how to use energy density to fine-tune your nutrition

This article looks at energy density and how you can use it to fine-tune your diet to reach your goals.


Energy density, a measure of the calories in a given weight of food, is the is the third component of Nutrient Optimiser algorithm that you can use once you have nutrient density and insulin load dialled in,

What is energy density?

It makes sense intuitively that bulky, water-filled foods will help you to feel full, even if they don’t provide a lot of energy.


Imagine if all you had to eat were non-starchy, fibrous vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and celery.  You would struggle to get enough energy to get through the day.   Your stomach can only hold so much.


Naturally, we gravitate to higher energy density foods to ensure we get the energy we need.  We get a dopamine hit from energy-dense foods helps to ensure our survival a species.  This drove us to hunt down, dig up or fight with the bees to get energy-dense foods.

However today, in a world of engineered foods, full of refined carbs and added fats, lower energy density foods may be helpful to redesign your food environment if you are trying to lose weight.

Who should consider lower energy density foods?

Focusing on lower energy density foods only needs to be a priority once you are eating nutrient dense foods and have stabilised your blood sugars. People who are obese and insulin resistant often don’t do well with only celery, broccoli, mushrooms, grapefruit and lettuce to eat.  Hunger and appetite often win in the long run.

While insulin resistant people often have plenty of stored body fat, their insulin levels are still very high.  They may struggle to access their stored body fat and avoid the cravings driven by the blood sugar rollercoaster.  A nutrient dense low carb diet with ‘fat to satiety’ can help these people stabilise their blood sugars without hunger.


Most of the time, focusing on more nutritious foods that stabilise blood sugars is enough to help people lose weight, at least for a time.  However, many find that their weight loss stalls after a while when using a ‘fat to satiety’ approach.

When this occurs, lower energy density foods and meals can be useful to help lose more body fat once your blood sugars are stable and you are in the habit of eating nutritious food.  The extreme of this approach is a Protein Sparing Modified Fast as detailed in Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook and this article.

a PSMF is often used by bodybuilders or weight loss clinics to provide the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and protein necessary with the minimum amount of calories to prevent loss of muscle mass and prevent cravings in dieting.

Low energy density foods

The nutrient dense low energy density foods in this list will provide plenty of nutrients without too much energy.

Screenshot 2018-03-18 03.49.06

If you focus on this food you would be able to get all the nutrients you need without too much energy and be able to sustain a long-term energy deficit without excessive cravings.  This chart shows how these foods stack up in terms of nutrients compared to the average of all foods in the USDA database.

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Higher energy density foods

Alternatively, we can use energy density parameter to identify foods with a higher energy density to fuel your athletic endeavours or endurance event without having to resort to energy gels which will provide fast digesting energy but not a lot of nutrition.


The list of food will provide you with more energy while still being nutrient dense.  This list contains more nuts, seeds, dairy and fattier cuts of meat.

Screenshot 2018-03-18 03.49.54

As shown in this chart, these high energy density foods are not as nutrient dense as the lower energy density foods, however, they are still an improvement compared to the average of all of the food in the USDA database.

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Energy density and satiety

Satiety is complex and involves more than just eating foods that are bulkier.   Ensuring your diet contains enough protein (the most satiating macronutrient) and micronutrients (to avoid cravings), along with stabilising swings in your blood sugar (with a lower insulin load diet) are all pieces of the satiety puzzle.

One of the most interesting pieces of research into satiety is a 1995 paper by Susanne Holt and colleagues, A satiety index of common foods.[3]  This study fed participants 1000 kJ (239 calories) of various foods and looked at how much people ate at a subsequent meal.  The study found that how much our stomach stretches is a significant factor in determining how satiating a particular food is.

The chart below shows‘s analysis of the data from the 1995 paper which they used to develop their Fullness Factor[4].  This regression analysis shows that satiety per calorie tends to be positively correlated with:

  1. lower energy density (i.e. calories per 100g of food),
  2. higher protein content,
  3. higher fibre, and
  4. lower fat.


The most energy dense foods

The table below shows the energy density (i.e. calories per 100 g) of a range of foods and their weight per 500 calories.

food calories / 100g weight / 500 calories (g)
mushrooms 15 3333
celery 16 3125
broccoli 31 1613
oranges 47 1064
apples 65 769
fish 168 298
steak 250 200
Mars Bar 451 111
cookies 476 105
chips 1242 40
oil 1879 27

You might be able to eat more at dinner if you had a 40 g of chips for lunch compared to three kilograms of mushrooms or celery even though they both contain the same amount of energy.

When do we use energy density?

The table below shows when Nutrient Optimiser uses energy density diet based on your blood glucose levels and waist to height ratio.

approach average blood sugar HbA1c (%) waist : height ratio energy density
(mg/dL) (mmol/L)
weight loss (insulin resistant) 100 – 108 5.4 – 6.0 5.0 – 5.4% > 0.5 lower
weight loss (insulin sensitive) < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% > 0.5 lower
Bodybuilder (bulking) < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% < 0.5 higher
endurance athlete < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% < 0.5 higher

If you haven’t yet, make sure you head over to the Nutrient Optimiser get your free report complete which includes a list of foods and meals tailored to your goals.







Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet: a review

Interest in the controversial carnivore diet (a.k.a. zero carb) diet is booming!


After trying low carb, paleo, and keto, for some people cutting out all carbs and plant foods is the next logical progression in their journey towards optimal health and diabetes control.

But, to some people, this sounds counterintuitive!

Could eating only meat be healthy?

What about all those nutrients you get from plants?

Won’t you get too much protein?

What about fibre?

This article looks at the pros and cons of the carnivore diet through the lens of the Nutrient Optimiser.

I’m not sure that the carnivore diet is optimal for everyone.  But in light of all the n = 1s, it’s hard to say it doesn’t work really well for some people.

Does the carnivore diet break all the rules of nutrition?

I’m inquisitive.  Thinking out loud.

My aim is to understand the common factors of nutrition that help people thrive so we can apply them in a systematised manner.

Why is the carnivore diet becoming popular?

Other than Shawn Baker, there are a few interesting examples of people who have successfully followed a carnivorous diet for a long time and seem to be thriving.

Joe and Charlene Anderson

Charlene (42) and Joe (57) Anderson have been eating nothing but fatty steak for nineteen years, including through two healthy pregnancies.[1] [2] [3]



Transitioning to a meat-only diet wasn’t all smooth sailing.  Joe says:

Once I tried a specific, fatty, meat-only diet I felt miserable at first. Massive headaches, depression, fatigue and nausea were common. By the end of two weeks, however, the veil lifted and I felt great! I discovered that eating this clean meat-only diet was very healing, and I had my own demons and ill health that had to be expelled.

Charlene’s path to healing has taken considerably longer. Although she felt great immediately removing all the fibers, vegetables, and grains that she had been eating for years, she also felt the effects of starving out her Lyme bacteria. Her body would cycle back and forth from feeling great as the Lyme died off, to feeling horrible because the Lyme was dying off. She gritted her teeth, dug in, and stayed on plan.[4] 

Charlene looks to be doing just fine these days.[5] [6]


Amber O’Hearn


Amber is another prominent zero carber who progressed to a carnivorous diet after her success with low carb stalled.  She cut out all plant foods (other than coffee) and found her bipolar benefited significantly and her weight loss improved!

Amber has done a ton of thoughtful research and documented her journey at,  She doesn’t claim that the carnivorous way of life is right for everyone, but she makes a good case for why we may not necessarily need fruit and “heart healthy grains” to be healthy.



Dr Georgia Ede


Psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede on her Diagnosis Diet blog highlights anti-nutrients in plant-based foods (e.g. phytic acid, goitrogens, oxalates, and tannins) in not just grains and soy, but also cruciferous veggies such as spinach and broccoli, that also contain lots of vitamins and minerals.  Georgia says:

Nutrient bioavailability from plants is in many cases significantly compromised. Just because a plant contains a nutrient does not mean we can access it. One example: due to the oxalate within spinach, virtually none of the iron within spinach is available to the human body. As a second example, the zinc in oysters is virtually impossible to absorb if the oysters are consumed with corn tortillas.

There are too many variables to consider in a mixed diet to be certain how foods will interact in various individuals. Recommended daily intakes for nutrients are based on faulty assumptions and the data used to generate them comes from people eating standard diets. Diets high in refined carbs deplete many nutrients, increasing our apparent requirements.

While some people may benefit from restricting these compounds in their diet, I’m not sure that it’s necessary or optimal for everyone.  Many stressors in life are hormetic and can make you stronger in the long term.

And while the likes of oxalates can affect availability you can’t absorb nutrients if they’re not actually available in the foods you are eating.  There is a trade-off between quantity and absorption.  It’s hard to quantify these things but the calculations that I’ve done based on the limited data available indications that you should eat your spinach if you enjoy it.

Dr Gundry

While not strictly a carnivore, Dr Stephen Gundry has recently released The Plant Paradox where he speaks of the dangers of lectins and antinutrients in grains and legumes that many people struggle with, especially if they are prone to an autoimmune response.  To be clear, while his book title may be misleading, he still supports eating green leafy vegetables.

Paleo Medicina

While many people are talking about meat causing cancer Paleo Medicina are using a carnivore diet to treat cancer, autoimmune and other chronic conditions.  This Ketogeek podcast interview with biologist and clinical researcher Dr Zsofia Clemens is an intriguing listen!

Online groups

There are also a number of large online groups of people who swear by just eating meat, including Principia Carnivora and Zeroing in On Health.


What I find fascinating is that these groups are every bit as passionate about their dietary approach as the plant-based vegans who also claim that their diet was responsible for healing them of all their ailments.  While online groups are amazing for bringing together like-minded people to support each other on their journey, they are not exactly randomised trials and can suffer from confirmation bias, groupthink and survivorship bias (i.e. only the people that benefit continue to contribute to the group)


Dr Baker has also established the World Carnivore Tribe group which has a ton of positive anecdotes.

It makes me wonder what the common factors of the optimal human diet are when people are zealous advocates of what appear to be polar opposite approaches.  How do we identify what works and systematise it to help everyone to move towards optimal?

Rather than forcing vegans to be carnivores and carnivores to be vegan, how can we optimise your food choices while still respecting your preferences?

Dr Shawn Baker

Dr Shawn Baker (@SBakerMB, shawnbaker1967) is the latest high profile proponent of the carnivore approach to nutrition to burst onto the scene.  To say Shawn has a fascinating backstory would be an understatement (as described in his interview with Joe Rogan).

Shawn is a strength athlete who needs a lot of food.  In the past, this included plenty of cereals, low-fat yogurt, skim milk, pasta and grains to maintain weight with his high level of activity.[7]

After experiencing digestive issues, he progressively experimented with his diet, moving from the typical high carb to paleo, then low carb, then a targeted ketogenic diet.  However, he found that he would suffer gut distress when he added carbs back in on the cyclic keto approach, and eventually settled on a meat-only carnivorous dietary approach.

He has since gone to set world records in indoor rowing and continues to workout like a beast at 51.

He has been interviewed on a number of podcasts promoting nequalsmany, where he is trying to pool the experiences and test data from a range of people following a carnivorous diet.

Shawn saw a need to gather health and performance data from people following a carnivorous diet to try to understand why they seemed to be thriving in spite of cutting across a lot of mainstream health recommendations.

While I haven’t seen any analysis of the crowdsourced data yet, he recently carried out some testing on himself after a year as a carnivore, which we will look at later in this post.

Nutritional analysis

Personally, I’m intrigued at how someone like Shawn could be thriving, so I pinged Dr Baker on Twitter to get his standard diet to analyse in the Nutrient Optimiser.


To recap, the Nutrient Optimiser is a tool designed to help people balance their diet primarily at a micronutrient level.  It then identifies food that provides the nutrients that they need that they are currently not getting in adequate quantities.

As well as maximising micronutrients, the Nutrient Optimiser can manipulate macronutrients and energy density to help you achieve your goals, for example:

  • if you are managing diabetes, we can reduce the insulin load of your diet to help stabilise your blood sugar levels or even further to achieve therapeutic ketosis,
  • if you are fuelling for an endurance event, we can wind up the energy density to enable you to get more energy in, and
  • if you are looking to lose weight, we can reduce the energy density to ensure you get the nutrient you need with foods that are more filling.

What I like most about the Nutrient Optimiser is that it cuts through the conflicts of interest to demonstrate that the foods that we know intuitively are bad for us (e.g. hyper-palatable processed junk foods) provide minimal levels of nutrition and should be avoided.

Balancing your nutrition at a micronutrient level helps to cut through the confusion and commercial bias using widely recognised nutrient targets.   Whether you want to eat only plants for ethical reasons or only animal-based foods because that’s all your sensitive digestion can tolerate, the Nutrient Optimiser can help you find the food that will work for you.

My hope is that the Nutrient Optimiser be adopted widely as to help improve your diet regardless of your preferences or goals.

Limitations of a plant-based diet

In systems design, things get interesting when you take them to their limits.

You need to test how something performs at the extremes to iron out the bugs.  In the case of the Nutrient Optimiser, the limits to be tested are macronutrient extremes (carbs, fat, protein) or extremes of plant- vs animal-based food sources.

One of the problems with the Daily Reference Intake (DRI) for essential nutrients is that they were developed in the context of a typical western diet.   At the extremes, we need to understand which parameters are still relevant and which ones need to be modified.


In a previous post, we looked at the nutritional sufficiency of the recipes in Dr Greger’s How Not to Die Cookbook.  As shown in the micronutrient nutritional profile below, a plant-based diet contains adequate quantities of most of the essential nutrients other than omega 3, vitamin B12, and choline.


However, as carnivore diet proponents will be quick to point out, not all nutrients provided by animal- and plant-based foods are the same. Although certain vitamins and mineral exist under the same name, their form and bioavailability differ between plants and animals.

For example, iron in animal foods exists in the form of heme and is more bioavailable than the elemental iron supplied by plants. Animal foods also provide forms of nutrients that the body requires, such as retinol (vitamin A) and EPA / DHA (omega-3s), whereas plant foods supply precursors to these nutrients (beta-carotene and alpha-linolenic acid, respectively).

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data to quantify these variables accurately yet.  However, we do need to keep these limitations in mind when analysing a purely plant-based diet, especially if someone is displaying symptoms of deficiency in the nutrients that are borderline.

Carnivore diet

Similarly, we need to understand the limitations that may apply to a carnivorous diet.  The chart below shows the nutrient profile of a carnivore diet versus all foods in the food system USDA database.  It seems to be harder to meet the Daily Recommended Intake levels for vitamin K1, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin C, and folate. Magnesium and potassium just barely make it.


If you don’t mind some organ meats, you can get a very respectable micronutrient profile in real life.  A great example is Amy, who comes in at #13 on the Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard with her carnivorous diet with plenty of organ meats, and is meeting the daily intake levels for everything except vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K1, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and vitamin D (check out her full report here).


Of course, not everyone likes offal.  The table below shows the nutrient profile if we remove it.  We would struggle to get adequate vitamin K1, manganese, folate, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and magnesium.  The nutrient score drops from 75% to 67%, although it is still better than the plant-based diet at 63%.

Shawn Baker’s diet analysis

Let’s look at what we learn from analysing Dr Baker’s diet.  Shown below is Dr Baker’s average daily intake with lots of steak and hamburger mince with some cheese, eggs, shrimp, and salmon entered into Cronometer.


The micronutrient fingerprint is shown below.  You can check out his full Nutrient Optimiser analysis here.


At the bottom of the chart, we see that Dr Baker’s diet has a ton of vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and amino acids.  However, at the top of the chart, we see that Dr Baker’s diet is lacking in vitamin C, manganese, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K1, folate, calcium, omega 3, and pantothenic acid (at least when you use the RDI as your benchmark).


But considering that Dr Baker and a number of his friends appear to be thriving, what do we make of this?  Are the recommended nutrient levels just plain wrong?  Are any of them still relevant in this context?

In response to my preliminary analysis, Shawn commented:

As you point out, some of the micronutrients may become less of a requirement based upon overall dietary scheme. 

Personally, I don’t necessarily believe the DRIs are relevant to a carnivorous diet in general and would look at clinical endpoints.  For example, calcium deficiency has a clinical manifestation and developing signs of it should lead to deterioration of health rather than its enhancement as I’ve experienced and the same with countless other pure meat eaters. 

It is relevant to note that there are many zero-carb people that have been going many years, to some several decades, on just muscle meats and no offal at all and who also maintain excellent health.

There is no point in telling someone to stop doing something if they are thriving.  However, at the same time I can’t stop thinking of Dr Bruce Ames’ Triage Theory which suggests that, in the absence of adequate nutrients, the body will prioritise nutrients geared towards short-term survival rather than optimal health and longevity.

Dr Baker’s n=1 data

Dr Baker has been spearheading a nequalsmany crowdsourcing of a range of data from people following a carnivorous diet.  While I’m eager to see the full analysis of the data when it’s available when it is analysed, Shawn recently released his own test results after fourteen months on a carnivorous diet via Robb Wolf.  I highly recommend you have a listen to the interview on the Paleo Solution Podcast.


To my eyes, Dr Baker’s cholesterol values are fairly unremarkable other than to note that his TG:HDL ratio is 1.3 (which is good) and his total cholesterol : HDL is 4.6 which is OK.[8] [9]  However, I’m no expert in this area.

Alex Leaf of noted that “High LDL-p, low HDL to LDL ratio, low HDL to non-HDL ratio are All strong CVD risk factors” .

Meanwhile, while Dave Feldman of Cholesterol Code offered the following comments:

  • LDL-C and LDL-P are both on the lower end for a low carber who is as lean and fit as Dr Baker is. I suspect this is due to his emphasis on resistance training, which can reduce LDL scores due to a higher rate of use for muscle repair.
  • Small LDL-P is low at 283, and clearly very Pattern A.
  • HDL-C — 40 mg/dL is low for a zero carber.
  • HDL-P was highlighted as being low (out of range) at 28. However, I see this frequently with low carbers across the board.
  • Triglycerides — 54 is certainly very correlative with a very athletic, insulin sensitive metabolism.
  • Lipoprotein (a) — 2 nmol/L is one of the lowest scores I’ve ever seen (maybe THE lowest).
  • The score I most care about is Remnant Cholesterol which is calculated by subtracting both HDL-C and LDL-C from Total Cholesterol. His score of just 11 mg/dL is extremely low risk and suggests he has a very efficient fat metabolism.


What is more interesting and puzzling is Baker’s HbA1c of 6.3% with a fasting blood sugar of 121 mg/dL.

This HbA1c level puts him on the borderline of prediabetes and full-blown type 2 diabetes,[10] which I wouldn’t have expected.   A HbA1c of 6.4% and a fasting glucose of 126 is the cut off for type 2 diabetes. HbA1c of less than 5.0% and fasting glucose of less than 95 mg/dL are typically associated with lower all-cause mortality.[11] [12]


What is puzzling here is that, while Shawn’s HbA1c is high, he has a fasting insulin level of 2.6 mIU/L which is very low which suggests he is very insulin sensitive.  One thing that would explain this high blood sugar and very low insulin LADA or MODY which is an autoimmune related version of diabetes where the pancreas starts to give out and not produce enough insulin.

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Some people point to HbA1c being an unreliable measure due to the fact that red blood cells live longer in healthier people.  The problem with this theory is that Dr Baker’s blood sugar measurements correlate with the HbA1c values.

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I’m sure others will have opinions on why his blood sugar levels would be so high.  Some will say that the 6.1 g/kg/LBM or 560 g of protein per day is driving gluconeogenesis.  (This is a contentious and complicated topic that I have covered at length in the article Why do my blood sugars rise after a high protein meal?)

Perhaps it’s a case of extreme physiological insulin resistance where the body chooses to keep glucose levels higher where there is less glucose available and lower insulin levels?

However, I think it’s worth noting that essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, and sodium are essential for maintaining insulin sensitivity.[13] [14] [15]  While the body does a pretty good job of maintaining acid/base balance, the kidneys still need enough substrate (e.g. alkaline minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium) to be able to do this.  Once the kidneys stop being able to tightly regulate pH we can get metabolic acidosis which goes hand in hand with type 2 diabetes.[16] [17] [18] [19]  (This is another complex and contentious topic that I covered in Alkaline Diet vs Acidic Ketones.)

It’s interesting to hear in his discussion with Robb that Dr Baker is finding benefit from adding sodium and electrolytes.  Many people on a low carb dietary approach find that supplementing minerals is important.  The Nutrient Optimiser analysis typically finds that people need more potassium or magnesium rather than sodium.  Sodium is fairly easy to get while potassium is much harder for most people.  There are a range of studies suggesting that a higher potassium : sodium ratio is desirable.[20] [21] [22]

At the same time, Dr Baker’s HbA1c could have been a lot higher before he started his carnivore diet due to the high dietary load to fuel so much exercise and bulking and the meat only diet could be improving his HbA1c.  We just don’t know from the data currently available.

I look forward to the full analysis of the data from the nequalsmany participants.  However, based on the results of Shawn’s n=1 it may be too early to say that zero carb is the cure for type 2 diabetes.


While there are anecdotes of an animal-based carnivorous diet raising testosterone levels, Dr Baker’s endogenous testosterone levels are lower than you might expect given his level of muscularity, leanness, and endurance.

As discussed in the interview with Robb he is experiencing no symptoms of low testosterone and suggests that, similar to TSH and insulin, he may be more sensitive to testosterone and hence the body doesn’t need as much of it.  Others have been more sceptical of Baker’s incongruous testosterone results.

Are the nutrient recommendations relevant to someone following a carnivorous approach?

Given that the RDIs are designed to prevent nutrient deficiencies in most of the population, they will be conservative for most people when it comes to deficiencies.  However, what constitutes optimal is a different matter.

The challenge in using the RDIs at extremes is that they have not been adjusted to cater for varying requirements of people following a vegan, keto, or carnivorous approach.

