The effect of minerals on hunger and satiety

Obtaining adequate minerals is a big reason that you crave food.  Your body requires the essential micronutrients to function and sends you in search of more food until you get enough.  If you have none of the essential minerals, you will die.  

According to Dr Bruce Ames’ Triage Theory, if you only have a little of these minerals available, your body “triages” these precious nutrients for short term survival.  However, if you have plenty of nutrients available, your body can move beyond short term survival to focus on repairing and regeneration to optimise for increased longevity and healthspan.   

So, if you want to optimise your diet to live your best life now and thrive for the long term, it makes sense to prioritise nutrients.  

Are the Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) enough? 

Recommended Daily Intakes for the various essential minerals have been set to prevent diseases caused by deficiency (e.g. scurvy, rickets and Beriberi).  

The nutrient targets were initially developed in the 1940s to ensure that the food provided for soldiers had adequate nutrients to survive the war (i.e. not necessarily to live a long, optimal and healthy life).   

The Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) is the amount required to prevent diseases of deficiency in half the population while the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) ha been set at the level believed to prevent the diseases of deficiency in most of the population.  Also shown on the chart below is the Tolerable Upper Limit (UL) which is the amount (usually from supplements, not food) where high doses of these nutrients become problematic.  

Scarily, much of the population is not meeting these lower limits that are required to prevent disease in the short term.  

However, rather than just avoiding diseases of deficiency, you likely want to know how much of each of these minerals you need to optimise your health, energy, body composition, performance and longevity.  

But can’t you just take supplements?

While vitamins are very small (measured in milligrams and micrograms), minerals are bigger and heavier (often measured in grams), so they are harder to fit into a multivitamin pill or to add to fortify processed foods.  

While you will likely benefit from consuming more than the minimum amount set by the guidelines, you can also get too much of a good thing, particularly when it comes to minerals.  Excessive mineral supplementation can send you running to the toilet as your gut sounds the evacuation alarm and flushes the minerals that it can’t absorb from your system.  

We tend to absorb and utilise minerals more effectively when they come in the smaller regular quantities found in the matrix structure of food rather than the large bolus dose we get from isolated supplements.   

So, rather than the minimum amount to prevent deficiency or super high supplemental doses that your body will reject, what we really need are optimal values that are achievable from food that will lead to optimal health, satiety and vitality.   

This article looks at how much of the various minerals are required to control our appetite and maximise satiety.  This optimal amount is the point at which our body sends a full signal and tells your appetite to ‘stand-down’ because we don’t need any more to function optimally.  Once identified, you can treat these as a ‘stretch target’ and work to meet all of them. This will give you a better chance of not overeating.

This article is the third of a seven-part series digging into a unique micronutrient dataset from forty thousand days of food logging from more than a thousand people using Nutrient Optimiser.   

Current guidance 

Before we dive into defining optimal intakes for the essential minerals, let’s review the current guidance.  To set the context, the table below shows:

  • the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR),
  • the Adequate Intake (AI),
  • the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI),
  • the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA),
  • the Tolerable Upper Limit (UL),
  • the current population average intake (based on data from USDA Economic Research Service),
  • the average intake of Optimisers (i.e. people using the Nutrient Optimiser), and 
  • the 85th percentile intake of the Optimisers (i.e. the amount that only 15% are exceeding).   

Building on this information, the analysis in this article will help us determine the amount of each of the essential minerals required to optimise health and satiety, without being excessive, unachievable or sending us running to spend some “quality time” with your toilet.

Sodium 

Sodium is a good example of our strong satiety response to minerals.  Most people enjoy a bit of extra salt on their food. We have a strong appetite for sodium due to the fact that it is an essential mineral.  But at the same time, we don’t like foods that have too much salt. There is a point where our food becomes too salty when we’ve had enough. 

In nature, animals like the elephants of Kitgum Cave go to great lengths to get enough minerals, including sodium.   

We continue to eat food until we get the minerals we need for our bodily functions.  When we don’t get enough from our diet, our body has to work harder to recycle and hold onto the precious minerals (including increasing insulin to help our kidneys hold onto these minerals).

Conversely, if we get too much sodium, our thirst will increase as our kidneys try to flush the excess minerals or we will get diarrhea which is our body trying to clear excess it can’t absorb.

Although junk food is often packed with sodium so make us eat more of it, the amount of sodium in the food system has been declining for the past half-century as the mineral content of our soil has decreased with intensive farming practices made possible by synthetic fertilisers.   

The chart below shows the satiety response chart for sodium.  The vertical axis is the daily calorie intake divided by the basal metabolic rate (BMR).   As we get more sodium (beyond around 2 g/2000 calories), satiety starts to kick in, and we eat less.  We lose our craving for salty foods.  

People who consume 3.9 g per 2000 calories of sodium tend to eat 16% fewer calories than those who consume 1.7 g of sodium per 2000 calories. However, this satiety response to more sodium starts to taper off once we get more than around 5 g of sodium per 2000 calories. 

