Which vitamins (and how much) do you need for weight loss and satiety?

The dietary supplement industry is worth $125 billion per year and is set to reach a massive $210 billion by 2026.  

Vitamins are big business, marketing to the hopes and dreams of people who want to improve their health, lose weight and compensate for a poor diet.  

But which (if any) of these vitamins actually help?

Which ones are most effective?  

How much of each of them do you really need?  

Is the Recommended Dietary Intake adequate?   

And at what point are you wasting your money and just making expensive and brightly coloured pee?

This article looks at the satiety response to the essential vitamins by analysing forty thousand days of food diaries from more than a thousand people using Nutrient Optimiser.

This article is the fifth in an eight-part series looking at the satiety response the essential micronutrients.   

The reference intake levels

The figure below shows conceptually how the recommendations for vitamins are quantified.  

On the left, we see:

  • the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) (the intake value to avoid deficiency-related conditions in half the population), and
  • the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) (the intake to prevent deficiency conditions in most people).  

On the far right, we see the Upper Tolerable Limit (UL) which is the amount set as the warning level where we may encounter adverse side effects from excessive vitamin intake (generally from excessive supplementation).  

The range between the RDA and the UL is a bit of an undefined no man’s land.  While there are plenty of claims about the benefits of higher supplement intakes, we don’t know much about the levels that will provide optimal benefit in terms of health and weight loss.  

The goal of this analysis is to determine the optimal level that provides maximum benefit without being excessive.

To set some context, the table below shows the:

  • Estimated Average Requirement (EAR),
  • Adequate Intake (AI),
  • Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI),
  • Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), and 
  • Upper Tolerable Limit (UL).  

What is normal?  

The analysis is based on forty thousand days of food intake from more than a thousand people who have uploaded their data to Nutrient Optimiser. This data set allows us to gain an understanding of how each of the nutrients affects how much you eat and what is achievable with a little attention to food quality.  

There is no use setting nutrient targets that are way above what anyone can achieve with a healthy diet that then requires everyone to supplement or go beyond the level that actually provides benefit.   

The table below shows:

  • the current population average intake (based on data from the USDA Economic Research Service),
  • the average daily intake (per 2000 calories) for Optimisers, and 
  • the 85th percentile intake level (i.e. the level that only 15% of Optimisers exceed).  

Upper limits, supplementation and fortification

While minerals can be bulky and hard to fit in a capsule, it has become commonplace to fortify nutrient-poor foods with vitamins.  

Modern food processing and long-term storage deplete many of the essential vitamins in our food. So fortification of nutrient-poor but common foods has been mandated to prevent nutrient deficiencies.  

Vitamins are cheap to manufacture and make the food look healthier (at least according to the ‘nutrition facts’ label).  

When optimising our minerals, there are several important ratios to pay attention to.  Minerals compete for absorption.  Excessive mineral supplementation can also lead to diarrhea.  But with vitamins, for the most part, it’s hard to get too much of them from food.  Your body flushes excess vitamins in food.  

It’s only the supplemental forms that become problematic.  For example: 

  • synthetic folic acid is not converted to the bioavailable form and circulates in our body and masks other deficiency symptoms, 
  • excessive levels of preformed vitamin A can lead to hypervitaminosis A
  • too much supplemental vitamin C will cause diarrhea, and 
  • excess vitamin D supplementation can lead to excessive absorption of calcium (which can end up in your arteries, not your bones).  

Although we have tried to filter the data for intake levels that would not be possible from food, we still see a ‘rebound satiety’ effect with high vitamin levels beyond the amount achievable with whole foods.  

What we see again and again with vitamins is that foods that naturally contain more vitamins tend to be more satiating.  However, supplementation does not provide the same effect.  

Our goal is to identify reasonable stretch target intakes that will provide an optimal level of benefit without going beyond what can be achieved with food. 

Once you have hit the stretch target for that nutrient, you can move on to focus on foods and meals that contain the other nutrients.  

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

The chart below shows the satiety response curve for Vitamin B3 (Niacin).  The horizontal axis is the niacin intake per 2000 calories, while the vertical axis is calculated by dividing the individual’s daily calorie intake by their basal metabolic rate (BMR).  

  • If the number is higher than 100%, we could say they ate more than they needed to maintain their weight.  
  • If the number is less than 100%, they would be consuming less than their maintenance intake.  

