how to maximise nutrient density

We surveyed the Nutrient Optimiser Facebook Group to see what they wanted to learn more about.

Overwhelmingly, the most requested topic was nutrient density.

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Given that nutrient density is the central component of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm, it’s the perfect place to start this educational series.

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Managing nutrient density ensures you get all the micronutrients you need without too much energy.

This short article will give you an understanding of what “nutrient density” means, why it is important and how you can use the Nutrient Optimiser to improve your diet.

Macronutrients

Most of the time people think in terms of the macronutrients:

  • protein,
  • carbohydrates,
  • fat, and
  • fibre).

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While consideration of macronutrients can be useful, it doesn’t do much to ensure we are obtaining the micronutrients that we need.

Many get enthusiastic about specific macronutrient ratios (e.g. high fat, low carb, low protein, low fat etc.).  Unfortunately, poorly defined macronutrient extremes can be detrimental to your micronutrient profile.  But when you focus on micronutrients,, macronutrients largely look after themselves.

Essential Micronutrients

There is a wide range of compounds in our food that we are adapted to thrive on.  But it’s the essential nutrients that we can’t make from other sources that we need to get from our food.

These essential micronutrients are listed below, divided into their categories of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids.

vitamins

  • choline
  • thiamine
  • riboflavin
  • niacin
  • pantothenic acid
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K

minerals

  • calcium
  • copper
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • selenium
  • sodium
  • zinc

amino acids

  • cysteine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • tyrosine
  • valine
  • methionine
  • histidine

essential fatty acids

  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

There are conditionally essential nutrients, beneficial nutrients and other compounds that we are aware of but don’t measure.  There’s no need to worry too much about these other substances.

If you are eating minimally processed whole foods with plenty of the essential micronutrients, you’ll likely be getting more than enough of all the other beneficial nutrients.

Recommended daily intake levels

Recommended daily intake levels of the essential nutrients have been established for both sexes at various life stages (i.e. pregnant, young or old).

These recommended intake levels are typically based on the amount that is required to prevent nutrient deficiencies.  It’s usually better to get more than the minimum amount of the essential nutrients where possible.

While supplements can be a useful stop-gap measure, we strongly recommend obtaining more of your nutrients from whole foods which contain all the other beneficial nutrients.

The Nutrient Optimiser will help you determine which nutrients you are currently not getting enough of and which foods and meals will help you fill your micronutrient gaps.

Emphasising the harder-to-find nutrients

Building on the previous work of the likes of Bruce Ames, Joel Fuhrman and Mat Lalonde, the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm focuses on boosting only the nutrients that you are not getting as much of.

If a particular group of nutrients is easy to find or you are already getting heaps of them, there’s no need to focus on trying to get more of them.

The Nutrient Optimiser helps you to rebalance your diet by focusing on the foods that contain the nutrients you are not getting enough of.

The purple bars in the chart below show the nutrients in all the foods in the USDA food database.

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As you can see, some micronutrients are easier to find than others.  Nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin B12 are generally easy to get enough of while nutrients such as choline, calcium, magnesium and potassium are harder to find.

The light blue bars show the nutrients in the highest ranking 10% of foods in the USDA database when we focus on boosting the nutrients that are harder to find.

We get a massive boost in the nutrients that are harder to find while still getting plenty of the other nutrients.

Nutrient ratios

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm also looks at the balance between nutrients that operate synergistically.

While the quantity of nutrients is important, the ratio between key nutrients also needs to be considered.  If the nutrient ratios fall outside the target range, they don’t get prioritised.

ratios

target

Zinc : Copper

8 – 12

Potassium : Sodium

> 2

Calcium : Magnesium

 < 2

Iron : Copper

10 – 15

Calcium : Phosphorus

> 1.3

By doing this, the Nutrient Optimiser guides you to eat more of the foods that will help to improve your nutrient balance as well as getting more nutrients per calorie.

Your appetite is the original and ultimate Nutrient Optimiser

The human taste buds have evolved to be the ultimate Nutrient Optimiser, telling you which foods and nutrients you need at a particular point in time.

