additionally, magnesium deficiency is known to induce calcium deficiency.[38]

Calcium and magnesium also compete with one other and interfere with the other’s functions if they are out of balance.

Magnesium may prevent calcium from contracting muscles when the ratio of magnesium to calcium is incorrect.

The ideal calcium:magnesium ratio said to be between 1:1 to 2:1.

What to do to rebalance your ratios

The first instinct when you see your micronutrient ratios out of balance is to reach for the supplements to bring things back in line.  But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Some feel that it would be simpler if we could just design the optimal mix of gruel with just the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients, all carefully measured out from a bottle.  Some of the most interesting discussion on the topic of micronutrient ratios is in the DIY Soylent forums where people are paying particular attention to designing their vitamin and mineral infused protein shakes.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t tend to work well either. Isolated supplements aren’t equivalent to the nutrients found in real food.

While the Nutrient Optimiser will highlight some supplements to help you meet the Daily Recommended Intake levels for important nutrients, supplements don’t absorb into our system the same way and don’t appear in the right ratios and combinations.  While foods are always going to be optimal.

The foods and meals provided by the Nutrient Optimiser will help you to progressively rebalance your micronutrients by emphasising only the nutrients that you need more of.  When you focus on these foods, you will automatically get less of the nutrients you need to avoid.


  • The primary goal of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm is to help you get more of the nutrients you need without excess energy.
  • Various micronutrients interact with each other and compete for absorption, so balancing these nutrients is also beneficial.
  • Rather than emphasising nutrients based on your nutrient ratios, the Nutrient Optimiser uses the nutrient ratios as a safety check to make sure that you’re not being recommended any food that will push micronutrient imbalances and to maximise the benefit of your diet.
  • It’s impossible to calculate nutrient requirements perfectly. The best we can do is to refine your diet to provide your body with adequate levels of nutrients from whole foods and let your digestive system do what it does best.











































Don’t Eat for Winter!

Modern processed food uses the same formula that Mother Nature uses to provide hyper-palatable food in autumn to help us eat more, store fat, and prepare for winter.

In our modern food environment “comfort foods” are designed to be delicious and allow us to consume more of them.

We are instinctively drawn to foods that fit this special autumnal gorge formula because they provide energy quickly with minimal effort.

The modern food industry has responded to our prehistoric urges with an abundance of cheap and tasty foods that will quickly prepare you for winter 365 days a year.

This article lists nutrient-dense foods that use the autumn formula to help you achieve your goals.  If you are a hard-charging athlete, they will allow you to eat more to fuel your activity.  If you have some extra body fat you’d like to lose, we also will look at how we can use this understanding to manage our appetite.

The squirrel formula

After reading my recent articles looking at the relationship between macronutrients and satiety, Cian Foley contacted me to share his Autumnal Squirrel Gorge Formula.

Cian made the insightful observation that, rather than carbs alone or fat alone, it’s the combination of lower protein with moderate fat and moderate carbohydrate that makes foods easy to overeat and store fat.  While this was a survival advantage, it has a diabolical impact on our health today.


Foods with this unique macronutrient profile can help you recover from long bouts of exercise quickly.  But they will also help you store body fat efficiently if you’re not thin or active.


In nature, we have milk that helps babies grow.


Acorns help squirrels prepare for winter.


And now hyper-palatable junk food has been designed around the same formula that enables us to buy, eat and store more as body fat.


Fast food

I liked the way Cian presented the macros as a “star chart” on his Don’t Eat for Winter blog (as shown in the chart above).

I thought it would be interesting to build on this approach to look at the macronutrient profile of different food groups.

The chart below shows the macros for the average of all the foods in the USDA database (blue) compared to fast food (orange).  I have shown indigestible fibre and net carbs as well as protein and fat.


On average, fast food has more fat, less fibre and less protein compared to the average of all foods in the database.

protein fat net carbs fibre ND
average 26% 32% 37% 5% 24%
fast food 20% 42% 35% 3% 23%

Most nutrient dense

in contrast to fast food, the table below shows how the most nutrient-dense foods compare in terms of macronutrients and nutrient density.

