Ever wondered why we’re irresistibly drawn to certain foods? Or why some leave us feeling full while others leave us yearning for more?
It’s not just about protein, fats, and carbs. The answers might lie in the very minerals that often go unnoticed.
Dive into the world of minerals and their unspoken influence on our hunger, cravings, and health.
Prepare to have your view of nutrition transformed!
- Protein Leverage Nutrient Leverage?
- Sodium’s Secrets: Understanding Our Salt Cravings
- The Calcium Connection
- Potassium’s Covert Power Play
- What are the Best Minerals for Satiety?
- Correlation or Causation: Do Minerals Really Help with Weight Loss?
- Will Mineral Supplements Help You Lose Weight?
- What are the Optimal Nutrient Intakes for Minerals
- Appendix A – Mineral Satiety Charts
- Appendix B – Statistical Analysis
While protein leverage is now well recognised in nutrition, less is known about the role of minerals in regulating our hunger, cravings, appetite and satiety.
Research to date suggests that beyond protein, we have a specific appetite for sodium and likely calcium. However, our data analysis suggests we also regulate our intake of other nutrients, like potassium, iron and selenium, especially when they are scarce in our food.
Our analysis of 313,836 days of micronutrient data also reveals that we have a ‘Bliss Point’ for each mineral. Rather than merely preventing short-term symptoms of malnutrition, this Bliss Point highlights the amount we require and crave of each mineral.
But similar to the Bliss Point we have for fat, sugar and salt, which are used to maximise intake and profit, this lower mineral intake aligns with ultra-processed, hyperpalatable junk food that we overconsume.
The data analysis has also enabled us to determine Optimal Nutrient Intake stretch targets, achievable with food without supplementation or fortification, which align with greater satiety and eating less.
The table below summarises each mineral’s Bliss Point and Optimal Nutrient Intake stretch targets (per 2000 calories).
Targeting the Optimal Nutrient Intakes, in addition to protein leverage, provides a more robust approach to optimising our food choices for greater satiety and improved nutrient density to assist motivated individuals in managing hunger and achieving sustainable weight loss.
Protein Leverage Nutrient Leverage?
- Living organisms, including humans, require protein to survive; hence, we continue to eat until we get the minimum amount of protein we need.
- In an environment where protein has been diluted by energy from fat and carbs, we must consume more energy to get enough protein.
- Conversely, we will consume less energy when we can satisfy our protein requirements more efficiently with foods that contain a higher protein %.
In line with numerous studies that have observed protein leverage in various organisms, including humans, our analysis of 838,686 days of data from free-living humans shows that we eat less when our diet has a higher % protein. On average, moving from 12.5% protein (Bliss Point) to 40% protein (Optimal Nutrient Intake) aligns with a 34% reduction in energy intake (i.e. protein leverage).
Beyond protein, we also see a similar response to each of the amino acids that make up protein. Consuming foods with a higher concentration of each amino acid per calorie aligns with consuming less energy.
For more details, see Optimal Amino Acid Intakes for Satiety and Weight Loss (According to 313,836 days of Data).
Protein is a major structural component of the body, supporting our muscles, organs and neurotransmitters, so it makes sense we would crave it to ensure our survival. But whether humans have a specific appetite for other essential nutrients remains an open question.
Rather than merely protein leverage, do we have a nutrient leverage effect for all essential nutrients, particularly when we need more?
In their 2020 paper, An Integrative Approach to Dietary Balance Across the Life Course, Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson noted that, besides protein, fat and carbs, we also have a specific appetite for calcium and sodium. Intriguingly, they also noted that it is likely that specific appetites for other nutrients exist.
We’ve seen consistently excellent results as optimisers in our Macros Masterclass implement protein leverage by adjusting their balance of protein vs energy from fat and carbohydrates. But, beyond protein, we’ve found Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass who prioritise other essential nutrients to improve their satiety further and satisfy their cravings with less energy.
In the remainder of this article, we’ll dive into the data to examine nutrient leverage and to understand how each mineral aligns with our cravings, hunger and satiety.