It seems that we get a significant improvement in satiety from foods that contain more than the recommended minimum (i.e. than the Estimated Average Requirement (11 mg/day), population average intake (17 mg), and the Recommended Dietary Intake (16 mg).  People who eat foods that contain more niacin tend to eat about 20% less than those who eat foods that contain less niacin. However, we don’t get additional benefit from niacin intakes beyond around 80 mg/2000 calories.  

Based on this, we have set a stretch target for niacin (vitamin B3) of 70 mg/2000 calories.  Our body doesn’t seem to crave more than this amount. Beyond this point, you’re probably wasting your money on supplements.  

The frequency distribution chart below shows that 70 mg/day is achievable without supplementation.  There are plenty of people getting more than 100 mg per day, but this is likely from supplements or fortified foods. 

Folate (Vitamin B9)

The satiety response curve for folate indicates that we get a significant satiety response to folate well beyond the Estimated Average Requirement (320 mcg/day), Recommended Dietary Intake (400 mcg/day) and population average (435 mcg/day) for folate.    

While there are no adverse effects associated with the consumption of folate from food, an upper limit of 1.0 mg per day has been set for synthetic supplemental folic acid.  

According to Dr Ben Lynch, synthetic folic acid lacks a methyl group which is required for it to be metabolised.  Only 0.2 mg of synthetic folate can be methylated per day. Excess synthetic folate above this level builds up in our system as unmetabolised folic acid.  

High supplemental intake of B9 has been associated with adverse neurological effects in people with a B12 deficiency as they can precipitate and exacerbate the deficiency.  Hence, it is important to get as much of your folate as possible from food.  

More synthetic folate is not better, especially in the context of a diet that contains limited intakes of B12 (e.g. strict vegans).  

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

The satiety response to vitamin B2 is interesting.  While we see a steep improvement in satiety up until around 8 mg/2000 calories, beyond this point, there is a rebound in the satiety response.  While there are no side effects of higher levels of riboflavin, there is also no benefit beyond 8mg/2000 calories.   

Fun fact: Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is the micronutrient that makes your pee turn yellow, so supplement manufacturers like to use plenty of it to give people a positive reinforcement for taking their vitamin pills to encourage them to keep doing it.  

As you can see in the frequency distribution plot below, there are a significant amount of people taking more than 10 mg per day (i.e. around ten times the minimum requirement).  These high-level intakes are unlikely to provide additional benefit (other than a false sense of security).  

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)

The satiety response for Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) has an inflection point around 11 mg/2000 calories where additional vitamin B5 does not provide additional benefit.  Similar to riboflavin, at higher levels that would only be possible with supplementation, we see a decrease in the satiety response. Based on this analysis, we have set a stretch target of 12 mg/day.   

Vitamin E 

Vitamin E provides a strong satiety response up until 1000 mg/2000 calories.  However, given that the 85th percentile intake of Optimisers is 34 mg/2000 calories we have set a stretch target of 35 mg/2000 so the stretch target is realistically achievable from whole foods.

It’s worth noting that Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is required to offset the inflammatory effects of excess omega 6 intake.  So if you are not consuming large amounts of seed oils, you will not need to worry as much about hitting your vitamin E target (refer Which fats will make you skinny for more details on optimal omega 6 intakes).  

Vitamin E has actually increased significantly in our food system over the past century as we have increased our consumption of omega 6-rich seed oils.  Given that there are no deficiency conditions relating to a low Vitamin E intake below a certain level there is no reason to prioritise Vitamin E beyond what can be achieved with nutrient-dense whole foods.  

Vitamin D 

While we do see an improved satiety response with very high levels, Vitamin D is hard to get from food.  As with omega 3, fatty fish is your best dietary source of omega 3. Excessive Vitamin D can cause excess absorption of calcium, which can lead to calcium being deposited in places you don’t want it (e.g. your arteries rather than your bones and teeth).  

While we have set a stretch target of 3500 IU for Vitamin D from food to align with the 85th percentile intake of Optimisers, you need to make an effort to get your vitamin D from the sun in addition to your food.  Getting adequate sun exposure is also critical to locking in your circadian rhythm and helping you sleep.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

While we see a strong satiety response from higher intakes of thiamine, we also see a ‘rebound response above 8 mg/2000 calories.  Supplementing a poor diet does not provide benefit above the levels that you can get from whole foods.

