food insulin index

The initial research into the food insulin index is detailed in a 1997 paper by Susanne Holt et al who tested the insulin demand of thirty eight different foods. [1]

The food insulin index of various foods was determined by feeding 1000kJ (or 239 kcal) of a particular food to non-diabetics and measuring the insulin secretion over three hours.   The insulin secreted for that food over three hours was compared to that of white bread (which was assigned a value of 100%) to arrive at a “food insulin index” value for each food.


Considering how potentially significant this data could be for people trying to minimise the insulin effect of food (e.g. “low carbers” or keto dieters) I was surprised that there hadn’t been much further discussion or research over the past five years.

I found a few references and occasional discussions in podcast, but no one was quite sure what to do with the information, partly due to the small number of foods that had been tested.

foods that require the least insulin

Looking at the food insulin index data from the initial testing we can see that the foods lowest on the insulin index are largely fat.

food protein
insulin index
butter 0 27 0 0 2
olive oil 0 27 0 0 3
bacon 16 19 1 0 9
peanut butter 9 20 7 5 11
Bologna 24 9 13 3 11
peanuts 10 20 5 2 15
tuna 24 15 2 0 16

If we abandon the authority of the food pyramid and our fear of saturated fat, the logical extension of this is that the ideal diet for diabetics or people wanting to lose weight by reducing their insulin load might be to prioritise foods such as butter, oils and bacon that require the least insulin.

Bob Briggs has a YouTube video “Butter Makes Your Pants Fall Off” [2] with more than 100,000 views where he explains the mechanisms of low carbohydrate nutrition, how insulin promotes fat storage, and how reducing carbohydrates and eating healthier fats leads to a reduction in appetite and can help people lose weight.  The food insulin index helps to explain why this is the case.

The ranking of olive oil in the food insulin index (along with the intermittent fasting practised by the Greek Orthodox Church on Crete and consumption of significant amounts of fatty fish) may go some way to explaining the success of the Mediterranean diet which is widely advocated for heart health and longevity.

It may be a stretch, but the food insulin index may also go someway to explaining why Rich Froning keeps winning the CrossFit Games and looking so ripped in spite of consuming an inordinate amount of peanut butter, [3] a food that isn’t generally considered to be a health food.


 last updated May 2017





13 thoughts on “food insulin index”

  1. Hi Marty. Small point of correction……Susanne Holt et al’s paper was published in Am J Clin Nutr 1997 not 2009. Thanks for your great review and rework of the insulin index information.
    Kind regards
    Dr Austin Jeans

  2. Hi, Marty!

    I’m really enjoying the work you have done here. I have a question about the math regarding the insulin index:

    Using broccoli as an example: According to the USDA website, 100g of raw broccoli contains 34 kcal – 0.3g fat, 2.82g protein, 6.64g carbs, 2.6g fiber. Using your formula, I take the net carbs of 4.04 and add to that the protein of 2.82 multiplied by 56% (1.58), so my total is now 5.62. I multiply that by 4 kcal, and the answer is 22.48 kcal. But if I divide 22.48 kcal by 34 kcal (total kcal), my answer is around 66%. According to your chart that shows vegetables, you are showing the answer to be 29%.

    What am I missing? I must be doing something wrong. I have tried your formula on several different foods – fruits, meat, other vegetables – and the answer always comes out different than your charts. Sometimes it is only 5% off, sometimes it is 40% off.

    Please help me understand! Thanks!


      1. Thanks for answering, Marty! The reason I asked the question was to see if you could see what I am doing wrong. 🙂 I am using the data from the USDA website, and your formula, and I am coming up with really different numbers. Could you please explain how you got 29% for broccoli so that I can compare it to what I am doing? Thanks, and I will look at the calculator you mentioned. Rebecca

    1. I think I got to the bottom of the issue… the calculator assumes that the fibre is indigestible in the calculation of total calories whereas in the article I have used the total calories which appears to use all the calories from carbohydrates (which I suppose would be relevant if they were burned in a calorimetre, but not in digestion). This will make an impact for high fibre foods. I will update accordingly. Thanks for your feedback.

  3. I would be really interested in your thoughts/research regarding insulin release when skipping breakfast and fasting from dinner to lunch/dinner time and the link with cortisol naturally raising blood sugar in the absence of food and how this would compare to a standard breakfast insulin %

    1. Your body naturally raises glucose without food to start the day (I.e. Dawn Phenomenon). You could test the difference for you with your glucose meter. It will be different for different people.

  4. Why would peanuts have a higher
    insulin response than peanut butter?
    Seems we don’t know something
    about the pbutter that was used.

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