[Note: Nutrient-dense foods are those that have higher levels of potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin B5, vitamin D, thiamine, choline and omega 3 which are harder to find in our commercialised and industrialised food system.]

  protein fat net carbs fibre ND
average 26% 32% 37% 5% 24%
nutrient dense 49% 20% 20% 11% 61%

Nutrient dense foods tend to have more protein and fibre, with less fat and digestible carbohydrate.


This table lists some of the most nutrient-dense foods along with their macronutrient split and nutrient density score.

names % protein % fat % net carbs % fibre ND
asparagus 34% 7% 30% 29% 96%
mushrooms 36% 3% 53% 9% 89%
oyster 43% 34% 24% 0% 88%
crab 91% 9% 0% 0% 86%
lobster 91% 9% 0% 0% 85%
spinach 41% 8% 18% 33% 85%

You don’t need a lot of these foods to get adequate vitamins and minerals.  These foods are harder to overeat, and you’ll be more likely to burn some of your body fat at the end of the day, rather than storing more.

High protein

As shown at the top of this chart below, the analysis of half a million days of MyFitnessPal data demonstrates that higher protein foods are typically more satiating and help people to eat less.


The table below shows the macro profile of the highest protein foods in the USDA database (i.e. the top 10% highest ranking foods).

protein fat net carbs fibre ND
average 26% 32% 37% 5% 24%
highest protein 77% 22% 1% 0% 43%

High protein foods are often animal-based and hence do not contain a lot of carbohydrates.  They also have a very respectable nutrient density score.


As discussed in this article, prioritising protein tends to lead to satiety and a spontaneously reduced energy intake.


If you’re interested in increasing your protein intake, the table below lists some higher protein foods.

names % protein % fat % net carbs % fibre ND
cod 97% 3% 0% 0% 28%
tuna 96% 4% 0% 0% 63%
shrimp 95% 5% 0% 0% 28%
haddock 94% 6% 0% 0% 64%
crab 93% 7% 0% 0% 48%
egg white 91% 9% 0% 0% 28%

Low fat / high carb

Interestingly, it seems that people consuming a low-fat diet or high-carb diet are also able to maintain a lower calorie intake.  Thin whole food plant-based vegans are an example of this.


The table below shows the macros for the lowest fat foods in the USDA database (which also happen to be high in carbohydrates).

protein fat net carbs fibre ND
average 26% 32% 37% 5% 24%
low fat / high carb 8% 1% 84% 7% 14%

The advantage of high-carb whole food plant-based foods is that it is hard to consume enough energy to overeat because of the low-fat content, low energy density and high fibre content.

The downside is that the nutrient density tends to be lower.  While green leafy veggies are an excellent source of micronutrients, processed grains and sugars are low in the nutrients we need more of.  The protein content of these foods is also lower and may not be adequate if you are trying to improve your body composition.


The table below shows some nutrient-dense foods that are low in fat and higher in carbs.

names % protein % fat % net carbs % fibre ND
pumpkin 13% 3% 78% 6% 62%
shiitake mushrooms 9% 3% 75% 13% 61%
butternut squash 8% 2% 75% 15% 55%
acorn squash 7% 2% 78% 13% 48%
parsnips 7% 4% 71% 19% 43%
winter squash 10% 3% 72% 15% 39%
Jerusalem-artichokes 10% 0% 81% 8% 37%
sweet potato 9% 1% 76% 14% 34%

Before the invention of refrigerators or the ability to store grains, humans would have consumed higher protein, higher fat foods in winter when energy from plant foods was less available, and vice versa.  Rarely did we have a situation where both carbs and fat were abundant at the same time.

Low protein / high fat

One of the more interesting observations from the MFP data analysis is that low-protein high-fat foods seem to have an inferior outcome in terms of satiety (as shown at the bottom of this chart).


If you are trying to lose body fat, avoiding protein and eating “fat to satiety” doesn’t appear to be a great strategy.  In fact, it is the only approach that led people to consistently consume more than their calorie goal.

