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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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]

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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.

Summary

  • 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.

 

 

 

references

[1]https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/71/1/179S/4729338?ijkey=5c7af875f3dc71a303f7df78c5%20%202145e8b7c31643

[2]http://web.archive.org/web/20100107103119/http://ocw.tufts.edu/data/47/531409.pdf

[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21865815

[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19328262

[5]https://cronometer.com/blog/understanding-cronometers-nutrient-ratios/

[6]http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc

[7]https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/DRIEssentialGuideNutReq.pdf

[8]http://naturopathlife.com.au/high-copper-zinc-ratio/

[9]http://www.hriptc.org/pdfs/Elevated%20Blood%20Cu%20and%20Zn%20Ratios%20in%20Assaultive%20Young%20Males.pdf

[10]https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13547500902783747?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=ibmk20

[11]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891584998001099

[12]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19821050

[13]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19821050

[14]https://cronometer.com/blog/nutrient-ratios-zinccopper/

[15]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131004105233.htm

[16]https://www.nap.edu/read/10925/chapter/7#189

[17]https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/potassium

[18]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22835983

[19]https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4592

[20]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jch.13014

[21]https://drjohnday.com/how-to-optimize-your-sodium-to-potassium-ratio-for-longevity/

[22]http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/hypertensionaha/17/1_Suppl/I155.full.pdf

[23][24]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997395/

[25]https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/sodium/potassium-ratio-linked-cardiovascular-disease-risk

[26]https://discourse.soylent.com/t/potassium-rda-and-sodium-overconsumption/5013?u=djskinner

[27]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197792/

[28]https://www.physiology.org/doi/10.1152/ajpendo.00453.2016

[29]https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2011/195/3/relationship-urinary-sodium-and-sodium-potassium-ratio-blood-pressure-older

[30]https://ketogains.com/2016/08/ketogains-seven-must-supplements/

[31]https://www.nap.edu/read/10925/chapter/8#275

[32]https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-12-90

[33]http://www.functionalps.com/blog/2012/04/17/calcium-to-phosphorus-ratio-pth-and-bone-health/

[34]https://discourse.soylent.com/t/optimal-micronutrient-ratios/5049

[35]https://www.livestrong.com/article/447639-how-to-correct-your-calcium-to-magnesium-ratio/

[36]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19250445

[37]http://advances.nutrition.org/content/7/1/25.full.pdf

[38]http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium

[39]http://susanmacfarlanenutrition.com/importance-dietary-calcium-magnesium/

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.

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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.

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In nature, we have milk that helps babies grow.

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Acorns help squirrels prepare for winter.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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%

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

image18

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.

Summary

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.

image21.png

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!

image20-1-997759450-1529691204414.png

 

 

 

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.

image6

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

Notes

  • 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.

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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).

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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.

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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’.

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

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

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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

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Discussion

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.

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