personalised nutrition… how to tweak the moving parts
There are a number of moving parts when it comes to optimising nutrition to suit your personal situation and goals.
General nutritional recommendations are standardised for simplicity. However simple and standard doesn’t always work for everyone, particularly if you aren’t average, or don’t want to be average.
Just like people come in different shapes and sizes, their nutritional requirements vary widely depending on our situation and goals.
The Nutrient Optimiser is a moderately sophisticated tool to optimise food choices to suit different people with different goals. However, I don’t want it to be a black box. Ideally I would like people to understand the inputs and how best to refine their nutrition to suit their goals.
The problem is black boxes is you get what you put in. If you understand the inputs you’ll have a better chance of getting the output you’re after.
This article discusses the various parameters that the Nutrient Optimiser manages. Even if you’re not a user, it may be of interest to see how you can truly personalise your nutrition. If you are already using the Nutrient Optimiser this article will help you understand how the algorithm uses various parameters to determine the optimal foods for you.
The first thing to understanding is the parameters used in the multi criteria analysis which is at the heart of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm. The image below illustrates the three main dials that you can adjust in the algorithm:
- insulin load,
- nutrient density, and
- energy density.
A multi criteria analysis is a way to combine a number of priorities.
You do it all the time. You want to have money in the bank but you also want to wear clothes and live under a roof. So you balance these priorities depending on your goals. You like to look and feel good but you also like to eat treats “occasionally”. So you balance these priorities.
You want to have the proverbial cake and eat it too. We make compromises all the time in life. Living at the extremes is not always healthy or optimal.
I have written at length on the blog about the three key parameters of the system. The pros and cons of having the various parameters at either extreme are highlighted in the table below.
|Parameter||Too high||Too low|
|Insulin load||Very high insulinogenic processed junk food that drives a blood glucose roller coaster.||Super high fat therapeutic ketogenic foods do not provide high levels of the broad range of various essential vitamins and minerals.|
|Nutrient density||Very high nutrient per calorie foods are also very low energy density. For someone who is active and not looking to lose weight the most nutrient dense foods may not contain enough energy to provide satiety and prevent excessive fat loss.||Low nutrient density processed junk food leads to a lack of satiety (nutrient hunger), overeating and a whole host of other health issues.|
|Energy density||Energy dense foods are ideal for someone who is very active and looking to replenish energy, though not necessarily for someone who is less active or looking to lose weight.||Low energy density foods are very bulky and hard to get enough energy to maintain weight if you’re very active.|
As you can see, these three parameters are important to different people to different degrees for different people. The table below shows the ‘pre-set values’ in the system that have been found to work well for different goals. More experienced users of the Nutrient Optimiser may want to tweak these values to refine the results to further suit their preferences.
|approach||insulin load||nutrient density||energy density||total (absolute)|
|nutrient dense maintenance||20%||70%||10%||100%|
|weight loss (insulin resistant)||5%||70%||25%||100%|
|weight loss (insulin sensitive)||0||85%||15%||100%|
|diabetes and nutritional ketosis||10%||90%||0%||100%|
You may have noticed that some of the parameters are negative (e.g. insulin load and energy density for the bulking approach).
While many people are eating too much, some athletes want to bulk up and / or get more energy “down the pie hole” to support their amazing feats of endurance.
Someone who is insulin resistant will want to minimise the insulin load of their diet, bodybuilders often want food to spike insulin around workouts to promote growth. If you turn the nutrient density parameter negative you’ll get a list of processed junk food that you see in the supermarket aisles.
Adapting the system as you progress
People would ideally use these value as a starting point and refine them to suit your goals as you see fit and as you get fit.
Someone who starts out with diabetes, is on three medications and hundreds of units of insulin may need to start on the high fat therapeutic keto approach to reduce the insulin load of their diet.
Someone like this who is looking to progressively refine their diet would come back and re-run the Nutrient Optimiser every two to four weeks to see their new dietary recommendations and refinements. Through continual, gentle, non-judgemental and anonymous guidance (with the support of the Nutrient Optimiser Facebook group community as required) they would be able to progressively refine their diet.