The table and chart below show the nutrient density and macronutrient profile of the foods in the USDA database that have less protein and more fat.

protein fat net carbs fibre ND
average 26% 32% 37% 5% 24%
low protein high fat 5% 89% 4% 1% 10%


Nuts provide minerals, but as a general rule, the nutrient density of these foods is reduced.

names % protein % fat % net carbs % fibre ND
sunflower seeds 13% 76% 4% 6% 43%
brazil nuts 8% 85% 2% 4% 35%
almonds 13% 76% 4% 6% 29%
avocado 5% 76% 4% 15% 26%
sour cream 5% 86% 9.1% 0% 18%
peanut butter 14% 72% 11% 3% 18%
olives 4% 70% 14% 11% 16%
cream 3% 94% 3.2% 0% 15%
walnuts 14% 80% 2% 4% 11%

If you need to consume a therapeutic ketogenic diet to help with the management of epilepsy, Alzheimer’s or dementia, then you would be wise to pay extra attention to micronutrients and consider supplements and/or targeted foods that will provide additional nutrients.

Lower protein, moderate fat, moderate carbs

Coming back to the autumnal squirrel gorge formula, the My Fitness Pal demonstrated that we tend to eat more when we consume foods with less protein, but more carbs and fat at the same time.


In line with these observations, a recent study in Cell, Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward found that people are willing to pay more for foods that contain a combination of fat and carbohydrate.  We naturally crave these foods if they are available.  The processed food industry is only too happy to fulfil the demand.

The table below shows the macronutrient profile and nutrient density of the lower-protein (< 20%) foods that have moderate fat (>30%) and moderate carbs (>30%).

protein fat net carbs fibre ND
average 26% 32% 37% 5% 24%
low protein mod fat mod carbs 8% 42% 47% 3% 8%

Compared to average, these foods have less protein, more fat, less fibre and more digestible carbohydrates.  This is the macronutrient profile that is diabolical!


A selection of the foods that fit this macronutrient profile is listed below.  The most nutrient dense are mashed potato with butter, chocolate milk and potato chips, and it just gets worse from there.

names % protein % fat % net carbs % fibre ND score
mashed potatoes (with butter) 7% 42% 43% 7% 33%
chocolate milk 15% 36% 45% 4% 21%
potato chips 5% 56% 37% 2% 18%
custard 10% 50% 37% 3% 17%
french toast 14% 43% 44% 0% 16%
waffles 11% 44% 45% 0% 16%
blueberry muffins 5% 39% 55% 1% 14%
hash brown 5% 43% 48% 5% 13%
garlic bread 10% 43% 45% 3% 13%
human breast milk 6% 55% 39% 0% 13%
ice cream 7% 48% 44% 1% 12%
pancakes 11% 39% 50% 0% 12%
blueberry pancakes 11% 37% 52% 0% 11%
ice cream 7% 53% 39% 1% 10%
dark chocolate 4% 53% 38% 5% 10%
Snickers 6% 44% 48% 2% 10%
popcorn 7% 49% 37% 8% 10%
cheese bread 10% 46% 42% 2% 9%
Toblerone 4% 49% 45% 2% 8%
pecan pie 5% 47% 49% 0% 8%
acorns 6% 53% 41% 0% 8%
biscuits 8% 42% 49% 2% 8%
ice cream cone 6% 55% 38% 1% 7%
Twix 5% 54% 38% 2% 7%
Kit Kat 5% 45% 49% 1% 6%
white chocolate 4% 53% 43% 0% 5%
choc chip cookies 4% 42% 52% 2% 4%
Girl Scout Cookies 3% 46% 48% 4% 3%
pie crust 3% 51% 45% 1% 2%
Kit Kat 5% 47% 47% 1% 1%
toffee 1% 53% 46% 0% 1%
M&Ms 4% 36% 59% 2% 0%
Milky Way 4% 37% 58% 1% 0%
Milk Chocolate 4% 52% 42% 2% 0%

Looking down this list, you know intuitively that these foods are not good for you in significant quantities!  The only natural foods on this list are acorns (remember the squirrel formula?) and breast milk (which helps little things grow quickly into big things).  The rest are “comfort foods” that have been engineered to enable us to eat more of them while providing very little in the way of protein or nutrients.