Sodium’s Secrets: Understanding Our Salt Cravings
The best place to start our analysis is with sodium.
Sodium which is often controversial because we have such strong cravings for it. But sodium is a critical nutrient for our metabolism.
It is widely recognised in the literature that we have a conscious taste and a specific appetite for it (see Shulkin, 2005; Geary & Asarian, 2004; Sohn et al., 2020; Geerling and Loewy, 2008). Thus, our appetite ensures we get enough, but not too much, sodium.
Because it was typically scarce in inland areas, mammals, including humans, appear to have developed a strong conscious craving for sodium. For example, elephants trek deep into underground caves for minerals.
Without sodium, our food tastes bland, so we eat less. But we still crave foods with more salt and eat more to get the sodium we need. Once we get enough sodium from our food, our food tastes ‘too salty,’ so we also eat less.
Between these extremes, we have a Goldilocks zone, or Bliss Point, for sodium that aligns with maximum energy intake. Food manufacturers have understood this since Howie Moskowitz reverse-engineered our Bliss Point cravings in the 1970s. Since then, most of our processed food contains just enough sodium to hit this Bliss Point to maximise consumption and profit.
The Calcium Connection
Research by Tordoff (2001) and others suggests that our appetite regulates calcium intake.
“We have a calcium appetite that kicks in when our intake is dangerously low — for example, during pregnancy or dialysis, which depletes calcium levels. People in those states tend to have a strong craving for chalky, calcium-rich cheeses.” Michael Tordoff, 2008
The Decline of Calcium in Our Food System
Calcium is essential in maintaining many bodily functions, including bone health, muscle function and nerve signalling. Calcium, potassium, and iron are also nutrients of public health concern, with 39% of Americans not meeting the Estimated Average Requirement for calcium.
As shown in the chart below, created using data from the USDA Economic Research Service, calcium is one of the nutrients that has declined in our food system since we ramped up modern farming practices fuelled by synthetic fertilisers.
Today, we need to eat 40% more food to get the same amount of calcium as in the 1940s. So, it makes sense that we might subconsciously crave calcium, especially when deficient.
Calcium Bliss Point
The chart below shows a Bliss Point at 650 mg of calcium per 2000 calories, where we eat the most. Like sodium and protein, we eat less when our food contains either more or less than this. While there is some variation in our calcium intake, we tend to gravitate back towards the Bliss Point.
Optimal Nutrient Intake for Calcium
We have set an Optimal Nutrient Intake (ONI) for calcium at 1650 mg/2000 calories, which is the 85th percentile intake for calcium. Hence, the ONI is a stretch target but achievable from food without resorting to supplements or fortification.
On average, people consuming the ONI for calcium consume 23% fewer calories than those consuming the Bliss Point. Moving from the Bliss Point to the ONI satisfies our cravings for nutrients with less energy. But once you reach the ONI, you’ll be better off focusing on your other priority nutrients.
Potassium’s Covert Power Play
It has been hypothesised that in days gone by, most of the foods we had access to were packed with potassium. Hence, we naturally consume up to 10 g of potassium per day (Jaminet, 2013). So, while we evolved a strong taste for sodium, a conscious craving for potassium was unnecessary.
The Decline of Potassium in Our Food
But today, due to modern farming and food processing, potassium is harder to find. We need to consume 33% more food to get the same amount of potassium as in the 1940s. Unfortunately, we don’t actively seek out potassium because we don’t have a conscious taste for it. Hence, only 2% of Americans are meeting the Dietary Reference Intake for potassium.
Potassium Bliss Point and Optimal Nutrient Intake
Our data analysis shows that, like calcium and sodium, foods with a higher concentration of potassium align with eating less. Potassium has a Bliss Point intake of 1900 mg/2000 calories. People who get the ONI of 5700 mg/2000 calories from their food consume 30% less energy.
What are the Best Minerals for Satiety?