In time, their blood glucose would come down with lower insulin load foods. But then they still might want to lose weight so they would start to prioritise lower energy density foods rather than low insulin foods so much. Then as their weight came closer to optimal and they were more active they might swing back to some focus on insulin load to enable them to have a more nutrient dense suit of foods.
Where do I start?
While there are a lot of parameters you can use, your average glucose levels and waist : height ratio is a pretty good starting place as shown in the table below.
A higher fat / ketogenic / low carb approach typically works really well for people who have elevated blood glucose and elevated insulin levels. However, as blood glucose control and improved insulin sensitivity kicks in but you still need to lose weight energy density and nutrient density become more important.
The table below will give you a guide on which approach might be most appropriate based on your current weight blood glucose levels and body fat levels.
|approach||average glucose||waist : height|
|therapeutic ketosis||> 140||> 7.8|
|diabetes and nutritional ketosis||108 to 140||6.0 to 7.8|
|weight loss (insulin resistant)||100 to 108||5.4 to 6.0||> 0.5|
|weight loss (insulin sensitive)||< 97||< 5.4||> 0.5|
|bulking||< 97||< 5.4||< 0.5|
|nutrient dense maintenance||< 97||< 5.4||< 0.5
There are a plethora of different approaches to choosing foods. Some of these are based around avoiding allergens (autoimmune, lactose intolerant, nut allergy etc) or digestive issues (zero carb, low fodmap). Some are based on religious belief systems (e.g. vegetarian).
Although the ideal approach is going to be to prioritise the most nutrient dense foods available, we have also created options to suit your preferences.
The recommended foods list will be based on the remaining top 10% foods. Noting your preferences up front will save you sifting through a long list of foods that you may not want to eat.
|most nutrient dense||No limitations|
|zero carb||Eliminates vegetables, fruit, grains and any non-animal based sources of carbohydrate.|
|vegan / plant based||No animal products or animal derived products such as dairy or eggs.|
|vegetarian||No animal products but includes eggs and|
|paleo||No grains, dairy or processed foods.|
|pescatarian||Vegetarian plus seafood|
|gluten intolerant||No grain products|
|nut allergy||Excludes nuts|
|no organ meats||Excludes organ meats.|
Should I log my supplements?
But why not?
The goal of the Nutrient Optimiser is to identify nutrient deficiencies and whole foods to fill them. If you don’t manage to fill the gaps, then you will know which nutrient you might need to supplement.
There is a credible line of thinking that the reason that many processed foods are fortified with B vitamins and the like is that we would find these foods unpalatable and lose our appetite without the fortification.     With fortification, we associate these otherwise nutrient devoid processed foods with essential vitamins and hence we are happy to keep eating them. Unfortunately, they don’t also contain the full range range of beneficial nutrients that whole foods possess (i.e. essential, non-essential and the ones that we haven’t discovered yet) so fortified foods are unlikely to lead to optimal health.
If you are taking a ton of supplements then you may be able to continue to happily eat large quantities of nutrient poor processed food that you would otherwise lose your taste for. If you cut back to foods that don’t need to be fortified or flavoured to make up for their nutritional deficiencies you will be able to hear your appetite again and let it guide you to whole foods that contain the nutrients you need at a particular point in time.
Regardless of whether this narrative is correct I think it’s safer to get your nutrients from real food. Supplements supplement. They shouldn’t be the foundation.
If you still can’t quite cover off on the nutrients you need from real food, you can supplement in a targeted manner once you’ve got the foundation of whole foods in place.
The Nutrient Optimiser compares the nutrients you are getting to the recommended daily allowance (RDA) or daily recommended intake (DRI). Different RDA / DRIs are commonly given for different situations including whether you are male or female and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Recommended micronutrient levels for men are typically greater than those for women (other than iron, which is greater for women). Levels of micronutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding are greater for obvious reasons. These values (for adults) are included in the Nutrient Optimiser.
You may have blood tests that indicate you are deficient or sufficient in particular nutrients. You may also be able to use tools like the Organic Acids Test or the NutrEval test to identify any nutrient deficiencies that you need to prioritise.
If you have this data you can override the recommendations from your food log to focus the nutrients you know you are low in. For example you may have blood tests that you are getting a lot of vitamin D from the sun so you could decrease your dietary targets or you may have blood tests that suggest you are low in iron due to poor absorption so you can increase your dietary targets.