These foods may be great if you have run a marathon but not so good if you’re a couch potato with some extra fat to lose.

Our ancestors would have loved these foods because they provide a lot of energy quickly with minimal effort and would enable them to survive through winter.

Our instincts help us avoid starvation.  In the olden days, we had to prioritise foods with higher energy density energy and didn’t have to worry much about nutrients.  Mother Nature knew exactly what we needed to prepare for winter, and just like mum’s cooking, we find it very hard to resist these foods when they are placed in front of us.


In his Don’t Eat for Winter book Cian included this chart that I think is brilliant!  He went through the USDA database and tabulated the average Glycemic Index of the foods that naturally grow in various months.  As you can see from the little humans below, the high GI foods do a great job of preparing us for winter when would rely on using the stored body fat as fuel.  Not only have we manipulated our food environment to be, we have manipulated our light environment so we are exposed to stimulating blue light from our screens and mobile devices any time we are not trying to sleep.


Today, the food industry has responded to our prehistoric urges with an abundance of autumnal foods with carbs and fats that will fatten is up for winter ALL YEAR ROUND!!!

I don’t think you can blame just fat or carbs.  Both the grains and added fats that have increased in our diet.


Grains, vegetable oils and refined dairy fats are cheap, transportable and have a long shelf life, but are not a necessarily a good investment if you are interested in managing your waistline, diabetes risk or your long-term health.

Putting ourselves in Grok’s shoes can be useful.  But rather than trying to follow in his footsteps, we need to reverse engineer our instincts to stay healthy and avoid the diseases of modern civilisation.


If you want to avoid obesity and overeating, then an excellent place to start is to stay away from low nutrient density foods that are low in protein and have a mixture of fat and carbs.   Ted Naiman’s infographic below sums this up nicely.


The combination of carbs and fat together is rare, but in today’s food environment it typically signifies “junk food” or “comfort food”.  We are almost powerless against these man-made food “products” when given the opportunity.

If you’re looking for a bit of extra help, you may want to check out your free and personalised Nutrient Optimiser report to find foods and meals that are ideal for your situation and goals and stop preparing for a winter!





why breakfast is the most important meal of a day

According to some, the idea that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was generated by Kellogg’s to sell cereal designed to decrease libido and control masturbation.


Today, many people like to skip breakfast because they are busy in the morning or to help manage their food intake across the day.


But what can half a million days of MyFitnessPal data tell us about whether eating breakfast is optimal to manage our appetite in order to stay healthy and lean?

To understand the effect of breakfast on our appetite we plotted the proportion of calories consumed at breakfast versus the degree to which people were able to achieve their calorie goal when logging in MyFitnessPal.  A score of greater than 100% means that a person was not able to achieve their target calorie intake.  A score of less than 100% indicates that a person’s reported consumption was under their goal.

is breakfast the most important meal of the day - scatter

Granted, there are limitations with self-reported data versus a metabolic ward study, but many of the concerns are common across the board and cancel themselves out.  While there is plenty of scatter, there is a definite trend towards eating less across the day in the people that consumed more of their daily calories at breakfast.

To help make sense of all the scatter, the chart below shows the average for the different “bins” of data based on the proportion of a person’s daily calories consumed at breakfast.

is breakfast the most important meal of the day - optimising nutrition.png

Most people instinctively prefer to eat a larger dinner with a minimal breakfast.  But keep in mind that our instincts have developed to help us avoid starvation and store fat in preparation for winter, not to avoid diabetes or look good naked.

It’s often more convenient to eat at night when we are with our family and friends and have unlimited access to our fridge and cupboard.  It’s easy to sit down in front of Netflix with a bag of chips and chocolate and eat mindlessly.  Afterwards, you go to sleep which maximises your body’s opportunity to store the food you just ate.

This data seems to align with emerging research indicating that early time restricted-feeding (eTRF) approach with a hearty meal eaten earlier in the day helps to improve satiety and reduce appetite.

