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.
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.
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). Too much zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper, potentially leading to a copper deficiency and neurological ailments.
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
- Hypothyroid symptoms (cold hands and feet, brain fog, dry skin)
- Overly sensitive, obsessive thinking
- Insomnia/interrupted sleep
- Fluctuating blood sugar, causing cravings
- Mood swings, paranoia
- 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.
The optimal dietary zinc:copper ratio is said to be between 10:1 and 15:1.
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.
Recently there has been a lot of focus on sodium, which is an essential nutrient.
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). 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.
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. 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
A calcium:phosphorus ratio of greater than 1:1.3 is said to be optimal.
Supplementing calcium does not appear to be beneficial. Whole foods are best.
Calcium : magnesium ratio
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.
Additionally, magnesium deficiency is known to induce calcium deficiency.
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.