Many people are quick to dismiss the RDIs entirely in view of the numerous anecdotes of people thriving with no plant-based foods.  But I’m eager to understand, as much as we can with the available data, how the parameters might change and what is still relevant and important.

Does the carnivore diet break the Nutrient Optimiser?

Dr Baker isn’t going out of his way to chase micronutrients.  A fairer illustration of the potential of the potential of a carnivorous is the nutrient profile for Amy which is shown below, who is following a carnivore diet with heaps of organ meat.


I’d say she is maximising her micronutrients as much as anyone practically could with a carnivorous diet.  However, she is still not meeting the RDI for vitamin K1, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin E, sodium, and magnesium.


The Nutrient Optimiser has a zero carb/carnivore diet option for people who chose to eat that way for preference or due to other issues.  This allows people who chose to follow this approach to fine tune their micronutrients as much as possible within those constraints.  The question for me, then, is whether we need to worry about these perceived deficiencies?

Vitamin K2 can be converted to K1

Vitamin K1 is primarily found in plants while K2 is synthesised by bacteria in the large intestine of animals and humans.

The issue here is that Vitamin K2 (menaquinones MK1 through MK4) is only a fairly recent discovery.  Hence the USDA food database only contains data on the quantity of K1 (phylloquinone) in foods.

The good news is that most people can convert K2 to K1 and vice versa depending on demand.[23]  Hence, low dietary vitamin K1 intake may not be an issue if you are getting plenty of K2 from sources such as eggs, butter, and liver.

Some nutrients are more bioavailable

As we mentioned before, vitamin A and omega 3 are more bioavailable from animal-based sources.   However, I don’t think this is an issue as it is quite easy to get plenty of these nutrients on a carnivorous diet.

The effect of anti-nutrients on absorption

Iron, calcium, and magnesium may be more bioavailable when there are no oxalates in the diet.[24]  Adequate iron is rarely a problem for someone eating adequate amounts of animal-based protein.  Excess iron is often a problem in males, however, interestingly it’s doesn’t seem to be an issue for Shawn.  Calcium and magnesium do tend to be harder to find, but without plant matter in the diet, it may be more bioavailable.

Grains and legumes can contain lectins, glutens, and phytates that can affect the absorption of minerals like potassium and magnesium.[25]  Unfortunately, we don’t yet have enough data to calculate how much of the various nutrients are getting into your system from the food once you account for bioavailability.  Plus, cooking vegetables greatly reduces anti-nutrient levels, which adds another layer of complexity to figuring out how much we absorb in a diet of both cooked and raw foods.

For many people, grains just aren’t worth it, especially if they have pre-existing digestive issues.  I’m not sure, however, that the same principle applies to all vegetables.

Personally, my digestion is pretty robust, so I’m not too worried about oxalates in spinach.  I figure the benefit of getting all the vitamins more than offsets the negative impacts, at least for me.  Some plant-based compounds (e.g. sulforaphane) may have a beneficial hormetic effect.[26][27] [28] [29]  However, for some people, their gut is so messed up by modern processed foods that it’s not worth it.

Essential nutrients we require less of when we eat less glucose

There is some evidence to suggest that Vitamin C is not as much of a priority for someone with less glucose to process.   There are examples of plenty of people surviving with minimal vitamin C on a zero carb diet.[30]    Vitamin C is also probably underreported from animal food and often assumed to be zero.  If you want to dig into this more, you can check out Amber O’Hearn’s comprehensive article on vitamin C on a ketogenic diet.

Nutrients that there are is no deficiency testing for


There are also a number of nutrients that are based on population average intakes rather than deficiency testing, such as manganese.[31]

Given that manganese is associated with carbohydrate metabolism, there may be a lesser requirement for people following a carnivorous diet.  There may be limited use in chasing targets that are simply based on average intakes of people eating a typical western diet.

Manganese is high in organ meats, which are prized by cultures that do not have access to a lot of plant-based foods, so it is possible to get adequate quantities.    While someone on a zero-carb diet may not need as much, manganese still seems to be a useful nutrient.

Vitamin E

Similarly, the RDI for Vitamin E is based on median population intake levels[32] and it is possible that the requirements may be lower for someone not eating as much glucose.

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)

Shawn is not quite meeting the RDI for Vitamin B5 but may not need more unless he has high intakes of alcohol or coffee or has high levels of stress.

The target levels are based on the average intake from population studies, so there’s probably no need to chase the target here for someone on a carnivore diet.

Nutrients that are still important

Vitamin D

Without a lot of seafood, Shawn is not getting a lot of Vitamin D from his food.  However, a lack of dietary vitamin D is not unique to carnivores.  The RDI levels for vitamin D levels are based on the amount required to maintain serum 25(OH)D levels with minimal sunlight.  Interestingly, as shown in the test results above, Shawn’s serum vitamin D levels are on the lower end of normal.


Shawn is getting lower levels of folate compared to the estimated average requirement.  Again, folate can easily be obtained from organ meats which are prized in cultures that do not have access to plant-based foods.


Shawn is also not meeting the RDI for calcium.  Calcium can be obtained on a carnivore diet from eggs and sardines or other bony fish.  Target calcium levels are based on balance studies,[33] and your requirements increase with age.

Omega 3

Shawn is getting a solid amount of omega 3, though not enough to meet the RDI levels or achieve ideal omega 3 : omega 6 balance.   Again, omega 3 is not hard to get from animal-based products.

Magnesium and potassium

Magnesium and potassium are two minerals that many people do not get enough of when they reduce their carbohydrate intake, particularly green veggies.  The keto flu is a common symptom that people experience early in their ketogenic journey that they can fix with supplementation of alkalising minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

I struggle to see that there is a lesser requirement for these minerals on a keto or carnivore diet.  It is possible that bioavailability is improved when plants are removed from the diet, but there is not really enough data to quantify this.

Don’t focus on just one nutrient

All in all, I think nutrients are important.  However, getting wrapped up in chasing the absolute DRI for individual nutrients can be problematic due to the numerous factors outlined above.  Our nutrient requirements will also change based on a range of things such as activity, life stage, the other things you are eating, your gut health and nutrient absorption.

Life is all about making the best choices we can with imperfect data.  We can’t let the lack of perfect stop us from using the data that we have available.  To smooth out the limitations of individual nutrients, the Nutrient Optimiser prioritises foods that contain a cluster of the ten or so nutrients you are getting less of and identifies the foods and meals that contain these nutrients in larger quantities.

So sure, maybe you don’t need as much K1, manganese, vitamin C on a carnivorous diet, the Nutrient Optimiser will help you find the foods that contain the other nutrients that can be harder with your preferred approach to find the nutrients that are still important.

Historically, humans seem to adapt pretty well to a wide range of food environments over time.  What we don’t seem to do well with is modern hyperpalatable nutrient poor energy-dense foods that are flavoured and coloured to make us think that they are good for us, but actually contain very little actual nutrition.

What about the Maasai?

Many people refer to the Maasai tribe in Africa, who survive on nothing but milk, meat, and blood from their animals, as a precedent for the carnivorous approach.


While they are a thriving, beautiful people, keep in mind that they are drinking blood from their animals and eating fresh meat, nose to tail.

This is not the same as eating only drained muscle meat that has been hung for a long time.  It’s pretty hard to get fresh, undrained meat let alone fresh blood in the west.

Who should try a carnivorous diet?

One common theme I see for people who seem to thrive on a carnivorous approach is some sort of gut issues (e.g. permeability or bacterial overgrowth) or some sort of autoimmune condition, perhaps due to long-term exposure to processed low nutrient-poor foods.

If your gut is already compromised, then cutting down on fibre and other plant matter, particularly grains, nuts and seeds seems to work wonders for many people.  If you have issues that you find are only healed by staying strictly carnivore then, by all means, stick with it.

You could also use carnivore as an elimination phase and then slowly reintroduce other foods back in to see if you can tolerate them.  You may enjoy a diet that is less restrictive and makes it easier to get the nutrients you need from your diet.  I recommend checking out Chris Kresser’s The Paleo Cure or Natasha Campbell McBride’s GAPS Diet if you want to follow this elimination and reintroduction type approach.

Some people find great success with a carnivore dietary approach.  There are a ton of great testimonials at  At the same time, I have seen many others that carnivore didn’t work out for.  A friend Samantha found that she became hypersensitive to the smallest whiff of flour and found improvement through a course of probiotics.

The general motto of the carnivore crowd is to just eat meat when hungry.   This works well for many but not all.


Ironically, during the finalisation of this article, I contacted Amy (who has the amazing carnivore nutrient profile shown above) and she advised she was no longer following a zero carb dietary approach and was now pursuing a nutrient dense omnivorous approach.  She had found that she started to gain weight after 2.5 years on a carnivorous diet and her thyroid function diminished.  Amy, who was previously an admin for a major carnivore Facebook group, says:

“All of these, coupled with my EXTREMELY high LDL cholesterol of 500 and my 7-year lack of menstrual cycle, points directly to a failing thyroid.  ZC made it WORSE… MUCH worse.  I went back to a mixed diet in January of this year.  Within 2 weeks of this diet change, I regained all of my natural bowel motility.  And, surprisingly, within 2 months my menstrual cycle returned after 7 years of absence!!  I regained my energy, and I’m now walking daily again, doing daily hour-long sessions of yoga (which I used to love doing years ago), lifting weights 3 days a week, and doing 20 minute HIIT workouts 3 days a week.  I’ve put on some weight, but I look and feel very healthy.  I notice that I’m frequently hot now instead of cold, which I presume is a symptom of my thyroid upregulating to where it should be.  I am scheduled to have a complete thyroid panel, lipid panel, and other hormone tests run at the end of March to see where I am.  But I can clearly tell you that ZC did NOT do MY body any favors.”

Overall, it’s probably fair to say that a carnivore diet can benefit many, however, I think it’s probably too soon to say it’s optimal for everyone.  If you do want to pursue a carnivorous diet, then the Nutrient Optimiser can help you identify foods to get as much nutrition as you can within that framework.  If you find that you want something with a little bit more variety and want to include some plants, then autoimmune, lactose-free, nut free, or shellfish free options are available to suit your allergies, preferences and intolerances


  • Some people seem to benefit from a zero carb/carnivore diet, particularly if they have pre-existing gut permeability or bacterial overgrowth.
  • Cutting out nutrient-poor processed inflammatory foods is a common denominator in many successful diets.
  • It is harder to get some nutrients without plants, however, some of these nutrients may not be such a big deal if you are not eating a lot of carbohydrates.
  • While there are plenty of anecdotes, there is not yet a lot of large-scale quantitative research into the long-term impacts of a carnivore diet.
  • It’s still a good idea to maximise the micronutrients in your diet irrespective of your overarching dietary template.



Special thanks to Shawn Baker, Robb Wolf, Alex Leaf, Amber O’Hearn, Dave Feldman, Robin Reyes, Helen Kendall and Raphi Sirt for their input and review into this article.




































how to optimise the insulin load of your diet

Insulin is the primary hormone that controls your metabolism.

You need some to survive.

Image result for insulin

But too much can be bad news.


Insulin helps drive amino acids into your muscles to help them grow.

Image result for muscles

Insulin helps glucose enter the cells to fuel your mitochondria to produce energy.

Image result for mitochondria

Meanwhile, insulin also works as a brake to keep energy in storage.

Image result for brake pedal

When you eat, your pancreas secretes insulin to slow the release of energy from body fat stores through your liver until the energy coming in from your mouth and in your bloodstream are used up.

How do we become insulin resistant?

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to resist the yummy food that always seems to be available.


We no longer have to hunt or gather our food.  It is always available, relatively cheap and flavoured to ensure we can easily eat lots of it.

In our modern food environment, it’s hard to ‘eat to satiety’ without usually eating a little bit too much.  It’s like we’re saving for a winter that never comes.

Image result for overfull fuel gauge

Then, to make it even harder, the food industry optimises their products for ‘bliss point’ (with just the right amount of sugar, salt, fat and artificial colours and sweeteners) and creates hyper-palatable foods to drive profit.


Unfortunately, this all has an impact on more than just our taste buds.

Image result for australian fat people

Eventually, as you continue to consume more energy than you can use, your fat stores become inflamed and can’t take in any more energy.[1] [2]

Your pancreas ramps up its efforts to hold back the pressure of excess energy in our liver and body fat stores.[3] [4]


If excess energy keeps coming in, the pancreas re-doubles its efforts to clear the glucose from the blood with more and more insulin.

First, the fat stores become full, then the bloodstream and eventually insulin drives the excess energy into other areas in the body that are still insulin sensitive such as your liver, heart, pancreas, eyes and brain.

Over the long term, this combination of high insulin levels and high energy leads to heart disease, fatty liver, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and a whole host of modern diseases.[5] [6] [7]

Type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes, like my wife Monica, give us an opportunity to understand how insulin works.

The picture below shows “JL” one of the first type 1 diabetics to receive insulin treatment in 1922.  The picture on the left is after diagnosis with diabetes but before treatment with insulin.  The photo on the right is the same child two months.

With insulin injections, he can stop the uncontrolled release of his fat and muscle stores and quickly put weight back on.


For reasons we don’t fully understand, the pancreas can stop producing insulin.  People with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin to “cover” the food they eat as well as “basal insulin” to mimic what a healthy pancreas does automatically between meals.

Wise food choices are critical to stabilising blood sugar levels.  Foods that require a significant amount of insulin tend to cause large swings in blood sugar levels.

If your blood levels are high, you will feel tired and will need to take a large dose of insulin to slow the release of glucose from your liver.

If your blood sugars are low, you will feel the need to eat food, preferably something sweet to raise your blood sugars quickly!

It’s hard to control your appetite with these rollercoaster-like swings in blood glucose like the one shown in the chart below.  Our appetite and survival instincts are strong, and we will eat to raise our blood glucose levels to feel good again.

daily blood sugar data of type 1 diabetic on typical western diet

Foods with a lower insulin load allow people with type 1 diabetes to smooth out their blood sugar swings and stabilise their food cravings.

daily blood sugar data for the same person with type 1 diabetes on a low carb diet

Type 2 diabetes

While the cause of the disease is different, people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are in a similar situation.  They both have an overall insulin insufficiency.  People with type 1 don’t produce enough insulin and need to inject insulin.

The insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes means that their pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep their blood sugar levels stable.   Their fat stores cannot hold all the energy in the system, so it spills out into the bloodstream, and we see elevated blood glucose levels.

For people with type 2 diabetes, reducing the insulin load of the food they eat will enable their pancreas to keep up to maintain more stable blood sugars.  Once the wild swings of glucose and insulin stabilise, it is often easier to go longer between meals or make better food choices.

Insulin sensitivity

While insulin resistance and diabetes are often associated with obesity, you can be fat and still have normal blood sugars and be insulin sensitive.


People who are insulin sensitive can easily store energy in their adipose tissue and release energy easily later when they are not eating.

Their fat stores of insulin sensitive people are still functioning well.  They take in energy from the food they eat and relatively quickly release it when they are not eating.[8]

If you are insulin sensitive with stable blood sugar levels and want to lose body fat you will probably do well if you focus on eating foods with a higher nutrient density and a lower energy density.  However, if you are insulin resistant, you will likely also benefit from eating foods with a smaller insulin load, at least until your blood sugars stabilise.

Which approach is best for you?

Nutrition is complex, and there is still a lot of disagreement about the role that insulin resistance plays in health and weight loss.  However ultimately, most of us are trying to hack our system to get the nutrients we need without excessive energy.

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm considers your blood sugars, HbA1c, triglyceride:HDL ratio and waist:height ratio to optimise your blood sugars are while also maximising nutrient density as much as possible.

The food insulin index data

Now we’re going to take a quick look under the hood of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm to see how the insulin load parameter works.

The chart below shows the relationship between the carbohydrate content of our food and our insulin response.[9] [10] [11] [12]

carbohydrates vs insulin response (click to enlarge)

The quantity of carbohydrate in your diet explains the majority of your insulin response.  However, if you look carefully in the bottom left corner of the chart above, you will see that there are high protein foods that cause a large insulin response and high fibre foods that cause a smaller insulin response.

Once we account for the effect of fibre and protein, we get a much better prediction of our insulin response to food.  This understanding of the various factors that influence insulin response enables you to prioritise foods that cause a smaller insulin response, as well as more accurately calculate insulin dosing for people with diabetes.

insulin load (carbohydrates – fibre + 0.56 * protein) vs insulin response

If you are injecting insulin to manage your diabetes then understanding how to quantify the insulin load of your diet can help you more accurately calculate your insulin dose (as detailed in this post).  If you require therapeutic ketosis, you can also identify foods that will minimise your insulin response.


While protein does require some insulin to build and repair our muscles, the chart below shows us that increasing the proportion of energy from protein will typically force out processed carbohydrates and trigger a lower insulin response.


Higher levels of protein also tend to generate a smaller glucose response compared to carbohydrates.


It’s also important to note that protein is the most satiating macronutrient.  If you want to reduce your energy intake without having to meticulously track calories and without excessive hunger it’s important not to avoid protein.  Reducing the amount of energy in your diet will allow the energy in your bloodstream (i.e. glucose, ketones and free fatty acids) to be used up and your insulin levels will come down even further.  


Obtaining more of your energy from fat will decrease your insulin response…


…as well as your glucose response.


However, keep in mind that, as well as the food you eat, your insulin levels are influenced by the food you eat as well as the amount of energy already in your system.

High-fat foods are often energy dense and easy to overeat.  Your pancreas will still need to elevate insulin levels while your body uses up the energy from your diet, so they can still drive insulin resistance if eaten to excess.

The insulin load is a great tool to manage the short-term volatility of your blood sugar levels.  However, if you look at the big picture, lower insulin levels correspond to lower energy in your system (i.e. from your diet and body fat).

Once your blood sugars are stable, it may be prudent to focus on reducing the fat in your diet if you want to use your excess body fat.  This will help to further reduce your blood sugars and insulin levels floating around in your blood towards optimal levels.

Insulin load vs nutrient density

Like many things in life, there is a trade-off as we push things to extremes.  The chart below shows that we tend to optimise nutrient density with about 40% insulinogenic calories.[13]


If you are insulin resistant, you will probably do better if you maintained less than 40% insulinogenic calories.   If you have diabetes, then you’ll probably need to stay below 25% insulinogenic calories.  If you require a therapeutic ketogenic diet (i.e. for the treatment of cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson), then you will need to maintain a very low insulin load, which typically means consuming more fat and even reducing your protein intake.

It may not be ideal to maintain such a low insulin load for a long time.  The more you push the insulin load of your diet to either extreme the more you will compromise your micronutrient profile.

What do I do with all this information?

While you may find all this detail a little confusing, you don’t have to worry too much about all the numbers.

We have designed the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm to calculate your target macronutrient ranges to suit your goals and suggest foods and meals that will help you keep your blood sugars stable and normalise your insulin levels while also maximising the nutrient content of your diet.


Once you attain normal blood sugars, you will ‘level up’ to the next stage of your nutritional journey.

Stay tuned…

In our next instalment, where we will discuss how we can manage the energy density of your food to enable you to get more calories in if you are running a marathon, or help you to feel more satiated with less energy if you are trying to lose weight.






















How to maximise nutrient density

We surveyed the Nutrient Optimiser Facebook Group to see what they wanted to learn more about.

Overwhelmingly, the most requested topic was nutrient density.


Given that nutrient density is the central component of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm, it’s the perfect place to start this educational series.


Managing nutrient density ensures you get all the micronutrients you need without too much energy.

This short article will give you an understanding of what “nutrient density” means, why it is important and how you can use the Nutrient Optimiser to improve your diet.


Most of the time people think in terms of the macronutrients:

  • protein,
  • carbohydrates,
  • fat, and
  • fibre).


While consideration of macronutrients can be useful, it doesn’t do much to ensure we are obtaining the micronutrients that we need.

Many get enthusiastic about specific macronutrient ratios (e.g. high fat, low carb, low protein, low fat etc.).  Unfortunately, poorly defined macronutrient extremes can be detrimental to your micronutrient profile.  But when you focus on micronutrients,, macronutrients largely look after themselves.

Essential Micronutrients

There is a wide range of compounds in our food that we are adapted to thrive on.  But it’s the essential nutrients that we can’t make from other sources that we need to get from our food.

These essential micronutrients are listed below, divided into their categories of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids.


  • choline
  • thiamine
  • riboflavin
  • niacin
  • pantothenic acid
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K


  • calcium
  • copper
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • selenium
  • sodium
  • zinc

amino acids

  • cysteine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • tyrosine
  • valine
  • methionine
  • histidine

essential fatty acids

  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

There are conditionally essential nutrients, beneficial nutrients and other compounds that we are aware of but don’t measure.  There’s no need to worry too much about these other substances.

If you are eating minimally processed whole foods with plenty of the essential micronutrients, you’ll likely be getting more than enough of all the other beneficial nutrients.

Recommended daily intake levels

Recommended daily intake levels of the essential nutrients have been established for both sexes at various life stages (i.e. pregnant, young or old).

These recommended intake levels are typically based on the amount that is required to prevent nutrient deficiencies.  It’s usually better to get more than the minimum amount of the essential nutrients where possible.

While supplements can be a useful stop-gap measure, we strongly recommend obtaining more of your nutrients from whole foods which contain all the other beneficial nutrients.

The Nutrient Optimiser will help you determine which nutrients you are currently not getting enough of and which foods and meals will help you fill your micronutrient gaps.

Emphasising the harder-to-find nutrients

Building on the previous work of the likes of Bruce Ames, Joel Fuhrman and Mat Lalonde, the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm focuses on boosting only the nutrients that you are not getting as much of.

If a particular group of nutrients is easy to find or you are already getting heaps of them, there’s no need to focus on trying to get more of them.