The study from Satchin Panda’s lab found that, on average, people eat for 14.75 hours per day.  On average, people consume their maintenance calories by 6:36 pm, but many continue to eat as long as they are still conscious.


In the second phase of the study participants were encouraged people to follow a more compressed eating window with their the bulk of their food consumed earlier in the day.   Although it took some time to adjust, they unanimously loved the change!


Stay tuned for future articles where we’ll look at:

  • What should you eat at each meal if you want to maximise satiety and lose weight with less effort (spoiler alert: it’s not starchy cereal)?
  • How many meals a day is optimal?
  • Which meals are most important?

In the meantime, if you’re looking for some nutrient dense breakfast ideas tailored to your goals, head over and get your free Nutrient Optimiser report.  We hope you love it!



  • Analysis was limited to people who logged more than one meal a day to eliminate people who did not log meals.
  • Analysis was limited to people with goal energy intake between 1000 and 2500 calories to focus on people aiming for weight loss.
  • Analysis limited to people who achieved between 50% and 300% of their goal calorie intake to eliminate incomplete days and extraordinary eating days.
  • n = 310,479 days of data


how to upload your Cronometer data to the Nutrient Optimiser

We’ve worked hard to make the Nutrient Optimiser easy to use while also allowing people to use available data to personalise the recommendations to suit your goals.

We don’t want everyone to have to track every morsel they eat to benefit from the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm.  To avoid this chore, we have characterised the typical nutrient deficiencies of a range of different diets that you might identify with (e.g. low carb, paleo, keto, vegan, plant-based etc).  We also allow you to select conditions that can benefit from emphasising various nutrients.

However, if you want to step up the accuracy of the guidance you receive from the Nutrient Optimiser, we also allow you to upload your food log from Cronometer to enable the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm to further fine-tune your nutritional prescription.

Why Cronometer?

One of the most common questions is whether we can use your data from MyFitnessPal or another food tracking app.

The answer here is both yes and no.

We are in the process of setting up an API link between the Nutrient Optimiser and MyFitnessPal to read your calories and macronutrient data.  This will enable us, based on your macronutrient profile, to get a feel for what micronutrients you might be missing in your diet.   This will be great for people who have been using MFP for a while and don’t need ultimate precision.

Unfortunately, only Cronometer uses the high-quality databases necessary to provide the accurate macronutrient data that the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm relies on.


Other apps may have a lot more foods in their database, but they are typically entered by users and often inaccurate.  They also do not provide the full spectrum of micronutrient data.

The team at Cronometer have done a great job refining their app and web interface to make it user-friendly as well as purchasing the professional food databases.

Cronometer has a free online interface and a $4.99 app that you can use on your phone.  There are additional features in the Gold Edition.  But you don’t need to be paid up to download the data to copy across into the Nutrient Optimiser.

While it is not possible to connect the Nutrient Optimiser directly into your Cronometer account, we can download your data and upload to the Nutrient Optimiser.

How to download your Cronometer data

The main thing you need from Cronometer is the servings.csv file which contains the details of your food log, calories and micronutrients.

To get this, log into your Cronometer account and head over to https://cronometer.com/#profile on a computer (i.e. not on your phone or tablet).

Click on the ‘spiky wheel’ in the account information section and click on ‘Export Data’ (as shown in the screen grab below).


You can change the date range if you want and hit the ‘export servings’ button.  This will save you servings.csv file on your computer.


You can then go ahead and upload your servings.csv file into your free Nutrient Optimiser report.

Uploading into the Nutrient Optimiser Free Report

To get to the free report just tell us what you’re interested in with the drop-down box at nutrientoptimiser.com, fill in your email address and then hit ‘join now’.


Once you’ve filled in the basic details, the “Want even more precision?  Upload your Cronometer data” option will pop up.


Click on that hyperlink, and you’ll get this screen and be able to drag and drop your Cronometer file.


Full report

Once you have completed your free report you will have the option to upgrade to get a more detailed ‘full report’ if you click on https://nutrientoptimiser.com/apply/.

You can upload your Cronometer data whenever you want.  We suggest checking in every week or so to get some new suggestions on how you can keep refining your food choices.


