superfoods for weight loss (high nutrient density, low energy density)

People who are insulin resistant typically benefit from eating foods with a lower insulin load which helps normalise insulin and blood glucose.  Managing appetite is easier if you’re not on the blood glucose roller coaster.

However people who are obese but are also insulin sensitive seem to benefit even more by reducing energy density and maximising nutrient density as much as possible.  The foods listed below have a very low 82 calories per 100g compared to the average of the USDA foods database of 231 calories per 100g which will make them very hard to overeat.

In terms of macronutrients these foods have:

  • more protein (which will prevent loss of lean muscle mass),
  • more fibre (which will make you full and slow digestion),
  • less fat (thus allowing a contribution from body fat),
  • less digestible carbohydrates (which will maintain stable blood glucose levels).

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Once your blood glucose levels have been brought under control by reducing the insulin load of your diet, foods with a low energy density and high nutrient density will likely help you continue your journey towards optimum health and weight.

As shown in the chart below, these foods are very nutrient dense, with all nutrients other than the Omega 3 fatty acids meeting the recommended daily intake levels.  These foods will provide a substantial improvement in nutrient density compared to the average of all the foods in the USDA food database.

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The chart below is from a recent pilot trial by Christopher Gardner of Stanford (Weight loss on low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diets by insulin resistance status among overweight adults and adults with obesity: A randomized pilot trial) which showed that the people who were insulin resistant generally did better on a higher fat low carbohydrate diet while people who were more insulin sensitive did better on a lower fat, lower energy density approach.


Everyone in the study did better by eating more more nutrient dense unprocessed foods regardless of the macronutrient composition!

These foods will enable you to minimise your energy intake (calories) without and minimise your chance of experiencing any nutritional deficiencies.  For example, if you were fasting or dieting, focusing on these foods would maximise your chance of long term successes and minimising cravings.

The foods listed below represent the top 10% of the USDA food database prioritised for high nutrient density and low energy density.  The highest ranking foods involve lean proteins, non starchy veggies and seafood.  High fat dairy, processed grains and energy dense nuts and seeds don’t make the list.

The nutrient dense, high fibre, low energy density foods listed below will help you feel full with fewer calories, increase satiety and make it easier to control appetite.  This approach is similar to a protein sparing modified fast which which reduces your dietary fat on the basis that it will be coming from your body. Adequate protein is also critical to building lean muscle mass which is critical to your metabolic health.

“A nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the required nutrients in the right proportions is the key to minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake.”

Paul Jaminet

Also included in the table are the nutrient density score, load, energy density and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these factors.



food ND calories/100g MCA
spinach 17 23 3.7
watercress 17 11 3.5
endive 16 17 3.4
asparagus 15 22 3.3
chicory greens 14 23 3.1
basil 14 23 3.0
coriander 14 23 3.0
seaweed (wakame) 14 45 3.0
chard 13 19 2.9
brown mushrooms 13 22 2.9
arugula 13 25 2.8
escarole 13 19 2.8
lettuce 13 15 2.8
broccoli 13 35 2.8
zucchini 12 17 2.8
parsley 12 36 2.7
Chinese cabbage 12 12 2.7
beet greens 12 22 2.7
okra 11 22 2.5
seaweed (kelp) 11 43 2.5
alfalfa 11 23 2.4
pickles 10 12 2.4
celery 10 18 2.4
dandelion greens 10 45 2.3
cauliflower 10 25 2.3
chives 10 30 2.3
white mushroom 10 22 2.3
mung beans 10 19 2.3
yeast extract spread 11 185 2.3
summer squash 10 19 2.3
radicchio 10 23 2.2
snap beans 9 15 2.2
turnip greens 9 29 2.2
portabella mushrooms 9 29 2.2
mustard greens 9 27 2.1
sauerkraut 9 19 2.0
cucumber 8 12 2.0
spirulina 8 26 2.0
shiitake mushroom 8 39 2.0
cabbage 8 23 2.0
collards 8 33 1.9
artichokes 8 47 1.9
dill 8 43 1.9
radishes 7 16 1.8
jalapeno peppers 7 27 1.7
banana pepper 7 27 1.7
bamboo shoots 7 27 1.7
turnips 6 21 1.6
onions 6 32 1.6
edamame 7 121 1.6
pumpkin 6 20 1.6
peas 6 42 1.6
Brussel sprouts 6 42 1.6
soybeans (sprouted) 6 81 1.5
red peppers 5 31 1.4
chayote 5 24 1.4
kale 5 28 1.4
winter squash 5 40 1.4
eggplant 5 25 1.4
butternut squash 5 45 1.3
paprika 7 282 1.3
red cabbage 5 29 1.3
sage 7 315 1.3
carrots 4 23 1.2



food ND calories/100g MCA
crab 13 83 2.8
lobster 12 89 2.6
crayfish 11 82 2.4
fish roe 11 143 2.3
cod 12 290 2.3
oyster 10 102 2.1
halibut 9 111 2.0
shrimp 9 119 1.9
flounder 9 86 1.9
pollock 9 111 1.9
salmon 9 156 1.9
perch 8 96 1.8
trout 9 168 1.8
rockfish 8 109 1.8
white fish 8 108 1.7
sturgeon 8 135 1.7
haddock 8 116 1.7
scallop 7 111 1.7
caviar 9 264 1.7
anchovy 8 210 1.6
whiting 7 116 1.6
octopus 7 164 1.5
clam 6 142 1.5
sardine 6 208 1.3