The Nutrient Optimiser helps you to rebalance your diet by focusing on the foods that contain the nutrients you are not getting enough of.

The purple bars in the chart below show the nutrients in all the foods in the USDA food database.


As you can see, some micronutrients are easier to find than others.  Nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin B12 are generally easy to get enough of while nutrients such as choline, calcium, magnesium and potassium are harder to find.

The light blue bars show the nutrients in the highest ranking 10% of foods in the USDA database when we focus on boosting the nutrients that are harder to find.

We get a massive boost in the nutrients that are harder to find while still getting plenty of the other nutrients.

Nutrient ratios

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm also looks at the balance between nutrients that operate synergistically.

While the quantity of nutrients is important, the ratio between key nutrients also needs to be considered.  If the nutrient ratios fall outside the target range, they don’t get prioritised.



Zinc : Copper

8 – 12

Potassium : Sodium

> 2

Calcium : Magnesium

 < 2

Iron : Copper

10 – 15

Calcium : Phosphorus

> 1.3

By doing this, the Nutrient Optimiser guides you to eat more of the foods that will help to improve your nutrient balance as well as getting more nutrients per calorie.

Your appetite is the original and ultimate Nutrient Optimiser

The human taste buds have evolved to be the ultimate Nutrient Optimiser, telling you which foods and nutrients you need at a particular point in time.

Wild animals seek out the foods they need at a particular point in time.  Similarly, in the absence of processed hyper-palatable flavoured foods, our cravings guide us to the foods we need.

However, these days, in our modern food environment we have lost the ability to determine what we need.  Our appetite has been tricked into eating foods that look and taste amazing. However, these manufactured foods often contain negligible nutrients.

The Nutrient Optimiser will help you to shortlist foods and meals that contain the nutrients.  Once you’re eating real food that contains nutrients, you can learn to trust your appetite again.

Personalised for you

We have put a lot of effort into developing optimal food lists for different contexts.

  • We can prioritise the nutrients that are harder to find in the USDA foods database.
  • We can prioritise the nutrients that are associated with various health conditions.
  • We can prioritise nutrients that are harder to find in conventional dietary patterns (e.g. ketogenic, low carb, paleo, plant-based, standard western diet, vegan etc.).
  • We can even prioritise the nutrients that most people are missing out on.


But none of these approaches considers what YOU are eating now and what nutrients you personally need more of.

That’s why we created the Nutrient Optimiser.

The Nutrient Optimiser can use your food log (exported from Cronometer) to identify the nutrients that you are not getting enough of.

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm then creates your personalised nutritional solution to identify the foods and meals that will fill your current nutritional gaps.

This is truly personalised nutrition, optimised for YOU.

What YOU should eat

Rather than stressing about what NOT to eat, the Nutrient Optimiser helps you focus on what you SHOULD be eating to optimise your diet from first principles.

Once you are getting your fill of the foods that you should be eating, our cravings for the other foods tend to dissipate.  Worrying about what not to eat becomes a non-issue.

One common observation from people who have used the Nutrient Optimiser to refine their food choices is how little food they need to be satisfied.


Once you solve satiety, optimal weight and body fat levels often look after themselves.

Nutrient density is central

Nutrient density is central to the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm.  However, it is not the only parameter.

The Nutrient Optimiser algorithm also considers:

  • insulin load (to help tweak your diet if you are insulin resistant or have diabetes), and
  • energy density (which can be useful to make your diet even more satiating, so more fat can come from your body).

We’ll cover these other parameters in the following articles.


Is the acetone:glucose ratio the Holy Grail of tracking optimal ketosis?

Key points

  • The real magic of ketosis seems to occur in a lower energy state.
  • High levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones (BHB) can be a good sign, particularly with lower blood glucose levels.
  • Unfortunately, forcing in extra energy in the pursuit of higher BHB levels (e.g. exogenous ketones or refined fat) has the potential to drive higher insulin and insulin resistance.
  • As we lose weight, improve our metabolic health and stop over fueling, many people start to see lower levels of BHB.
  • While it can be used as an alternative to glucose in the brain, BHB needs to be converted to acetoacetate to be used by the body.
  • If you are making and using ketones without consuming excessive energy you will likely see lower blood glucose, higher breath acetone and lower BHB levels.
  • The ratio between breath acetone and glucose can be a useful indicator of genuine nutritional ketosis and a healthy metabolism.


In previous articles we’ve looked at why chasing higher blood ketones with more dietary fat or exogenous ketones might not be smart.[1] [2]

We also looked briefly at the glucose:ketone ratio as a useful parameter to track therapeutic ketosis.[3] [4]

This article looks at the ratio between acetone (a form of ketones that can be measured on your breath) and your blood glucose.

It appears that this ratio may be helpful if you require therapeutic ketosis (e.g. to manage cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson, Alzheimers, dementia etc) or to optimise your metabolic health for weight loss, general health or longevity.

We crunch the numbers to see how you can use breath acetone to help you optimise your metabolic health.

[TL;DR…  Higher breath acetone with lower blood glucose seems to be a good place to be.  Breath acetone is potentially more useful than monitoring BHB in the blood.]

What is ketosis?

Ketosis is trending hard at the moment.


But what is it?

And do you really need more of it?

Some people think that we need to be “in ketosis” to burn fat.  Hence, many people think that more ketosis is better, especially if you have body fat you want to burn.

While this message helps sell keto-related products, it’s technically not correct.

Ketosis is an alternative metabolic pathway that our body uses when there is not enough oxaloacetate in our diet (from carbs or protein) to burn fat via the Krebs cycle.  When this occurs, fat that can’t be oxidised in the Krebs cycle is oxidised via ketosis.


This is a “sliding scale” sort of thing.  People following a typical western diet will have lower levels of blood ketones (e.g. 0.1 or 0.2 mmol/L),[5] while people eating more fat and less carbs may have higher levels.

The fact that we can use this backup metabolic pathway has helped us survive many a famine to procreate another day.

Ketosis is a critical component of our metabolism and our survival as a species.

Are ketones magical?

Our understanding ketones and ketosis is evolving fast.

Some people believe that ketones have unique and special signalling properties.[6] [7]  While others feel that these beneficial properties of ketosis are limited to endogenous ketosis (i.e. when we predominantly burn stored body fat).[8]

When our energy levels are low, we also see an upregulation of mitochondrial biogenesis, sirtuins, autophagy and NAD+ which are also highly beneficial.

But perhaps it’s actually all of these things working together that causes the benefits that many people associate with “being in ketosis”, not just the ketones themselves.

When energy levels are low, our body goes into repair mode to ensure survival and we switch over to burn body fat.  Our blood ketones rise significantly after a few days without food.

The chart below shows about three thousand data points from people following a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet measuring blood ketones and blood glucose at the same time.  Blood ketones (shown in blue) are not necessarily high for most people while they are eating normally, even if blood sugar levels are low (shown as orange).


We can drive high blood ketones by taking exogenous ketones and/or lots of refined fat (the right-hand end of this chart).  But, unless you’re about to do some explosive exercise to burn off all this energy, this over fueling may not be optimal.

Oxidative priority

Our appetite does an excellent job of making sure we get the fuel if it’s available.  Our metabolism is pretty good at balancing the different fuel sources based on inputs and demand.

While our bodies are adapted to deal with a range of fuel sources, it struggles to deal with too much energy for a long time.

The chart below (from a paper by Ray Cronise, David Sinclair and Andrew Bremer, with the addition of exogenous ketones courtesy of Craig Emmerich) shows the order that we generally prioritise the use of different fuel sources.


  1. Alcohol will be burned off first because it’s effectively a poison that the body can’t store.  (Alcoholics can have really low HbA1c levels because insulin rises to shut off the release of glucose into the bloodstream while the alcohol is burned off.[9])
  2. Similar to alcohol, ketones are used up as a priority because we can’t channel them back into storage in the body.  Ketones are acidic and high levels of ketones in the blood lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.  (note: As discussed below, Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) can be thought of as the storage form of ketones.  While BHB can be used directly by the brain, it needs to be converted back to acetoacetate to be used by the rest of the body.)
  3. Protein is not a great fuel, so we can’t store much of it in the blood.  It’s hard for the body to convert protein to energy so it’s hard to overeat.[10]
  4. Carbohydrates can be a useful source of fuel for explosive efforts.   But glucose can be toxic in large quantities (it leads to glycation) so the body tries to limit the amount in the bloodstream.
  5. If glucose levels are high, the body won’t burn off the fat from our diet.  Fat is last in line to be burned because it’s such an effective way of storing energy.
  6. Similarly, if the level of fat in our diet is high we won’t burn off the fat on our body effectively.  (High levels of fat in the bloodstream can lead to oxidised LDL, so the body wants to keep it moving rather than building up high levels.)

Your body increases insulin to hold back the release of stored energy until the energy in the blood decreases.  As you burn through all these fuel sources the body decreases your insulin levels to eventually allow the release of your stored fuel for use to make up the difference.

You can think of a lower energy state as one where you don’t have a lot of fuel lined up in front of our body fat, while a high energy state occurs where your body has to ramp up insulin levels to hold your stored energy back from being used while the energy from your mouth is being used.  

When you look at it from this perspective you see that nutrition is essentially a process of optimising our food choices to ensure we get the nutrients and fuel we need without stacking up too much energy in front of our body fat stores.[11] [12]

Low carb and weight loss

More stable blood glucose levels help people normalise appetite.  People often eat less when they are no longer on the blood glucose roller coaster.  For people with diabetes, weight loss is often a spontaneous response to reducing carbohydrates as demonstrated by the recently released Virta one year trial results.[13]


However, while high blood ketones (BHB) is often targeted as evidence of being “in ketosis”, BHB levels often typically taper off over time, especially if you are lean, active, metabolically healthy and weight stable.

It seems that as our fat stores become ‘less full’ we don’t store as much energy in the bloodstream.   And, as we will see later, once our NAD+: NADH ratio increases, less acetoacetate is pushed off to into storage as BHB.

One of the most fascinating outcomes of the one-year Virta study was that over the period of a year, participants’ BHB levels went from 0.17 mmol/L to an average of 0.54 mmol/L after 10 weeks and then settled back to 0.3 mmol/L after a year.[14]


I found it ironic that in this study of treating diabetes with a ‘ketogenic diet’ that, on average, these people only temporarily dipped into “nutritional ketosis” (defined as having BHB > 0.5 mmol/L).  Then in the long term, they settled back to much lower levels of BHB.


Even under the supervision of the doctors and dietitians who are the world experts in ketosis and literally wrote the book on the topic, at no time did they go near “optimal ketosis” (as defined as having BHB between 1.0 mmol/L and 3.0 mmol/L[15]).


Blood sugar and HbA1c

While the science around ketosis is still controversial, we do know that a lower HbA1c and lower blood sugar levels can be beneficial in terms of long-term health and avoiding many common killers (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke etc).

The chart below shows that a HbA1c of 4.5% (i.e. a proxy for your average blood sugar level) gives the lowest hazard ratio (i.e. lowest risk of mortality from all causes).[16] [17]


As shown below, a lower HbA1c is beneficial in terms of reducing your risk of stroke, heart disease, cardiovascular disease and many of the modern diseases.



The risk  of focusing on beta-hydroxybutyrate as your measure of ketosis

However, if at first, you don’t succeed in achieving “optimal ketone levels” many people resort to the following to raise their blood ketone levels:

  • load up on high levels of refined fat such as Bulletproof Coffee with butter and MCT oil,

[warning: These foods are typically more energy dense and less satiating, so many people find them easy to overeat.  While most people don’t need to avoid dietary fat, simply eating ‘fat to satiety’ doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss for many people.]

  • eat less protein to reduce oxaloacetate and force more fat to be burned via ketosis rather than the Krebs Cycle,

[warning: Replacing energy from protein and carbohydrates with fat can lead to a less nutrient dense selection of foods as evidenced by many of the lower ranking people in the Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard.  In this recent article Volek and Phinney suggested that protein intake is between 1.5 and 2.0 g/kg reference weight and that while reducing protein will help to increase ketosis you should not drop below 1.2 g/kg BW.[18]],


  • eat a more acidic diet with less electrolytes to ensure that the keto acids are not able to be balanced with alkaline minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium), or

[warning: This approach may lead to the keto flu in the short term and insulin resistance[19] and metabolic acidosis in the longer term.[20]]

  • eat a diet that contains less B vitamins to decrease your NAD+:NADH ratio to force more acetoacetate to be stored and converted to BHB.

[warning: B vitamins are important for efficient and effective energy production].

The glucose:BHB index

So we do know that lower glucose levels are a good thing and high blood ketones are not necessarily bad.  They can actually nourish the brain if we are insulin resistant and aren’t using glucose well and this is helpful where therapeutic ketosis is required (i.e. Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, cancer etc).

But high ketones are not great if they are also accompanied by high blood glucose levels and/or free fatty acids.

So, the way to make sure we are not overloading our system in our pursuit of ketosis is to ensure that our higher ketone levels are also accompanied by lower glucose levels.

Enter the glucose: ketone index which was developed by Professor Thomas Seyfried of Boston College[21] [22] to help optimise the metabolism of cancer patients.

Seyfried subscribes to the Warburg hypothesis of cancer which says that cancer cells ferment glucose and, hence, reducing the glucose supply to cancer cells can help them slow proliferation.


To help understand what this looks like in practice I have plotted more than 1200 blood glucose versus ketone values in the chart below and divided them up into five groups based on their GKI value.  The average GKI values of these groups of data points are shown on the charts (i.e. GKI = 1.5, 2.8, 4.5, 7.5 and 20).


The worst metabolic health is the GKI = 20 population (green dots at the bottom of the chart) with high blood glucose levels and low ketones.  This means that glucose values are twenty times that of the ketone values.

Meanwhile, the people with the lower glucose and the higher ketone are likely to be in a better place metabolically.  They will be more likely to experience the positive therapeutic benefits associated with “being in ketosis”.

Before you go chasing a super low GKI value, be aware that most people are not going to get GKI values under than 2.0 until they fast for a few days, even if they are following a ketogenic diet.  The chart below shows what you could expect if you fasted for seven days.


The glucose : acetone index

Both Michel Lundell from Ketonix and Dave Korsunsky from Heads of Health recently told me that, building on the GKI concept, a number of people are tracking the ratio between their breath acetone readings and their glucose levels.

In order to better understand the relationship between breath acetone and ketones, I have plotted about two and a half thousand glucose and breath ketone readings taken at the same time in the chart below.


You can see from this chart that there is a similar relationship between glucose and breath ketones as with blood ketones.  However, there is less scatter compared to the previous chart.  It seems that blood glucose and breath acetone are more closely correlated than blood ketones.

It’s hard to have high breath acetone with high blood glucose levels.   You can’t ‘game the system’ in the same way you can with BHB by forcing in exogenous fat or ketones.

As your energy and insulin levels start to rise, more of your acetoacetate will be shunted off to storage as BHB.  So, while some refer to BHB as ‘the gold standard”, it’s hard to know whether high blood ketone values are due to a low energy state or if your bloodstream is full of energy so you need to store more as BHB.

I think the optimal situation to be in is to have lower blood glucose levels with a solid amount of breath acetone in your system which suggests you are producing ketones without driving excess energy.

If you have good metabolic health, you’ll probably be in the purple or green area on this chart.  If you are achieving a therapeutic level of ketosis or fasting for longer periods, you will ideally be in the upper left corner of this chart (green or light blue) with low glucose and high breath ketones.

The chart above shows breath acetone (BrAce on the Ketonix scale of 0 to 100) and the blood glucose in mmol/L.  To calculate your BrAce:BG ratio you can divide your Ketonix reading by your blood glucose level.  If you’re going to measure it’s probably better to measure your glucose and ketones in the morning when you first wake up.  They key is to measure these values all at the same time.  While it’s interesting to see how you compare with others it’s most important to make sure your values moving in the right direction over time.

The chart below shows glucose vs breath acetone with glucose in mg/dL (American units).  If you have Ketonix and blood glucose meter you can test and see how you compare.


Are breath ketones a better measure of health than BHB?

If you’re really interested in this topic, I recommend you watch this video from Chris Masterjohn that explains in detail how ketones are made and used.


In summary:

  • Acetoacetate is the first ketone body made in the liver (unfortunately, it’s hard to measure).
  • If your NAD+:NADH ratio is low, more acetoacetate will be converted to BHB, which can be measured in the blood.
  • While the brain can use BHB directly, BHB needs to be converted back to acetoacetate to be used in the rest of the body.
  • When the level of energy in your bloodstream decreases, your NAD+:NADH ratio increases and insulin levels decrease. You will then be able to shuttle the ketones stored as BHB back to acetoacetate to be used for energy in the rest of the body.

Acetone is like a vapour that is released from acetoacetate, similar to nail polish fumes.  If you are releasing a high level of breath acetone, then people might say you have a ‘fruity’ smell on your breath or you will experience a different, metallic taste in your mouth.

It’s not easy to measure acetate in the blood, but devices like the Ketonix are becoming more popular to measure acetone in your breath.  Acetone on your breath is not a direct measure of the quantity of acetoacetate in your system but it’s a useful proxy.  Imagine the difference in smell if you have a small thimble versus a massive drum of nail polish.  You’re going to get more fumes coming off a large amount of acetone.

The take-home point here is that if our NAD+:NADH ratio is high, and our overall energy levels are low then not as much acetoacetate will be converted to BHB, and hence more acetoacetate will be available in the blood and more acetone will be measured on the breath.

Meanwhile, if you have excess energy in your system, you will have high levels of ketones in their “storage form” available for use only by the brain.  Conversely, if you have a lower energy state that is more conducive to burning body fat, you may have less BHB and more acetoacetate.

So, breath acetone is more of a measure of ketones ready to be used by your body while BHB is more of a measure of ketones being stored for later use.

Why does the balance of acetone vs BHB vs BrAce matter?

NAD+ is a metabolite that declines with age.[23]  A lot of the anti-aging research at the moment is focusing on how we can boost NAD+ levels.[24] [25] [26] [27] [28]   IV NAD+ treatments are being used for drug addiction, anti-ageing and quick recovery from a really big night.[29] [30] [31]


The secret here is that, while you can take supplements and injections to boost NAD+, most people can get plenty from B vitamins (particularly vitamin B3 (niacin) which is dirt cheap).[32]


NAD is also made from tryptophan in the diet.


NADH builds up when we become over-fueled and is typically higher in conditions such as diabetes.[33]  When we eat and get energy from food, a hydrogen ion (H+) and two electrons (2e-) attaches to NAD+ and we get NADH.  When we use the energy and go without foods the reverse reaction occurs.  NADH decreases and NAD+ builds up.


Too much energy in our system drives high NADH levels.  Just like in a car engine, we can drown our mitochondria in fuel and they choke.

When we have lots of fuel in our system NADH rises but then if we don’t have enough NAD+ we can’t use it.  So we’re drowning in fuel but we can’t use it!

Bringing this back to measuring ketones… if we have a higher NAD+:NADH ratio we will see higher breath acetone, lower blood glucose and lower levels of BHB (which is a good thing).

Tell me what to do!!!

So ideally we want to see:

  • higher breath acetone,
  • lower blood glucose levels, and
  • blood ketone values of maybe greater than 0.2 mmol/L (they’re not really a big deal unless you specifically require high levels of blood ketones to feed your brain in conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s).

How to get higher NAD+ levels and higher acetoacetate

Boosting your NAD+ levels can be achieved by:

  1. Eating nutrient dense foods with plenty of B vitamins (which are a precursor to NAD+),
  2. Not avoiding protein (particularly tryptophan), and
  3. Supplementing with niacin.


If you find your breath acetone is on the lower end you can try supplementing with Niacin.  When I supplement with Niacel or Niacin my BHB levels drop and my breath acetone rises substantially.

Be warned, you can get a flushing reaction so make sure you start slowly.  There is no need to take super high levels, particularly if you’re already keto-adapted.

You can supplement to the point that you start to see higher Ketonix readings.  Or, if you don’t have a Ketonix, to the point that you get a funky metallic taste in your mouth.

You might want to start with 25 mg or 50 mg of Nicotinic Acid and build up to 100 mg or even 200 mg if you don’t see any flushing or a rise in your breath acetone.

  • If you’re wanting to start gently, the Carson Lab niacin is the only one I’ve been able to find in 50 mg in Australia via iHerb.
  • The 100 mg Nicotinic Acid is actually a lot cheaper (only 5 c per tab).
  • Nicotinamide Riboside can be useful for people who can’t as easily convert niacin to NAD+, but it’s more expensive.

However, rather than supplementing, nutrient dense minimally processed whole foods are ideal, at least as a starting point before you start adding supplements.  The Nutrient Optimiser has been designed to help you find the most nutritious whole foods to balance your macro and micronutrients.

If you require therapeutic ketosis the Nutrient Optimiser free report will give you a suggested macro range that will also help you avoid excessive energy.  It will also give you a short list of nutrient dense meals and foods that will help boost your mitochondrial function.


If you’re interested, the Nutrient Optimiser full report will give you a longer list of foods and meals.  You also have the option to upload your Cronometer data to progressively fine-tune your diet to achieve your goals.

How to get lower blood glucose levels

The key to achieving lower blood glucose levels is:

  1. Avoid processed, and nutrient-poor high carbohydrate foods (e.g. processed grains, cereals and sugars),
  2. Eat less often / fast / avoid snacking,
  3. Eat less overall.

If you do these things, you will see your blood glucose levels decrease, your NAD+ levels increase, and your breath acetone levels increase.

You can stabilise your blood glucose levels by eating a diet with more fat and less carbohydrates, but to really shift your NAD+:NADH ratio in a favourable direction, you may need to reduce your body fat to more optimal levels.

The article How to use your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge can guide you through how to use a glucose meter to re-calibrate your eating routine based on when you really need to eat.

The Nutrient Optimiser will suggest macronutrient ranges and nutritious foods that will help you stabilise your blood sugars.




