nutrient dense foods for weight loss

nutrient dense foods for weight loss and insulin resistance

I found a number of people that were using a combination of the optimal foods for diabetes and nutritional ketosis and the optimal foods for weight loss lists.  So I thought it would be useful to combine the two approaches into a single list of foods for people who want to lose weight but who were still somewhat insulin resistant.

optimal foods for diabetes and nutritional ketosis

The food ranking system revolves around manipulating these three parameters to suit different goals:

The optimal foods for diabetes and nutritional ketosis list has a low insulin load, is fairly low in non-fibre carbs and moderately high fat while still being as nutrient dense as possible.

This approach suits someone who has Type 1 Diabetes or is lean and looking to achieve nutritional ketosis.  People who are at their goal weight can afford to eat a little more added dietary fat.


While most people looking to manage their blood glucose levels limit their carbohydrates to some arbitrary number that works for them, maximising nutrient density as well will help you to improve your mitochondrial function and increase your energy levels to ideally overcome your insulin resistance.  Maximising nutrient density also means that your body won’t keep on seeking out more and more food to obtain the nutrients it requires.

People who are very insulin resistant often do well on a higher fat dietary approach initially to let the insulin levels drop, however they often find further success in the long term if they drop their dietary fat to let more fat come from their body.

optimal foods for weight loss

The optimal foods for weight loss list are fairly low in dietary fat to allow for to come from the body during weight loss.  It’s heavy in lean proteins and non-starchy veggies and is VERY nutrient dense.  The chart below shows a comparison of a range of dietary approaches with the insulin sensitive weight loss approach being having the highest nutrient density while diabetes and nutritional ketosis approach comes in at #8 of thirteen.


This list of foods may look like a low-fat dietary approach, but it’s not really low fat once you factor in your body fat.  The chart from Steve Phinney illustrates how your body fat makes a contribution to the weight loss phase of a well formulated ketogenic diet.

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The weight loss list of foods is also quite bulky (i.e. lots of fibre and water) so they would be very hard to overeat if you stick to just these foods.  The chart below shows a comparison of the various approaches with the weight loss approach having the lowest energy density.


Eating from the weight loss foods basically equates to a protein sparing modified fast (which is widely held to be the most effect way to lose weight in the long term) meaning that will fill you up so much you won’t be above to overeat while at the same time providing enough protein to preserve lean muscle mass during the weight loss phase.

The “problem” with the aggressive weight loss approach is that it is very low in energy dense comfort foods and it is higher in carbohydrates and protein than most low carbers might be used to, so it might be harder to stick to.  It may also raise your blood glucose levels if you’re still somewhat insulin resistant.

finding the optimal balance between the extremes

I have designed this list of foods for people who are insulin resistant and also looking to lose weight provides a balance between both extremes – high nutrient density, lowish levels of dietary fat and lower energy density.

The foods listed below represent the top 10% of the USDA food database using this ranking system.  I’ve included the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load (per 100g), energy density (per 100g) and the multicriteria analysis score (MCA) that combines all these factors.

The chart below shows the amount of each nutrient provided by the more balanced approach compared to the average of all the foods in the USDA food database.  As you can see you will still be able to obtain heaps of nutrients while the fat comes from your body.



