The ultimate keto diet food list

  • This identifies the most ketogenic foods using the foods insulin index.
  • Ketosis occurs when there is a lack of oxaloacetate from non-fibre carbohydrate and protein.  When this happens, our insulin levels drop, and our body switches to burn fat in the ketogenic pathway.
  • The food insulin index data indicates that our insulin response to food is best predicted when we consider, not just the carbohydrate, but also the protein and fibre content of the food we eat.
  • This improved understanding can help us prioritise foods with a lower insulin load, more accurately calculate our insulin dose.
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Food insulin index

The initial research into the food insulin index was detailed in a 1997 paper An insulin index of foods: the insulin demand generated by 1000-kJ portions of common foods by Susanne Holt, Jennie Brand-Miller and Peter Petocz who tested the insulin response to thirty-eight different foods.

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The food insulin index score of various foods was determined by feeding 1000kJ (or 239 kcal) of different foods to non-diabetic participants and measuring their insulin response over three hours.   This was then compared to the insulin response to pure glucose (which is assigned a value of 100%) to arrive at a “food insulin index” value for each food.

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Unfortunately, due to the way the data was presented and the limited amount of foods that had been tested it was hard to make sense of this information in any practical sense.

However, considering how significant this information could be for people trying to manage their insulin levels (e.g. insulin-dependent diabetics and people using therapeutic ketosis for the management of conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, cancer etc.) I was surprised that there hadn’t been much further research or discussion on the topic.  I found a few references and mentions in podcasts, but no one was quite sure what to do with the information, mainly because only a small number of foods been tested.

More food insulin index data

After doing a bit more digging, I came across a 2014 PhD thesis from the University Of Sydney titled Clinical Application of the Food Insulin Index to Diabetes Mellitus (Kirstine Bell) which contained a more extensive list of foods that had now been tested.

With this additional data perhaps we can make more sense of the various factors that affect insulin, the master regulating hormone of our metabolism?

I plotted the carbohydrates versus the insulin response of foods for more than one hundred foods.  Although our insulin response is loosely correlated with the carbohydrate content of our food, we can see that high protein foods such as steak, tuna and fish still require a significant amount of insulin.

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I ran some analysis on the data and found that we secrete about half as much insulin in response to protein compared to carbohydrate.   We get the best correlation when we assume that indigestible fibre does not raise insulin.

Interestingly, fructose only requires about a quarter of the insulin as carbohydrate.  It is mainly processed directly in the liver, however about a quarter of the fructose is converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis.

Once we correct for protein, fibre and fructose, we get a much better prediction of the insulin response to food compared to carbohydrate alone.

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People wanting r ketogenic diet will want to eat foods that lie more towards the bottom left of this chart.  Using this understanding, we can also calculate the insulin load of our food.  We can also estimate the proportion of the energy in our diet that requires insulin to metabolise or the “the proportion of insulinogenic calories”.

Possible applications

Insulin is not a problem at healthy levels.  However, we are understanding more and more that excess insulin (e.g. hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes) is highly problematic, perhaps as much or more than high blood glucose levels.  Many of our modern metabolic diseases seem to be closely correlated with our blood glucose control (e.g. diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer).

Understanding how to more accurately calculate our insulin response to food could enable us to manage our diet better to avoid elevated blood glucose and hyperinsulinemia.

The biggest challenge for someone with Type 1 Diabetes (like my wife) occurs when you require a large dose of insulin to address a high blood glucose level that is caused by eating non-fibre carbohydrates and large amounts of protein.   The first logical step for someone managing diabetes is to reduce the insulin load of their diet so they can stabilise their

A more accurate understanding of insulin load can also help people with diabetes more accurately calculate their insulin dose or people trying to manage conditions like cancer or epilepsy through a therapeutic ketogenic diet.

For the rest of us who are somewhere on the insulin resistance scale, being able to calculate the insulin load of our diet will enable us to enable our pancreas to keep with our diet and maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

The most ketogenic diet foods

Listed below are the most ketogenic foods.  I have included some other parameters that may be of interest:

  • Energy density – foods that contain high levels of fibre and water have a low energy density (i.e. calories per 100g) and will tend to make us full with fewer calories.
  • Percentage of insulinogenic calories – this is the proportion of the energy in the food that will require insulin to metabolise.
  • Insulin load – foods such as non-starchy vegetables have a higher percentage of insulinogenic calories, but because of their low energy density will have a very low insulin load per 100g of food, meaning that you will need to eat a lot of that particular food for it to affect your blood glucose or insulin significantly.
  • Net carbohydrates – these are the digestible carbohydrates that will affect your blood glucose levels and insulin that remain after you account for the indigestible fibre.

The amount you need to prioritise each of these parameters depends on a range of considerations including your blood glucose control and your weight loss goals.   Along with the insulin response to different foods, nutrient density and energy density are other parameters we can use to optimise our food choices.

