The Nutrient Optimiser Score (version 1.0)
It’s natural to compare ourselves with others.
Want to what can I do to improve my diet?
How can I be better than yesterday?
The Nutrient Optimiser Score enables you to quantitatively prioritise the nutrients you are finding harder to get in you diet.
If you 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 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.
- By continually focusing on the nutrients towards the top of the chart, we de-emphasise the nutrients we are getting plenty of that are shown towards the bottom of the chart.
Can we compare apples to oranges?
Comparing apples and oranges has been an age-old challenge.
But finally, we’ve solved the puzzle by thinking in terms of nutrients per calorie.
Not only does this allow us to compare apples with oranges, it also enables us to compare different dietary patterns (e.g. vegan with carnivore, Paleo with Mediterranean) at a micronutrient level.
The problem with thinking in terms of nutrients consumed per day is that to ‘improve’ your nutrition you could consume more food to get more nutrients. This would penalise someone who is smaller or trying to restrict their energy intake to lose body fat. These people need to prioritise getting enough nutrients to prevent cravings and rebound bingeing.
The Nutrient Optimiser has been designed to encourage people to improve their diet quality by focusing on increasing their nutrients per calorie.
We hope that the Nutrient Optimiser will help more people get the nutrients we need without excess energy along with improved satiety, weight loss and improved metabolic health.
Normalising to RDI / 2000 calories
To usefully compare my diet 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.
Once we have normalised to 2000 calories per day, the Nutrient Optimiser Score calculated by taking the area to the left of the line at 300% line that is filled, which in my case is 90%.
Why the 300% cut off?
The 300% value is arbitrary and leaves some room for improvement. We previously had it set at 200%, but we found that lots of people were able to achieve it pretty easily. So we ‘move the goal posts’ to make sure the score could still differentiate between different diets.
While you can get too much of a good thing when it comes to some micronutrients, we typically see that it’s better to err on the safe side. It’s almost impossible to overdo it with whole food.
Over and over again we see that people are more satisfied and eat less when they are consuming signficantly more than the minimum Dietary Reference Intake (which are set to prevent disease) levels from whole foods.
Nutrient dense food are also very hard to overeat, so they are ideal for people trying to lose weight and eating less food while avoiding cravings and long term deficiencies. Anyone consuming a diet with a Nutrient Optmiser Score will find it very hard to consume enough calroies to maintain weight.
What about bio availability and anti-nutrients?
The recommended daily intake values are based on people following an omnivorous diet (i.e. both plant and animal-based foods).
Some nutrients are harder to find from animal-based foods (e.g. magnesium, potassium, vitamin C) while other nutrients are harder to find in plant-based foods (e.g. B12, omega 3 and choline). We still have a lot to learn when it comes to quantifying how much of the various nutrients are successfully absorbed into our system.
When it comes to the Nutrient Optimiser Score, you know you’re pretty safe if you are getting more than 300% of the DRI for a particular nutrient, regardless of bioavailability or anti-nutrients. All you need to do is focus on getting more of the nutrients at the top of the chart that you are getting less of.
If you know that a particular nutrient is highly bioavailable from your chosen dietary approach, then you don’t need to worry so much about whether you are getting 100% of the DRI.
But at the same time, it doesn’t matter how much of a particular nutrient is bioavailable if there is the food contains very little of that nutrient. It’s like having a friend who is more than willing to loan you everything that they own, but their homeless and in a massive debt!
Which nutrients do I need more of?
If I wanted to focus on improving one thing in my diet, it would be to increase my potassium intake, which is shown at the top of the chart. Potassium tends to be the nutrient that is very hard to find in our modern diet (only 2% are meeting the DRI) thus we have a very strong satiety response when we get more of it!
However, rather than focusing on just on one nutrient, it’s much more efficient to focus on the cluster of nutrients that I’m not getting as much of.
The table below shows the nutrients that I am getting less of sorted by % DRI to help us determine which nutrients we want to focus on.
Calcium doesn’t get prioritised due to the fact that my calcium:magnesium ratio is already high (as shown in the bottom left of the figure below from my Nutrient Optimiser Report). Calcium and magnesium compete with each other’s functions when they are out of balance, so we don’t want to emphasise food that contains more calcium (see Micronutrient ratios and why they are important for more details).
In order to improve my diet, the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm will identify foods and meals that will provide me with more of the nutrients that I’m not getting as much of without worrying about the nutrients that I’m already getting plenty of.
Why is this important?
Maximising nutrient density enables you to get away with fewer calories without missing out on the nutrients you need, which is particularly useful if you are trying to lose body fat. Focusing on foods with a higher nutrient density tend to lead to increased satiety, which enables us to manage our appetite without having to forever concentrate on restricting our energy intake.
Our analysis of 25,000 days of food logging from Optimisers demonstrates that we tend to consume less food each day when we get more of the harder to find nutrients from food (e.g. potassium, magnesium, sodium, cholesterol etc.). When people prioritised Nutrient Density in the Nutrient Optimiser Weight Loss Challenge, they found they were satisfied and tended to eat less and lost weight quickly without cravings.
What if I don’t want to lose weight?
The ‘problem’ with nutrient-dense foods is that they are hard to eat a lot of. However, a lean endurance athlete still needs to get enough nutrients as a cornerstone of their diet and then top up with energy from fat and carbs to ensure they can fuel for their events. Prioritising nutrient density will enable an athlete to perform even better by using the energy in their diet more efficiently!
Why do I need more than 100% of the Daily Recommended Intake?
When they see this, many people ask why they need more than 100% of the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) levels.
But what we need to keep in mind is that the DRI, AI, RDAs etc. are just estimates of how much we need to prevent the diseases of deficiency. They are not targets to promote optimal health.
In this excellent presentation where he explains his Nutrient Triage Theory, Bruce Ames explains how we die if we don’t get any of the essential nutrients. If we get some nutrients, we prioritise them for short term survival. If we get more, we are able to prioritise growth and repair to ensure we can live a long and healthy life.
Can I just take a supplement?
We often don’t see the benefits from supplements that we do from nutrient-dense whole foods that have the nutrients in the right ratios and the form that our body is used to dealing with.
Some people forget to take their vitamin on a regular basis while others will take so many supplements that their body doesn’t know what to do with them and they just get flushed through.
While nutritional supplements can play a role, they should only be used to supplement to meet the gaps you can’t achieve with food.
The Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard
The Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard now has more than three hundred reports analysing the foods logged by real people trying to optimise their diet.
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 particular 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.
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. Over time this will change and adapt as you continue to rebalance your nutrition from at a micronutrient level.
If you’re interested, you can get a free Nutrient Optimiser report that will give you food and meal suggestions along with recommended macro ranges for your situation. Once you get a bit more serious, you can start logging your meals in Cronometer and get a more detailed analysis based on your micronutrient profile.