We hope this makes things as clear as possible and helps you to optimise your nutrition from first principles so you can live life to the fullest!

optimising macros for fat loss with less hunger

Many people like to define their diet based on macro ranges, such as:

  • low-carb,
  • ketogenic,
  • high-fat,
  • low-fat,
  • high-protein, or
  • high-carb.

However, if you want to control your appetite, reduce body fat, and improve your health, you probably want to know if your chosen dietary preference works.

Everyone agrees that consciously restricting calories can be difficult.  We want to understand how we can manipulate macronutrients and micronutrients to improve satiety and reduce hunger which will lead to a spontaneous reduction in appetite and sustained fat loss.

My Nutrient Optimiser partner Alex Zotov and I have been busy lately mining the database of half a million days of MyFitnessPal data for insights that can help us refine our algorithm to help people achieve their goal with more precision.  It’s fascinating to be able to quantitatively answer common questions and dispel many myths about nutrition with this massive data set!

Data cleaning

In order to focus on people trying to lose weight, we filtered for people with a calorie goal of between 1000 and 2500 calories and eliminated days where people consumed more than 300% or less than 50% of their target calorie intake.  This trimmed reduced out data set down from the original 587,187 days of data to 438,014 days of completed food diaries.

Definitions of diets by macronutrient range

The table below shows how we sliced up the data based on macronutrient ranges that align with different popular dietary approaches.

  • The “n” is the number of days in each ‘bucket’ of data.
  • The “%” column shows the percentage of days that meet that criteria.
  • The average row represents the average macronutrient breakdown of all 438,014 days of data. Each of the dietary approaches are subsets of this data.
Diet Protein Fat Carbs n %
Low-protein, high-fat < 15% > 70% 1,887 0.43%
High-fat > 70% 7,229 2%
Junk food < 20% > 30% > 35% 84,781 19%
Low-protein < 15% 87,985 20%
Standard Western 10 – 20% 30 – 40% 35-50% 43,504 10%
Low-carb, higher-fat > 60% < 30% 18,581 4%
Very low carb < 15% 21,644 5%
Low-fat < 25% 75,859 18%
Low-carb < 30% 64,960 15%
Low-carb, high-protein > 20% < 35% 34,870 8%
High-carb > 70% 4,966 1%
High-protein > 30% 72,473 17%
Very high protein > 40% 15,205 3%
Average  22% 36% 43% 438,014 100%

Average macros (%)

The chart below shows what each of the diet approaches looks like in terms of macronutrients for the days that met the criteria for each ‘bucket’.


Average diet macros (grams)

Many people like to manage their diet by limiting or targeting a certain quantity of a particular macronutrient, so the table shows the average intake of each of the approaches in grams.  If you currently track your diet you might like to see how you compare to these averages.

Diet Protein (g) Fat (g) Carbs (g)
Very high protein 165 45 97
High protein 137 53 122
Low carb, high protein 116 86 54
Low carbohydrate 107 88 72
Low fat 93 33 201
Very low carb 101 107 31
Low carb, high fat 81 120 40
High fat 69 134 29
Standard Western 70 67 193
Junk food 62 76 185
Low protein 49 67 205
High carbohydrate 38 20 248
Low protein, high fat 47 158 47
average 86 62 168

Satiety of different macronutrient diet approaches

This table shows the average goal and actual calorie intake for each of the groups.  The right-hand column shows the average of the actual intake divided by their calorie goal and multiplied by 100%.

A calorie goal in MyFitnessPal is set by a person’s Basal Metabolic Rate minus an allowance to ensure that they achieve an energy deficit if they are trying to achieve weight loss.

  • A score of less than 100% means that someone was able to eat less than calorie goal for the day.
  • A score of greater than 100% indicates that someone was able to eat less than they planned.
Diet Goal (cals) Actual (cals) % Goal
Low protein, high fat 1,698 1,796 106%
High fat 1,698 1,597 94%
Junk food 1,779 1,673 94%
Low protein 1,730 1,615 93%
Standard Western 1,806 1,655 92%
Low carb, high fat 1,721 1,569 91%
average 1,795 1,575 88%
Very low carb 1,714 1,490 87%
Low fat 1,787 1,478 83%
Low carbohydrate 1,753 1,506 86%
Low carb, high protein 1,735 1,461 84%
High carbohydrate 1,592 1,325 83%
High protein 1,834 1,511 82%
Very high protein 1,804 1,453 81%

This chart shows the goal vs actual calorie intake for each approach graphically.