Vitamin B6

We see a strong satiety response when we increase vitamin B6 to around 5 mg/2000 calories.   

Vitamin B12 

Vitamin B12, which is critical for neurological function, has decreased substantially since the introduction of the 1977 US Dietary Guidelines which prioritised grains and discouraged saturated fat from animal-based foods.    

The satiety response curve shows that we get an improved satiety response up until around 30 mcg/2000 calories.  Higher intakes do not provide additional benefit.  

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is a nutrient that is often claimed to have many benefits.  The satiety response curve indicates that more may be slightly better.  However, there is no significant benefit in getting more than 300 mg/2000 calories of vitamin C.  

Vitamin K

The satiety response curve shows an inflection point at around 700 mcg/2000 calories.  Our stretch target of 1000 mg/day aligns with the 85th percentile intake of Optimisers.

Vitamin A 

Vitamin A is critical for vision, reproduction and immune function and is found in liver, fish, eggs and dairy.  Unfortunately, vitamin A has also decreased in our food system significantly since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1977.  

The satiety response to Vitamin A is interesting.  Although we seem to get an improvement in satiety up to 60,000 IU/2000 calories, the official Upper Limit for preformed supplemental Vitamin A is set at 10,000 IU/day.   

We’ve set the stretch target at 10,000 IU/day to align with the Upper Limit.   There is unlikely to be any significant problems getting higher levels of vitamin A from food, particularly on a mixed diet (which contains beta carotene which doesn’t convert to vitamin A as easily).  

For example, a quarter of Optimiser are getting less than 1.7 mg/2000 calories of riboflavin and a quarter of Optimisers are getting more than 5.1 mg/2000 calories. Increasing your riboflavin intake from 1.7 to 5.1 g per 2000 calories aligns with a 24% reduction in calories.

Summary 

The chart below shows all the vitamin safety response curves together.   The vitamins with the shortest and flattest nutrients tend to have the least impact on satiety, while the nutrients that have the longest and steepest curve have the most significant effect.  

Vitamins D, E, A, B1 and B5 don’t seem to play a less significant role in our satiety response, potentially because they are already available in adequate quantities in our food system.  

This next chart shows the vitamins with the most significant satiety response.  If you want to maximise satiety, you should prioritise foods that contain more folate, B2, B6 and B3 in your diet.  

Which vitamins give you the biggest bang for buck?

To understand which vitamins provide the most benefit within achievable ranges, the table below shows the 25th percentile and 75th percentile intake and the satiety benefit achieved by moving from this lower amount to the upper amount.

mineral25th75thdiff
riboflavin (B2) (mg)1.75.124%
niacin (B3) (mg)175220%
vitamin B6 (mg)1.25.820%
vitamin C (mg)5762817%
vitamin B12 (mg)4.020.411%
vitamin K (mg)726596%
folate (B9) (mg)0.20.84%

But before you go out and order all these supplements in lots of little bottles, keep in mind that this analysis represents the satiety response to foods that contain these nutrients.  Nutrient-dense foods are part of a matrix that also contains protein, fibre, carb, fat, water and other nutrients that we don’t quantify.  

While supplements may play a role in preventing deficiency, they are unlikely to lead you to optimal health.  You’ll just be putting extra load on your kidneys that have to work harder to clear the supplements you don’t need.   

Stretch target 

The table below shows the stretch targets for each of the nutrients.   On average, these stretch targets for optimal health and satiety are around six times the population average and four times the Daily Recommended Intake.   

If your goal was to achieve optimal health (rather than avoid diseases of deficiency), you should initially refine your diet to hit the RDAs for vitamins.   Once you start to get the hang of nutrient density, you can enter these stretch targets in Cronometer and work to level up your nutrient density using Nutrient Optimiser.  

The Cronometer screenshot below shows how you would enter your stretch targets for vitamins (for a man assuming 2000 calories per day).

The Cronometer screen grab shows how you would enter your stretch targets for a woman (assuming 2000 calories per day).

You can then monitor your vitamin intakes and prioritise foods and meals that contain more of the vitamins you’re currently not meeting the 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 the next instalment, we’ll be looking at the satiety response to the essential amino acids that make up protein.  

To kickstart your journey towards optimal get your free program and one of 70+ food lists personalised just for you!  

Marty Kendall
 

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