The daily recommended intake levels for vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that these are the recommended minimum levels to prevent the diseases of malnutrition. There is generally no harm in being above these levels in a particular nutrient if you are getting it from real food. However if a certain nutrient is super high there is a chance that you are neglecting other nutrients.
|B1 (Thiamine) (mg)||1.2||1.1||1.4||1.4|
|B12 (Cobalamin) (Âµg)||2.4||2.4||2.6||2.8|
|B2 (Riboflavin) (mg)||1.3||1||1.4||1.6|
|B3 (Niacin) (mg)||16||14||18||17|
|B5 (Pantothenic Acid) (mg)||5||5||6||6|
|B6 (Pyridoxine) (mg)||1.3||1.2||1.9||2|
|Vitamin A (IU)||3000||3000||3000||3000|
|Vitamin C (mg)||90||75||85||120|
|Vitamin D (IU)||600||600||600||600|
|Vitamin E (mg)||15||15||15||19|
|Vitamin K (Âµg)||120||90||90||90|
There is a lot of passion around the topic of optimal protein levels.
I think the long and short of it is that if you focus on getting the harder to find nutrients you won’t need to worry too much protein. However if you focus on getting particularly high or low levels of protein you will risk missing out on getting adequate vitamins and minerals.
However, unless you’re actively trying to avoid protein you will likely be getting enough. Conversely, unless you’re trying to hammer down to get extra protein with powders, you will find it hard to get too much protein whole foods.
As long as you’re not living exclusively off hyperpalatable processed foods I think you can generally trust your appetite to make sure you’re getting enough protein. People who are active and working out will need more protein to support muscle growth and recover. People who are sedentary will need less protein (as well as fat and carbs).
The Nutrient Optimiser takes your weight and LBM into account to tell you how you’re positioned against normal healthy protein intake levels which are noted in the table below.
|Scenario||% calories||g/kg LBM|
To take things another step further, the Nutrient Optimiser also looks at the adequacy of the individual amino acids. If you’re following a lower carb or paleo approach these are likely to be adequate. If you’re vegan, fasting or aiming for therapeutic ketosis, the Nutrient Optimiser may encourage you to seek our more of specific amino acids if you’re not getting enough. Although typically most people get enough of the amino acids unless they are actively trying to avoid protein.
The table below shows the minimum daily requirement of the various essential amino acids in terms of milligrams per kilogram of body weight as well as for someone who is 70kg and 100kg. These target levels have been included in the Nutrient Optimiser based on your total body weight. If you are deficient in any of these individual amino acids the Nutrient Optimiser will highlight foods that will fill the gaps. The Nutrient Optimiser also checks to make sure you’re getting enough protein overall based on your lean body mass.
|Amino acid(s)||mg per kg body weight||mg per 70 kg||mg per 100 kg|
|Methionine||10.4 + 4.1 (15 total)||1050||1500|
Common micronutrient deficiencies
Managing micronutrients is a bit of a moving feast. You could run a reasonable argument that the various daily recommended intakes (DRI) are based on limited knowledge and understanding. Realistically in the early stages of understanding nutrients and how they work in our body.
For this reason, the Nutrient Optimiser doesn’t try to hit the DRI for every single nutrient. That would be unrealistic with real food (chemical concoctions like Soylent or other meal replacement products, might get closer, but who knows what you’ll be missing out on if you only get what we currently understand to be the essential nutrients). Instead we want to highlight the nutrients that you are currently getting in smaller quantities and help you focus on the foods that contain more of those harder to find nutrients.
The chart below shows common micronutrient deficiencies. The majority of people are not getting adequate amounts of vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, vitamin A and zinc. However your situation will be unique.
The Nutrient Optimiser will progressively train you to incorporate new foods and rebalance your diet to fill your nutritional gaps. When you get to the point that most of your nutrient requirements meet the minimum from real food you might just find your appetite and cravings for particular nutrients start to diminish.
If you’re interested in checking out how the Nutrient Optimiser has worked for a number of other people check out the Nutrient Optimiser Facebook Page or the Nutrient Optimiser site for more details on the tool and how to be involved.