The chart below shows the satiety response curves for all the essential minerals, showing that, to varying degrees, a higher concentration of each essential mineral per calorie aligns with eating less.
We’ve included the satiety response curve for each essential mineral in Appendix A for those who love all the data and detail.
If you aim to manage hunger and eat less, you’re probably interested in which mineral has the biggest impact on satiety. To assist, the table below shows the calorie reduction when we move from the Bliss Point to the ONIs for each mineral. At the top of the list, we have potassium, selenium, and calcium.
The minerals we crave the most are rarely used in supplements or fortification. Instead, they tend to be found in minimally processed nutritious foods that are naturally harder to overeat.
You can click on the links in the table above to see infographics and food lists showing which foods contain more of each mineral per calorie.
Correlation or Causation: Do Minerals Really Help with Weight Loss?
At this point, you may wonder if all this mineral stuff is just correlation rather than causation.
Do we really have a specific appetite for these minerals?
Will getting more of them in my diet satisfy my cravings and help me eat less, especially if I can’t taste them?
Specific appetite, also known as specific hunger, is thought to be influenced by a variety of factors, including:
- Nutritional needs: The body may crave certain foods when deficient in certain nutrients.
- Learned associations: We learn to associate certain foods with pleasure or satiety. This can lead to specific cravings for those foods.
Was there ever a food you didn’t like at first, but after a few more tries, you learned to enjoy it? While you may not be able to taste some nutrients in food the way we can sugar and salt, after a while, your body learns to understand whether a food is a net positive or negative.
Not only will you crave and enjoy that food more in the future, but your body will also understand how much you require to be satisfied next time (McCrickerd and Forde, 2016).
With such a large amount of data, we can use some advanced statistical techniques to understand if these relationships are due to chance. We’ve included the details of the statistical analysis in Appendix B. The highlights are summarised below.
The data shows that we regulate our protein and energy intake in a tight range, closely followed by sodium, potassium, iron, calcium and selenium. By comparison, there is a wide variation in vitamin intake.
Our multivariate analysis shows that while protein is the dominant factor in the satiety equation, potassium, calcium, iron, and sodium are statistically significant. This understanding enables us to predict how much we will eat of a certain food or meal more accurately and optimise our food choices for greater satiety.
Principal Component Analysis
Principal component analysis (PCA) shows how nutrients are clustered in different foods.
For example, selenium tends to be clustered with protein-rich foods. So, if we get adequate protein from meat and seafood, we won’t need to worry too much about selenium. Similarly, other nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamin C are clustered with potassium. So, if we focus on potassium-rich foods, we’ll get plenty of the other essential minerals.
PCA also highlights which nutrients align with eating more and eating less. While some nutrients, like protein and potassium, tend to dominate, the satiety response to nutrient-dense foods is likely due to the cluster of nutrients rather than singular nutrients.
Will Mineral Supplements Help You Lose Weight?
The short answer is no. You can’t rely on mineral supplements to crush your cravings and help with weight loss.
Interestingly, the minerals with the largest satiety response are often consumed in the largest quantities. Hence, they don’t fit into your multivitamin pill and aren’t added to your breakfast cereal.
Potassium, which has the biggest impact on the satiety of all the minerals, is not easy to supplement as potassium pills are limited to 99 mg. Hence, you’d need to choke down on a third of a bottle of potassium pills daily to just meet the ONI for potassium.
Selenium is not used in food fortification due to cost, taste concerns, and the risk of easily exceeding the upper tolerable limit.
Additionally, studies suggest that, while calcium in food is beneficial, the bolus of calcium that we get in pill form is more likely to be deposited in the arteries where we don’t want it rather than our bones (see Risk of High Dietary Calcium for Arterial Calcification in Older Adults, Andersen and Klemmer, 2013).
Additionally, as shown in the satiety charts in Appendix A, the satiety response plateaus at higher doses and the confidence in the relationship quickly wanes (as indicated by the wider grey error bars). So if you’re serious about levelling up your satiety, you need to prioritise foods that contain all these nutrients together in the forms and ratios your body understands.