food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
broccoli 23 36% 3 22 2.07
endive 15 23% 1 17 1.84
coriander 16 30% 2 23 1.79
zucchini 18 40% 2 17 1.75
chicory greens 14 23% 2 23 1.74
spinach 20 49% 4 23 1.66
escarole 11 24% 1 19 1.58
basil 17 47% 3 23 1.55
alfalfa 9 19% 1 23 1.51
watercress 22 65% 2 11 1.51
beet greens 13 35% 2 22 1.49
asparagus 16 50% 3 22 1.44
lettuce 14 50% 2 15 1.33
Chinese cabbage 15 54% 2 12 1.29
summer squash 12 45% 2 19 1.26
okra 13 50% 3 22 1.26
parsley 13 48% 5 36 1.25
cauliflower 13 50% 4 25 1.23
chard 13 51% 3 19 1.22
portabella mushrooms 14 55% 5 29 1.20
mustard greens 9 36% 3 27 1.20
arugula 11 45% 3 25 1.17
turnip greens 10 44% 4 29 1.17
chives 11 48% 4 30 1.14
banana pepper 8 36% 3 27 1.13
paprika 9 27% 26 282 1.11
cucumber 7 39% 1 12 1.08
pickles 7 39% 1 12 1.08
collards 7 37% 4 33 1.07
celery 10 50% 3 18 1.03
brown mushrooms 16 73% 5 22 1.01
avocado -0 8% 3 160 0.99
white mushroom 13 65% 5 22 0.99
shitake mushroom 12 58% 7 39 0.98
red peppers 6 40% 3 31 0.98
dandelion greens 10 54% 7 45 0.97
sauerkraut 5 39% 2 19 0.96
dill 11 59% 8 43 0.96
eggplant 4 35% 3 25 0.95
cloves 9 35% 35 274 0.95
radishes 6 43% 2 16 0.94
sage 7 26% 26 315 0.93
jalapeno peppers 5 37% 3 27 0.93
curry powder 3 13% 14 325 0.92
edamame 7 41% 13 121 0.89
chayote 5 40% 3 24 0.88
olives -5 3% 1 145 0.80
Brussel sprouts 6 50% 6 42 0.78
spirulina 11 70% 6 26 0.76
soybeans (sprouted) 6 49% 12 81 0.76
cabbage 7 55% 4 23 0.75
blackberries -1 27% 3 43 0.71
artichokes 5 49% 7 47 0.71


food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
fish roe 18 47% 18 143 1.45
salmon 19 52% 20 156 1.44
trout 16 45% 18 168 1.36
caviar 13 33% 23 264 1.25
oyster 16 59% 14 102 1.19
cisco 9 29% 13 177 1.17
sturgeon 13 49% 16 135 1.13
mackerel 6 14% 10 305 1.08
anchovy 12 44% 22 210 1.08
crab 17 71% 14 83 1.01
sardines 9 36% 16 185 1.01
flounder 13 57% 12 86 1.01
herring 9 36% 19 217 0.97
sardine 9 37% 19 208 1.0
halibut 15 66% 17 111 0.96
tuna 12 52% 23 184 0.91
rockfish 13 66% 17 109 0.86
lobster 14 71% 15 89 0.85
crayfish 12 67% 13 82 0.82
shrimp 13 69% 19 119 0.81
pollock 13 69% 18 111 0.79
perch 10 62% 14 96 0.73

animal products


food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
lamb liver 19 48% 20 168 1.47
lamb kidney 19 52% 15 112 1.45
turkey liver 16 47% 21 189 1.25
beef brains 8 22% 8 151 1.24
veal liver 17 55% 26 192 1.20
beef liver 17 59% 25 175 1.14
chicken liver 14 50% 20 172 1.13
beef kidney 14 52% 20 157 1.10
lamb brains 6 27% 10 154 1.05
chicken liver pate 7 34% 17 201 0.91
lamb heart 10 48% 19 161 0.90
ham 12 59% 17 113 0.88
ground turkey 6 30% 19 258 0.88
turkey heart 9 47% 20 174 0.85
rib eye steak 8 41% 21 210 0.84
roast pork 7 41% 20 199 0.83
roast beef 7 38% 21 219 0.83
beef tongue 1 16% 11 284 0.81
lamb sweetbread 6 43% 15 144 0.79
lamb chop 8 42% 25 234 0.79
lean beef 11 61% 23 149 0.78
beef heart 9 52% 23 179 0.78
park sausage 2 25% 13 217 0.78
pork liver 11 59% 23 165 0.77
turkey meat 8 52% 21 158 0.74
turkey drumstick 8 52% 21 158 0.74
chicken 10 60% 22 148 0.73

dairy and egg


food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
whole egg 9 30% 10 143 1.20
egg yolk 8 18% 12 275 1.15
sour cream 2 13% 6 198 1.02
cream 2 6% 5 340 0.93
cream cheese 2 11% 10 350 0.84
Swiss cheese 5 22% 22 393 0.80
cheddar cheese 5 20% 20 410 0.78
Greek yogurt 3 37% 9 97 0.74

other dietary approaches

The table below contains links to separate blog posts and printable .pdfs 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.



