What is Nutrient Density? [Micros Masterclass FAQ Part 2]

We believe nutrition should primarily be about the nutrients in your food. 

Irrespective of your dietary preferences or goals, you fundamentally need adequate nutrients from your food. 

We want to ensure an agnostic and quantified approach to optimising nutrient density is the next big thing in nutrition.  

This section of the Micros Masterclass FAQs covers everything you need to know about nutrient density and why it is critical to achieving your goals. 

What is ‘Nutrient Density’?   

Nutrient density is the sum of essential nutrients per calorie in a food or meal.    

Most people think about the amount of a single nutrient per gram of food.  But with this approach, you need to eat more to get enough of these nutrients to meet the minimum intake levels.  

Thinking in terms of nutrient density ensures we get enough of all our priority nutrients without overconsuming energy by enabling us to focus on food quality irrespective of food quantity.   

How do I Improve My Current Diet’s Nutrient Density?

Nutrient Optimiser gives you the guidance you need to fill the nutritional gaps in your diet. 

After tracking your food for a week, Nutrient Optimiser will recommend foods and meals that contain more of the nutrients you are currently getting less of to balance your diet at a micronutrient level.

What Is ‘Satiety’?

Satiety refers to how full you feel after eating.  

While a low energy density meal may make you feel stuffed and unable to eat anymore in the short term, a satiating meal leaves you feeling fuller for longer. 

If you feel satiated because you get the nutrients you require from your food, you are much less likely to go in search of more food later in the day. 

Our extensive analysis has elucidated how your food’s macronutrient and micronutrient content impacts how much we tend to eat.  

Unfortunately, while you can count your calories strictly and restrict your intake for a while, most people fail at this game long-term unless they also change WHAT they eat. 

You need to ensure that you give your body enough of all the micronutrients it needs to thrive.  To lose body fat, you must then find a way to pack these nutrients into fewer calories by increasing the nutrient density of your food.   

The opposite of satiety is hyperphagia or uncontrolled eating.  We all know some foods that we tend to eat a LOT more of in terms of quantity, while a moderate amount of others keeps us full and satisfied for longer. 

Extensive research by Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson has demonstrated protein leverage in many organisms, including humans.  This simply means that we continue eating until we get adequate protein and that foods with a higher proportion of energy from protein tend to be more satiating. 

Our satiety analysis has also demonstrated micronutrient leverage.  When we pack more nutrients into our food, we are satiated with less energy.  Thus, the quality of the food we eat directly impacts the quantity of food we will eat. 

Our data analysis has focused heavily on understanding exactly how each macronutrient and micronutrient influences satiety and your probability of eating more or less depending on what you eat.  

What we have learned from our analysis is baked into the Macros Masterclass and Micros Masterclass and made as simple as possible for you to implement. 

What is the Difference Between the Protein:Energy Ratio and Nutrient Density? 

In our Macros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers to balance their protein vs energy.  

We take this to the next level in the Micros Masterclass and guide urge Optimisers to think in terms of nutrient density.

Both of these approaches are helpful.  However, while protein vs energy is more straightforward, looking at the food you eat through the lens of micronutrients vs energy is even more powerful!  

Increasing the nutrient density of your food is critical to empower you to feel satisfied and achieve your goals.  Before long, quickly learn how vibrant and tasty nutrient-dense foods are in real food. 

The infographic below illustrates how various foods rank on a simple spectrum of protein vs energy.  You can imagine all foods on a scale, with egg whites, chicken breast and protein powder at one extreme (bottom right) to doughnuts, pizza and croissants at the other (top left). 

The following infographic shows how foods rank in terms of nutrients vs energy.  Although high-protein foods like meats and seafood are still towards the bottom right corner, non-starchy green veggies like spinach and broccoli have also appeared in the nutrient-dense, low-energy corner.  

You may not be able to eat a LOT of these super nutrient-dense foods, but they can assist in filling in some of your harder-to-find vitamin and mineral gaps.  While the Macros Masterclass guides Optimisers to dial in their protein from food, the Micros Masterclass sees Optimisers rounding out their diet with nutrient-dense foods like organ meats, seafood and non-starchy vegetables as they balance their diet at the micronutrient level. 

Are All Calories Created Equal? 

While energy is always conserved, the macronutrient and micronutrient content of the food you eat significantly affects your food cravings and how your body uses the energy you consume. 

The amino acids that make up protein can be used for energy.  However, it’s not a preferred energy source as it is difficult for your body to convert them to energy for use in your cells.

The calories from protein listed in Cronometer and on nutrition labels are based on the amount of energy released from protein in the controlled environment of a bomb calorimeter.  Unfortunately, the energy from the food you eat is not burned in your body in the same way.

Protein is a poor energy source for your body — it prefers to get it from carbs and fat.  Most of the excess protein your body does not require is cleared by your kidneys and excreted in your urine.  Your body will only use protein for energy if not enough energy comes from fat and carbs.

Even if your body needs to use dietary protein or protein stored in your muscles for energy, a reduced amount of calories from that protein is converted to energy.  Between 25 and 35% of the energy in protein is used to convert protein to usable energy (ATP).  Thus, you are burning energy to make it when consuming protein.

People sometimes talk about the ‘meat sweatsor the warm feeling they get when they eat a lot of protein due to its high thermic effect or the effect of burning energy to metabolise protein.  In contrast, you may feel cold when limiting food, especially protein.    

The table below shows more detail for each energy source in terms of:

  • oxidative priority,
  • storage capacity for each of these fuels in the body, and
  • their thermic effect. 
AlcoholKetonesExcess ProteinGlucoseFatty AcidsBody Fat
UseEnergyEnergyEnergy and excretionEnergyEnergyStorage
Capacity (calories)20201200 – 200015040,000 – 500,000
Thermic effect15%3%20 – 35%5 – 15%3 – 15%3 – 15%

Although protein is not exactly a ‘free food’, it’s as close as it gets!  Conversely, carbs and fat are more easily converted to energy or stored as body fat, as much smaller amounts of energy are lost in conversion and storage.  

See Oxidative Priority: The Key to Unlocking Your Body Fat Stores for more detail.