The chart below shows the % goal achieved for each approach graphically.



Looking at the goal vs actual calories in the chart below we can see that:

  • The people following a low-protein, high-fat approach were the only ones to exceed their calorie target consistently.
  • The people using the high-protein diet had the highest target calorie intakes, suggesting that they were active and likely had more metabolically active muscle mass, and hence a higher BMR.
  • The high-carb approaches seemed to have a lower goal intake, indicating that these people may have already been typically smaller or had less muscle mass.

Both the high-fat and low-protein approaches have a negative impact on satiety.  Combining these two approaches (i.e. high-fat with low-protein) appears to lead to people to eat much more than planned.

Avoiding protein (i.e. in pursuit of ketones or due fear of gluconeogenesis) and consuming “fat to satiety” appears to significantly increase your chances of overeating.

Lowering carbohydrates provides slightly better than average satiety.  Focusing on reducing carbohydrates while also prioritising protein seems to provide a better outcome.

When we look at the correlation between macronutrient consumption and the ability to achieve your target calorie goal, we see that higher protein has the strongest alignment with followed by lower fat.  Restricting carbohydrate seems to have a much smaller impact on spontaneous calorie intake.

This observation from the data also aligns with this recent study that tested high protein low carb vs normal protein high fat and found that “Body-weight loss and weight-maintenance depends on the high-protein, but not on the ‘low-carb’ component of the diet, while it is unrelated to the concomitant fat-content of the diet.”

A higher protein approach with less fat may be more advantageous in terms of satiety if your goal is fat loss.

A high carb approach such as a Whole Food Plant Based approach may lead to weight loss.  However, it may not provide adequate protein to prevent loss of lean muscle which is a real concern during weight loss.

Also, keep in mind that plant-based amino acids and some micronutrients such as vitamin A and omega 3s are less bioavailable from plant-based sources compared to animal-based sources.

Someone following a high carb plant-based approach should monitor their body fat levels during weight loss and look to add additional protein if they are losing excessive amounts of lean muscle mass or their % body fat is increasing even though they are losing weight.

Personally, I used to follow more of a low carb high-fat approach in an effort to manage my insulin levels and blood sugars.  However, recently I have found much better results in terms of satiety and body composition by prioritising protein.

When you buy into the Carbohydrate-Insulin Hypothesis of Obesity, a lot of things get blamed on insulin resistance.  I was a victim, and my obesity was beyond my control (or so I thought).

I now realise that following a diet that enables you to eat less and control hunger is what will reverse insulin resistance (see this article for more discussion) and lead to increased satiety and fat loss.


the Nutrient Optimiser Score

It’s natural to want to see how we compare with others to learn how we can keep improving.  We want to be better than yesterday.

This article gives an overview of the Nutrient Optimiser Score and what it takes to get to the top of the Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard.

Fancy a little “healthy competition”?   Then read on.

My daily nutrient intake

The chart below shows my nutrient profile for three weeks of food logging.


The vertical axis shows the various essential micronutrient (i.e. vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids).

The horizontal axis is my proportion of the recommended daily intake per day that I achieved for each of these nutrients.

The nutrients are then sorted to show the nutrients that I am getting less of at the top.  The ones that I am getting plenty of are at the bottom.

We don’t really need to worry about getting too much of the nutrients at the bottom of the list as long as they’re coming from whole foods.

By continuing to focus on the nutrients towards the top of the chart we de-emphasise the nutrients we are getting plenty of.

Comparing apples to oranges?

The problem with comparing my profile with someone else’s is that being bigger, I could just eat more food to get more nutrients and this.  This would penalise someone who is smaller or who is trying to restrict their energy intake to lose body fat.  We would be comparing apples and oranges!