Special thanks to:

  • Robert Miller for sharing his unique insights into biochemistry.
  • Michel Lundell from Ketonix for supplying all the data!
  • Weikko Jaross and Alessandro Ferretti for help with the initial database analysis.
  • Craig Emmerich. Mike Julian, Ben McDonald, Robin Reyes, Alex Leaf and Helen Kendall for their review and editing.



















[17] This chart is interesting because it shows that very low blood glucose levels can be association with issues such as autoimmune issues or alcoholism which can cause blood sugars to go very low while the body burns through the alcohol.

















is ‘too much protein’ on keto really a thing?

  • There is a lot of confusion in keto land about ‘excess protein’.
  • Insulin and protein are used to build and repair your muscles, organs and the other important parts of your body.  This is an important and beneficial use of protein and insulin.
  • Foods that contain the harder to find nutrients (e.g. potassium, magnesium, choline, vitamin D) typically contain plenty of protein.
  • Actively avoiding protein and can lead to a less nutritious diet.
  • Unless you require therapeutic ketosis for the treatment of cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimers, Parkinson or dementia, you should be chasing vitality, health and nutrition along with stable blood sugar levels rather than some arbitrary ketone level.
  • There are a range of different ways to quantify protein intake.  Thinking in terms of percentages can be more confusing than helpful.
  • It’s hard to over-consume protein because it is highly satiating.  However, if you avoid protein your body may drive you to consume more calories until you get the protein it needs.
  • If you follow your appetite and focus on foods that contain the vitamins and minerals you need you will probably get enough protein.

Virta Facebook Live Q&A

I recently had the opportunity to pose some questions about protein intake to the Godfather of Keto, Dr Stephen Phinney in a recent Facebook live Q&A.


Dr Phinney’s response to my question is shown below, including his recommended protein intake levels of 1.2 to 1.75 g per kg reference body weight of protein.


While I largely agree with Dr Phinney’s response, I think it’s worth elaborating on some of the issues that are causing so much confusion at the moment.

Will too much protein kick me out of ketosis?

If you’ve read previous posts on Optimising Nutrition you’ve probably seen my analysis of the food insulin index data that shows that our carbohydrate intake alone doesn’t explain our insulin response to food.

The food insulin index data shows that our insulin response to food is more accurately predicted when we consider the fibre and protein content of our food, not just the carbohydrate.

However, I fear that many people have used the insulin load concept as a reason to avoid protein.  I now understand that this is far from optimal within the broader context of good nutrition for health, weight loss and vitality.

If you are interested in learning more the implications of the insulin index data I recommend you check out the following articles:

Effect on blood sugar and insulin

While trading your calories from butter for steak will increase your requirement for insulin, the food insulin index data suggests that as a general rule, getting more of your energy from protein will reduce your insulin requirements as it forces out processed carbohydrates as shown in the chart below.


Getting more energy from protein tends to decrease our glucose response as it forces out nutrient-poor refined high carb foods.  Your body can convert protein to glucose (i.e. gluconeogenesis) if it really needs to but it’s a lot of work, so it would much rather get energy from carbs or fat.


Protein is also very satiating.  Once we have enough protein, our body tends to crave more fatty and carby foods for energy.[10] 

While it is both financially and metabolically expensive, protein is the most important component of your diet.  Different people will need different amounts of protein depending on their life stage and activity levels.

While you probably don’t need to be going out of your way to binge on more protein than you can comfortably consume, actively avoiding protein containing foods is a recipe for nutritional disaster.  If you are exercising or lifting heavy then you will naturally crave more protein.

If you actually need higher levels of blood ketones for therapeutic ketosis, it may be a good strategy to consciously restrict protein.  However, I don’t’ think the vast majority of people chasing ketones are looking for therapeutic keto for the management of cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, dementia or Parkinson’s but rather fat loss or diabetes control.

Protein number crunching

The numbers around protein can be confusing due to the units used.

  • Dr Phinney uses ‘reference body weight’ (RW) (which he says is ‘the weight you were when you were in college’).
  • The mainstream nutrition world talks in terms of total body weight (BW).
  • Meanwhile, the sports nutrition community talk in terms of lean body mass (LBM).

In order to understand what this means in practice, let’s look at an example of a woman who is currently 40% body fat but was 25% in college (i.e. her reference weight).  For argument’s sake let’s say she was 70 kg in college but she is currently 87 kg or 193 lb.  The images below will give you an idea of what these level of body fat levels look like.


In the table below I have calculated what Dr Phinney’s recommended protein intake looks like for this person in terms of:

  • reference body weight (RW),
  • lean body mass (LBM), and
  • body weight (BW).

Based on Dr Phinney’s guidance, this person should be eating between 84 and 123 g of protein per day.

  body fat weight (kg) weight (lbs) lower limit upper limit
reference weight 25% 70 154 1.2 g/kg RW 1.75 g/kg RW
lean body mass 0% 52.5 116 1.6 g/kg LBM 2.3 g/kg LBM
body weight 40% 87.5 193 1.0 g/kg BW 1.4 g/kg BW
protein (g/day)       84 123

On a practical note, there is nothing low about 2.3 g/kg LBM protein.  While I do track my intake I find it hard to get above 2.2 g/kg LBM even when trying to maximise protein.  At the same time, the lower limit is well above the official Recommended Daily Intake of 0.84 g/kg for men and 0.75 g/kg for women which are set to maintain nitrogen balance and prevent disease (i.e. not achieve optimal health and vitality).

What about percentages?

Talking about protein in terms of percentages of energy intake can be confusing as it depends on your activity levels or whether you are dieting.   Theoretical energy intake requirements are based on your lean body mass and activity levels.

The table below shows what Dr Phinney’s protein recommendation of 1.2 to 1.75 g/kg RW (or 1.6 to 2.3 g/kg LBM) look like for our hypothetical woman above in terms of percentage of energy intake for different energy intakes depending if she was trying to lose weight, maintain weight or was more active.

scenario calories lower upper
30% deficit 1158 29% 42%
sedentary 1654 20% 30%
lightly active 1852 18% 27%
moderately active 2084 16% 24%
vigorously active 2431 14% 20%
protein (g)   84 123

Protein intake in terms of percentage energy intake can vary widely to the point that it’s practically useless.  It’s generally much more useful to talk in terms of protein intake in grams per weight lean body mass rather than percentages.

Protein and nutrient density

Since stumbling across the insulin index, one thing I have found consistently is that nutrient-dense foods are not low in protein.

If you are focusing on the foods that contain the harder to find nutrients (e.g. magnesium, magnesium, choline, vitamin D etc) you will be getting plenty of protein.

Conversely, the only way to really get the ultra-low protein intakes being recommended by many people without an energy deficit is to avoid most solid foods and prioritise macadamia nuts, butter and oils.  It should not be a surprise that it will be hard to get a broad spectrum of essential nutrients with this sort of dietary approach.

As shown in the chart below, nutrient density tends to increase up to about 50% of energy intake.   If you’re eating more than 50% protein you’re likely relying on processed foods and supplements.[11]


The chart below shows the nutrient profile of the most nutritious foods in the USDA database.  If you could stick to these foods you would easily be getting a lot of the essential nutrients without having to consume too much energy.


The problem with these foods is that they can be very satiating which makes it hard to get enough energy in if you are active.  However, if you are trying to lose weight these foods may help to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need with less energy without being hungry.

It’s interesting to see many people who have been experimenting with the Nutrient Optimiser have commented on how little food they can get away with while experiencing minimal levels of hunger.   Nutrient dense foods tend to be hard to overeat and also provide you with the nutrients to prevent cravings and hence reduce appetite.

For comparison, the chart below shows the nutrient profile of the ketogenic diet foods.  That is, the foods that have the lowest percentage insulinogenic calories.   These foods are 80% fat, 15% protein and 3% net carbs).  Ironically, an individual consuming these foods will be meeting the minimum levels of protein but they will be missing out on a large number of other vitamins and minerals.

I find that it’s often the people who are trying to actively avoid protein that find themselves at the bottom of the Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard with a very poor nutrient profile.

The chart below shows the nutrient profile that we get when we actively avoid protein.  The only nturients that we get enough of in this scenarios is sodium and vitamin C!

Unless you are chasing therapeutic ketosis for the treatment of cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimers or dementia I think your focus should be on building health and maximising nutrition rather than higher ketone values.

If you are getting the micronutrients you need to thrive you will be getting plenty of protein and won’t need to worry too much about getting adequate protein intake.  Conversely, if you are actively avoiding protein you will be unnecessarily sacrificing your other micronutrients (especially if you are replacing your calories from protein and carbs with refined fat).

But will too much protein kick me out of ketosis?

As I write this I have been experimenting with adequate protein with less fat and carbs and maximal nutrients on the Ketogains Bootcamp.  A typical daily Cronometer summary is shown below.


My protein is sitting at about 2.2g/kg LBM for me given that I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym lifting heavy during this time.  I’ve also been able to hit many of the nutrients targets while maintaining a significant calorie deficit.

Leading up to this period my blood glucose levels were sitting in the mid 5s (approx 100 mg/dL).  However, once I introduced the energy deficit my glucose levels plummet to the mid 4s (approx 80 mg/dL).


And although I don’t worry much about ketones, they seem to be sitting at around 0.7 mmol/L, which I’m pretty happy with.

I know if I keep my blood glucose around this level I will continue to lose weight and continue to improve my glucose control and HbA1c.

I also get plenty of breath acetone from endogenous ketones as shown on my Ketonix below.


Don’t forget the basal insulin!

While there has been a lot of focus on what we can do to not have too much insulin, we need to remember that insulin has a number of important roles including:

  1. to help us get glucose into cells to be used by our mitochondria,
  2. to help build and repair our muscles, and
  3. to control the release of glucose from our liver while the energy in our bloodstream is used up.

People with type 1 diabetes demonstrate happens if we don’t have enough insulin.  Not only would we not be able to store the energy we eat as fat and muscle, the brake comes off the liver and all the stored energy in our body comes flowing out in the form of excess glucose and ketones (i.e. diabetic ketoacidosis).

The image below is the same child, “J.L.”, in the 1920s before and after receiving insulin therapy.  In a healthy person, insulin suppresses the fuel flow from the liver to healthy levels.

In someone on a standard western diet, basal insulin represents about 30% of the today daily dose.  Basal insulin drops to about 50% for someone on a low carb or keto diet.  But you can never drop your insulin requirements to zero.  You always need this basal to stop the uncontrolled flow of fuel from your liver into your bloodstream.

We focus so much on the effect of the food we eat but we forget that it’s also the excess fuel on your body and floating around in our bloodstream that also plays a massive role in the insulin demand on our pancreas.

Whenever there are high levels of energy sitting in our bloodstream (from glucose, ketones or fat) the pancreas has to ramp up basal insulin production until the fuel in our bloodstream is used up.  The more fat there is on our body the harder our pancreas has to work to hold back the pressure of excess fat on our body from being released into our bloodstream.

So, you may believe that your mug of Bulletproof coffee or the fat bomb may not be raising your insulin levels because it does not contain glucose or protein.  However, your pancreas is still working overtime to produce more insulin to hold the fat on your bum and until the energy coming in via your mouth is used up.

You may be able to ramp up your energy expenditure for a while by shivering and fidgeting, more but after a time of overdriving energy you’ll likely end up fat and insulin resistant.

If you really want to reduce your insulin levels you need to work on reducing the excess level of energy floating around in your bloodstream (from any source, including fat, carbs, protein or exogenous ketones) so your pancreas will decrease its production of insulin to allow body fat to be used.

Focusing on obtaining the nutrients you need without too much energy seems like common sense to me.

Therapeutic ketosis

Someone targeting therapeutic ketosis to assist with the management of chronic conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, dementia or Alzheimer’s may benefit from higher levels of ketosis and less reliance on glucose.  But I don’t think the vast majority of people who are Googling “keto” at the moment are looking for a therapeutic treatment.

therapeutic keto

Understanding how to quantify the insulin load of our food enables us to accurately tailor or food choices to suit our goals.  When it comes to insulin load we need to keep it low enough to get the results we need without compromising the nutritional value of the food we eat too much.

The chart below shows that nutrient density peaks at around 40% insulinogenic calories.

  • If you are insulin resistant it would be prudent to have less than 40% insulinogenic calories.
  • Someone on a low carb diet might have less than 25% insulinogenic calories.
  • Someone targeting therapeutic keto will likely need to have less than 15% insulinogenic calories to see therapeutic levels of ketones.


Unless you really require therapeutic keto then I don’t think there is a need to worry too much about the impact of protein on your blood ketone levels.  Actively avoiding protein tends to lead to compromising nutrient density unnecessarily which may lead to nutrient cravings or deficiencies in the long term.

The glucose : ketone index

People who require therapeutic ketosis should also ensure that they are not driving the total energy in their system too high.  To do this they can track their glucose as well as ketones.  The glucose:ketone ratio (GKI) which was developed by Dr Thomas Seyfried to measure the degree of therapeutic ketosis.[12]

If you’re interested, your GKI can be calculated by dividing your glucose (in mmol/L) by your ketone values.  For example, if your blood glucose is 108 mg/dL and your blood ketones are 0.5mmol/L, GKI = blood glucose / ketone = (108 mg/dL / 18) / 0.5 mmol/L = 6 mmol/L / 0.5mmol/L = 12.

People who are chasing therapeutic ketosis typically do not need to worry about ingesting too much energy.   Driving a hypercaloric state with refined fats is not a major concern for someone trying to keep weight on (e.g. cancer cachexia).  However, ensuring that they are achieving lower glucose levels will ensure that they are not driving insulin resistance.

For reference, the table below shows the relationship between HbA1c, average glucose, ketones and GKI for different scenarios showing how your GKI and ketones correlate with HbA1c and blood glucose.

 metabolic health HbA1c average blood glucose blood ketones GKI
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)  (mmol/L)  
low  4.1 3.9 70 > 0.3 < 4
optimal 4.5 4.6 83 > 0.3 < 15
excellent < 5.0 < 5.4 < 97 > 0.3 < 20
good < 5.4 < 6 < 108 < 0.3 < 40
danger > 6.5 7.8 > 140 < 0.3 > 40

Really low GKI values (i.e. very high ketones and very low glucose) are typically seen in extended fasting when glucose levels to drop and ketones from body fat increase in a low insulin state.

The chart below shows my blood ketone and glucose levels during a seven day fast.  Amazingly, as my blood glucose levels dropped below 4.0 mmol/L my ketones drifted up to 8 mmol/L.  During more recent, however, I haven’t been able to achieve such high ketone levels.

While we can get these high ketone levels during fasting, we typically don’t see them in the fed state.  To give you an idea of what to expect, the chart below shows GKI values over time during fasting for RD Dikeman (from Type 1 Grit), Jimmy Moore, Simon Saunders (Keto Island) and myself.   As a rule of thumb, you might expect to see a GKI value less than 2 after two or three days of water fasting.


Nutrient density analysis

Being a big fan of Dr Phinney and the Art and Science books, I couldn’t help running his recommended diet through the Nutrient Optimiser.  I entered all the meals in the Art and Science of Low Carb Living into Cronometer and ran it through the Nutrient Optimiser.


If you’re interested, you can see the full report here and where these meals rank on the leaderboard here.

So what should you do with all this information?

So, to summarise:

  1. If you have great blood sugars and just want to lose weight then you should focus on maximising nutrient density while reducing the energy levels in your bloodstream.  There is no need to worry about “being in ketosis”.  You will produce ketones if you are successfully achieving an energy deficit and burning your own body fat stores.
  2. If you are insulin resistant then you will want to limit your insulin load to a maximum of 2.9 g/kg LBM.  This will restrict carbohydrates in your diet so your blood sugars stabilise.
  3. If you are trying to manage diabetes then you want to keep your insulin load under 1.8 g/kg LBM.  This will restrict carbohydrates and may reduce your protein intake a little.
  4. If you require therapeutic keto then you will want to keep your insulin load less than 1.1 g/kg LBM and may need to consider limiting protein.

The recommended values for protein and insulin load are shown in the table below.


min protein

(g/kg LBM)

max insulin load

(g/kg LBM)

therapeutic ketosis 0.8 1.1
diabetes / nutritional ketosis 1.8 1.8
weight loss (insulin resistant) 1.8 2.9
weight loss (insulin sensitive) 1.8

Can run the numbers for me?

I realise all this data can be confusing if nutrition is not your hobby.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with a very talented programmer, Alex Zotov, to develop some handy software to help people navigate all this information and put it into practice.

The first instalment of the Nutrient Optmiser is a free calculator that will help you identify the ideal macronutrient ranges to suit your goals as well as a shortlist of optimal foods and meals.  The table below shows how we can determine the optimal approach for you based on your metabolic health, waist to height ratio and goals.

2018-01-28 (2).png

We’d love you to check it out the Nutrient Optimiser.  We’d love to hear what you think and how we can refine it to suit your goals.

2018-01-27 (4)

We hope it will be really helpful for a LOT of people on their journey towards health through optimal nutrition















keto… do you want some more?

key points

  • “Keto” is booming!   But there is still a lot of confusion about what exactly constitutes “optimal ketosis”.
  • Most of the magic of ketosis occurs when you burn your own body fat rather than eat more dietary fat or consume exogenous ketones.
  • If your goal is weight loss or diabetes management, chase lower blood glucose levels, not higher ketone levels.
  • Our bodies switch to burning more fat via ketogenesis when we eat less digestible carbohydrates and protein available.
  • While many people get caught up chasing ‘optimal ketosis’, anything above 0.2 mmol/L with lower blood sugar levels is a sign that your insulin sensitivity and metabolic health is improving.
  • Eating ‘fat to satiety’ on a low carb or ketogenic diet can help you achieve ‘non-diabetic’ blood sugar levels.   However, some degree of self-discipline may still be required to achieve optimal health and desirable body fat levels.

Keto is so hot right now!

Every woman and her cat seem to be getting on the keto bandwagon.


Whether it be cookbooks, Facebook groups or forums, keto is booming!

If everyone else is getting on the keto train then surely you need some?

And more must be better?


If you’re not doing it yet then maybe you’re missing out?

Or like every exponential trend, is there a crash just over the horizon?

Like tulip bulbs in the 1630s?


Or perhaps Bitcoin right now?


My keto journey

Personally, I’ve had a keen interest in ketosis for a while.

I was into keto before it was cool.


I followed Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof coffcoffeeze.  I even bought a bunch of his expensive mycotoxin free beans.


I eagerly followed Jimmy Moore’s updates during his n=1 ketosis experiment during 2012.


I was so eager to follow in his footsteps as soon as I could!


I got hold of Keto Clarity as soon as it was released.  I started adding butter and MCT oil to my coffee and eating liberal amounts of cheese, cream and coconut products in an effort to get my ketone values into what I understood to be the “optimal ketone zone”.[1]


I spent a good chunk of money on strips to test my blood ketones regularly to see if I was achieving ‘optimal ketosis’.


Calories and energy balance didn’t matter.

I had faith.


But unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the blessed that could ‘eat fat to satiety’ and be as lean and healthy as I’d hoped.

The picture below is my work profile shot a year or so after chasing higher ketones with more refined dietary fat.


I was as heavy as I’d ever been, had early signs of fatty liver and prediabetes.

I realise now that I had been trying to drive exogenous ketosis with lots of extra dietary fat.

What I really needed was to learn how to achieve endogenous ketosis to burn off my unwanted body fat.

My quest to understand what went wrong has taken me on a fascinating journey in an effort to manage my own health as well as to understand how to assist my wife Monica better manage her type 1 diabetes.

In this post, I hope to share some of my learnings and insights to help people get what they really need from their keto journey and avoid the common pitfalls.

Virta Facebook Live Q&A

I recently had the opportunity to pose some of my most pressing questions about optimal ketone levels and protein intake to the Godfather of Keto, Dr Stephen Phinney in a recent Facebook live Q&A.


Dr Phinney addressed one of my questions in the live broadcast as well as responding in writing in writing on the Virta blog.

I have included my question on optimal ketone levels and Dr Phinney’s response below along with my own additional thoughts.

But first, I think it’s important to understand what ketosis actually is.

What is ketosis?

Ketosis occurs when there is a lack of Oxaloacetate from non-fibre digestible carbohydrates and protein to enable fat to be oxidised in the Krebs cycle.    When Oxaloacetate availability reduces, the body produces Acetoacetyl CoA and Acetoacetate (AcAc) via ketosis.


You can also think of this in terms of insulin load.  That is, when the net carbs and protein in the diet are reduced we switch to burn more of our fat via ketogenesis rather than in the Krebs cycle.

I used to think that we were only burning fat when via ketosis, but I now understand that’s not correct.  Ketosis is just how we burn fat when the Kreb cycle can’t operate normally.  Ketosis is an important biochemical process that allowed us to survive through times when food was scarce.

As described by Dr David Sinclair in this video, lots of good things happen during periods of low energy availability (e.g. increased autophagy, AND+ and SIRT1).  Our bodies go into emergency repair mode to increase our chances of being around to procreate in future times of plenty.

Energy restriction is the only thing that has conclusively been proved to promote longevity in humans.  But it’s hard, so it’s not very popular.  When food is available, left to our own devices, our bodies tend to store up a little extra fat for the winter.  Unfortunately, in our modern environment, winter never comes.


If your NAD+ levels are lower, more Acetoacetate (AcAc) will be converted to Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in the blood.  If your NADH+:NADH ratio is high there will be more Acetoacetate in circulation.  Acetone can be thought of as the vapour that is released from Acetoacetate.   So, if less Acetoacetate is being converted to BHB, you will register higher breath ketones.  Chris Masterjohn explains this in more detail in this video.

Reduced NAD+ levels are associated with ageing, and increased NADH levels are associated with over fueling and diabetes.  Thus, high levels of BHB and low levels of breath acetone are not a good sign.