Post last updated July 2017

77 thoughts on “nutrient dense foods for weight loss and insulin resistance”

  1. Marty … This is great!! Thank you. After 13 months of no weight loss Iv now restarted loosing, almost every day. It’s such an unexpected result each day. It’s like something has switched ON.

    This list of your options means I choose the best foods on my preferred list, do the shopping and that’s all I need. KISS solution.

    Sent from my iPad Marion


  2. The terminology confuses me. I know nutrient dense foods are good, but insulinogenic is the category that confuses me. If a food is highly insulinogenic, is that good or bad? My guess is that -genic comes fromm genesis, meaning producing, so a highly insulogenic food generates a lot of insulin, which is not good — correct?

    1. Only if your primary goal is to reduce dietary fat to allow your body to use its “on board pantry”. Full fat might be better if you are still insulin resistant and your blood sugars rise too much if eating ‘low fat’ foods.

      1. At 6 :50 Dr Phinney says: “…have to eat
        a lot of fat.”

        How is eating more low fat cottage cheese
        eating more fat? Cottage cheese is a high
        carb food. Why make it even higher by
        choosing low fat CC?

        Seems you’re missing the greater point.

    1. Actually, the complete thread includes this:

      [–]ashsimmonds 4 points 7 days ago
      I was referring to airquote nutrient density airquote of veggies, like fiber being a good thing, and cholesterol to be avoided, and saturated fat clogs arteries, and meat induces cancer, and Canola oil is good for your heart, and…..

      We still don’t have evidence that veggies
      are essential in any way. As is stated in that
      thread, veggies appear, at best, neutral.

      Have you seen this and several other similar
      studies? Just one of many reasons:

      1. The analysis doesn’t consider fiber. I’m not arguing any of those points. The data just shows that vegetables contain useful nutrients. Feel free to stick to the more nutrient dense fish and animal products if that’s your preference.

      2. Well there is fiber, magnesium, vitamin C, and potassium. Folate are useful for methylation and vitamin E is a master antioxidant. Eskimos lived a fairly short life when on their ancestral diet, high longevity groups eat a lot of veggies, and fat produces less ROS, but it still produces ROS. Plus trying to eat more nutrients while on an animal diet means increasing protein intake. In my experience that is not good for my system. 10% is a fine number.

  3. Marty:

    Using low fat cottage cheese and cream cheese ‘if your primary goal is to reduce dietary fat to allow your body to use its “on board pantry”’
    Do you really think this way? Where’d you come up with this new thinking? I’m guessing you’ve lost the thread somewhere.

    Is that really working for you?

      1. Dr Westman says “…high calorie foods
        like cheese and cream are limited…” He
        doesn’t say they are replaced with lower
        fat versions of themselves.

        Again, how’s that working for you?

      2. The on board pantry thing is a Westman quote. On a personal level I find the butter, cream and peanut butter really satisfying when I’m really hungry but I’d hate to count the calories I can hammer down in a short period when I’m hungry. I enjoy the green stuff too but it takes time and effort to prepare.

    1. Can’t reply to your comment, so I’ll put
      it here.

      You said, “…vegetables contain useful
      nutrients.” But if they are unavailable, they
      are, in fact, not useful.

      1. Again, can’t reply to your comment,

        You said. “… I’d hate to count the calories…”

        Why would you? Is it calories in, calories out?
        Again, you might be missing some LCHF
        understanding. Are you having weight issues?

      2. Lots of people do really well with a very high fat, but not everyone who simply takes a ‘eat fat to satiety’ approach ends up an olympian or ripped body builder.

  4. Marty, it sounds like several people missed out on the Keto Summit. If they’d caught it, they’d have heard that you aren’t the only one who thinks this way–there are plenty of DOCTORS who research, do clinical trials, and practice using keto diets who agree with you.

    Atkins-style induction was never meant to be a permanent thing. The whole idea of LCHF is to go as low as you can with carbs to lose the weight, but once the weight is off, slowly raise the carbs (using whole foods) until you find your level of carb tolerance. Basically, when you get to a maintenance phase, high fat ain’t all that–you no longer need that much. You get your best “performance” (however you wish to define it–from daily living activities to power lifting) with a combo of carbs and fat. You just need to determine your own personal combo.

