the most nutritious diabetic friendly meals

  • This article outlines a system to identify nutritious diabetic-friendly meals that minimise insulin load while maximising nutrition.
  • Choosing highly ranked meals will reduce the need to count carbs or calories.
  • Type 1  diabetics can use this system to calculate the total insulin required to cover carbs and protein and the split between the carb and protein bolus.
  • This approach can also be used to prioritise for weight loss and high nutrient density rather than blood sugar control.

[skip to the list of the most nutritious diabetic friendly meals]

it all started when…

Angelo Copola at Humans are not Broken ran a nutritional comparison of Bulletproof Coffee and his super nutritious breakfast tortilla using the free recipe builder function at SELFNutrition.com.  His blog post Bulletproof Coffee vs Breakfast is worth a read.

It was never going to be a fair fight if you compare these two extremes on the basis of vitamins, minerals and fibre alone.  The breakfast tortilla was always going to win out over the fatty coffee.

Personally, I’m partial to the occasional Bulletproof Coffee which has taken the world by storm and helped a lot of people.

I’m also aware that Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet Book emphasis nutrient dense low toxin foods.

So using BPC to give your body a holiday from insulin and then eating highly nutrient dense foods at night makes sense.

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I also know that, as nutritious as it is, the tortilla recipe would not work for a type 1 diabetic like my wife.  A meal like that would send her on a blood sugar roller coaster.

So it got me thinking.  Is there a way to consider the nutritional value of a meal while also considering the insulin load?  Could we use our understanding of the proportion of insulinogenic calories to better prioritise nutritious meals that were also diabetic friendly?

the rules

Many people will judge whether meal is right for them based on calories alone.

Some will look deeper at the macronutrients.

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People wanting to lose weight will often target low calorie density or high fibre foods that are more filling.

Some will dig a little bit further and look at the micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals).

Some body builders and people looking to optimise cognitive performance, will also look at the protein quality (i.e. the amino acids) in a food.

I suggest that an optimal diet that takes all these factors into account should be rank well across the following parameters;

  1. insulinogenic load,
  2. nutritional completeness (vitamins and minerals),
  3. amino acid sufficiency (protein),
  4. fibre content, and
  5. calorie density.

different strokes for different folks

The beauty of the food ranking system (as discussed in the previous article) is that we can tailor the weightings of different parameters to suit an individual’s unique goals.  We can also use a similar approach when comparing complete meals rather than individual food ingredients.

blood sugar control and / or nutritional ketosis

The highest priority for a diabetic is to normalise their blood sugars by reducing their insulin load in line with these weightings.   These weightings will will provide good nutrition while helping to normalise blood sugars.

insulin vitamins & minerals protein fibre calorie density
50% 15% 15% 10% 10%

weight loss

All going well, a diabetic may use a low insulin load diet with some fasting to regain insulin sensitivity and improve their blood sugar control.  If they still have weight to lose they may wish to further reduce their calorie intake to help to shed any remaining unwanted weight.

To do this they could use a a high fibre, low calorie density approach with less emphasis on insulin load that still provides excellent nutrition.

insulin vitamins & minerals protein fibre calorie density
20% 20% 20% 20% 20%

therapeutic ketosis

Many people feel that high levels of ketosis are beneficial for a range of chronic illnesses.  Someone looking to minimise insulin and drive their blood ketones up as much as possible will want to set the meal weightings to minimise insulin load as much as possible.

insulin vitamins & minerals protein fibre calorie density
70% 10% 10% 5% 5%

athletes and the metabolically healthy

If someone has lost excess weight and healed their metabolism, the person finds that they have energy to exercise they may benefit from nutritious meals with a little more carbohydrate to replenish glycogen around intense exercise.

insulin vitamins & minerals protein fibre calorie density
20% 30% 30% 10% 10%

With all of these scenarios the proviso is that they are maintaining excellent blood sugar control and that they revert back to the low insulin load dietary scenario if their blood sugars fall outside the “excellent” range shown in the table below.

HbA1c average blood sugar ketones
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)  (mmol/L)
low normal 4.1 3.9 70 2.1
optimal 4.5 4.6 83 1.3
excellent < 5.0 5.4 < 97 0.5
good < 5.4 6 < 108 0
danger > 6.5 7.8 > 140 0

meal ranking

I have set up a spreadsheet to compare meals using these parameters to identify healthy nutritious diabetic friendly meals for my family.

To date I have analysed nearly 200 meals.  Some of these we eat on a regular basis.  Others I found in recipe books, websites and Facebook forums that I thought looked good and I would like to try.

As we try out these meals at home I plan to take a photo and tell you a story about it, with a link to the recipe.

low carb breakfast stax

One of the highest ranking recipes using the meal ranking system is the Low Carb Breakfast Stax from the ketogenic recipe site Ruled.Me.  It’s hard to believe that something that looks so indulgent could also be so healthy.

breakfastpizza (1)

I dropped the recipe into the free recipe builder at SELFNutrionData, hit analyse and it pops out the snazzy nutritional analysis shown below.

There is a heap of interesting info here if you want to reflect on the nutritional value of your favourite foods.

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Using the macro-nutrient profile and fibre values we can calculate the percentage of insulinogenic calories using this formula:

image011

The “nutrient balance” plot on the bottom left shows the distribution of vitamins and minerals in the meal.  This chart shows us that with the egg, spinach and bacon we have covered off on most vitamins and minerals with good levels of sufficiency.

You can look at the detail to find out where you might be able to further improve a meal by filling in any deficiencies, however I’ve just taken the completeness score (82 in this case) compare with other meals.

The chart on the bottom right shows the distribution of the various amino acids in the protein which is interesting to make sure you’re getting everything you need for muscle growth and brain health.  I’ve taken the amino acid score (147 in this case) to compare with other meals.

SELFNutrionData also calculates the serving size in grams for a meal.  Using this we can calculate the calorie density of a meal (i.e. in terms of calories per gram).  This helps us prioritise meals that are bulky and contain a lot of water, however in order to avoid prioritising meals are just beverages I have also incorporated the fibre per calorie as a separate metric.

Each individual score or the meal gets a ranked score based on the highest and lowest extremes (ranking score = (score – mean) / standard deviation) and these five values are summed together to get the total score for that meal.

If you want to delve into the inner workings of the spreadsheet you can download if from the files section on  at the group facebook.com/groups/optimisingnutrition.

the end of calorie and carb counting?

This may all sound a bit complex, but the end result is a list of nutritious, diabetic friendly meals that will keep you full and minimise blood sugar swings.

If you chose foods from the top of this list and the meals from near the top of this list chances are you won’t have to worry about counting calories or even carbohydrates to keep your blood sugars stable, stay in ketosis, stay satiated or keep the weight off.

share your recipes

If you’ve got a recipe that you would like to see analysed to find out how it stacks up with the others then please post the recipie and a photos over at facebook.com/groups/optimisingnutrition.  I’d love to run the analysis and add it to the list.

In the next article we’ll compare a range of dietary approaches to see how a high fat diet stacks up.

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