We want to encourage people to consume higher levels of nutrients per calorie.

We hope that the Nutrient Optimiser help people get the nutrients we need without excess energy.  This tends to lead to improved satiety, weight loss and overall metabolic health.

Normalising to RDI / 2000 calories

In order to usefully compare my nutrient density with someone else’s, we need to bring my nutrient intake back to an equivalent amount of nutrients per unit of energy.

To do this we normalise to nutrients per 2000 calories.

During the three weeks that these foods were logged, I was consuming an average of 1567 calories per day.  So to remove the influence of food quantity we normalise intake to RDI / 2000 calories.

The chart below shows my nutrients from the chart above factored up by 2000 / 1567 = 1.28.


Now we have normalised my nutrients to 2000 calories per day, the Nutrient Score calculated by simply taking the area to the left of the line at 300% line that is filled, which in my case is 90%.

This 300% value is arbitrary.  We initially used 200%, but people were starting to get better at creating nutrient-dense meals.  Setting the line at 300% leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Which nutrients do I need more of?

The table below shows the nutrients that I am getting less of sorted by % DRI.

nutrient % DRI prioritise
Potassium 114% yes
Copper 133% yes
Magnesium 140% yes
Calcium 150% no
Manganese 164% yes
Pantothenic Acid (B5) 178% yes
Vitamin E 181% yes
Folate 196% yes
Omega 3 221% yes
Vitamin C 223% yes

Calcium doesn’t get prioritised due to my lower calcium:magnesium ratio as shown in the bottom left from my Nutrient Optimiser Full Report.


The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm goes off looking for the foods and meals that will provide me with more of the nine nutrients that I’m not getting as much of.

Rather than worrying about avoiding the nutrients that I’m getting plenty of, the algorithm allows me to focus on getting more of the nutrients that I’m not getting as much of.

Why is this important?

It’s fairly well established that eating too much is not good.  We end up with diabetes, obesity and a whole range of undesirable outcomes.

Maximising nutrient density enables you to get away with fewer calories without missing out on the nutrients you need, which is useful if you are trying to lose body fat.  Focusing on foods with a higher nutrient density tends to lead to increased satiety which enables us to manage our appetite.

If I was a lean endurance athlete I would be looking for more energy dense foods that could provide me with the nutrients I need while still getting plenty of nutrition.

The leaderboard

The image below shows the current Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard showing the current rankings based on the last four weeks of food logged by these people.


You can click on the names of the people to view their full report to see what they are eating to make it to the top or the bottom of the leaderboard.

We hope that this public leaderboard will drive some “healthy competition” as well as sharing of information on the different ways we can optimise our nutrition.

How to make it to the top

There is no specific dietary approach that will get you to the top of the leaderboard.  We don’t believe in the magic of any specific approach such as paleo, keto, low carb or vegan.

However, the common thing all the people towards the top of the leaderboard are eating plenty of is minimally processed whole foods.

  • Paul Burgess is a dietician and strength athlete who is using the Nutrient Optimiser to refine his diet in a cutting phase.
  • Carrie Burns Diulus, who comes in at #4 is an orthopedic surgeon who has Type 1 diabetes and follows a plant-based diet.
  • Dr Rhonda Patrick is a nutrition and research guru who runs Found My Fitness.
  • Brianna Theroux is a nutrition and fitness consultant who is very particular about what she puts into her body.

Follow the guidance of the Nutrient Optimiser

The Nutrient Optimiser will give you a list of foods and recipes that will help you boost the nutrients that you are not getting as much of.

The idea is that you just eat more of the meals and foods towards the top of the list.

Over time this will change and adapt as you continue to rebalance your nutrition from the ground up.

If you’re interested, you can get a free Nutrient Optimiser that will give you food and meal suggestions along with recommended macro ranges for your situation.  Once you bit more serious you can start logging your meals in Cronometer and get a more detailed analysis based on your micronutrient profile.

We’re really excited about what this could achieve in the world of nutrition.  We’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and suggestions on how we can make this even better to help more people.

Nutrient density optimised for diabetes, ketosis, weight loss, longevity and performance

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