    I kept hearing the phrase “high fat Meditteranean diet” from several Keto Summit participants, and they were saying that it was the “ideal” diet (I assume they were excluding the bread and pasta) for when you’ve lost your weight, stabilized your BG levels, healed your insulin resistance, and are looking to maintain. HFM should be considered the light at the end of your tunnel.

    I have recently discovered that I can now tolerate small amounts of fructose (as in 1/2 an avocado, and BG drops) daily, whereas before I couldn’t even do that (BG rose). I’m taking that bit of knowledge and running with it (meaning to include more and more fructose-containing foods) until I find my new tolerance level.

    1. there’s fructose in an avocado ? oh yes, 0.2g in a 200g fruit. More glucose (3 times) but still a pretty low sugar option at just over a gram. Panic over.

  5. Thank you, Marty,for all the effort you put in to give us the data for correct foods to get to our goals. I watched you talk on Keto Summit it was great. regards

    On Sun, Oct 9, 2016 at 9:53 PM, optimising nutrition wrote:

    > Marty Kendall posted: “I’ve talked to a number of people lately how have > been using a combination of the list of optimal foods for insulin > resistance / diabetes / nutritional ketosis and the optimal foods for > weight loss list. So I thought it would be useful to combine these” >

  6. I’m probably more confused than ever from what I’ve been doing the last 6 weeks as a Type 1 who is keto adapted. Concerned recently about the saturated fat and have made adjustments. But full fat cottage cheese vs low fat requires less insulin for me. Anyway, will review these references to hopefully clear my confusion. Sometimes for me, simpler is better. Thanks for all your efforts.

  7. I wanted to confirm the chicory ratings. I run a large garden that serves three families, and the chicory has naturalized in many spots in the paths. No one eats it, and I have become less attracted to traditional veggies. So since June I have been eating a pound of just picked chicory greens most days. They are incredible at not raising your sugar. Nutritionally, they are not as dense as kale but they are denser than many other greens, they have all you want from a green (A, C, K) and they have inulin. They are also extremely productive, easily producing 6 or more cuttings in a season. I ate both radicchio which had not headed yet, and a cutting chicory imported from Italy. It is the latter that is particularly impressive production wise, also producing tender leaves throughout the hot season, and surviving midwestern winters. The other veggie that impresses me as best in its class for insulin is raw, grated turnips.Daikon (giant radish) is close but less nutritious for the same “perceived” glicemic index.

  8. Marty:

    It’s your blog, but it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone who is responding to something that one has never said. I have repeatedly requested that you address nutrient availability, since that would (probably greatly) affect the rankings you have given to various foods. I never said vegetables have no nutrients. Why would you intimate that I did?

    What was your point in posting Dr. Phinney’s video?

    What was your point in posting Dr. Westman’s video?

    What was your point in posting the There was nothing about cottage cheese nor cream cheese on that link.

    You completely disregarded my comment: ‘Dr Westman says “…high calorie foods
    like cheese and cream are limited…” He doesn’t say they are replaced with lower fat versions of themselves.’ Then you addressed something I had no contention with (“on board pantry” was from Dr. Westman). The bigger picture is that he does not advocate lower fat versions of foods.

    I asked why you would count your calories. So, why would you? You are linked to DietDoctor’s blog list, therefore I’ve made the assumption that you are an LCHF advocate. Now it doesn’t appear that you are. Why would you continue to be listed there if you aren’t? Is there something about LCHF that you are confused about?

    Your quote out of the blue: “…ends up an olympian or ripped body builder.” You brought this up, not me. I haven’t a clue what that is responding to.