What are the Optimal Nutrient Intakes for Minerals
If you’re interested in upgrading your mineral targets to align with greater satiety to optimise your food and crush your cravings efficiently, the table below summarises the Optimal Nutrient Intakes for each mineral.
The snip below shows what the mineral ONIs would look like in Cronometer.
However, it’s important to note that the ONIs are per 2000 calories, so you’ll need to factor them up or down based on your current energy intake. The ONIs are also a stretch target, so most people will need to dial them back initially until they get the hang of dialling up their nutrient density.
In our Micros Masterclass, we provide Optimisers with a spreadsheet that automates this process and guides them to get the foods and meals that contain more of their priority nutrients.
Our exploration of 313,836 days of micronutrient data shows that, similar to protein leverage, some of the minerals appear to have a nutrient leverage effect. That is, foods and meals that satisfy our sodium, calcium, potassium and iron requirements have a statistically significant role in satiety.
Through a deeper understanding and management of mineral intake, individuals could better align their diets towards achieving their nutritional and weight management goals.
- The Role of Vitamins in Satiety and Weight Management
- The Nutrient Bliss Points: The Perfect Amount for Maximum Food Addiction
- Decoding Diet’s Siren Call: The Nutrient Bliss Point Theory
- Level Up Your Health with Gamified Personalised Nutrition
- The Most Nutrient Dense, Health Promoting Foods
- Diet Quality and Weight Loss: A Deep Dive
- Micros Masterclass
Appendix A – Mineral Satiety Charts
If you’re interested in learning more, the charts below show the satiety response for each mineral. These charts were created using the GAM Fit spline function in RStudio. The shading shows the 99th percentile confidence bands.
We see the largest satiety response of all the minerals to potassium in our food. Moving from the Bliss Point to the ONI for potassium aligns with a 30% reduction in energy intake, which is only slightly less than protein, for which we see a 34% reduction.
Potassium is rarely used in supplements and fortification, so we see a clean signal even for very high potassium intakes. However, we have limited the potassium ONI to 5700 mg/2000 calories, three times the Bliss Point.
While we see a strong satiety response to phosphorus, it’s also a nutrient that most people don’t struggle to get enough of if they’re getting plenty of protein. Although a higher phosphorus concentration aligns with eating less, we’ve limited the ONI for phosphorus to 1250 to keep the calcium:phosphorus ratio greater than the accepted target of 1.3.
The ONI for selenium is based on the inflection point in the satiety curve, where the benefits of a higher concentration of selenium start to diminish at double the Bliss Point intake.
The ONI for calcium has been set at 1650 mg/2000 calories, 2.5 times the Bliss Point. Although the satiety response to calcium continues at higher intakes, experience from Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass shows that a higher calcium intake is challenging when all the other micronutrients are balanced with a high diet quality score.
The ONI for magnesium has been set at three times the Bliss Point above the DRI for magnesium of 420 mg/2000 calories. The confidence band on the chart widens at higher intakes, suggesting less data confidence at higher intakes only possible with supplementation.
The ONI for copper has been set at 2.1 times the Bliss Point, where the satiety response to high copper intakes (e.g., from organ meats) starts to plateau. This also provides a zinc:copper ratio of 11 within the acceptable range of 8 to 12.
The ONI for zinc has been set at 20 mg/2000 calories, which is 2.2 times the Bliss Point and where the satiety response to higher zinc intakes, likely from isolated supplements, starts to plateau.
The ONI for iron has been set at two times the Bliss Point, which is where the satiety response starts to plateau. We are also conscious that many people suffer hemochromatosis, potentially from iron fortification. This also provides an iron:copper ratio of 13.9, which is within the 10 – 15 target range.
The ONI for manganese is two times the Bliss Point at 8 mg/2000 calories based on the point at which the confidence bars widen. The confidence bars for manganese are wider than for most other minerals, suggesting that the satiety relationship for magnesium is not particularly strong.
