Micronutrient Foraging: Where to Get What Your Body Needs

Your body constantly seeks out the nutrients and energy you require from various foods.  To help you shortcut this process, this article will show you:

  • which nutrients you may be missing based on your preferred dietary template, and
  • where to find the micronutrients you need to prioritise. 

In part one of this two-part series, we examined macronutrients, satiety, and diet quality using Raubenheimer and Simpson’s Geometric Framework for Nutrition

This second part will show you where you can find each micronutrient using the same three-dimensional nutrient charts.

Optimal Foraging Theory

The Optimal Foraging Theory is the process in biology whereby animals optimise their hunting and gathering to get the food they require while minimising energy expenditure. 

Before the advent of agriculture, our primary goal was also to maximise the energy we received from food while minimising the energy we expended to obtain it. In other words, we are biologically programmed to eat more and do less! 

Sometimes, we would hunt, which yielded a high payoff in terms of energy from fat and protein with high energy output and risk.   We would gather food from the more easily accessible plants around us the rest of the time. 

All the food we had access to was naturally grown and packed with micronutrients, so nutrient density wasn’t much of a concern until recently. 

Over the last ten thousand years or so, we have continued to leverage technology to optimise agriculture and get more energy with less effort.  As a result, we now live in a world of ‘eat more and do less’ flush with easily accessible energy driving our diabesity epidemic. 

Today, we need to combine the principles of the old and present models for a more optimal foraging paradigm that is better suited to our modern environment. 

  • The old model is moderate energy with maximum expenditure (eat some, do a lot).
  • Modern model: maximum energy with minimum expenditure (eat more, do less).
  • Optimal model: maximum nutrients without excess energy intake (the most nutritional bang for your buck).

However, to maintain health and optimal body composition, we can use modern technology to get just enough energy while also obtaining the amino acids, minerals, and vitamins we require.  We like to call this nutrient density

Carbs vs Fat vs Diet Quality

In the previous article, we saw how we could use 3D heat maps inspired by Professor Raubenheimer and Simpson’s Geometric Framework for Nutrition.  These charts paint a fuller picture to help us move beyond carbs vs fat or high vs low protein to see how we balance macronutrients. 

To recap, the chart below shows:

  • A diet built around processed foods that emphasises energy from fat and carbs and minimises protein tends to have a very low nutrient density.  This trend is represented as the blue area along the diagonal edge. 
  • Conversely, higher-protein diets that contain less energy from fat and non-fibre carbohydrates tend to be more nutritious.  This is represented as the red area in the bottom left corner. 

But getting all the micronutrients you require is not simply about more protein; you need to learn to navigate around the carbs vs fat landscape intelligently. 

In their book Eat Like the Animals, Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson describe how they tracked numerous insects, animals, and humans to observe what they ate. While their behaviour seemed erratic and random over the short term, they observed a distinct pattern that provided them with a similar blend of the nutrients they needed over the long term. 

But this process tends to go awry when animals leave their natural habitat for one with foreign, hyper-palatable, energy-dense, readily available foods that prompt them to eat more than they need to satisfy their nutrient cravings.  Sadly, modern humans fed unnatural diets have a lot in common with animals in a zoo. 

This article will help you pinpoint the micronutrients you may not be getting enough of while staying under your energy budget.

The Satiety Response to Nutrients

Our previous satiety analysis has shown that we eat less when we optimise our nutrient density by packing enough of the essential micronutrients into the foods we eat.  Once we do this, our cravings subside, we are more satisfied with the nutritious food we have, and we are less likely to consume more energy than we need.  Because the food we eat contains enough of all the nutrients we require, we don’t need to consume excess energy. 

Profiteering supplement manufacturers are eager to point out that it’s more complicated than ever to get the nutrients we require from food.  While this is true, the real magic happens when we make an effort to get our nutrients from food rather than pills, liquids, and shakes. 

Controlled nutrient studies that use isolated supplements never seem to show the same benefit as the foods that contain the nutrients in the form and ratios your body recognises and understands. 

Downing a handful of pills in the name of ‘nutritional insurance’ isn’t exactly optimal.  Each nutrient works synergistically and antagonistically with the others.  Thus, taking your nutrients in a pill, gummy, or liquid doesn’t give you the same satiety benefit as getting protein, minerals, and vitamins in natural ratios from food!