Wild animals seek out the foods they need at a particular point in time.  Similarly, in the absence of processed hyper-palatable flavoured foods, our cravings guide us to the foods we need.

However, these days, in our modern food environment we have lost the ability to determine what we need.  Our appetite has been tricked into eating foods that look and taste amazing. However, these manufactured foods often contain negligible nutrients.

The Nutrient Optimiser will help you to shortlist foods and meals that contain the nutrients.  Once you’re eating real food that contains nutrients, you can learn to trust your appetite again.

Personalised for you

We have put a lot of effort into developing optimal food lists for different contexts.

  • We can prioritise the nutrients that are harder to find in the USDA foods database.
  • We can prioritise the nutrients that are associated with various health conditions.
  • We can prioritise nutrients that are harder to find in conventional dietary patterns (e.g. ketogenic, low carb, paleo, plant-based, standard western diet, vegan etc.).
  • We can even prioritise the nutrients that most people are missing out on.

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But none of these approaches considers what YOU are eating now and what nutrients you personally need more of.

That’s why we created the Nutrient Optimiser.

The Nutrient Optimiser can use your food log (exported from Cronometer) to identify the nutrients that you are not getting enough of.

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm then creates your personalised nutritional solution to identify the foods and meals that will fill your current nutritional gaps.

This is truly personalised nutrition, optimised for YOU.

What YOU should eat

Rather than stressing about what NOT to eat, the Nutrient Optimiser helps you focus on what you SHOULD be eating to optimise your diet from first principles.

Once you are getting your fill of the foods that you should be eating, our cravings for the other foods tend to dissipate.  Worrying about what not to eat becomes a non-issue.

One common observation from people who have used the Nutrient Optimiser to refine their food choices is how little food they need to be satisfied.

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Once you solve satiety, optimal weight and body fat levels often look after themselves.

Nutrient density is central

Nutrient density is central to the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm.  However, it is not the only parameter.

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm also considers:

  • insulin load (to help tweak your diet if you are insulin resistant or have diabetes), and
  • energy density (which can be useful to make your diet even more satiating, so more fat can come from your body).

We’ll cover these other parameters in the following articles.

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11 thoughts on “how to maximise nutrient density”

  1. Hi Marty . I’d just like to thank you for the intense time you take to put into your approach to nutrition!!

  2. The topic of vitamin K2 is a newer topic and it has many profound implications. One being that it appears to be greatly reduced or even missing in many (if not most) Western diets. It is a topic that Bruce Ames has broached in his triage theory – look it up! Other researchers have subsequently shown that more K2 offers many health benefits including improved heart health, better glucose sensitivity, stronger bones, and more. Granted, it is still a newer topic but this vitamin K2 is found in foods that we have mistakenly removed due to fat-shunning and loss of such as fermented foods. High in REAL cheeses, many fermented foods, organ meats, we have lost it by removing dairy fats and by just stopping eating fermented foods (exception: yogurt, but it is not particularly high in it, yet it appears to offer many health benefits – especially when high or full fat) and who eats liver these days?
    I want this topic covered and researched better.
    Also, the issue of the many ways we hinder vitamin K2 actions needs more coverage.
    Learn about how we transport vitamin K in its many forms.
    Feel free to contact me for more info, but a good search will show that this is an important and largely overlooked issue.
    OTHER countries are doing great research, but we tend to miss this in the US.
    And no…most of us are NOT K replete! This is only based on the ONE role of vitamin K in coagulation, which is so tightly controlled (as noted in the triage theory) that it is rarely impaired, but roles of vitamin K beyond the coagulation cascade appear to be largely sub-optimal in our population.
    When we stopped at K1 and coagulation, we were truncated in thinking.

    1. Indeed. I look forward to when the USDA database includes K2 and I can add it to the analysis. I’m a big fan of Ames’ triage theory!

  3. Very good article Marty!
    Natural sources of vitamin B12, natural means and methods of providing vitamin B12, because the chemical sources, supplements (pills, injections, etc.) that you become addicted to with time generate serious illnesses.

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