You may be interested to know that fat loss from the body is better correlated with higher breath acetone levels rather than ketones in the blood.[2]

Personally, I find when I take Niacin supplements (vitamin B3 increases NAD+) my BHB plummets and my breath acetone skyrockets.

In summary, the amount of beta-hydroxybutyrate in your bloodstream at any point in time is influenced by the amount of fat ingested, your NAD+:NADH ratio as well as the rate at which they are using BHB.

What are normal ketone levels?

We all like to compare others to others to understand if we are normal.

I thought it would be interesting to crowdsource some data to understand what normal ketone levels are in people following a low carb or ketogenic diet.  I wanted to understand if everyone was struggling to reach the ‘optimal ketone zone’ like I was.

The chart below shows the compilation of more than three thousand blood ketone and glucose data points crowdsourced from people following a low carb or ketogenic diet (with particular thanks to Michel from Ketonix for the anonymous data).  Ketone values are shown in blue on the bottom and glucose is in orange on top.


Diabetic ketoacidosis

Someone with uncontrolled type 1 diabetes will have a very low NAD+:NADH ratio and hence very high levels of BHB (i.e. greater than 8 mmol/L).  This is termed “ketoacidosis” and is accompanied by very high blood glucose levels.  Someone with uncontrolled type 1 diabetes would be off the chart to the right.

High levels of BHB are dangerous because they are acidic.  However, people who do not have Type 1 diabetes typically have blood ketone values less than 4.0mmol/L.  People with a functioning pancreas do not need to fear acidic ketones, particularly if they are sitting to the left of this chart with lower levels of energy floating around in their blood.

The bloodstream, our metabolic highway

You can think of our bloodstream as our metabolic highway that helps get the energy to the cells that need it.  We want enough energy in the blood to fuel the body, but not so much that a traffic jam occurs.


Really high levels of glucose in the bloodstream lead to glycation.  Similarly, high levels of free fatty acids lead to oxidised LDL which increases your risk of heart disease.

If your bloodstream is full like syrup with excess glucose, ketones and fatty acids then the energy and nutrients can’t get where they need to go.  Your kidneys will be working overtime clearing out the nutrients from the blood that your body does not require.

Your body raises insulin in an effort to stop energy flowing out of storage while you are still using up the energy in your blood.

When your bloodstream is clogged with energy there will be no opportunity for the body to cleanse and undertake autophagy.  Detoxification won’t be able to occur as effectively, and your fat stores will continue to build up toxins.

Exogenous vs endogenous ketosis

I now realise where I went wrong in my early keto journey was that I didn’t understand the difference between exogenous and endogenous ketosis.

I now realise that I was trying to address my pre-diabetes and obesity with a classical or therapeutic ketogenic diet which is intended to be used for epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.

All this excess energy was just exacerbating the situation I was trying to solve.

Exogenous ketosis

The chart below shows the blood glucose and ketone levels during exogenous ketosis.  While glucose may not be high, but we have high levels of ketones and likely higher levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream largely from external sources.


This may be helpful in a situation such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia where glucose is not being processed efficiently by the brain.  Excess glucose is thought to fuel the growth of some cancers, so reducing glucose and increasing ketones enables us to fuel the brain while not feeding the cancer cells.

Endogenous ketosis

The chart below shows what happens in endogenous ketosis.  In fasting or energy restriction your blood sugar will decrease.


As you can see from this chart, your blood ketones may not be as high due to your high NAD+:NADH ratio and the fact that you are not pushing in large amounts of external fat.  Ketones will also be used for energy rather than building up in the bloodstream.

In this lower energy state, your body will be pulling fat from your belly and bum to offset the deficit of energy from glucose and ketones in the bloodstream.

Your blood will no longer be a congested and the toxins will be able to flow out of your fat stores.  Your kidneys will cleanse your bloodstream, and you will excrete the waste that was stored in your fat.

You will increase autophagy as you old proteins, and pre-cancerous cells are cleansed and eaten up by your body.  Your insulin levels will also decrease, and your fat stores will become insulin sensitive again.

Without constant incoming energy, the fat in your pancreas, liver, heart, brain, eyes etc will then be used for energy.  You will feel younger and lighter and start to think more clearly!   You will effectively be slowing the aging process!

Ketosis vs diabetes and obesity

Someone managing diabetes and/or seeking weight loss should ideally target a lower overall level of energy in their bloodstream.  Having less energy in the blood, whether in the form of glucose, ketones or free fatty acids, forces the body to supply more energy from body fat.

The chart below shows the levels of blood ketones that relate to higher and lower levels of glucose and ‘total energy’ from glucose and ketones.

The three thousand blood ketone and glucose levels have been divided into five ‘bins’ based on their total energy content.  The smallest is shown on the left with the largest total energy shown on the right.


This data suggests that good metabolic health is characterised by not having excessive levels of energy floating around in the bloodstream.  Lower glucose levels tend to correlate with lower blood ketones.  The lowest blood glucose levels are associated with a blood ketone level of about 0.3 to 0.7mmol/L.

Virta ketone data

When I recently re-read the paper detailing the results of the first ten weeks of the Virta trial I was intrigued to see that, even though they were targeting ‘nutritional ketosis’  the average BHB level achieved was only just above the cut off for nutritional ketosis.  The average BHB was 0.6mmol/L with a standard deviation of 0.6 mmol/L.

To better understand what this means, the chart below, many people had ketone levels below the cut off for nutritional ketosis of 0.5 mmol/L.  The largest ‘bin’ of ketone values as 0.1 to 0.3 mmol/L.[3]  The second largest grouping was 0.3 to 0.5 mmol/L.


It struck me that these blood ketone levels aligned reasonably closely with the values shown in my crowdsourced data.  My question to Virta and Dr Phinney’s response is shown below:


Dr Phinney’s comment that it was the people with the higher ketone levels that experienced better results in the long term made me think of the relationship between ketones and blood glucose which is also based on the crowdsourced data.


In fasting, people who are more insulin sensitive can more easily produce ketones when there is no food, while people with high levels of insulin have high blood sugar levels and tend to have lower levels of ketones as shown in the chart below.

So perhaps the people who did the best were the ones that were already more insulin sensitive and thus were able to go longer periods between food, especially once the insulin load of their diet was reduced and their blood sugar and insulin levels came down closer normal levels?

What does all this mean in practice?

At this point, you’re probably confused.  Is it even worth testing ketones?  And if I do, what values should I be targeting?

My conclusion, after doing a lot of self-testing as well as analysis of a lot of other people’s data is that, unless you require ketosis for therapeutic purposes your blood ketone levels probably don’t matter that much.

Some level of blood ketones is good to have (say 0.2 mmol/L or more), but more is not necessarily better.

And for goodness sake, don’t go chasing higher blood ketones with more dietary fat if your goal is fat loss from your body!


For people trying to manage obesity and/or diabetes, ketosis is a fascinating side effect of a lower energy state when you have less carbohydrate and protein to burn.  But it is not the end goal.  Ketosis is part of the process that occurs as we burn out own body fat.

So how do I optimise my blood sugars?

A diet with a lower insulin load (i.e. less non-fibre carbohydrates and less insulinogenic protein) will enable someone with diabetes to stabilise their blood glucose levels.  They will require less insulin so their pancreas can more easily keep up to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.


Stable blood sugars and removal of processed carbohydrates often helps to normalise appetite and spontaneous weight loss.

As body fat stores become less full your adipose tissue will become more insulin sensitive and can then absorb the day to day energy flux without needing to spill excess energy into the bloodstream.  Because your body fat is doing the job properly, you won’t see high levels of blood sugar in your blood.

Your body is always rebalancing your fuel system (i.e. glucose, ketones and free fatty acids) depending on your needs and dietary energy sources.

We can store a little bit of glucose in our bloodstream and liver, but the major fuel tank is our fat stores.  When our adipose tissue is full and can’t take anymore everything else backs up and overflows.

How to stay below your “Personal Fat Threshold”

Fascinating recent work by Professor Roy Taylor at Newcastle University in the UK has shown that reducing fat from the vital organs like the pancreas can actually reverse diabetes.[4]


Professor Taylor coined the term ‘Personal Fat Threshold’ which is the point at which your adipose tissue can no longer easily absorb the extra energy from the food we eat and starts to send more of it to other places in our body.  It’s like our fat storage balloon is full.[5]

Once we exceed our personal fat threshold any extra is energy shuttled off to the bloodstream in the form of high glucose, high free fatty acids and higher ketones) as well as the other parts of the body that are more insulin sensitive than our adipose tissue such as our liver, pancreas, heart, eyes, kidney, brain and heart).

The problem however with Professor Taylor’s approach was that it was an 800 calorie per day short-term intervention based on Optifast meal replacement shakes. The ideal approach would be to design a nutritious set of foods that would provide the nutrients you need without excessive energy. 

Many people find that a low carb diet will help stabilise blood sugar levels.  However, many, if not most, people find that they need to restrict energy intake and/or increase the nutrient:energy ratio of their diet in order to achieve the blood glucose control and body fat levels that are associated with optimal longevity.  This can be achieved through intermittent fasting, time restricted feeding, meal skipping,  ‘clean eating’, calorie counting or whatever works for you.

Regardless of how you feel about any of these concepts, you need to do whatever it takes to reduce the inputs to the point that you see the energy in your bloodstream decrease.  How much discipline and deprivation you want to enforce on yourself depends on how close you want to get to optimal.

While it’s good to see your body fat levels reducing, measuring your blood sugar is probably the most effective way to get a cost-effective and immediate understanding of whether you actually need to eat (see How to use your glucose meter as a fuel gauge for more details on this concept).

The figures below show the relationship between HbA1c to various symptoms of metabolic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.[6]



All-cause mortality is lowest with an HbA1c of somewhere between 4.5 and 5.0%.[7]image13.jpg

Can we achieve optimal in our modern environment?

This Australian Aboriginal hunter from more than 100 years ago is my favourite example of optimal metabolic health.


Everything he could find to eat would have been filled with nutrients.  He wouldn’t have overeaten because he had to hunt or gather everything, and that took a lot of effort.

Every year or so he would have had a period of externally enforced fasting when food wasn’t so plentiful.  And if he was the fattest and slowest in his tribe he might have been prey to wild animals.

Today we like to reminisce about paleo and ancestral times.  However, I don’t think we can ever go back to mimic how this guy lived, even if we wanted to.

While we can get unprocessed organic fairly nutrient dense foods, we will probably never achieve the food scarcity context that he had.

Today food is fairly cheap and easy to get hold of.  And whenever when we eat ‘to satiety’ we are programmed by evolution to prepare for a famine on a long boat ride where only the people who could store energy survived.

Food is pleasure.

Food is entertainment.

Food is social connection.

Food is emotional.

People like to rail against the idea that we might need to limit our energy intake.  However, in today’s context, I think we need to work out how to recreate the useful elements of ‘the good old days’ in a modern context.

Unless we’re prepared to live in the desert and leave our credit cards behind, perhaps things like periods of fasting to reduce our blood glucose levels, gyms to build strength, energy tracking apps like Cronometer to ensure we are eating nutritious food (and not too much of it) all play a role in our modern context?

It’s not going to be a popular concept, but some level of deprivation or self-control may be necessary if you want to achieve optimal health and delay the diseases of aging.

It’s OK if you don’t want to go all in and invest everything it takes to achieve optimal health, but it’s still useful to understand how to get even part of the way there.

Introducing, our new toy!   The Nutrient Optimiser

It can be confusing to know how much of each macronutrient you should be eating.  Everyone has different goals and circumstances.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with a very talented programmer, Alex Zotov, to develop some handy software called the Nutrient Optimiser to help people navigate all this information and help people put it into practice.

The table below shows how we how we segregate people based on their different goals based on your blood sugar levels, HbA1c, waist:height ratio and trigliceride:HDL ratio.  From there we can target the most nutrient dense foods and meals while also keeping your blood sugars stable, fueling your activity or help you to lose body fat.

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If you do have diabetes, then a low carb/keto diet will help stabilise your blood sugars and will often help to stabilise your appetite.  But then, as you improve your health you can continue to refine your food choices to and increase the nutrient density of your diet even more.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got great blood sugars but want to lose body fat there’s no reason to be eating a super high fat therapeutic ketogenic diet designed to control epileptic seizures.

The first instalment of the Nutrient Optmiser is a free calculator that will help you identify the ideal macronutrient ranges, energy intake and as well as a shortlist of optimal foods and meals to suit your goals.  We’d love you to check it and let us know what you think.   We hope it will help a lot of people avoid the confusion of keto and move forward towards optimal.

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micros > macros?

Most of the time, when it comes to nutrition, we like to think in terms of macronutrients.

  • Carbs.
  • Fat.
  • Protein.
  • Fibre.


But maybe too simple?


In the good old days, before your food was grown in nutrient depleted soil and the creation of nutrient-poor processed frankenfood, we just ate food.  We didn’t have to worry about micronutrients.  Pretty much everything we ate was full of them!


These days micronutrients are harder to come by.  In a number of previous articles, I have suggested that maximising micronutrients as your first priority (before calories or macronutrients) will likely to be a more useful guide to help us genuinely optimise our nutrition.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to think in terms of micronutrients.  With thirty-four essential nutrients and many more conditionally-essential and beneficial nutrients and compounds in the food we eat, there are just too many moving parts to keep in our working memory.

Before the creation of hyper-palatable flavoured and coloured foods, our appetite was a useful to help us seek out the nutrients we need.  Over the years it had come to be the perfect nutrient optimiser, prioritising the foods we needed at any point in time.  Unfortunately, in our modern food environment, our paleolithic instincts are no match for modern food chemistry.


Today, we need a little extra help to discern fake foods from the real foods that actually contain the nutrients we need to thrive.

This article outlines how we can utilise macronutrients to assist us, like training wheels, to help us get pretty close ot ideal nutrition.  We can then focus on eating nutrient-dense foods that will help us thrive and to enable us to look, feel and perform at our best.


Macronutrient wars

Many diet communities built around a specific macronutrient profile that they believe is optimal.

Different people believe in a wide range of macronutrient philosophies as the cornerstone of their nutritional approach.  One of the many variations is IIFYM.

If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) or Flexible Dieting was a trend in the bodybuilding community based on the idea that you could eat pretty much anything you wanted as long as you hit your macro targets.[1] [2] [3]


IIFYM blossomed as a response to the ‘clean eating’ trend that grew around the Paleo diet[4] trend which emphasised food quality and was largely ‘macro agnostic’.


  • protein is set based on your lean body mass (LBM) and activity levels (typically 1.8g/kg LBM),
  • energy intake is calculated and then tweaked based on your desired rate of loss/gain,
  • fat is generally set at 25%, and
  • the remainder of your energy requirement is filled with carbs.[5]

IIFYM… the good

There are some good things about IIFYM / flexible including:

  1. It’s simple.
  2. It avoids macronutrient extremes which often drive micronutrient deficiencies.[6]
  3. A consistent energy deficit will work for most people, particularly the young fitness enthusiast who does not have diabetes.

IIFYM… the bad

However, there are a number of downsides to the IIFYM / Flexible Dieting approach, such as:

  1. No consideration of micronutrients.  Food quality becomes critical when restricting quantity over the long term to avoid deficiencies and cravings.[7]
  2. Little emphasis is placed on food quality.  While they might fit your macros, low nutrient density foods can be hyper-palatable and lead to overeating.  Foods with a higher nutrient density are more likely to be satiating, have a lower energy density and be harder to overeat.   Someone can get all their food from processed packaged foods and still comply with the IIFYM approach.
  3. Doesn’t cater well to people who are insulin resistant/diabetic.
  4. Recent research does not support the minimisation of dietary fat.  While too much refined fat is not optimal, the fat that comes with nutritious whole food should not be a concern for most people.
  5. Tracking specific macros and calories replaces a neurosis about micromanaging food quality with an obsession with hitting particular macro targets.
  6. It may be hard to hit exact macronutrient targets with whole foods.

The minimum effective dose of macros

In reality, there is a range of macronutrient that will give you a substantial level of essential micronutrients.

The article Nutrition… How to Get the Minimum Effective Dose outlined the macronutrient ranges that give us the best chance of getting a reasonable micronutrient profile.

The vertical axis in the charts below shows the Nutrient Density Score which is a measure of the amount of micronutrients in a range of foods.

As shown in the example below, if we could get three times the recommended daily intake of all the thirty-four essential nutrients, we would get a perfect nutrient score of 100%.   There is probably limited benefit in getting more than three times the recommended daily intake of a particular nutrient.  At that point, you’ll likely benefit by focusing on foods that contain the nutrients you are not getting as much of.

I have calculated the nutrient density score for a range of dietary approaches to understand the relationship between micronutrient adequacy and macronutrients.  Check out the detail in this post if you’re interested.


Of all the nutrients, protein has the highest correlation with nutrient density.

If we assume a nutrient density score of 70% as our minimum effective dose of nutrition (as denoted by the red line on the chart below), we can get a reasonable nutritional outcome when our protein intake is at least 19% of our energy intake.

Nutrient density seems to peak when we get around 45% of our energy from protein.  .


If you have ever tried to more protein and track your intake, you will appreciate how hard it actually is to hit 45% of your energy intake from protein!   As you increase protein intake to more than 45% of calories, you would need to depend more and more on processed foods, so the overall nutrient density decreases.

The minimum effective dose level of 19% of energy happens to align reasonably well with 1.8g/kg LBM protein which aligns IIFYM recommendation for protein.  This is also aligns with the point at which strength gains start to plateau for strength athletes as shown in the chart from Lemon below.


Protein even more important when we are trying to lose weight.  Recent research suggests that our need for protein increases if we want to prevent loss of lean muscle mass in a significant energy deficit.

If we are active and/or doing resistance training, then our requirement for protein is even higher.  As shown in the chart below from a recent review paper by Stuart Phillips,[8] lean muscle mass is best preserved when we have at least 2.6g/kg total body weight (BW) protein if we are targeting an aggressive deficit (e.g. 35%).  If we are chasing a less aggressive energy deficit, then 1.5 g/kg BW protein seems to be adequate.image38.png

So, unless you require a therapeutic ketogenic diet (i.e. as an adjunct treatment for cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc.), it appears prudent to think of 1.8g/kg LBM as a minimum protein intake.  Higher intakes will likely be beneficial if your goal is to maximise nutrient density or lose fat without losing muscle.

As an aside, you needn’t worry about ‘too much protein kicking you out of ketosis’   The images below are from my recent Ketogains Bootcamp where I was eating plenty of protein, had low blood glucose levels and plenty of endogenous blood and breath ketones from my own body fat. 

As detailed in the Optimal ketone and blood sugar levels for ketosis article, if you are trying to lose weight or manage diabetes you really want to drive a low energy state in your bloodstream  If you are burning body fat and/or are decreasing your blood sugar levels then ketones will come along for the ride.  You don’t need to active chase them or track them.



The chart below shows the nutrient profile we get when we minimise protein.

There is a concerning trend of people trying to minimise protein to minimise insulin and mTOR.  While these things are not good in excess, neither is missing out on essential nutrients of having consumed excessive amounts of energy to get the nutrients you need.

Given that not consuming an excessive amount of energy is the only thing that has been proved to extend lifespan in human it makes a lot more sense to me to increase your nutrient : energy ratio so you don’t have to eat as much to get the nutrients you need.


While the optimum intake of non-fibre carbohydrate is about 30%, it seems that the minimum effective dose of non-fibre carbohydrates is effectively zero.


Although we can get lots of vitamins and minerals from non-starchy veggies, people who do not feel the need to consume plants in their diet can get a substantial amount of nutrition from organ meats, shellfish and the like with minimal carbs.


The chart below shows the nutrient profile you could acheive if you focused on the most nutrient dense animal based foods.

If you are metabolically healthy, there’s nothing wrong with consuming up to 65% carbohydrates, particularly if they are from unprocessed sources.  However, nutrient density starts to fall off beyond 65% as processed grains and sugars begin to dominate your diet.


The chart below shows the nutrient profile that you could achieve if you focused on the most nutrient dense plant-based foods.

Regardless of your dietary preferences, ethical position or religious beliefs, quantifying nutrient density is an exciting tool to help you optimise your food choices and find optimal nutrition within the wide range of reasonable carbohydrate intake levels.


Although fat doesn’t correlate well with nutrient density,[9] it seems we struggle to get a good nutritional profile with less than about 10% dietary fat (or about 0.4g/kg LBM dietary fat).

At the other extreme, we could consume up to around 65% of our energy from fat without having a detrimental impact on our nutritional profile.    Similar to carbohydrates, it starts to get harder to get a broad range of essential micronutrients if we are getting more than 65% of our energy intake from fat.


The proportion of insulinogenic calories

The percentage of insulinogenic calories is a measure of the insulin we require to metabolise our food due to non-fibre carbohydrates and protein it contains.[10] [11] For someone who is metabolically healthy, insulin load does not need to be a major concern.

Optimal nutrient density seems to occur around 40% insulinogenic calories.   Diets with more than 65% insulinogenic calories tend to be very low fat, very low in protein or very high in processed carbohydrates.   Similarly, our nutritional profile with a very high fat very low insulin load diet is not so flash either.


I have drawn three windows on the chart of % insulinogenic vs nutrient density score to show suggested target ranges for:

  1. someone who is insulin resistant has prediabetes or knows they have a family history of diabetes,
  2. someone with diabetes who needs to follow a low carb or nutritional ketogenic approach to manage their blood sugar, and
  3. therapeutic ketosis.

If you are insulin resistant or have a family history of diabetes, then keeping your insulin load below 50% is likely a good idea.

If you already have diabetes, then lowering your insulin load to less than 25% of your energy requirement will help stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels.  You also need to keep an eye on nutrient density so you can build health with the food you are eating.  The chart below shows the nutrient profile you can acheive with a nutrient dense low carb approach.  

