optimal foods for different goals

We can prioritise the foods we eat using the sometimes competing parameters of nutrient density, insulin load and energy density to suit out individual goals and current metabolic health.

2016-07-06 (11)

Click on the links below to see the optimal foods for each goal, or read on for an overview of the system.

dietary approach printable .pdf
weight loss (insulin sensitive) download
autoimmune (nutrient dense) download
alkaline foods download
nutrient dense bulking download
nutrient dense (maintenance) download
weight loss (insulin resistant) download
autoimmune (diabetes friendly) download
zero carb download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download
vegan (nutrient dense) download
vegan (diabetic friendly) download
therapeutic ketosis download
avoid download

insulin load

Insulin is an important hormone that helps us to regulate growth and energy storage as well as fat loss and cellular repair.  However too much insulin, due excess processed foods or insulin resistance can be a problem.

While many people go low carb to reduce their insulin levels,  as you can see from the plot of carbohydrates versus insulin index below, carbohydrates only tells us part of the story.


Carbohydrates minus fibre plus about half of the protein we eat provides a better estimation of the insulin demand of our food.


We can use this understanding to prioritise foods that will require more or less insulin for:

  • growth and bulking, or
  • fat loss, autophagy and normalisation insulin levels.

nutrient density

The problem is, the foods with the lowest insulin load are refined oils and fats which typically don’t contain a large amount of essential nutrients (i.e. vitamins, minerals and amino acids).

Maximising the nutrient density of the foods we eat is important for a wide range of reasons.  Ideally, to minimise cravings and maximise satiety, we want to maximise the nutrients per calorie of the foods we eat (i.e. nutrient density).

Nutrient dense foods are typically whole foods that have been subjected to minimal processing.

We  can quantify nutrient density by comparing the amount of essential nutrients in a food to the rest of the foods available and adding up all these scores for the essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids.  We can then refine this approach to only prioritise the nutrients that are harder to obtain.

This chart shows the difference that focusing on the most nutrient dense foods can make compared to other approaches

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energy density

Lastly, less energy dense foods (i.e. foods that contain more fibre and water and less fat) help us to feel full with less energy and help us to use our own body fat for fuel.  Low energy density foods are also typically more nutrient dense.  Focusing on foods with a lower energy density can be particularly helpful if we already have great blood glucose levels but still have more fat to lose.

which approach is right for me?

The focus of the system is to help you find the foods that will help you maintain great blood glucose levels while maximizing nutrient density.  The right approach for you will depend on your current metabolic health and weight loss goals.  In the end we want to ingest adequate energy while avoiding malnutrition and ideally maintain normal insulin and blood glucose levels at the same time.  energy-density-vs-nutrient-density

Simply minimising insulin load is great if you have a chronic health condition such as cancer, epilepsy or dementia that will benefit from a therapeutic ketogenic approach.  Someone with very high blood glucose and insulin levels may also benefit from a therapeutic ketogenic approach as they adapt.  However in time, as blood glucose levels improve, you will ideally be able to transition to more nutrient dense dietary approach.

The table below gives some guidance on which nutritional approach would be ideal based on your average blood glucose levels and your waist to height ratio.


average glucose

waist : height



therapeutic ketosis

> 140

> 7.8

diabetes and nutritional ketosis

108 to 140

6.0 to 7.8

weight loss (insulin resistant)

100 to 108

5.4 to 6.0

> 0.5

weight loss (insulin sensitive)

< 97

< 5.4

> 0.5


< 97

< 5.4

< 0.5

nutrient dense maintenance

< 97

< 5.4

< 0.5

If you’re still not sure which approach is right for you and whether you are insulin resistant, this survey may help identify the optimal dietary approach for you.


39 thoughts on “optimal foods for different goals”

  1. A tablespoon of desiccated grass fed liver powder to the diets without it (perhaps lessing the veggies to compensate) would I intuit improve the diets without it greatly. Especially Durian Rider’s. Oh, boy.

    Also some nutrients are better absorbed from supplements, like B12 which requires several conditions for absorption, like stomach acid and intrinsic factor. Also, fruits and vegetables have anuitants and antinutients which make them less effective sources of micronutrients than animal products.

    The iron content of spinach would be toxic if it were fully absorbed, for example. It turns out that about 2% is absorbed. To make things difficult iron absorption is increased by other nutrients of food eaten near in time that for example contain vitamin C.


  2. Hi Marty, just found your website through a post from Jason Fung – great info! (am still reading through your manifesto) Following Dr. Fung, I managed to get my A1c from 7.5 down to 5.3 in just 3 months, after trying unsuccessfully with a high nutrient dense vegan diet (Dr. Fuhrman) for 8 years. I’m currently fat adapted/keto & doing IF for the past 8 months, but still want to get my A1c down to closer 4.5 and I have a significant amount more weight to lose (have lost approx 35 lb of fat so far). Currently, I’m probably eating closer to the therapeutic ketosis, keeping carbs (total) around 35g, 50-60g proteins and fat to satiety but wonder if it’s the best choice. Which one of these would you suggest to follow in my case – weight loss, diabetes or therapeutic ketosis?

    Thanks for any suggestions and/or direction!


    1. The therapeutic ketosis can be useful for people who are really IR. As things improve I think it’s beneficial to move to the diabetes and then the weight loss approach as they have higher nutrient density while still having a fairly low insulin load. The get a HbA1c of 4.5% you will need to do some serious IF and keep losing weight. This article may be helpful too. https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/02/15/how-to-use-your-glucose-meter-as-a-fuel-gauge/


      1. Thanks for your suggestions. I actually read your glucose meter/fuel gauge article earlier today and was pleased because I have basically been doing that kind of intuitively, just based off of some of Dr. Fung’s ideas regarding the dawn phenomenon, i.e. if it happens, you have more work to do. Really appreciate all the great insulin load info. I think that will help me feel more comfortable in adding a bit more veggies back into my diet.


  3. I am confused. The formula for % insulinogenic items looks almost identical to the insulin load items. I noticed that vegetables have low insulin loads, but moderate to high % insulinogenic scores. If reducing my insulin level is my main goal, should I focus on the % insulinogenic score or the insulin load score?

    Thank you


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