The table below shows the reduction in the percentage of total calories that aligns with getting more of various nutrients with fewer calories.  While getting enough protein appears to be the highest priority, other nutrients also play a significant role. 

nutrientsatiety benefit
protein (%)55%
potassium (g/cal)49%
cholesterol (%)33%
folate (mg/cal)33%
calcium (g/cal)33%
niacin (B3) (g/cal)32%
vitamin B5 (g/cal)28%
riboflavin (B2) (g/cal)28%
iron (g/cal)28%
selenium (g/cal)26%
sodium (g/cal)24%
vitamin A (g/cal)23%
magnesium (g/cal)22%
fibre:carb ratio21%
vitamin B6 (g/cal)20%
energy density20%
vitamin K1 (g/cal)19%
thiamine B1 (g/cal)17%
vitamin E (g/cal)17%
vitamin C (g/cal)14%
zinc (g/cal)13%
omega 3 (g/cal)11%
vitamin B12 (g/cal)9%
copper (g/cal)8%

The Optimal Nutrient Intakes

You’ve likely heard of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and Adequate Intakes (AI).  These are the minimum intakes of each nutrient that are estimated to be adequate in preventing diseases of deficiency.  But if you’re reading this, you probably don’t want to stave off deficiency and simply survive merely!  It’s more likely you want to aim for the optimal intakes that supply your body plenty with all the raw ingredients it needs to thrive

Based on our satiety analysis, we have set a stretch target for each essential micronutrient shown to correlate with satiety.  We’ve normalised these Optimal Nutrient Intakes (ONIs) to 2000 calories. 

NutrientONIDRI or AIUnits
vitamin A100002333IU
vitamin E2515mg
vitamin D1200600IU
vitamin C35075mg
thiamine (B1)31.1mg
riboflavin (B2)61.1mg
niacin (B3)6014mg
pantothenic acid (B5)125mg
vitamin B651.3mg
vitamin B12122.4mcg
vitamin K1110090mcg

The reality is that it’s challenging to achieve all of these ONI targets simultaneously.  So, Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass log their current diet and use the information to identify their priority nutrients.  From there, Nutrient Optimiser recommends foods and meals that contain more of their priority nutrients per calorie in place of foods that have less. 

Everyone has a unique micronutrient fingerprint based on their current diet and nutrient intake.  The chart below shows an example.  The x-axis shows this individual micronutrient intake as a percentage of the Optimal Nutrient Intakes.  This individual is getting plenty of the nutrients towards the bottom of their chart from their current diet.  However, the priority nutrients they need to emphasise are shown towards the top in yellow. 

This article shows you exactly where you can find each micronutrient in the carbs vs. fat landscape. Whether you prefer a low-carb, low-fat, carnivore, or plant-based eating style as your home base, you may need to venture out a little to obtain your priority micronutrients. 

If you want to identify your priority micronutrients and your micronutrient fingerprint like the one above, check out our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge


The heat maps in this section show the concentration of minerals that Optimisers have obtained from net carbs vs fat.  The colour coding is based on the milligrams of each mineral per 2000 calories.   


The following heat map shows that a higher calcium intake aligns with a lower-fat diet focused on low-fat dairy and calcium-rich vegetables. Calcium is essential for healthy bones, blood clotting, and nerve transmission.


We require iron to make red blood cells and transport oxygen. The following heat map shows carbohydrates vs. fat vs. iron

Higher iron availability aligns with a diet with a higher protein concentration, which is found towards the bottom left corner. Conversely, high-fat diets found in the top left and low-protein diets located along the diagonal edge provide less iron.  


The body needs magnesium for over six hundred enzymatic reactions within the body, including detoxification, muscle relaxation, nerve transmission, and neurotransmitter metabolism. 

The heat map for magnesium shows that it’s harder to obtain adequate amounts of it with a processed, low-protein diet found along the diagonal edge. 

You can see a lot of red dots in the lower protein zone towards the diagonal edge.  These likely represent days of data where people used magnesium supplements.  The 2D satiety response curve shows that foods that provide more magnesium per calorie align with a lower calorie intake.  However, as we will discuss later, the noise from supplementation and fortification makes it hard to validate a statistically significant satiety response for other micronutrients when we look at their cumulative effect on satiety. 


Phosphorus is vital for bone integrity and fluid balance.  Bioavailable phosphorus tends to come packaged with protein, so it’s no surprise that the highest phosphorus intake aligns with the high-protein area in the lower-left corner.  Fortunately, most people find it easy to get adequate phosphorus, so it’s rarely a nutrient of concern. 


In contrast to phosphorus, potassium has been deemed a nutrient of public health concern.  We require potassium for energy production, fluid balance, and nerve transmission.  Potassium also balances dietary sodium.

The 2D satiety response to foods with more potassium is second only to protein.  People who get more potassium eat 49% fewer calories!  The typical baseline potassium intake is often low, which is likely why potassium-rich foods are more satiating. 