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The chart below shows the nutrients provided by the most ketogenic foods in comparison to the USDA foods database.  We can see that there are quite some nutrients that are less available in the most ketogenic foods compared to the average of the foods that commonly available.   While it is valuable to manage the insulin load of our diet, it is also important to maximise the nutrient density of our food as much as we can while still maintaining excellent blood glucose levels.

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The Nutrient Optimiser has been designed to help you manage both the insulin load and the nutrient density of the foods you eat to enable you to stabilise your blood sugars while getting the micronutrients you need and maximise satiety.  I invite you to get your free Nutrient Optimiser report to get your personalised list of foods suited to your goals and situation.

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The most ketogenic foods

I have sorted the foods below by insulin load which will be useful if you are looking for foods to help you manage the short term insulin load of your diet.   Focusing on foods with a low percentage of insulinogenic calories will be useful if you are aiming for a high fat therapeutic ketogenic diet.  Focusing on foods with a low insulin load may be more useful if you want to lose weight and use some of your body fat for fuel.

The most ketogenic diet foods

eggs

Eggs are a staple for low carbers, ketogenic dieters and diabetics.  Not only are they nutritious they are also low in carbohydrates.

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food % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
egg yolk 18% 12 275
whole egg 30% 10 143
egg white 74% 9 52

The egg white is higher in protein and hence more insulinogenic.  At the same time the energy density (calories/100g) of the egg white is lower, and hence the insulin load per 100g for the egg white is lower.

dairy

Some people believe that red meat and dairy are uniquely insulinogenic. However, my reading of the food insulin index data is that there is nothing special about these foods that aren’t explained by their carbohydrate, protein and fibre content.

Dairy foods typically have a high energy density.  This is great if you’re a growing baby, an athlete trying to replenish energy or a bodybuilder trying to spike insulin for hypertrophy.  High palatability and high energy density are not a good combination if you’re trying to lose weight.

cheese

food % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
cream cheese 10% 4 8 348
cottage cheese 38% 3 9 93
ricotta cheese 25% 3 11 174
feta cheese 22% 4 14 265

milk and cream

Milk has a higher proportion of insulin calories compared to cheese.  Butter and cream have a lower insulin load and proportion of insulinogenic calories.

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food % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
butter 0% 0 1 734
cream 5% 4 5 431
goat milk 40% 4 7 69
full cream milk 44% 5 7 65

yoghurt

Full fat plain Greek yoghurt has the lowest percentage of insulinogenic calories while the sweetened and low-fat options are extremely insulinogenic.

greek-yogurt

food % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
Greek Yoghurt 27% 6 9 130
plain low-fat yoghurt 69% 7 11 63
skim milk yoghurt 86% 8 12 55
Low-fat fruit yoghurt 93% 19 22 95

fruit

It’s interesting to note that there are only a handful of fruits with a low percentage of insulinogenic calories (i.e. olives and avocados).  However, some fruits like oranges have a lower insulin load because of their low energy density and therefore may not spike your blood sugar as much as dates or raisins which have a high proportion of insulinogenic calories as well as a high insulin load.  If in doubt, get a blood glucose metre and compare how much your favourite foods raise your blood glucose levels.

spanish-olives

food % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
olives 3% 1 145
avocado 8% 3 160
blackberries 27% 3 43
raspberries 30% 4 52
strawberries 49% 4 32

vegetables

There aren’t many dietary approaches that don’t advise you to eat more vegetables.  It’s also hard to overeat non-starchy veggies because they have a very low-calorie density and are high in fibre.  Again, due to the low energy density, the net carbohydrates are low in a lot of the non-starchy veggies and hence won’t significantly raise your blood glucose levels.

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food % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
alfalfa 19% 1 23
chicory greens 23% 2 23
endive 23% 1 17
escarole 24% 1 19
coriander 30% 2 23
beet greens 35% 2 22

nuts and seeds

Most nuts and seeds have a low percentage of insulinogenic calories though they have a higher energy density are possible to overeat.

food % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
macadamia nuts 6% 12 718
pecans 6% 12 691
coconut cream 8% 7 330
coconut milk 8% 5 230
brazil nuts 9% 16 659

seafood

Seafood is a great source of essential fatty acids which are hard to find in plant-based foods.

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food % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
mackerel 14% 10 305
cisco 29% 13 177
caviar 33% 23 264
herring 36% 19 217
sardine 37% 19 208

animal products

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food % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
bacon 11% 11 417
bologna 11% 9 310
sweetbread 12% 9 318
liver sausage 13% 10 331
pepperoni 13% 16 504

For a full list of foods to suit your goals and situation we invite you to get your free Nutrient Optimiser report.

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  • crystal says:

    Blueberries are listed twice- once with load of 9 and second time with li ad of 14. Which is correct?

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