The ONI for sodium has been set at 1.4 times the Bliss Point to ensure that Optimisers who are eating less still meet their requirement for sodium. However, because of the strong cravings for sodium, most people are getting adequate sodium but must prioritise potassium. This gives a potassium:sodium ratio of 1.4.
Appendix B – Statistical Analysis
Just because a higher concentration of some minerals aligns with eating less doesn’t necessarily mean we have a specific appetite for these minerals. For instance:
- higher potassium concentration may align with foods with a lower energy density and more fibre and
- foods that contain more phosphorus may be correlated with higher protein foods, which we know are more satiating.
We have undertaken the analysis below to understand which nutrients are most tightly regulated and likely to have a nutrient leverage effect. That is, we eat more to get what we need and eat less when we can satisfy our requirements more efficiently.
To help us understand which nutrients we regulate our intake more tightly than others, the table below shows the standard deviation divided by the average intake for each mineral. For comparison, we’ve also included energy and protein %, which we know are tightly regulated to ensure survival.
After energy and protein (%), sodium, which we know we have a specific appetite for, is next in line, followed by potassium, iron and calcium, all of which are nutrients of public health concern due to the low population intake.
So, in line with Tordoff’s theory regarding calcium, we likely have stronger cravings for the nutrients that have declined in our food system as our food has become industrialised. This suggests we may have a subconscious, learned appetite for minerals, particularly when not getting enough in our diet.
As shown in the chart below, vitamins (shown in blue) often used in fortification and supplementation have a much greater variance. This suggests we don’t regulate the vitamins as tightly as minerals like sodium, potassium and iron.
Multivariate analysis allows us to understand which nutrients have a statistically significant relationship with eating less and thus eliminate the variable that is not statistically significant.
The charts below summarise the results of a separate multivariate analysis to identify the statistically significant satiety factors for different subsets of the data.
When we look at all 313,836 days of data together, we see that protein % dominates that satiety equation. However, calcium, potassium, iron and sodium are still statistically significant.
Low Protein Data
When we look at only the low protein data (i.e. less than 12.5% protein), we see that calcium, potassium and iron are statistically significant. This makes sense, given that people getting less protein are also likely to get less iron from animal-based foods and calcium from dairy.
Lower Fat Data
For the low-fat data (where the energy is from carbohydrates), we see that calcium, sodium, potassium and iron are statistically significant.
Lower Carb Data
Finally, for the low-carb data, protein dominates; however, calcium, sodium and potassium remain statistically significant.
Principal Component Analysis
In addition to the multivariate analysis, we have undertaken a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of the data for the nutrients shown to be statistically significant in the MVA analysis. PCA shows how different nutrients cluster together and highlights which ones explain the variance more.
The PCA chart below was created using all the micronutrient data.
- To the left, we see that fat and carbs are contained in different foods, but both align with a higher energy intake.
- To the right, we can see that a higher concentration of many nutrients aligns with eating less (i.e. they are directly opposed to energy).
- Potassium and protein, with the longest vectors, explain the variance in the data better than the other nutrients.
- Selenium is clustered with protein foods, while vitamin C, calcium and iron are clustered with potassium. Thus, plant-based foods and meat/seafood are complementary in satiety.
Low Protein Data
When we look at only the low-protein data, we see that calcium has the largest explanatory power, followed by iron, which is contained in similar foods.
Lower Fat Data
For the lower fat data, potassium and protein explain most of the variation, with the other nutrients playing a supporting role. Foods that contain protein tend to contain selenium, so selenium is not statistically significant. Similarly, foods that contain potassium also tend to contain vitamin C.
Lower Carb Data
Again, protein and potassium dominate the lower-carb data. However, the other nutrients play a supporting role.
When we consider all the data together, we see global trends due to specific nutrient deficiencies at the population level. However, each subset of the data (i.e. low protein, low fat and low carb) reveals a unique micronutrient fingerprint with its priority nutrients and, thus, a unique nutritional solution of foods and meals that we can use to fill the micronutrient gaps and ensure optimal nutrition.