    1. 1. I’ve done a fair bit of digging into the topic of species specific nutrient bioavailability and have found very little hard science on the topic, especially when it comes to quantitative parameters and factors that would be useful to modify and refine the numerical analysis. There are plenty of plant based advocates that would argue the other side of the argument with as much passion as you do the non-plant based angle. In the absence of hard quantitative data I find these discussion tiring. The nutrient density analysis identifies the most nutrient dense plant based, seafood and animal based foods. I think it’s up to you if you want to eat more or less plant or animal based foods. I would prefer a variety across both, but I can’t force you either way.
      2. The Phinney video outlines his thesis that in weight loss fat comes from the body and can be reduced in the diet.
      3. Westman also talks about not overdoing the dietary fat from nuts and dairy. No he doesn’t talk about low fat products, but those are the ones that the system flags. I know though that the Ketogains guys and others do use low fat high protein products in weight loss. If you are still insulin resistant and this approach raises your blood glucose a less aggressive approach may be more suitable. Westman’s main angle is limiting carbs to an arbitrary number. My system is a little more complex and balances insulin load, nutrient density and energy density based on particular goals.
      4. I personally despise counting calories, hence why I developed the food lists to help me and my family make better choices. My wife has Type 1 diabetes so managing insulin load is important. There is some contention / confusion in the low carb circles, but most (including me) don’t believe that you can eat / drink unlimited processed fat and still lose weight. For some people appetite is self-regulating, but for everyone.
      5. I appreciate the link from the Diet Doctor site, but Andreas does not endorse or review my material before I post. I do have a good relationship with the Low Carb Down Under guys and they shared this post. There was plenty of discussion at the recent events Low Carb Down Under events that I was recently where this issue was raised (i.e. this low carb thing worked for me initially but I’ve stalled, should I eat more fat or do something else).
      6. I think low carb works really well for most people who are insulin resistant, at least for a while. However I think as insulin sensitivity improves many people would benefit from also focussing on nutrient density and building lean muscle mass rather than just eating more fat to keep ketones high.

  9. LCHF does NOT necessarily mean copious amounts of *dietary* fat, especially if your goal is to lose body fat. Very high amounts of dietary fat can actually inhibit lipolysis. If you’re obese and consume very little dietary fat, you’re still technically doing LCHF because the fat is coming from your body’s own fat stores. There are a few brands of yogurt and cottage cheese, etc, that surprisingly don’t increase the carb count to compensate, while removing the fat, which is why “low-fat” items might be suggested *for fat loss*; but reading labels is still paramount. If you choose non-fat cottage cheese, this gives you the option to easily add more healthful coconut or MCT oil elsewhere. Source and quality of the fat is important. Energy input vs expenditure is still important, too, so yes, calories sometimes do matter. Thanks, again, Marty, for all your hard work and digging around you do for the community!

  10. Stick with it, Bubba, it’s your blog run it your way. You’re doing the leg work. Much appreciated.

    Any way at all for your .pdf docs to be available in Adobe Acrobat format? I don’t gots the drop box and no more memory to add it. Many thank yous!

      1. Thanks much! I just figured out that the little symbol in upper right corner takes me to a direct download page that biases drop box. I guess that’s how it’s working. I appreciate the .pdf format and all the great info!

      2. Thanks much! I just figured out that the little symbol in upper right corner takes me to a direct download page that bypasses drop box. I guess that’s how it’s working. I appreciate the .pdf format and all the great info!

  11. I’m confused by your numbers for Greek Yogurt. In the March 28, 2015 post (Superfoods) you show that Greek Yogurt has a ND of 5, a % insulinogenic of 63, etc. In you October 10, 2016 (Nutrient Dense Foods) post you list it as ND 3, % insulinogenic of 37%, etc.

    Why the differences?

    1. I’ve updated my spreadsheet analysis to the new USDA food database and am progressively going back to update the older old articles. Will get there… just need more time in the day.

  12. Pingback: Nutrient Optimiser
  13. Reading the list of foods for ND & IR and didn’t see anything about cooking oils such as EVOO, Coconut, Lard, etc for preparation of these foods. How does that affect insulin.

  14. How is it that there are not a thousand gushing Thank Yous for this post?
    This information and your post has answered my unanswerable question.
    T H A N K Y O U!!

    ps. the only thing better was if this was made into a downloadable pdf with the complete page of information. Just in case you forget to pay your web hosting fees… we would have your work forever.

  15. How would beans fit into this? Are they simply not nutrient dense, or are they not a good idea from the insulin or glucose aspect? I would like to replace some animal proteins and beans seem like the logical choice.

    I’m a type 2 insulin resistant, diabetic and I’m on a long-acting insulin and a couple of other diabetic medications at this point.

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