Meanwhile, someone who requires therapeutic ketosis (for the treatment of cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc.) typically requires an insulin load less than 15% of their energy requirement to see therapeutic benefits.  The chart below shows the nutrient profile that you can achieve with a high-fat ketogenic diet if you focus on maximising nutrient density.

However, keep in mind that driving your insulin load unnecessarily low can lead to a poor nutritional outcome.   The chart below shows the nutrinet profile of the most ketogenic foods without consdieration of nutrient density.

Personally, I think you need to find the balance between insulin load and nutrient density that works for you.  Ideally, a therapeutic ketogenic approach would only a short-term undertaking until the condition stabilises and you can transition to a nutrient dense low carb approach for maintenance.

Minimum effective dose + nutrient density for the win!

The table below shows the guidelines for the minimum effective dose of protein, fat and insulin load for different goals in terms of your lean body mass (LBM).

  • In all but the therapeutic ketosis scenario, we should aim to hit our 1.8g/kg LBM of protein.
  • We may need a lower protein intake to achieve therapeutic levels of ketosis.
  • In the therapeutic ketosis, diabetes and insulin resistant scenarios we limit insulin load to 1.1, 1.8 and 2.9g/kg LBM respectively to enable the pancreas to keep up and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. This will mean you need to reduce carbohydrates, and to a lesser extent protein.
approach min protein

(g/kg LBM)

min fat

(g/kg LBM)

max insulin load

(g/kg LBM)

therapeutic ketosis 0.8 0.4 1.1
diabetes / nutritional ketosis 1.8 0.4 1.8
weight loss (insulin resistant) 1.8 0.4 2.9
weight loss (insulin sensitive) 1.8 0.4
most nutrient dense 1.8 0.4
nutrient dense maintenance 1.8 0.4
bodybuilder (bulking) 1.8 0.4
endurance athlete 1.8 0.4

Once we have the protein, fat and insulin load ranges set, we are free, unencumbered by concerns about meeting theoretical macronutrient targets, to fill the rest of our diet with foods and meals that are most suited to our goals.

These macronutrient windows function a bit like bumper rails for a child at a bowling alley.  As long as you stick within those ranges, you have a good chance of getting a reasonable nutritional outcome.


Once you learn to focus on nutrient dense foods, you will no longer need the bumper rails.


The table below shows how the parameters of insulin load, energy density and nutrient density are used to optimise our food choices to suit our goals.  In some cases (i.e. weight gain or loss) we may intentionally focus on managing energy intake.  For most people, focusing on more nutrient-dense foods will get you most of the way.

approach insulin load energy density nutrient density target calories
therapeutic ketogenic very low lower
diabetes / nutritional ketosis low lower adequate
weight loss (insulin resistant) low low good lower
weight loss (insulin sensitive) lowest maximum very low
most nutrient dense maximum
nutrient dense maintenance high high
bodybuilder (bulking) high good higher
endurance athlete very high high

How to set your target energy intake

If you are trying to lose weight and going to the effort of tracking, it is useful to have an upper limit energy intake that you make sure you don’t exceed.

While there are many inaccuracies involved in our energy in and energy out calculations, tracking your food in an app like Cronometer can be a useful self-education tool to understand the quantity and quality of your diet.


Most macro calculators calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) based on your lean body mass (LBM) and activity levels.  From this, you can estimate the amount of energy you might need to gain weight or the amount you will need to limit to lose weight.

These formulas, while a useful starting point, are only indicative, and should be used as a starting point.  I’ve run the Nutrient Optimiser analysis for plenty of people who are lean but eating a lot more calories than you might expect.  Conversely, many people who are obese seem to be eating much less than you might think they would be.  This may be in part due to measurement error or optimism bias, but everybody’s metabolism seems to be unique due to a wide range of factors.

The best way to determine your actual energy requirement is to track your intake and reduce or increase from there to ensure you are gaining or losing as required.  This is an iterative process based on your long-term trend.

Maximum rate of fat loss

The maximum rate of fat loss you can sustain without significant muscle loss is influenced by your current body fat levels.  Someone with a lot more body fat might be able to maintain a larger energy deficit than someone who is already lean.

The paper A limit on the energy transfer rate from the human fat store in hypophagia (Alpert, 2005) proposed that this maximum rate of fat loss is 31 calories per pound of body fat.[12]  According to Alex Ritson, in a recent Sigma Nutrition podcasts, this was later revised down to a maximum rate of fat loss of 21 calories per pound of body fat without losing significant muscle mass.[13]

While you may not want to target this maximum rate deficit every day, it is useful to be aware of this number.  If you don’t feel hungry, there is no need to keep eating to hit some arbitrary energy intake above this.

The table below shows an example of what this might look like in practice.

  obese lean
weight (kg) 110 70
weight (lb) 242 154
LBM (lbs) 157 135
% BF 35% 12%
BF (lbs) 85 18
BMR 2106 1871
max deficit (cals) 1,785 378
max deficit (%) 85% 20%

The obese person can nearly meet their entire maintenance energy intake from body fat while the lean person could only mobilise enough body fat to provide about a fifth their energy requirements.

Image result for fat and skinny

While out might have enough body fat to survive an extended famine, I wouldn’t recommend fasting for extended periods without paying attention to periods of nutrient-dense refeeding.

Research into the Protein Sparing Modified Fast suggests that nitrogen balance is maintained with a minimum of 1.4g/kg of ideal body weight for men and 1.2g/kg of ideal body weight for women.[14] [15]

Once we account for body fat, 1.4 g/kg IBW ends up pretty close to the 1.8g/kg LBM minimum effective dose level discussed above).

So it seems reasonable to use 1.8g/kg LBM protein plus 0.4g/kg LBM fat as an absolute minimum energy intake to make sure you can get the nutrients you need.

Should I keep eating until I hit my calorie target if I’m not hungry?

Many people find their appetite stabilises once they take out refined carbohydrates from their diet and stabilise their blood sugar levels.  Others find that focusing on nutrient-dense foods decrease their appetite and lead to spontaneous satiety.[16]  Meanwhile, others just find it tough to keep within their calorie limits.[17]  The bottom line here is, if you have obtained your minimum protein intake to preserve your lean muscle mass, there is no real need to keep eating if you don’t feel hungry.

Rather than some specific target, I think it is much more useful to think in terms of a range of energy intake that will enable you to reach your goals.  If you’re hungry there is no harm eating up to your upper limit calorie intake.  However, if you are trying to lose weight, then there is no point eating more than you need to to get the nutrients you need.

The daily thought process for someone following this process would be…

  1. Have I met my minimum calorie target?  If not, keep eating nutrient-dense foods.
  2. Have I met my minimum protein intake?  If not, keep eating nutrient-dense foods.
  3. Do I feel hungry?  If no, don’t eat.  If yes, eat nutrient dense foods that align with your goals until you hit your absolute minimum energy target.
  4. Do you still feel hungry?  If yes, then eat nutrient dense foods until you hit your maximum calorie intake.
  5. Have I exceeded my maximum energy intake?  If yes, then stop eating.


So in summary:

  • Focusing on specific macronutrient targets takes the focus off food quality and micronutrients and can be counterproductive.
  • There is a range of macronutrients within which you can get a reasonable nutritional outcome that aligns with your goals. Within these limits, your focus should be on getting all the micronutrients you need.
  • If you are are insulin resistant or have diabetes then it’s prudent to focus on less insulinogenic foods.  However, there is no point driving your insulin load to the point that you compromise nutrient density unnecessarily.

How to calculate your target macronutrient range

I know all these numbers can be confusing!

To help make this process easier we have developed a free report at

Simply enter your goals, preferences, weight and estimated body fat % and the Nutrient Optimiser will spit out a free report with your recommended macronutrient ranges as well as a shortlist of suggested foods and meals that will help you optimise your nutrition that will align with your goals.


To get your free report you go to, tell us what you’re interested in and enter your email address.

As your situation changes (e.g. you lose weight or your blood sugars stabilise) you will be able to come back and update your details and get new macro targets as well as optimal meals and foods.

We think this is unique and exciting.  We hope it will help a lot of people cut through the dietary confusion.  We would love you to test it and give us some feedback.


I have included some worked examples of that the macronutrient ranges would look like in practice in the appendix below.  But the best way to understand how it works is just to go have a play and see what the Nutrient Optimiser would recommend for you!


Example macronutrient ranges

So let’s look at how this will look in practice with some worked examples.

Let’s take the example of Paul, who currently weighs 90 kg and has 19% body fat.  He’s done the Nutrient Optimiser analysis but wants to know what targets to put in Cronometer.

We will look at how he could use this approach to setting macronutrient ranges in the following scenarios:

  1. therapeutic ketosis,
  2. low carb / nutritional ketosis,
  3. insulin resistant weight loss, and
  4. weight gain / athletic performance.

Therapeutic ketosis

Paul is interested in the ketogenic diet and recommends it to many of his clients.

The table below shows the range of protein, fat, carbohydrates (in grams) if Paul was aiming for therapeutic ketosis along with the basis for the upper and lower limits.

  lower upper comment
protein (g) 58 80 Minimum protein based on 0.8g/kg LBM.

The upper limit is based on 15% insulinogenic calories assuming no carbs.

fat (g) 180 212 Minimum based on weight maintenance with minimum protein and carbs.

Maximum based on weight maintenance with minimum protein and carbs.

carbs (g) 0 48 The upper limit corresponds to minimum protein and 15% insulinogenic calories.
energy (calories) Calories are not limited on a therapeutic ketogenic diet.  Many people using chasing therapeutic ketosis are looking to keep weight on, so very high levels of dietary fat intake is not a concern.

The chart below shows the resultant macronutrient ranges for the therapeutic ketogenic dietary approach in terms of percentage of energy intake.    As you can see, regardless of the scenario, Paul’s energy would largely come from fat.


The foods listed below would give Paul the best chance of achieving therapeutic levels of ketosis while maximising high micronutrients as much as possible.


The chart below shows the nutrient profile of the foods listed above.  The nutrients coloured yellow typically harder to obtain on a therapeutic ketogenic diet and have been emphasised in the foods listed above.


If you’re following a therapeutic ketogenic diet as an adjunct therapy for cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s or dementia, then you’ll likely also be tracking glucose and ketone levels.

If you are following a disciplined high fat ketogenic diet, you should expect to see lower blood sugars and higher ketone levels.

If you want to get serious, you can track your Glucose Ketone Index (GKI) which was developed by ketogenic cancer researcher Dr Thomas Seyfried.[18]  Through fasting, higher fat and a lower insulin load many people who require therapeutic ketosis aim for a GKI value of less than 1.0 which means your ketone values are higher than your glucose levels.  If you are just looking to manage diabetes then having a GKI less than 10 is a healthy place to be on a day to day basis when not fasting.

Therapeutic ketosis takes a lot of dedication and discipline.  Many people find that their condition resolves after a period and they can transition to a low carb / nutritional ketosis approach without triggering adverse symptoms.

Diabetes / low carb / nutritional ketosis

A diet for management of diabetes is not as restrictive as a therapeutic ketogenic diet and provides a higher level of nutrition.  The table below shows the low carb style macronutrient range that would keep Paul in nutritional ketosis.

  lower upper comment
protein (g) 131 239 Minimum protein is based 1.8g/kg LBM.

Upper limit based on maximum insulin load of 1.8g/kg LBM with zero carbs.

fat (g) 131 178 Lower limit is based on weight maintenance with maximum protein and carbs.

The upper limit is based on weight maintenance with minimum protein and minimum carbs.

carbs (g) 0 60 The upper limit corresponds to minimum protein (1.8g/kg LBM) and a maximum 1.8g/kg LBM insulin load.
energy (cals) Calories are not necessarily controlled on a low carbohydrate diet.  The initial focus should be on stabilising blood sugars and appetite.  From there we can force an energy deficit if necessary.

The figure below shows the range of macronutrients that will fit within the guidelines of a low carbohydrate diet to stabilise blood sugar or achieve nutritional ketosis.


This food list will enable you to maximise your micronutrients on a low carbohydrate diet.


Compared to a therapeutic ketogenic diet, the low carbohydrate diet provides a significantly high level of nutrient density.  The nutrients shown in yellow that are harder to find on a low carbohydrate dietary approach that have been emphasised.


If you are following a low carbohydrate dietary approach, you will likely be tracking your blood sugars on a regular basis.  Once you are able to stabilise your blood sugars to non-diabetic levels using a low carb diet, we can then start to focus on reducing energy to lose weight (i.e. if your waist : height ratio is greater than 0.5 or you have a higher than desirable level of body fat).  From there you can start to focus on an energy deficit if you do not find you are achieving your desired level of weight loss with a low carb diet alone.

average blood sugar  

hbA1c (%)


trig:HDL ratio

mg/dL mmol/L
diabetes > 140 > 7.8 > 6.5% > 3.0
pre-diabetes 108 – 140 6.0 – 7.8 5.4 – 6.5% 2.0 – 3.0
insulin resistant 100 – 108 5.4 – 6.0 5.0 – 5.4% 1.0 – 2.0
insulin sensitive < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% < 1.0

Many people find that they actually need to drop their body fat levels further before they are able to achieve truly optimal blood glucose levels.

Aggressive weight loss

Paul actually wants to lose weight fairly aggressively, but without compromising his hard-earned lean muscle mass.

If we take 21 calories per pound of fat as the maximum rate of fat loss without significant loss of muscle, then Paul could theoretically cut up to 790 calories from his typical energy intake without significantly compromising his lean muscle mass.  This deficit would leave him with 1349 calories.  He will still be able to get his minimum protein and fat intake levels at this energy level.

Paul is eager to lose fat fast, so he wants to target an aggressive deficit of at least 20%.  However, if he’s not hungry, there’s no real point in consuming beyond 1349 calories per day (i.e. a 37% deficit).  Paul is also still mindful of his blood sugars and insulin resistance, so we will also ensure his insulin load remains under 2.9 g/kg LBM.

  lower upper comment
protein (g) 131 214 Minimum protein is based on 1.8g/kg LBM which is fine if he is only targeting a 20% deficit.

The upper limit is based on 2.9g/kg LBM insulin load.

fat (g) 29 132 Maximum fat is based on 20% energy deficit with min protein and carbs.
carbs (g) 0 231 Maximum carbs is based on target energy deficit with minimum protein and fat.
energy (cals) 1349 1711 Lower energy intake is based on BMR -21 cal/lb fat mass.  The maximum is based on 20% deficit against BMR.

The screenshot below from Paul’s Cronometer showing how he can enter his target protein range.  Simply click on the bar for energy, protein, carbs and fat to enter the target range.


The figure below shows the macro split including the energy from body fat (shown in yellow).


This figure shows the food proportion of protein, fat and carbs when we only look at the food intake.  When we consider the food intake alone, between 30 and 55% of energy is intake will be from.


The foods below will maximise nutrition to align with this aggressive fat loss approach.


The chart below shows the high level of nutrients provided by the foods listed above.  These foods also have a very low energy density meaning that they will be hard to overeat.


If your goal is aggressive fat loss, then you will likely be tracking your energy intake and body weight and fat on a regular basis to make sure you are achieving your desired results.

There is little value in regularly tracking blood sugars or ketones with this style of approach as they will likely be excellent if you are maintaining a significant energy deficit.

Paul’s focus with should be on making sure he gets adequate protein and nutrient dense foods while keeping under his energy target.

As an aside, Paul is doing well and sitting at #2 on the Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard.  You can see Paul’s detailed Nutrient Optimiser report here.

Maximum fat loss

The table below shows the macronutrient ranges if Paul was to target maximum energy restriction while minimising the risk of muscle loss.  This is based on the maximum energy deficit of 21 calories per pound of body fat.

  lower upper comment
protein (g) 234 241 Minimum protein is based on 2.6g/kg BW in view of the aggressive deficit.

The upper limit is based on maximum 2.9g/kg LBM insulin load.

fat (g) 29 150 Max fat is based on 37% energy deficit with min protein and carbs.
carbs (g) 0 108 Max carbs is based on target energy deficit with minimum protein and fat.

We also want to limit Paul’s insulin load to less than 40% of his maintenance energy intake

energy (als) 1348


A maximum deficit of 21 calories per pound of body fat (i.e. 37% deficit)

Even though the protein levels are very high and he has some history of insulin resistance, I do not think Paul is likely to see elevated blood sugar levels with such a massive deficit.

Some protein may be converted to glucose via GNG, however, there will already be such a dramatic energy deficit that he would likely be seeing very low blood sugar levels.

The chart below shows the macronutrient split, including body fat.


This chart shows the macronutrient split of this approach when we consider the food only.  These foods contain between 56 and 72% protein which starts to make this style of approach difficult without significant reliance on protein powders.  Achieving a strict Protein Sparing Modified Fast is actually quite difficult in practice because attaining such a high level of protein intake with such an aggressive deficit is quite hard.


The foods below will give you the best chance of minimising energy intake while getting adequate protein and nutrients.


The chart below shows the nutrient profile of these foods with the harder to find nutrients emphasised.


Weight gain

If Paul was wanting to gain weight, he could target a 20% energy surplus and choose nutrient dense and energy dense foods so he could achieve this.

  lower upper comment
protein (g) 131 289 Minimum protein is based on 1.8g/kg LBM.

The upper limit is based on 50% of energy from protein.

fat (g) 29 185 Maximum fat is based on 20% energy surplus with minimum protein and carbs.
carbs (g) 0 348 Maximum carbohydrates is based on target energy surplus with min protein and fat.
energy (als) 2567 The maximum is based on a 20% energy surplus against BMR.

The list of nutrient dense and energy dense foods below would help Paul to maximise nutrient density in an energy surplus.


The chart below shows the nutrients provided by these energy-dense foods.


You should make a calculator for that!

To get your optimal macronutrient ranges please check out the new calculator at


We hope you love it!  Let us know how we can make it more useful to help you achieve your goals.







[4] Incidentally, paleo has been in decline since January 2014 while IIFYM peaked in mid 2016.  Currently keto and vegan are the hot new diet trends.















Dr Greger’s How Not to Die Cookbook (review)

To celebrate the release of the How Not to Die Cookbook I thought it would be interesting review some of Dr Greger’s recipes to see how they stack up nutritionally.

Well presented

Firstly, I’ve got to give kudos on the layout.  Rather than wait for a hard copy to ship to Australia, I bought my copy on Apple iBooks and was impressed at how you could interactively explode the ingredients list to full screen on my phone.

This feature would be invaluable when actually using the book in the kitchen, especially on a phone where showing a full page of small text on a screen is impractical, and all you want to see is the ingredients from a distance.

Whole food

The recipes in the How Not to Die Cookbook are full of nutritious minimally processed whole food, which is a win for me.


There are heaps of colour on the pages, which is indicative of the range of vitamins and minerals present in these minimally processed foods.

In the introduction, Dr Greger makes the critical distinction between a vegetarian diet (which could be filled with highly processed grains and sugars) and minimally processed plant-based whole foods.

Most of the issues with nutrition come when we overly process our food and make it shelf stable for increased profit margins.  Some of the recipes in the How Not To Die Cookbook call for some whole wheat bread, pasta, date sugar and the like, but generlaly, the recipes rely on minimally processed whole foods.

If you want quick and easy, this may not be the book for you.  Although there are headings of ‘easy’ and ‘moderate’ on the recipes, most of the recipes have a significant number of ingredients, including a range of herbs and spices.

You may have to gear up your kitchen with a range of new ingredients if you are not already following this way of eating.  However, for the experienced WFPB enthusiast who wants to add some flair and variety to their diet and dinner parties, this book is ideal.


In spite of being the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the Humane Society by day, Dr Greger doesn’t overtly focus on being vegan or vegetarian in the book.


Unlike many others in this field, he doesn’t lead with animal welfare as the primary basis for his dietary appraoch.  In the introduction to the cookbook, he talks about his personal experience of seeing his grandmother’s life turned around by this way, under the guidance of Nathan Pritikin (pictured below).


Greger is a self-confessed “nutrition nerd” who appears to find genuine excitement in unpacking the research to find links between different aspects of diet and their impact on health.  His Nutrition Facts YouTube channel has become viral and has become the primary resource for pre-processed nutritional inspiration for many.

Frame of reference

Nutrition is still an emerging science.  We seem to still be fumbling trying to understand the mechanisms, the cause and effect relationships of the food we eat on our health, well-being and longevity.

To deal with complexities of a topic like nutrition, we adopt a simplified frame of reference to help us navigate our reality without our mind exploding.  These simplified frames of reference are never perfect.  It’s also hard one frame of reference that explains everything perfectly.  Over time we strive to create new and more useful frames of reference that suits use best.[1]

Some example of different frames of references for nutrition are:

  • The Paleo frame of reference says we should eat foods that we evolved with.
  • The vegan frame of reference says we should eat foods that don’t harm other sentient life forms.
  • The hedonistic frame of references says, “if it tastes good, eat it.”
  • The cost frame of reference optimises for the lowest cost per calorie with minimal consideration of nutrition.
  • The Heart Association frame of reference believes that minimising fat, especially saturated fat, will help us avoid heart disease.
  • The conservationist frame of reference tries to eat in a way that we should eat in a way the minimise our impact on the environment.
  • The Seventh Day Adventist Church (who have a large influence through their food companies and medical evangelism) believe that they should eat plants and herbs (and not meat) because that’s how it was in the Garden of Eden.
  • The low carb/keto frame of reference suggests that minimising carbohydrates and maximising fat will lead to optimum health for most people.

As a doctor, Dr Greger relies on the medical research frame of reference.  He draws associations between different food properties and health outcomes and tries to develop a system that avoids the qualities of food that he believes to be dangerous.

While some people suggest that Greger cherry picks the studies and interprets the data to fit his plant-based perspective,[2][3][4] the research-based frame of reference is at least a refreshing contrast to the fear-based frame of reference in more militant vegan presentations (e.g. What the Health and Cowspiracy).

