To keep you alive and thriving, your body is constantly trying to solve a complex, multi-factorial nutrition puzzle that’s always changing.
Your appetite and cravings drive you to seek out the energy and nutrients you require to survive and thrive at this moment. Based on what your body is doing, these can change over time.
However, we, unfortunately, tend to find ourselves caught up in tribal camps that hyperfocus on the energy source our confirmation bias tends to reassure. Whether it be plant-based vs carnivore, low-fat vs low-carb, or high-protein vs low-protein, minerals and vitamins are rarely even an afterthought.
If you do identify with a named diet, you might be making it harder for your body to get the nutrients it needs, which may prompt you to eat more food (and thus, calories) than you require.
This article will help you break free from the limitations named diets tend to create, so you can identify the nutrients your current diet is missing. Using some nifty new charts, we’ll then show you where to find them.
What You Will Learn
- If you’re eager to dial in your macros to increase satiety and lose weight or to fuel an athletic event, this article will help you visualise the macronutrient manipulation process we walk our Optimisers through in our Macros Masterclass so they can move towards their goals.
- If you follow a particular diet trend, this article will highlight the micronutrients you may need to focus on.
- If you’re using our Micros Masterclass to hunt your micros, this article will show you where to look.
- If you’re a nutrition nerd, this article will elucidate the ever-fascinating, multi-dimensional nature of nutrition and show you how all the moving parts work in tandem.
Let’s get started!
The Geometric Framework of Nutrition
The charts and analysis in this article are inspired by Professors David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simspon’s The Right-Angled Mixture Triangle and Geometric Framework for Nutrition.
While it’s hard to represent the full complexity of nutrition in a single image, charts from Raubenheimer and Simpson’s work in the Geometric Framework take us a step closer. We will be using the principles they used within these articles throughout the analysis in this article.
Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson stress that nutrition is a multi-dimensional puzzle that shouldn’t rely on worshipping or demonising a single nutrient. Instead, they focus on the interconnectedness of nutrition and how each macro and micronutrient works with others.
Although they do not emphasise the importance of one macro or micronutrient over the other, their extensive research has shown that we tend to eat less when consuming a higher protein percentage or a higher percentage of total calories from protein. Raubenheimer and Simpson have coined this phenomenon as the Protein Leverage Effect or the Protein Leverage Hypothesis.
The Protein Leverage Hypothesis essentially explains that our body will continue to seek out food until we meet its demands for protein and the amino acids it contains and that we will feel more satiated and eat less if we eat more protein. On the contrary, it lays out that we will eat more when we eat a smaller protein percentage.
The Micronutrient Leverage Hypothesis
Protein is so satiating because it provides us with the ‘building blocks of life’ that we know as amino acids. Thus, protein and the amino acids it contains are so satiating because our bodies need a lot of them to maintain and sustain themselves. While Raubenheimer and Simpson have done seminal work demonstrating protein leverage, our data suggest a micronutrient leverage effect is also at play.
Given the data, I’ve since been on a quest to demonstrate the Micronutrient Leverage Hypothesis quantitatively. We can use the following charts and apply them to support our theory.
The Right-Angled Mixture Triangle
Let’s start by looking at the following meme created by Optimising Nutrition advisor Dr Ted Naiman to set the scene. It includes one of Raubenheimer and Simpson’s right-angled mixture triangles in the centre. Raubenheimer and Simpson have used these plots extensively in their research over the past two decades because they show so much detail.
We can see from the chart that:
- energy intake is minimised when we consume a high amount of protein and moderate fat (blue zone) while
- we eat more when our diet provides less protein and a mixture of energy from fat and carbs (red zone).
The image below was taken from The Geometric Framework for Nutrition (2007) and shows how all living organisms constantly work to balance protein vs energy. As a result, we consume various foods to get the required nutrients. This manifests as different cravings for different foods at different times.
We can use their findings to show that:
- If you start the day with a breakfast that provides a lower amount of protein, you’ll be prone to craving something with more of it later on. This might lead you to eat more calories until you satisfy your body’s demands.
- Conversely, if you only eat foods with a high protein percentage (protein %) or foods with a high percentage of their total calories from protein, you’ll likely need less energy from fat and (or) carbs as the day goes on.
This is the Protein Leverage Effect in action.
Protein is not only a dense source of amino acids that we require for almost every biological process, but high-protein foods from animal sources are often chock-full of other essential vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Thus, focusing on high-protein foods as we do in our Macros Masterclass is a good starting point to help you satisfy your micronutrient demands, and it makes what you will learn in the Micros Masterclass that much easier.
But consuming excess protein with minimal energy from fat and carbs is harder to do than it sounds! Once we begin to use our fat stores, our cravings for energy eventually catch up with us.
Unfortunately, in a world awash with cheap, processed, low-protein foods, we tend to eat more energy than we need. It has only taken a modest reduction in protein % within the food system (i.e. 13% to 11.5%) to generate a significant increase in calorie intake, and inherent obesity.
Amino acids from protein are not the only things that have decreased in our food system, though. Our modern agricultural system, that’s optimised for rapid growth and accessible energy, has come at the expense of the micronutrients we require.
Over the past four years, we have amassed 125,761 days of macronutrient and micronutrient data from 34,519 people who have used Nutrient Optimiser to fine-tune their diet in our Macros and Micros Masterclasses. In addition, we have also gathered data from the people who have used our 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge to check their micronutrient gaps.