The heat map chart below shows that a lower-fat diet can provide plenty of potassium. However, we may struggle to get enough if we consume a low-fat diet of processed foods (diagonal edges) or a very high-fat, therapeutic keto-style diet (upper lefthand corner). 


Because blood pressure medications increase potassium retention, potassium supplementation is not common.  Hence, the data is relatively clean, and there are very few red splotches along the diagonal edge. 

As we will see, we have a strong and statistically significant satiety response to potassium because the data is largely ‘clean’ and free from supplementation. 


Sodium has become controversial, but we need enough sodium for immunity, digestion, nerve transmission, fluid balance, and hormone utilisation. 

In the chart below, we set the red limit for sodium at our ONI target of 4000 mg per 2000 calories. Regardless of the macronutrients someone prefers, most people obtain adequate sodium.  


We need zinc for immunity, stomach acid production, reproductive health, detoxification, and the synthesis of antioxidants. While calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium are easier to get on a lower-fat diet from vegetables, the chart below shows that zinc is easier to get on a lower-carb diet rich in lean meats and seafood. 

At the same time, many people following a low-carb diet like the one shown on the right choose to supplement with zinc.


Copper tends to be reasonably easy to obtain in adequate quantities regardless of what macros you focus on.  

We require copper for connective tissue synthesis, healthy red blood cells, iron absorption and transport, and the production of antioxidants.


Manganese is a trace mineral essential for bone health and antioxidant synthesis.  Unless you exclude all carbohydrates (towards the left of the chart), manganese is relatively easy to obtain enough of. 


Selenium is a trace mineral required for thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant synthesis, detoxification, immune function, and human growth.

Selenium tends to be more prevalent in high-protein foods (like meat, seafood, and Brazil nuts.  However, processed foods and a very high-carb, plant-based diet tend to lack it.  People also supplement selenium occasionally.   


Next, we’ll look at which foods tend to contain more vitamins. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is one of the many nutrients that has fallen precipitously since the 1977 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were introduced.  We can correlate the subsequent decrease in vitamin A in the food system with the uptick in obesity.  

Vitamin A is essential for immunity, eye health, growth, and development. A lower-fat diet that includes vegetables on the right and organ meats on the left generally provides adequate vitamin A.  

The DRI for vitamin A (2333 IU) seems extremely low compared to the available dietary vitamin A.  Thus, we have set our ONI for vitamin A at 10,000 IU to account for nutrient density and safety.  However, we have a strong satiety response to foods that provide more substantial amounts of vitamin A well above this. 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin required for its antioxidant function.  Vitamin E is relatively easy to obtain in adequate quantities across a range of macronutrient profiles.  Plants or seed oils that are now ubiquitous in the food system provide substantial amounts of this nutrient, although they are not always in the most well-absorbed form. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D tends to be harder to get from food.  So, ideally, you need to get out in the sun to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D

The speckles in the following heat map represent higher vitamin D intakes, which are likely from supplementation and fortification. However, we see some substantial intakes of vitamin D towards the lower left, which are likely from a higher seafood intake. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that we require for detoxification, adrenal health, and immunity.  The heat map chart below shows that lower-fat plant-based foods provide most of our vitamin C.  However, supplementation also supplies a fair amount. 

Thiamine (B1)

We require thiamine for nervous system function, turning food into usable energy, circulatory function, and a healthy gastrointestinal system. 

Lean, high-protein foods contain more thiamine (vitamin B1). However, supplements and fortification also provide some vitamin B1. 

Riboflavin (B2)

Similar to vitamin B1, we tend to find vitamin B2 in high-protein foods found in the bottom left corner.  We require riboflavin for its antioxidant function, methylation, and turning food into usable energy.

Niacin (B3)

Niacin is abundant in high-protein foods like meat, poultry, and seafood and less frequent in foods high in carbs and fat.  We need niacin to turn food into usable fuel.

Niacin is a precursor to NAD+, a popular anti-aging supplement associated with energy production and utilisation. Yet, ironically, many people supplementing with NAD+ precursors actively avoid protein in hopes of increasing longevity. 

For more on longevity, protein, and NAD+ supplements, see Can Longevity Be Bought in a Bottle?  Thoughts on David Sinclair’s Lifespan and Protein and Can Too Much Protein Accelerate Aging?

Pantothenic Acid (B5)         

We need vitamin B5 for red blood cell production, hormone synthesis, and stress management. 

Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, is derived from the Greek word ‘pantos’, which means ‘from everywhere’.  True to its name, vitamin B5 is pretty much found everywhere in adequate quantities, particularly in the higher protein corner to the lower left.

Vitamin B6

We need vitamin B6 to metabolise hormones, make red blood cells, metabolise protein, and energy production.  Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is found abundantly in high-protein or high-carb foods.  However, we can also see plenty of higher vitamin B6 intakes from supplementation. 