The Optimising Nutrition framework

Nutrient density

While I don’t call myself a Nutritarian, my frame of reference has a lot in common with Dr Joel Fuhrman’s focus on nutrient density.

Rather than focusing on foods to avoid I think we need to focus on foods that contain the nutrients we need.  By focusing on the things we need we automatically eliminate the things that aren’t good for us in excess.  Ultimately, I think we should focus on eating the foods that give us the nutrients without having to ingest too much energy to get those nutrients.

Dr Mat Lalonde’s take on nutrient density has also been a major inspiration.  Lalonde took Fuhrman’s ANDI and re-ran the analysis to consider only essential vitamins, vitamins, amino acids and essential fatty acids for which there are widely available data and some consensus on the minimum nutrient intakes.

The problem with Lalonde’s approach, though, is that amino acids are very easy to find in our food system, so the system ends up optimising for very high protein foods at the expensive of vitamins and minerals which can be harder to obtain in our food system.

Dr Greger is also a big fan of nutrient density as shown in this video.

Rather than emphasising all nutrients, the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm identifies the nutrients that you are not getting in large quantities and identifies foods that will boost those nutrients.


If you want to follow a particular dietary template (e.g. vegan, paleo, ketogenic, low carb, whole food plant based, pescetarian, vegetarian, bivalve vegan etc) the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm can work within those parameters to identify the most nutrient-dense foods.  However, the optimal nutritional outcome tends to be to simply focus on the most nutrient-dense foods available.

Insulin load

As the husband of someone who has had type 1 diabetes for three decades, I also see the importance of eating food that doesn’t require massive amounts of insulin to maintain normal healthy blood sugar levels.

There is value in managing dietary insulin load to make sure you don’t need massive levels of insulin to stabilise your blood sugar.  The food insulin index data shows us that our glucose response is proportional to the carbohydrate we eat.[5][6]image10.png

While our insulin response is related to the non-fibre carbohydrates minus about half the fibre.


Energy density

And lastly, energy density can be a useful tool to help you moderate your food intake.


This is another area where the WFPB approach shines in contrast to the low carb or ketogenic approaches, which can be energy dense and make it possible to overeat.

Without the use of added oils or a significant amount of processed grains and sugars, it will be practically impossible to overeat using only the meals set out in the How Not to Die Cookbook.


Meals analysed

I chose representative meals from the various sections of the book.   If you click on the recipes listed below, you will see the meal entries in Cronometer.  If you want the photos and directions, you’ll have to buy the book).

●     portabellas and greens on toast
●     curried cauliflower soup
●     skillet sweet potato bake
●     white bean soup
●     spinach and mushroom black bean burritos
●     summertime oatmeal
●     whole wheat pasta with lentil bolognese
●     superfood breakfast bites
●     chocolate-cherry-banana soft-serve
●     morning oatmeal bowls
●     chocolate oatmeal

micronutrient profile

The figure below shows the nutrient profile of Dr Greger’s recipes in terms of nutrients provided as a proportion of the recommended daily intake.


As you might expect, we get a ton of vitamin K1, vitamin A and vitamin C.  However, at the top of the chart, we’re not meeting the DRI levels of vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Nutrient score

The Nutrient Score is a relative comparison of the quantity of essential nutrients in our food.

If your diet provides twice the minimum level of nutrients, then we would achieve a perfect score of 100%.  This approach doesn’t reward massive amount of a small number of nutrients, but rather leads people to rebalance their diet so they can obtain a substantial intake of all the essential nutrients.

In his Perfect Health Diet, Paul Jaminet notes that “a nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the required nutrients in the right proportions is the key to eliminating hunger and minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake.”[7]  Similarly, studies by Dr Joel Fuhrman indicate that a nutrient dense diet will reduce cravings and provide satiety with a lower energy intake.[8]

Overall, the recipes from the How Not to Die Cookbook get a respectable Nutrient Density Score of a score of 79%.   For comparison, the lowest Nutrient Density score is 20% while the highest score to date has been 92%.


The macronutrient split of the recipes is shown in the chart below.     While these foods are 70% carbohydrates, there are only 54% non-fibre carbohydrates once we subtract the fibre.



As shown in the chart below of nutrient density score vs non-fibre carbohydrates (see this article for more detail), we can get a reasonable amount of nutrition with net carbs anywhere in the range of 0 to around 60%.  So, while not optimal, this level of non-carbohydrates in Dr Greger’s meals is not excessive for most people.  However if you already have diabetes it will likely not provide optimal blood sugar control.



Similarly with fat at 14%, we’re still within an acceptable macronutrient range, although optimal nutrient density seems to align with around 40% fat.



For the sake of analysis, I have run the Nutrient Optimiser report for a male who is 80 kg (176 lbs) with 15% body fat to achieve a maintenance energy intake of 2000 calories per day.  Dr Greger’s recipes provide on average 84 g of protein per day which equates to 1.2 g/kg lean body mass (LBM) or 1.05 g/kg total body mass per day.

Optimal protein is a contentious topic. However, we can say that the intake level provided by Dr Gregor’s meals would exceed the Adequate Intake level of 0.86 g/kg and is about equivalent to the recommended daily intake.[9]

Where things get murky is when we talk about the bioavailability of plant-based protein versus animal protein; however, Dr Gregor generally appears more concerned about not getting too much “animal protein” for longevity considerations.

I’m not aware of any research in humans that demonstrates that we live longer by reducing protein intake.  There is research in yeast and worm that shows that energy restriction and protein restriction causes slower growth and overall longevity, though the quality of life may be compromised.[10]

What appears clear is that having more lean muscle mass and lower levels of body fat is a good thing.[11]

To optimise your health and longevity you need to find the balance between excess growth and obesity versus being too frail and weak to be resilient as we age.


As shown in the chart below, there is an optimal balance between growth and wasting.[12] Too much insulin and you grow to the point that you get complications of metabolic disease.  Too little growth and you become frail, lose your muscle and bone strength then you may fall, break your hip and never get up again.


If you are lifting heavy and trying to build muscle, you may benefit from consuming at least 1.8g/kg total body weight.[13]


And if you are dieting and trying to lose body fat, then it seems to be beneficial to have anywhere between 1.4g/kg total body weight (for a moderate energy deficit) and up to 2.6g/kg body weight (for a very aggressive energy deficit) if you want to preserve your lean muscle mass.[14][15]image7.png

Insulin load

Insulin load is the amount of the food in your diet that will require insulin to process due to the non-fibre carbs and protein.  This video from Dr Greger was one of the things that got me thinking about insulin load there three years ago and trying to put the pieces to.

While having plenty of vitamins and minerals (particularly potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium) from whole foods helps to improve blood sugar control by improving insulin sensitivity, so does lower levels of processed carbohydrates that tend to raise blood sugar levels.

Dr Greger’s diet would provide an insulin load of around 341g per day with 67% insulinogenic calories.   For those of you that are used to thinking in terms of carbohydrates, this is 294g per day of non-fibre carbohydrates.

Insulin load is actually quite closely correlated with nutrient density.[16]  While 67% insulinogenic calories is just inside the nutrient density envelope, such a high insulin load would be a problem for someone like my wife Monica who has Type 1 diabetes.

As discussed in the vegan vs keto for diabetes article, a whole food diet can provide benefits in terms of higher levels of beneficial nutrients to help with insulin sensitivity and generally means people eat less due to a lower energy density of fruit and vegetables, it seems to be the people on a reduced carbohydrate higher protein approach that has the best diabetes control.[17][18]


Optimal nutrient density appears to align with an around 40% insulinogenic calories.  People who are already insulin resistant or who have diabetes should work to reduce the insulin load of their diet to the point that they can achieve stable blood sugar levels.

It is harder for someone not consuming any animal products or seafood to reduce their insulin load.  However, we will look at how someone following a WFPB diet can minimise their insulin load as much as possible.

Potential Renal Acid load (PRAL)

It’s also worth noting that Dr Greger’s recipes have a solid amount of alkalising minerals, notably:

  • calcium (207% of the DRI),
  • potassium (210%),
  • magnesium (269%), and
  • sodium (234%).

While I’m a proponent of getting adequate protein, I also think getting adequate minerals is critical to metabolic health, as well as muscle building.[19][20][21][22][23][24]

Some believe that avoidance of animal products is the most important parameter.  However, I think one of the major benefits of a WFPB approach over a grain-based diet (or even a typical ketogenic or low carb diet managing diabetes) is the fact that it gives you plenty of alkalising minerals, which serves to reverse metabolic acidosis which leads to diabetes.

Nutrient balance ratios

The table below shows the nutrient balance ratios of Dr Greger’s recipes.

  • It seems there are lower levels of zinc and higher levels of copper, which is a concern.
  • The potassium : sodium ratio is above 2 which is great.  However, I would have expected this to be higher given that Dr Greger actively avoids salt.
  • The iron : copper ratio is high due to higher levels of copper from the plant-based diet.
  • The calcium : phosphorus ratio is low due to the lower levels of calcium and higher levels of phosphorous.
ratios ratio target recommendation
Omega 6 : Omega 3 2.1 < 4 Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio is good.
Zinc : Copper 3 8 – 12 Zinc : Copper ratio is outside limits.
Potassium : Sodium 2.3 > 2 potassium : sodium ratio is good
Calcium : Magnesium 1.8  < 2 calcium : magnesium ratio is good.
Iron : Copper 8 10 – 15 iron : copper ratio is within range.
Calcium : Phosphorus 0.9 > 1.3 calcium : phosphorus ratio is low.

Nutrients to prioritise

The aim of the Nutrient Optimiser is to help you rebalance your nutrients at a micronutrient level by identifying foods that will provide more of the nutrients that you are currently not getting in large quantities.


The table below lists the nutrients that someone following Dr Greger’s diet would be getting less of relative to the other nutrients.  The right-hand column indicates whether we want to prioritise these nutrients.

While six of the thirteen less-available nutrients are amino acids, we will only prioritise the vitamins and minerals, given that Dr Greger has a range of videos warning of the perils of “excess” animal protein.[25]

nutrient % DRI prioritise
Vitamin D 17% yes
Cobalamin (B12) 26% yes
Leucine 101% no
Zinc 124% yes
Methionine 124% no
Lysine 157% no
Pantothenic Acid (B5) 174% Yes
Selenium 188% yes
Valine 192% no
Isoleucine 197% no
Tyrosine 199% no
Calcium 207% yes
Potassium 207% yes

Optimal foods – nutrient dense plant-based

The image below shows the plant-based foods that would provide the nutrients that are not being provided in large quantities by Dr Greger’s meals.  The food shaded in light green are vegetables, the foods in dark green are spices, brown ad nuts and seeds, grey are oils and pink are fruits.


Optimal foods – most nutrient dense

Meanwhile, the image below shows the foods that would provide the harder to find nutrients without the plant-based constraint.  In this table, the cells shaded green are seafood, red is offal, blue is dairy.


What I find fascinating here is that even though we did not prioritise any amino acids or essential fatty acids, the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm seems to rebalance the diet with more protein (50%), more fat (35%) and less non-fibre carbs (3%).

Optimal foods – diabetes-friendly plant based

Meanwhile, if we were trying to manage diabetes and insulin resistance, these are the foods that the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm would recommend to manage insulin load while also being nutrient dense and filling in the nutrient gaps in Dr Greger’s meal while also remaining plant-based.


If we weren’t trying to avoid animal products, the foods listed below would provide the harder to find nutrients required with a lower insulin load.   It’s interesting that the system prioritised butter, cream and cheese to help reduce insulin load and rebalance micronutrients in Dr Greger’s recipes.

Most of the time when I have run the analysis for people following a low carb diet the system recommends much more nutrient-packed green veggies that are often neglected by people following a low carb or keto diet.  It’s interesting to see that for someone follow Dr Greger’s recipies it would recommend the opposite.


Optimal meals

Where this gets really cool is when we use the same process to identify meals to boost the harder to find micronutrients.   The list below shows a selection of meals identified by the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm to fill the micronutrient gaps in Dr Greger’s meal plan.

●     Bootcamp Omelette
●     eggs, sardines, oysters and broccoli
●     spinach, mussels, sardines, eggs, sauerkraut
●     spinach, egg and oysters breakfast bowl
●     mussels, spinach, egg and sauerkraut
●     sardines, spinach and egg breakfast bowl
●     spinach, mackerel, peanuts and cheese
●     anchovies, spinach and egg breakfast bowl
●     oysters and salmon
●     Rhonda Patrick smoothie 1
●     mackerel, spinach, egg breakfast bowl
●     nutritional omelette 2
●     nutrient omelette 1
●     high cruciferous juice
●     cauliflower cream soup
●     green juice
●     lift day omelette

The chart below shows the nutrients provided by these meals.  Compared to the 78% provided by the meals from the How Not to Die Cookbook, these meals from the Nutrient Optimiser would provide an almost perfect score of 99%!


The higher nutrient density provided by these meals will mean that you would need to consume less energy to get the nutrients you need, while also improving insulin resistance, mitochondrial function and overall energy levels with the higher levels of essential and nonessential nutrients from whole foods.


If you’re interested, you can read Dr Greger’s full Nutrient Optimiser report here.


  • The recipes in the How Not to Die Cookbook are nutritious while remaining whole food plant based.
  • The protein content meets the recommended minimum intake levels. However, higher protein levels may be required to maximise muscle protein synthesis for someone who is active or wanting to maintain lean muscle mass while losing body fat.
  • The meals are relatively low fat but relatively high in non-fibre carbohydrate. While this level of carbohydrate is not excessive for someone who is metabolically healthy, someone who has diabetes may benefit from foods with a lower insulin load while also still maximising the nutrients that are provided by non-starchy vegetables.
  • We can use the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm to identify foods that contain more of these harder to find nutrients regardless of our preferred nutritional constraints.




























optimal meals and foods for fat loss and muscle building

Ever wondered what foods and meals are optimal for fat loss and muscle building?

Ketogains’ Luis Villasenor recently put a call out for recipes for their upcoming Ketogains Boot Camp, so I thought it would be interesting to see what the Nutrient Optimiser had to say about optimal foods and meals that align with the Ketogains approach.

luis villasenor

The essence of the Ketogains approach is to:

  1. consume adequate protein,
  2. limit carbohydrates, and
  3. use ‘fat as a lever’.[1]

This article unpacks each aspect of the Ketogains system.


Protein as a goal

The Ketogains macro calculator recommends a minimum protein intake of 0.8g per pound of lean body mass (LBM) (i.e. 1.8g/kg LBM), increasing to 1.0g/lb LBM (or 2.2g/kg LBM) on lifting days.

This protein intake level is more than would be recommended in a therapeutic ketogenic approach or even the average protein intake for the general population.[2] [3] It does, however, align with Steve Phinney’s recommended protein intake level for athletes and performance and represents a more optimal protein intake for active people.[4] [5] [6]

From a sports nutrition standpoint, more than 2.2 gram per kilogram of total body weight is regarded as “high protein”.[7]  This could be as high as 3.0g/kg LBM when fat mass is taken into account.  So, while the Ketogains protein recommendations might be considered high in therapeutic keto and vegan circles, the Ketogains recommendations would be ‘moderate’ in a sports nutrition and bodybuilding circles.[8]

This chart above (from Lemon, 1998[9]) shows that, for a strength athlete, muscle protein synthesis is maximised when they consume at least 1.8g/kg BW of protein.


Protein intake even more important when you are trying to lose weight.  The higher the energy deficit, the greater is our need for protein to prevent loss of lean muscle mass.  If we are active and/or doing resistance training, then our requirement for protein is even higher again.  As shown in the chart below from a recent review paper by Stuart Phillips, muscle mass is best preserved best when we have higher levels of protein, particularly if you are targeting an aggressive deficit.[10] [11]  If you are targetting a moderate energy deficit (e.g. 10%) then a protein intake of around 1.5g/kg BW is appropriate.  However, if we are targetting a very aggressive energy deficit then higher levels, up to 2.6g/kg BW will be beneficial to prevent loss of lean muscle mass.  If we are active then we will also need more (dashed line) while we need less if we are sedentary (dotted line).


While it’s actually difficult to consume such high levels of protein due to the satiety effect, more protein won’t turn to chocolate cake.  [12]


Protein contributes to your energy intake.  So if your goal is fat loss, then you want to target the minimum effective dose of macronutrients and micronutrients.

As a general rule, a higher protein intake tends to lead to a better nutritional profile[13] and increased satiety.[14] [15]  Very high protein diets (i.e. above than 80% energy from protein) will likely rely on supplements and may minimise other foods that provide more vitamins and minerals.  As you can see on the far left of this chart, actively targeting a low protein intake can lead to a poor nutritional outcome.[16]

protein (%) vs nutrient density score [click to enlarge]
[note: If your goal is therapeutic ketosis for the management of epilepsy, dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s you will need to pay particular attention to ensure you get your share of micronutrients.]

Carbs as a limit

As you can see in the chart below,[17] you can get a reasonable level of nutrition if you consume anywhere between 0 and 60% of your energy from non-fibre carbs.[18]  However, with an exploding diabetes epidemic,[19] [20] [21] it’s probably fair to say that the majority of people would do better if they reduced their consumption of refined grains and sugars.

carbohydrates (%) vs nutrient density score [click to enlarge]
If you have already developed insulin resistance or diabetes, then reducing your carbohydrate intake to the point you achieve normal blood glucose levels is a good idea,[22] both in terms of overall health and controlling appetite that can be driven by excessive blood sugar swings.

Screenshot 2017-12-01 18.54.14.png

The fact that much of the population is already insulin resistant is likely part of the reason the Ketogains approach, with its limit on carbs, has been so successful.


Low carbers are fond of saying “there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate”.  However, unless you are focusing on getting lots of organ meat, shellfish, or fresh meat, you may benefit from consuming some non-starchy veggies to get your essential vitamins and minerals.

Twenty or thirty grams of non-fibre carbs doesn’t sound like much in the context of grains or sugars, but it can feel like a LOT of food to consume if it’s from non-starchy veggies.[23]


Fat as a lever

So to recap before we get into discussing fat:

  1. Adequate protein is critical to support muscle growth and repair.
  2. Non-starchy veggies (which contain a small amount of non-fibre carbohydrates) provide vitamins and minerals (unless of course, you are eating heaps of shellfish, organ meat or drinking blood like the Maasai).

Recently, many people are swinging back from their fear of fat to embrace dietary fat again.  Carbohydrate is a more explosive fuel source for emergencies, while fat is a slower burning and more efficient fuel source.

While there are essential fats, we don’t require much to meet our minimum requirements of essential fats.[24]  Beyond this, where you get your energy doesn’t matter that much.

Many people do fine on a diet that obtains a lot of the energy from carbs while other do well on a diet that get the majority of energy from fat.  However, where things seem to go wrong is when people consume diet that is high in energy dense nutrient poor fat and carbs with minimal amounts of protein.

fat vs carbs.jpg

As you can see from the chart below, we can achieve a respectable nutritional outcome with a fat intake of between 10 and 65%.   More fat is not necessarily better, but very low-fat levels are not great either as they tend to have minimal amounts of protein and other essential nutrients.

fat (%) vs nutrient density score [click to enlarge]
If you are trying to reduce body fat, then maximising the nutrient density and reducing the energy density of your food is a worthy goal.  A protein sparing modified fast, an extreme version of this, provides adequate protein while limiting both fat and carbohydrates.


If you are looking to gain weight, add muscle or perform extended feats of endurance exercise on a regular basis, it may be beneficial to load up on more energy dense foods.  However, conversely, if are not an endurance athlete but trying to use your body fat for fuel (like most of us these days living in a sedentary environment full of hyperpalatable food), you may want to wind your dietary fat intake back.


Once you’ve worked out your macros using the Ketogains calculator and got the hang of using fat as a lever to manage energy intake, the next step is to ensure you are getting your share of micronutrients.


Focusing purely on macros (e.g. Flexible Dieting, IIFYM, etc.) is short-sighted because it fails to consider micronutrients.  Chronic energy restriction without attention to micronutrients can lead to chronic nutrient deficiencies,[25] a lack of energy, increased hunger,[26] rebound bingeing due to cravings and even death.[27]

You’re likely aware that the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) trigger muscle protein synthesis and ensure you use the rest of the amino acids to build and repair your muscles.[28]  However, recent research has found that the amino acids arginine and lysine trigger satiety and hence we find foods that contain these amino acids more filling.[29] [30]

The chart below shows what your micronutrient profile would look like if you focused on branched chain amino acids (valine, isoleucine, and leucine) and the satiety-related amino acids (lysine and arginine) while also keeping carbohydrates low.


While we get plenty of protein with this approach, we would not obtain the recommended minimum levels of a large number of the essential vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

As much as we like to focus on macronutrients (i.e. fat, protein, carbohydrates, fibre, ketones), micronutrients are arguably a more useful to assist us in our nutritional decision making.

Getting adequate minerals is especially important for:

  • avoiding the symptoms of the keto flu,[31]
  • reversing insulin resistance and minimising the amount of basal insulin circulating in your body,[32] [33] [34] and
  • maximising athletic performance.[35]


The chart below shows what happens to our micronutrient profile when, in addition to BCAAs, we also prioritise foods that contain the harder to find micronutrients.  The purple bars represent the nutrients contained in the average of all foods in the USDA foods database while the blue bars represent the nutrients contained in the shortlist of foods.

nutrients - weight loss insulin resistant vs all foods.PNG

Optimal foods

In case you were wondering which foods will give you the most micronutrients while also having a lower energy density and fewer carbs, I have listed them below.