We get to a point where more sodium is not necessarily better.  It’s no longer absorbed as quickly in our mouth, on your tongue or in your stomach, so your food starts to taste ‘too salty’.   This satiety response analysis also aligns with the results of the PURE Study (shown below) where they demonstrated that optimal sodium intake is around 4 – 6 g per day.  

While it appears we need more than the current dietary guidelines, there is such a thing as too much sodium.  While this analysis helps us refine our understanding of how much sodium we need, the ideal amount will vary from person to person depending on their activity levels and other factors.  

Because we have a strong taste for salt, adding ‘salt to taste’ is a pretty good rule of thumb.  But based on this data analysis, we’ve set a stretch target of 4.0 g/2000 calories for sodium.

You need a balance of potassium and sodium to optimise your potassium-sodium pump which is central to how your body moves energy around and into your cells.  Most of the issues related to excessive salt intake (e.g. hypertension) seem to be due to a lack of potassium. If you’re very active, you should aim to have at least as much potassium as sodium.  If you’re not so active, a 2:1 ratio of potassium to sodium (or more) seems to be ideal.  

However, before you load up on extra salt, it’s worth being aware of the potassium:sodium ratio.  Our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors obtained about 11,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day from fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, roots, and other plant sources, and well under 700 mg of sodium.

Potassium

Potassium is possibly the most neglected nutrient in our food system.  Potassium is deemed to be a ‘nutrient of public health concern’, with less than 2% of Americans meeting their recommended daily potassium intake.  

Potassium has been in decline since the widespread use of synthetic fertilisers which has accelerated the depletion of nutrients in our soil.  Today, you need to consume around 5000 calories of the commonly available foods to get the DRI for potassium. 

We can see from the chart below that we have a strong satiety response to potassium.  People consuming 4.5 g of potassium per 2000 calories tend to consume about 13% fewer calories than people consuming 2.0 g of potassium per 2000 calories.

Although we seem to get an inflection point at around 6.5 g/2000 calories, we’ve set the stretch target at 5.5 g/2000 calories to align with the 85th percentile intake of Optimisers.  

Although the PURE Study suggests there is no upper limit to benefit from potassium, a stretch target any higher than 5.5 g/2000 calories would be difficult with food alone.  

Combining this with our stretch target of 4.0 g/2000 calories for sodium, we get a potassium:sodium ratio of 1.4 which is in between the 1:1 target for athletes and the 2:1 target for sedentary people who don’t sweat as much (refer Micronutrient ratios and why they are important).

Selenium 

Selenium is not frequently supplemented, so the satiety response curve is smooth.  

Note: In some of the other nutrients that are regularly supplemented (particularly vitamins, as we will see in the next article), we can see a ‘hockey stick’ satiety response at higher levels.  It appears that supplementing nutrients doesn’t provide the same beneficial effect that you get with whole food. To help manage this, we’ve tried to filter out super high doses that would be well above what is achievable with food.  

Based on this, we have set a stretch target for selenium of 300 ug/2000 calories, which aligns with the 85th percentile intake for Optimisers.  

Calcium 

Calcium is another nutrient that began to decrease in the soils since the synthetic fertilisers.  Dairy products and green leafy veggies (which contain calcium) have also decreased as a percentage of our food intake. You now need to consume 5500 calories per day to reach your 1.3g daily recommended intake of calcium for your bones and optimal heart function.  

Unfortunately, calcium supplements don’t tend to provide the same benefits as food. They can often be harmful, leading to excess calcium absorption in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease.  You need to get your calcium from food. 

The chart below shows our satiety response to calcium.   As we get more calcium from our food, we eat a lot less.  People consuming 1.4 g of calcium per 2000 calories tend to eat 8% less than those consuming 0.6 g per 2000 calories.

We’ve set the stretch target for calcium at 2.0 g/2000 calories which is higher than the 85th percentile intake but less than the Upper Limit for supplementation of 2.5 g/day.  

Keeping the stretch target a little lower also enables us to maintain calcium:phosphorous ratio in the desirable range.

Phosphorus

Phosphorous (which is found in protein-rich foods such as meats, poultry, fish, nuts, beans and dairy products) has also decreased in our food system since the mid-40s.  Plant-based sources of phosphorus are also less bioavailable than animal-based sources.  

The chart below shows the satiety response curve for phosphorus.  Again, we also see a strong satiety response here. People consuming 1.8 g of phosphorus tend to be consuming 6% fewer calories than people consuming 0.9 g of phosphorus per 2000 calories.

We’ve set the stretch target for phosphorus at 1.5 g/2000 calories which is higher than the average Optimiser intake but less than the 85th percentile intake to keep the calcium:phosphorus ratio above 1.3.  

Iron

Iron is a nutrient that is often supplemented and commonly contained in fortified food.  Unfortunately, many people don’t absorb the iron in their diet well due to digestive issues and/or phytates which can affect absorption.

Iron is a nutrient of concern for many women of reproductive age, but excess ferritin can be an issue for some men.

Iron also competes with copper for absorption, so we need to get the right balance (i.e. an iron:copper ratio above 10).  We have set a stretch target for iron of 25 mg/day for both men and women.