animal products


food ND calories/100g MCA
ham (lean only) 9 113 1.9
lamb liver 9 168 1.9
veal liver 9 192 1.9
turkey liver 9 189 1.9
lamb kidney 8 112 1.9
beef liver 8 175 1.8
chicken liver 8 172 1.8
beef kidney 7 157 1.5
pork liver 6 165 1.3
chicken breast 5 148 1.2
lamb sweetbread 5 144 1.2
pork chop 5 172 1.1
turkey drumstick 5 158 1.1
turkey meat 5 158 1.1
lamb heart 5 161 1.1
leg ham 4 165 1.0
lean beef 4 149 1.0
veal 4 151 1.0

dairy and eggs


food ND calories/100g MCA
cream cheese (low fat) 10 105 2.2
kefir 7 41 1.8
whole egg 6 143 1.3
low fat milk 5 56 1.3
egg yolk 6 275 1.3
milk 5 61 1.2

other approaches

The table below contains links to separate blog posts and printable .pdfs detailing optimal foods for a range of dietary approaches (sorted from most to least nutrient dense) that may be of interest depending on your situation and goals.   You can print them out to stick to your fridge or take on your next shopping expedition for some inspiration.

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

If you’re 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.


51 thoughts on “superfoods for weight loss (high nutrient density, low energy density)”

  1. I thought parsley was a green vegetable, not a spice.

    Do spices really upset a diet, if consumed in spice like quantities?

    How about turmeric?


    1. Hey Don. Good question. This weight loss approach is for someone who has their blood glucose under control but still has weight to lose. The intent is that if your blood glucose is still high you could use the ‘foods for diabetes and nutritional ketosis’ or even a combination of the two lists.


    1. Tomato are about 65% insulinogenic calories. The insulin load is about 3g/100g so it’s not about to spike your glucose levels. Lots of vitamin C but not they don’t score really high overall.


  2. Please help me ubderstand what % insulinogenic means exactly? Also…i assume this isn’t necessarily for a LCHF diet because sweet corn for instance wouldn’t be in such a diet. I also feel unsure what I should look at, glycemic load? Especially in Protein. How do i choose the best Protein to prevent insulin spike? What is a good glycemic load to keep insulin levels flat(ish)? 🙂


  3. Wondering why the ND values bounce around for different foods. Celery is 1.03 in the above table, yet in other iterations of these tables on your other pages you can see ND values for celery of 1.44, 2.63, 1.27, 2.67.
    Insulinogenicity is more consistent, but varies from table to table. Insulin load and calories are most reliably represented across the food items.


  4. I firstly want to thank you so much for the research and huge effort you have put into this site and the very valuable information. I am lost in the wilderness as a 60 year old woman. My question really is: With taking everything in to account using the superfoods for weight loss, I or anyone trying to lose fat would still have to ensure a decent calorie deficit wouldn’t they? I get stuck between low carb and lower calories and I have been bouncing around for years not really getting anywhere. Also is there an insulin load per meal that we should aim for?


    1. In the end its about energy, but how your body processes energy is complex. Nutrient dense low energy density food will enable you to get the nutrients you need from your food while you are losing fat from your body which should give you the best chance of long term success without binging or any need for metabolic slowdown.


      1. Metabolic slowdown does not happen when fasting and most data suggests fasting increase metabolic rate. The fear of a slow metabolism is what kept everyone eating more often.

        You cannot lose fat without fasting. Some people get away with less fasting than others (i.e. overnight) but insulin resistant people must fast for longer to reduce insulin levels in the body. Start 20:4. (Reducing eating window to 4 hrs every day). Continue if working. If not working increase fasts to 48hrs, perhaps throwing in a 48hr fast once a week. The 5:2 plan (fast for 2 days a week) has got people good results. When combined with Marty’s excellent info about insulinogenic foods fasting will result in fat loss. Break the fast with foods high in fat and fibre and low in carbs and it is easier to get back in the fasted state. It is just a case of how long you need to fast to bring those insulin levels down in the body. Butter Bob Briggs is good on this subject and very easy to understand. His latest videos are about fasting. Check him out on youtube.


    2. Forget the calories. Eat more HFLC food, less often. Once a day is good for people who are not very insulin resistant and don’t have much weight to lose. This didn’t work for me so now I try not to eat sooner than every 48hours and it is working, been obese all my life and lost 70lbs so far this year. Fasting reduces the body’s levels of insulin. That is the key point I was missing when I was HFLC for the best part of the last decade, but still obese. The funny thing is that the more fat you eat at a meal the fuller you stay for longer. I haven’t eaten since last night and eating is the last thing I feel like doing even though it is lunch time now. (Because I ate keto ratios 80% calories from fat). People are scared of calories because they believe in CICO (calories in= calories out) but it is insulin that controls whether we are in a fed or fasted state. The obese have high insulin all the time so they are in the fed state all the time. It takes 2 days of fasting for their insulin levels to drop. If you are only a little overweight it may only take 16hrs for your insulin level to drop. If you eat food (even HFLC food) before your body’s insulin level has dropped down to baseline then you will not reach the fasted state and you will not be losing fat because you will not be in the fasted state. I recommend reading Dr Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code. His ideas changed my life. Now I realise losing weight is about the level of insulin in the body. Eating carbs raises insulin. Eating protein raises insulin. Eating fat doesn’t raise insulin as much. Eating nothing reduces insulin! So eat more fat, less often. While you are raising insulin with a meal make sure you eat enough food to satiate you so you can go the long haul with no food. Time spent not eating = fat loss, only once your insulin has lowered to baseline. That is why some people are thin and some are fat. The thin people reach their insulin baseline faster than the overweight ones. They reach the fasted state quickly. This is also why snacking (even HFLC snacks!) is a definite no no when trying to lose fat. Peace out and good luck with it.


      1. Thanks for that Danielle. It seems like you have done the hard yards. Probably the missing link that I am also rejecting. Funny how we fear fasting but science is showing that it is the best solution for fat loss and longevity.


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