  • endive
  • alfalfa
  • chicory greens
  • escarole
  • coriander
  • pumpkin leaves
  • asparagus
  • spinach
  • Chinese cabbage
  • lettuce
  • parsley
  • okra
  • zucchini
  • beet greens
  • watercress
  • arugula
  • portabella mushrooms
  • chives
  • chard
  • white mushroom
  • turnip greens
  • cauliflower
  • mustard greens
  • banana pepper
  • cucumber
  • pickles
  • sauerkraut
  • yeast extract spread
  • summer squash
  • radishes
  • broccoli
  • collards
  • shiitake mushroom
  • celery
  • artichokes
  • eggplant
  • cabbage
  • snap beans
  • turnips
  • red peppers


  • basil
  • dill (fresh)
  • sage
  • marjoram
  • curry powder
  • thyme
  • caraway seed
  • mustard seed
  • dill seed
  • cloves


  • blackberries
  • avocado
  • raspberries
  • olives


  • salmon
  • sturgeon
  • halibut
  • fish roe
  • anchovy
  • crab
  • trout
  • caviar
  • crayfish
  • flounder
  • mackerel
  • sardine
  • oysters
  • mussel
  • rockfish
  • pollock
  • lobster
  • herring
  • haddock
  • perch
  • whiting
  • tuna
  • shrimp
  • white fish
  • cod
  • octopus


  • liver
  • kidney
  • heart
  • brains
  • headcheese
  • brains

animal products

  • pork chops
  • pork shoulder
  • lamb
  • roast pork
  • pork loin
  • ground pork
  • pork ribs
  • roast ham
  • leg ham
  • sirloin steak
  • ground beef
  • chicken drumstick
  • chicken breast
  • veal
  • bratwurst
  • chuck steak
  • roast beef
  • ham
  • ground turkey
  • turkey
  • beef roast
  • lamb
  • ribeye fillet
  • bison
  • beef loin
  • ground beef

dairy & egg

  • whole egg
  • egg yolk
  • whey protein powder

You should ideally focus on the foods closer to the top of these lists.  But once you’ve eaten as much endive, alfalfa, liver and caviar as you can, feel free to move down the list to more energy dense foods or ones that you might enjoy eating more.


If you can’t get enough nutrient-dense foods, it may be beneficial to use supplements.[36]  Keep in mind though, the nutrients from whole foods are likely to be better absorbed.

Too many minerals at once will ‘give you a dose of the salts’ and all your expensive supplements will end up in the toilet.  Whole foods are also more likely to contain other beneficial non-essential nutrients that come along with nutrient-dense foods.

What to track

“What gets measured gets managed”.[37]

But we can only manage a handful of things at a time.

“If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

Rather than trying to track everything all at once you need to identify a few things to track to ensure you are moving towards your goals.

In the context of losing fat and gaining muscle the best things to track appear to be:

  1. weight/body fat,
  2. macros/calories, and
  3. performance (e.g. weight on the bar).

weight / body fat

Most people want to have more energy and look good naked.  While it’s much easier to track body weight, this ultiamte goal really about losing body fat.

There are a ton of different ways to measure body fat (e.g. DEXA, comparison photos, bioimpedance scales, Skulpt, the Navy Method, etc.).  They are all inaccurate to some degree.

You can do your head in focusing on the fluctuations on the scale or body fat from day to day.  But, you want to see your overall weight and body fat reducing toward your target levels.  People who successfully lose weight and keep it off manage their food intake, measure their weight regularly and are active![38] [39]

If you’re a fitness model you might want to measure yourself daily.  If you’re just starting to focus on eating well and lifting, then you might just want to weigh yourself weekly or monthly.[40]

If you are not moving towards your goals over the long term, something needs to change.

body fat chart.png

But first, you need to set some realistic goals.  Take the time to determine your current and target body weight, fat (in kg and %) and lean body mass (LBM).

  current target
body weight (kg)
body fat (%)
body fat (kg)
LBM (kg)

If you are disciplined, it is possible to lose 1% of your mass per week, but 0.5% is a more realistic and less aggressive target.  If you are already lean, then it will be harder to lose fat without losing muscle so you may need a less aggressive deficit.[41]

It’s not all about the weight on the scale.  You can be losing fat and gaining muscle, the weight on the scale probably is the most reliable indicator that you’ve got your inputs right.  If you’re getting enough protein and working out, incrased muscle mass should be looking after itself, and any loss should be mainly fat.[42]

Keep in mind that body weight is a lagging measurement that tells you whether you’re on the right track.  Tracking inputs (e.g. food intake and exercise) will be much more useful.

macros / calories

Personally, I don’t enjoy tracking my food, so I’ve designed a range of food lists and meals that will help most people improve from where they currently are.  It will be pretty hard to get/stay morbidly obese if you eat only the foods and meals listed above.

But eating to satiety won’t guarantee you will lose weight.  If you want to look like a fitness model, or you are not getting your desired results from ‘eating ad libitum’ you will likely need to track your food to overcome your inbuilt impulse to maintain a higher body weight and prepare for a possible famine ahead.

Tracking your food in an app like Cronometer can be a useful educational experience.


The Ketogains calculator will give you a starting point in terms of calorie intake based on your current weight and activity levels.  If, after a few weeks, you are not seeing the progress you were hoping for you will need to adjust your inputs.

Performance/weight on the bar

Building muscle or achieving a performance goal is probably more important than weight loss, particularly if you are not trying to get down to a very low level of body fat.

The great thing about using a performance goal is that it is both a leading and lagging measure.  By going harder, faster and heavier you are providing a greater stimulus for growth.  And by measuring your performance outputs, you are ensuring that you are getting fitter/faster/healthier.

While being strong doesn’t guarantee weight loss, being stronger will improve your metabolic health, insulin sensitivity and ability to burn fat more effectively than nearly anything else.


Having more lean muscle mass will ensure you burn both glucose and fat more efficiently.  Lean muscle mass is a key predictor of longevity.[43]

muscular woman.png

The Ketogains boot camp uses a 5×5 strength progression.  The Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength uses a similar progressive overload approach.  These programs involve compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, row etc.) and progressive overload meaning that you add weight to the bar each time and continue to get stronger.   By doing this, you train your body to produce energy more efficiently.


Don’t be surprised if your appetite ramps up during the first few months of intensive lifting as your body goes into anabolic overdrive to recover and build new muscle.  This should settle down though after a while, and you can then focus on dialling your diet in if you want to gain strength as well as lose body fat.[44]  You have a unique window of ‘newb gains’ during initial whne you can get stronger at in a way that you may never achieve again.  You can focus on getting to single digit body fat later.

Other stuff that you could track

There are other things that you might like to track, but they will be less useful than the things mentioned above.  Most people have limited time and don’t really want to live a completely quantified life.  Unless this is your only hobby or you are a professional athlete or fitness model, you may quickly hit ‘analysis paralysis’ and give up.

quantified self.png

There is no guarantee that technology will help you reach your goals.  In fact, it seems that you are more likely to gain weight if you use wearables like a Fitbit.[45]  It’s hard to know whether this is due to the EMF or perhaps the wearer is always allowing themselves to consume the extra calories that their technology told them that they just burned with exercise.

So, coming from a biohacker nerd….  don’t try to track too many things at once!  OK?

Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variability between your heart beats.  If you are stressed and/or exhausted your heart will be more rhythmically as well as more rapidly.   If you are relaxed and well rested your heart will be more to stresses and quickly return to rest.


Measuring your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can tell you if you’re pushing too hard and need to rest recover or you’re not pushing hard enough and should be working harder to maximise your progress.  Training when you are burning out can be counterproductive and lead to injury or under recovery.

2018-01-01 11.28.18.png

HRV tells you whether your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is balanced.

  • If you are “parasympathetic nervous system dominant” you might be overstressed from too much activity, not enough sleep, too much caffeine or work stress.
  • If you are “sympathetic nervous system dominant”, then it probably means your body wants to rest. You’ll probably do better if you listen to it and let it recover.
  • If your overall HRV is dropping, it means you are burning out and should consider slowing down.

After 1.5 years of measuring my HRV each morning, it’s uncanny how many times I will see my HRV fall a few days before you get the flu or hit the wall.  I don’t like to stay still long enough to meditate, so tracking each day with Elite HRV is part of my relaxation, breathing and focus at the start of each day.


Blood sugar

Your blood sugar and glucose control is a powerful indicator of metabolic health.  But blood sugar readings can vary depending, not just due to the food you eat or your metabolic health, but also exercise and stress.

blood sugar ketones.png

If you have diabetes, then refining your food choices to normalise your blood sugars is critical. However, regular blood sugar tracking is likely a waste of time and money for most people who are following a Ketogains style approach (i.e. tracking their food to ensure they are moving towards an optimal weight, getting adequate protein and lifting regularly) is unnecessary.

Blood ketones

Unless you require therapeutic ketosis to help manage epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s measuring your blood ketones is also largely an irrelevant distraction.

Lots of people get caught up chasing ‘optimal ketosis’ by eating more dietary fat and less protein.  However, this is exactly the opposite of what you need to gain strength and lose body fat.

Blood ketones do increase when we don’t eat. But high ketone levels don’t mean you are burning your own body fat.  It could just be the three Bulletproof coffees and exogenous ketones you just had to get that are driving your high ketone levels.

Some people, especially those who are physically fit and/or have been practising a low carb diet for a long time, seem to have lower blood ketone levels, even if they are eating a ‘ketogenic’ diet.  It’s hard to know whether this is due to the more efficient use of ketones or the fact they are burning more fat through non-ketogenic pathways.

Ketones are just one of a number of ways that we burn fat (chart from Dave Feldman)

Someone who is not so metabolically healthy can load up on exogenous ketones, butter and MCT oil and get a high blood ketone reading on their meter.  But this may just mean that they have eaten a lot of fat that they are not burning (because of their lack of activity and/or poor metabolic health) and the fat is backing up in their bloodstream.

A healthy metabolism seems to keep the total energy circulating in the bloodstream fairly low (i.e. from glucose, ketones or free fatty acids).  If you are metabolically healthy, you can easily access your fat stores so you don’t need to build up high energy stores in the blood.  By contrast, someone with a less healthy metabolism seems to maintain higher energy stores in the blood (i.e. glucose, ketones, free fatty acids) as well as on their body.[46]

This chart shows more than 3000 data points of blood glucose and ketones together from a range of people following a low carb and ketogenic diet.  Having high blood ketones and high blood sugar at the same time is not good!  Healthy people tend to have lower blood sugar and moderate level ketones.

Most people don’t need to worry about their blood glucose and ketone levels consciously.  If you focus on nutrient dense food to optimise your mitochondrial function and strength building to keep pushing your mitochondria to produce energy at peak efficiency, then your body will probably look after the rest.

[At the risk of getting too technical, it’s worth pointing out that blood ketones rise because there is a lack of Oxaloacetate (from protein and carbs) available to burn Acetyl CoA from fat in the Krebs cycle, so the body defaults to a starvation protocol to produce ketones (AcetoAcetate). 

Figure from Amy Berger showing how fat can be burned in the Krebs cycle or via ketosis when there is not enough Oxaloacetate from protein and carbs turn the Krebs cycle.

If your NAD+ is low, AcetoAcetate will not be converted to Acetone so there will be lots of beta-hydroxybutyrate left in the blood to be measured on your meter.  So, other than fasting and/or exercising to deplete your liver glycogen levels, one ‘hack’ to achieve high blood ketone is to avoid protein and eat a nutrient-poor diet low in niacin and other B vitamins (which produce NAD+).  But don’t try this at home.  It’s not a recipe for optimal health, just high blood ketone levels.]  


Ketogains’ Tyler Cartwright has lost nearly three hundred pounds without exceeding 0.4mmol/L blood ketones on his ketone metre (other than that time he ate nothing but lard for two weeks as an experiment and got to 0.5mmol/L).[47]

tyer cartwright.png

Breath ketones

Breath ketones are an interesting indication of your metabolic health.  But again, they’re not necessary if you are already focusing on a nutrient-dense diet without too much energy and plenty of activity.


Waist measurement

BMI is often used to assess whether or not someone is at a healthy weight.


However, BMI is notoriously problematic for people with more muscle.


Waist to height ratio is a much better predictor of the years of life that you will lose due to your poor health.[48]


Micronutrients and nutrient score

Focusing on the nutrient-dense whole foods above and the meals below will get you most of the way to optimal nutrition.  However, you can also track your macronutrients in Cronometer to help you identify the nutrients you are not getting from your diet.


But then, once you’ve tracked your food in Cronometer, you are left wondering what foods and meals you should eat.  and if need to supplement, how much of each supplement do you require and how much?

The Nutrient Score is a measure of the micronutrient quality of your diet.  If you were able to get two times the recommended daily intake of all the essential micronutrients, you would get a perfect score of 100%.

To demonstrate what this looks like in practice, Ted Naiman’s diet got a very respectable nutrient score of 70%.

ted naiman.png

Luis’ got 72%.

luis nutrition.png

Nutrition nerd Alex Leaf (and regular reviewer of my blog posts… thanks so much Alex!!!!) scored an impressive 74%.

alex leave.png

Mike Berta also scored 74%.

mike berta.png

Brianna Theroux’s scored a very healthy 79%.

brianna theroux.png

And sitting at the top of the leaderboard is Dr Rhonda Patrick with a score of 82%.

rhonda patrick.png

But the coolest competition is against yourself.  Andy Mant managed to seriously up his nutritional game…


… by eating a LOT of nutrient-dense seafood…


… in preparation for his Paris wedding.


By following the recommendations of the Nutrient Optimiser analysis, Robin was able to improve her nutrient score to 32% (junk food diet) to 68% over a number of iterations (see report 1, report 2 and report 3).

In the process, she was able to significantly improve her blood glucose levels, dropping her HBA1c from 10.6% to 6.4%.  Robin was also able to progress from taking hundreds of units of insulin per day to only needing occasional correcting doses to fine tune her blood sugars.  She also managed to lose 2.6lbs per week!


And after a couple of rounds of following the Nutrient Optimiser recommendations and a couple of Ketogains boot camps the Matt Standridge (aka The Ketodontist) has stepped up from a nutrient score of 48% to 73%.  He says he is feeling great and continues to gain muscle and lose fat.


The Nutrient Optimiser

While there are common themes, each person’s micronutrient fingerprint is unique.  The optimal foods and meals that will balance your micronutrient profile are unique to you.  The Nutrient Optimiser is the only tool that will tell you what foods are ideal to balance your diet while also aligning with your goals.

Currently, the Nutrient Optimiser is a manual report that will help you optimise your nutrition from the micronutrients based on your food log in Cronometer.  We’re working hard to develop an automated system that will use your goals and whatever data you have to help you refine your nutrition to achieve your goals.

If you don’t want to track your food, the system will tell you what meals and foods will align with your goals.  But if you want to step up your game and provide other data we can work with that to further refine your nutritional prescription to fill in your micronutrient gaps.  The system will also adapt with you to improve your nutrition, ideally from diabetic to weight loss to achieving your performance goals.

nutrient optimiser.png

It might just be your secret weapon to help you blitz #transormationtuesday.


  • The Ketogains protocol involves getting adequate protein (to support muscle growth and recovery) and adequate carbs to get essential vitamins and minerals. Fat is used as a level to manipulate energy intake to suit your goals.
  • If you are limiting your energy intake, maximising your nutrient : energy ratio is critical!
  • The Nutrient Optimiser can help you identify foods and meals that align with your goals and fill in your micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Chose what you track wisely. Trying to manage too many things can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’.  If you manage the most important inputs, results should naturally follow.




I’ve been building a database of to help identify the meals that provide you with the nutrients you need more of and align with your goals.

If you are tracking in Cronometer, you can sign up for a Nutrient Optimiser analysis and report here to find out which foods and meals will help you move forward.  I’ve also been working with Alex from Nutrient Hero for the past few months building a massive database of recipes we can use to optimise your nutrition.

It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but it won’t be too long before it’s all automated and online.  If you want to be the first to trial the beta version then make sure you enter your email in the pop on this page or head over to now to learn more.

The recipes below are some of the highest ranking when we prioritise some of the harder to find vitamins and minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, thiamine and choline) as well as higher protein and a lower energy density.

I have included the link to the Cronometer entry as well as the nutritional profile and a list of foods that will help you balance the nutritional profile of the recipe.

Bootcamp omelette


Gayle Louise created this simple omelette recipe for her Ketogains boot camp workout days.   Nutritional yeast has a fantastic nutritional profile and adds a cheesy taste without the calories, minimising fat and maximising nutrient density.



  • cook the spinach first with ghee or butter.
  • whisk 4 eggs with salt and pepper and add too cooked spinach
  • sprinkle with nutritional yeast, cover and cook until firm.


Cronometer analysis


Potassium salted caramel coffee

potassium caramel coffee.png

Everyone loves coffee, and most people find potassium harder to get in their diet than sodium.  So why not potassium coffee?!?!  The milk and caramel syrup are not essential, but they give you that indulgent salted caramel taste.

Getting adequate minerals is critical to ensuring insulin sensitivity, nutrient partitioning, muscle building and recover and avoiding diabetes.

While most people don’t need to worry about getting too much salt, having a potassium : sodium ratio greater than two is hard to achieve for most people, even if they do eat a lot of greens.

My friend Raymund Edwards of Optimal Ketogenic Living has been doing a LOT of research into the wide-ranging benefits of alkalising electrolytes, in particular, potassium.  This recipe was inspired by Raymund after hearing that he was adding potassium to his coffee.

Raymund said, “A potassium enriched coffee in the morning really wakes the muscles.  It’s better than any warm up.  Loose and alive we can feel the difference as they soak up actively the potassium especially after the night fast (where muscles have been releasing potassium).  And  the coffee in my view tastes so much better too.”

It’s hard to get a significant amount of potassium from tablets as they are limited to 99 mg which is only a fraction of the 3,800 mg of potassium that we need each day (you would need to take forty tablets to get the DRI for potassium!).


You can also add the potassium citrate powder to your drinking water, coffee or pre-workout mix.  You would need more than 10g of the citrate powder to get your recommended daily intake of potassium, but, like all things, start slowly. However, in time, it might just make you feel amazing!



  • Pour coffee shot from fresh grounds
  • Add potassium citrate powder
  • Add caramel syrup (optional)
  • Add a dash of full cream milk to taste (optimal)
  • Add hot water to taste (depending on how you like your coffee)

Cronometer analysis

nutritional analysis


Greens + eggs + seafood


Dom D’Agostino infamously told Tim Ferriss in his sound check that his breakfast was sardines, oysters, eggs and broccoli.  It might sound bizarre, but it packs a nutritional punch.


Most days my breakfast is some variant on frozen greens (spinach, broccoli, kale) + eggs + seafood (sardines, mackerel, oysters, mussels, anchovies) + nutritional yeast.

If you’re not focusing on losing body fat you can add cheese or peanuts for some extra indulgent taste, but leaving these out will help you increase your protein : energy and nutrient : energy ratio which is ideal if you are trying to lose body fat (and will make Ted Naiman and Luis Villasenor proud).

You could take more time to fry these ingredients up and plate them up nicely, but most of the time breakfast only needs to be time efficient and doesn’t need to look good.  If you can start the day with a high protein nutrient dense breakfast, you’ll be less likely to succumb to other cravings later in the day.


  • 250g frozen veggies. Spinach is always best, but broccoli or kale work too.
  • Three eggs. Consider removing the yolks if you are focussed on lower fat higher protein fat loss phase, though this will decrease the overall nutrient profile.  The yolk is where all the vitamins and minerals are!
  • 1 can of seafood (e.g. mackerel, sardines, oysters, mussels or anchovies).
  • 1 teaspoon of nutritional yeast
  • Peanuts (optional, only if not looking to lean out)
  • 1 oz mozzarella cheese (optional, only if not looking to lean out)
  • Salt (No Salt, Celtic Sea or Redmond Real Salt) & pepper to taste.


  • Defrost greens in bowl for five minutes in the microwave.
  • Add eggs and cook for a further minute or until done. (I often find that the eggs need a bit more cooking but stir everything in at around three minutes and then cook for another two minutes).
  • Add other ingredients
  • Salt liberally to taste.

Nutritional analysis

Cronometer entry

Photos of other variants (hey, they ain’t pretty, but they work).






Bacon, egg, spinach and mushroom


This is a variant on the common bacon and eggs recipe. The spinach mushroom and tomato round out the nutritional profile of the stock standard bacon and eggs.

The spinach provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin K and vitamin A.  Most people think kale is the ultimate nutrient-dense green vegetable.  However, kale just has a lot of Vitamin K1 and not so as much of everything else.  Spinach has a much better nutritional profile across the board.

If you are focusing on reducing body fat and maximising nutrient density, consider eliminating the cream, draining the bacon fat and keeping the butter to a minimum for cooking.  If your goal is bulking and recover, then you can be more liberal with the cream and cheese to taste.  Remember, fat is a lever.


  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g fresh spinach
  • 2 mushrooms
  • 30g cream (optional)
  • 30g mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • butter
  • Salt (No Salt, Celtic Sea or Redmond Real Salt) & pepper to taste.


  • Fry bacon separately. If your priority is reducing body fat then you can let the bacon rest on a paper towel to drain the fat.  Alternatively, bacon grease can be used to fry the spinach, mushroom and eggs.
  • Fry eggs separately.
  • Add cream and cheese if not looking to lean out.
  • Salt to taste.

Nutritional analysis

Cronometer entry


Steak, egg, tomato, avo spinach and lettuce


This is a fairly standard Sunday night family dinner at our place.  A solid piece of steak on the BBQ with salad.



  • Grill BBQ steak
  • Cook spinach with some butter or coconut on BBQ plate when grilling the steak.
  • Serve with boiled egg (or fried on the BBQ) along with salad (avocado, tomato and lettuce shown here).
  • Salt (No Salt, Celtic Sea or REdmond Real Salt) & pepper to taste.


Nutritional profile



Be sure to check out the more than 300 meals on the Nutrient Optimiser Facebook Group.  You might even want to add some of your own.





















































nutrient density optimised for diabetes, ketosis, weight loss, longevity and performance

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