Copper 

Copper is a nutrient that we don’t have an especially strong satiety response for compared to the others.  We need enough copper to balance zinc but not so much to throw out our iron:copper ratio.  

Our stretch target of 2.5 mg/2000 calories is above the average Optimiser intake but less than the 85th percentile intake so as to not exceed an iron:copper ratio of 10.   

Magnesium

It’s hard to overstate the importance of magnesium which works together with other minerals to produce energy in our mitochondria.   Magnesium is yet another mineral that has declined in our food system. You now need to consume more than 4000 calories per day to get your minimum daily dose of magnesium.  

The chart below shows that we have a very strong satiety response to magnesium.  People who eat more magnesium-containing foods consume up to 39% less.  

Although supplementing with more than 0.35 g of magnesium will cause gastric distress, we seem to benefit from consuming much higher intakes of magnesium from food (which we tend to absorb more effectively).   

We have set a stretch target for magnesium of 1.0 g/2000 calories.  This is above the 85th percentile intake for Optimisers to achieve a calcium:magnesium ratio of less than 2.   

Zinc 

The stretch target of 32 mg/2000 calories for zinc has been set to align with the 85th percentage intake for Optimisers, to align with the inflection point in the satiety curve and to be less than the upper limit (40 mg/day).  Also, because zinc and iron compete for absorption, we also need to ensure we have enough zinc to achieve an iron:zinc ratio less than 2.  

Manganese 

Manganese is an essential nutrient that we don’t know a lot about.  There are no specific deficiency symptoms, so the Adequate Intake is set based on the average population intake.   The analysis of data from Optimisers indicates that we don’t have a particularly strong satiety response to manganese.  We see an inflection in the satiety response to manganese above around 7 mg/2000 calories, so we’ve set the stretch target at 6.0 mg/2000 calories which is only slightly higher than the Adequate Intake level of 5.5 mg per day for men. 

Comparison of satiety response 

To help us understand the relative response of each mineral the chart below shows each of the satiety response curves on the same chart.   The horizontal axis is grams of each nutrient per 2000 calories.  The steeper and longer the line, the stronger our satiety response.

The next chart shows only the larger minerals.

  • Potassium and sodium have a very similar response (supporting the view that we need a similar amount of potassium as sodium or a potassium:sodium ratio of at least 1:1).  
  • Phosphorus and calcium have a similar response that is even stronger than potassium and sodium.
  • Magnesium also has a very strong satiety response, stronger than sodium and potassium.  

Our final chart shows only the minerals with the smallest intake.  

  • Of the smaller minerals, zinc and selenium appear to have the strongest satiety response.  
  • Iron has a lower satiety response (potentially because it is commonly fortified).

In order to understand which minerals provide the most benefit within achievable ranges, the table below shows the 25th percentile and 75th percentile intake at the satiety benefit achieved by moving from this lower amount to the upper amount. For example, a quarter of the Optimiser are getting less than 1.7 g/2000 calories of sodium and a quarter of the Optimisers are getting more than 3.9 g/2000 calories. Increasing your sodium from 1.7 to 3.9 g per 2000 calories aligns with a 16% reduction in calories.

mineral25th75thdiff
sodium (g)1.73.916%
potassium (g)2.14.613%
calcium (g)0.61.48%
manganese (mg)1.85.17%
phosphorus (mg)0.91.86%
iron (mg)15215%
zinc (mg)9245%

Nutrient ratios 

Given a number of these minerals compete for uptake, we also need to check the stretch targets against the ratio limits.   The table below shows that the nutrient targets provide acceptable nutrient ratios.  

Nutrient ratioratiotargetcheck
zinc:copper10.7> 8good
potassium:sodium1.4> 1good
calcium:magnesium2< 2OK
iron:copper10.0> 10OK
calcium:phosphorus1.3> 1.3OK
iron:zinc0.94< 2:1good

Stretch targets 

The table below shows the recommended stretch target for males (assuming 2000 calories per day) and females (assuming 1600 calories per day).    

The right-hand columns show the stretch target as a ratio of the DRI and the average population intake.  On average, the optimal stretch targets for minerals are two and a half times the Dietary Recommended Intake to prevent diseases of deficiency and three and a half times the population average intake.  

If your goal was to achieve optimal health (rather than just avoid diseases of deficiency), you should initially refine your diet to hit the recommended minimum recommended mineral intakes.    

Once you start to get the hang of nutrient density, you can enter these mineral stretch targets in Cronometer and work to level up your nutrient density using Nutrient Optimiser.  

The Cronometer screenshot below shows how you would enter the stretch targets for a man (based on 2000 calories per day). The stretch targets should be entered in as your minimum intake. Maximum intakes are only included where there is an Upper Limit that you ideally don’t want to exceed.


The example below shows the stretch targets for a female (assuming 16000 calories per day).

You can then track your mineral status and prioritise foods and meals that contain more of the nutrients that you’re currently not meeting your stretch targets for.

Where do I start?

After four years of digging into the theory, we’ve created some exciting tools to help you optimise your nutrition. We’d love you to check them out!

Up next 

In our next instalment, we’ll be looking at the satiety response to vitamins.

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