Folate (B9)

Folate, or vitamin B9, is required for human development, the synthesis of healthy red blood cells, and methylation. Folate tends to be more prevalent in high-protein foods and high-carbohydrate, low-fat vegetables. 

Refined foods are often fortified with synthetic nutrients like folate.  Although we have a strong satiety response to food-sourced folate, we don’t seem to have the same reaction to high levels of folate that only supplementation can provide.   

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient required for energy metabolism, nervous system function, and red blood cell synthesis.  Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is absent in strictly high-carb and plant-based foods.  Thus, a greater vitamin B12 intake generally aligns with a higher-protein, less-processed diet. 

The DRI for vitamin B12 (2.4 mcg) is much lower than our ONI of 12 mcg.  As the chart below shows, the DRI aligns with a much greater calorie intake than the ONI.   However, once we reach the ONI of 12 mcg, our cravings for higher B12 foods seem to settle down.

Since the 1977 USDA Dietary Guidelines were introduced, B12 is another nutrient on the decline.  It appears to be beneficial to consume a diet containing more than the DRI minimum for vitamin B12.

For more on vitamin B12, check out Highest B12 (Cobalamin) Foods and Recipes.

Vitamin K1

Vitamin K1 is a fat-soluble nutrient required for blood clotting.  A more significant vitamin K1 intake generally aligns with a lower-fat diet rich in green leafy vegetables.  However, some fat is needed to absorb it. 

Vitamin K1 is another nutrient for which our ONI target (1100 mcg) is much higher than the DRI (90 mcg). As shown in the chart below, foods that naturally contain more vitamin K1 produce a substantial satiety response.

Regression Analysis

To better understand how each of the micronutrients aligns with each of the macronutrients, I also ran a multivariate regression analysis between macros and each of the micronutrients.  This quantifies the visual observations from the charts above. 


The multivariate analysis found that a higher protein % correlates with higher levels of the following micronutrients per calorie:

  • Niacin,
  • Zinc,
  • Selenium,
  • Phosphorus,
  • Calcium,
  • Sodium, and
  • Potassium. 

So if you’re getting adequate protein, you’ll also get plenty of these micronutrients.  Conversely, if you’re getting plenty of these nutrients from the food you eat (without relying on supplements), you’ll also be getting plenty of protein.  Protein and this cluster of micros go together. 


While fibre is not an essential nutrient, higher intakes of dietary fibre are correlated with higher intakes of the following micronutrients:

  • Manganese,
  • Copper,
  • Iron,
  • Vitamin C,
  • Vitamin E,
  • Potassium, and
  • Calcium.

While fibre isn’t a nutrient that we encourage people to target a minimum level of, you’ll be getting plenty of fibre if you get plenty of these nutrients from your diet.   

Non-fibre carbs

Only manganese was positively correlated with non-fibre carbohydrates (which is also correlated with higher-fibre foods).  So, as a general rule, the more energy you get from carbs, the lower your overall nutrient density will be.


Only vitamin E was positively correlated with fat intake.  Like non-fibre carbohydrates, the more energy you get from fat, the lower your overall nutrient density will be. 

Is This Significant? 

While many of the individual micronutrients positively influence satiety, we want to know if it makes a difference in the complete food matrix. 

The table below shows the results of a multivariate analysis showing that protein, potassium, B2, calcium, sodium, fibre:carb ratio and vitamin A all statistically significantly impact how much we eat.  It appears that the leverage often attributed to protein is actually due to other micronutrients we crave. 

protein (%)< 0.00000520%43%-435-27.0%
vitamin B22.46948E-076.418.4-87-5.4%
fibre:carb ratio1.32521E-090.140.43-34-2.1%
vitamin A0.064898156343135211-10-0.6%

While we have tried to remove supplementation and fortification, there is still some noise in the data.  If supplements and fortification could be removed, it is anticipated that other nutrients would also show a statistically significant relationship with calories. 


Hopefully, from these heat map charts, you can see that to construct a nutrient-dense diet, we need to forage around the carbohydrate vs fat landscape to get all the nutrients we require.   

Similar to protein, you don’t need to jump from where you are now to a perfect 100% Diet Quality Score.  Many people in our Micros Masterclass are able to achieve 100% in the final week, but it’s hard to achieve and hard to sustain.  But moving from where you are towards a higher nutrient density by chasing your priority nutrients is a very worthy goal. 

As shown in the chart below, a diet with more nutrients packed in per calorie tends to be more satiating.  As you chase your priority nutrients, your cravings will reduce, and you will feel more satisfied. 


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