With all the data available, I was curious to see if there was a relationship between each micronutrient and satiety. So, I cleaned the data to remove any days of data with extremely high levels of isolated micronutrients that could only be achieved with supplementation or fortification. After cleaning, 60,803 days of anonymised data remained.
Supplements and fortification are ubiquitous in our food system, making the data noisy. However, the results are still promising and set the scene for some exciting future research.
Two-Dimensional Satiety Charts
Previously, we’ve analysed the impact various macronutrients and micronutrients have on satiety. The chart below shows our response to protein, which has a more substantial influence on satiety than any other quantitative parameter.
The following chart shows our satiety response to all the macronutrients. As you can see, we get a similar reaction when we reduce energy from carbs or fat and prioritise protein. Fibre, although to a lesser extent, also increases satiety.
We can see that moving from a low protein % to a high protein % corresponds with a whopping 55% reduction in calories! However, these charts are limited because they’re only two-dimensional.
While a simple 2-D chart is easier to comprehend, a 3-dimensional heat map tells more of a story.
Carbs vs Fat vs Protein
To get acquainted with a heap map chart, we’ve included one below showing carbohydrates on the x-axis vs fat on the y-axis and protein % represented by the colour coding.
As you can see, a wide range of macronutrient profiles is represented!
- The large blue area on the diagonal edge represents food entries with minimal protein and a mixture of energy from carbs and fat.
- The red area in the bottom left represents days of data with a higher protein % and hence less energy from carbs and fat.
So, where do different dietary patterns sit on this spectrum?
- Protein Sparing Modified Fast: bottom left corner.
- Whole-Food, Plant-Based: bottom right corner.
- Carnivore: somewhere along the left edge.
- Therapeutic Keto: top left corner.
- Standard Western Diet: centre of the blue area.
For reference, the chart below shows where our NutriBooster recipe books sit on the carb vs fat landscape.
Take a moment to think about where your current diet would sit on this plot. Keep this in mind as we look at the charts in this article.
What Does This Mean for My Weight Loss Goals?
- weight loss, move toward the red zone by dialling back carbs and (or) fat.
- weight gain or fuelling activity, add more energy from carbs or fat.
- blood sugar control, dial back carbs to the point that you achieve healthy blood sugars that rise less than 30 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) after eating.
As the chart below shows, increasing your protein % does not simply mean adding more protein to the diet you’re already consuming. Instead, it usually requires someone to dial back their intake of carbs and fat while only increasing their protein intake modestly in absolute terms. This results in a significant reduction in calories from fat and non-fibre carbs and greater satiety per calorie.
While there is endless debate over ‘high’ vs ‘low’ protein, be mindful that you must only move a little in the direction you want. Jumping from one extreme to another tends to be unsustainable! After a few days, people crave energy and ‘falling off the wagon’.
Check out Secrets of the Nutrient-Dense Protein Sparing Modified Fast for more on the pros and cons of high-protein diets.
In our Macros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers through identifying where they currently sit on this spectrum. From there, the Smart Macros algorithm in our Nutrient Optimiser software will adjust accordingly to guide them towards their goals at a sustainable rate.
Carbs vs Fat vs Calories
This is where things get a little cooler! The chart below shows carbs vs fat vs calories. Beyond the theoretical mechanisms and arguments, this is what most of us are interested in; we want to know what to eat so we can consume fewer calories and no longer feel we are ‘addicted to food’. The blue areas in this chart represent macro intakes that align with the lowest calorie intakes, while red areas align with the highest.
If you’re currently sitting on the diagonal edge, moving progressively towards the lower-left corner, it will likely help you feel more satiated, so you eat less with less conscious willpower.
Based on the legend, notice that the blue areas indicate where 400 calories were eaten per day while the red areas represent where 2600 calories were consumed daily. Thus, moving from the diagonal edge towards the bottom left can result in a massive calorie reduction.
Each point on the chart represents a day of eating for a person like you, living and eating in the real world.
Because this is real-life data, there is some noise! While this representation is not a direct relationship, we can see a distinct trend.
- A higher protein % aligns with a low-calorie intake and a more substantial micronutrient intake.
- Regardless of whether you get your energy from fat, carbs, or both, you will likely eat more if your protein % is low.
Carbs vs Fat vs Diet Quality
The final chart in this first part of a two-part analysis shows carbs vs fat vs our Diet Quality Score. Here, we can see that a diet with fewer carbs and fat and more protein contains more of every essential micronutrient.
Generally, nutrient density, or the micronutrients per calorie, aligns with higher protein % foods. However, this is only up to about 50%. In the Macros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers to find the macronutrient intake that aligns with their goals. Given the opportunity, we tend to gravitate towards easily-accessible energy from fat and carbs. Hence, most people need more protein with less fat and carbs.
Once you’ve built your foundations of adequate protein without excess energy, fine-tuning your diet by chasing the nutrients you’re currently not getting enough of is the next step.
Beyond macronutrients, increasing diet quality aligns with even greater satiety because it provides the micronutrients you require that may cause you to experience cravings. The Micros Masterclass forces Optimisers to search for foods that contain their priority nutrients.
- While 2D charts are simple, 3D nutrient charts paint a clearer picture.
- Increased satiety aligns with higher protein and greater nutrient density.
- Once your diet has adequate protein without excess energy from carbs and (or) fat, you can take the next step and chase your priority micronutrients.
Continue to part two of this article to find out which nutrients your diet may be lacking and where you can find them!