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steak, eggs, spinach, walnuts and hallouimi

This is another one of my dad’s nutrient dense higher protein meals.  He’s in a bit of a groove with the diced steak ready to do with the eggs, spinach and halloumi in a pan as the first meal of the day at about 2pm.

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Add some avocado, brazil nuts and alfalfa sprouts and he’s good to go.

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Again, the nutrient density is great and we still get a keto / LCHF / diabetes friendly 70% fat without actually adding too much fat.

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The table below shows the nutritional data per 500 calorie serving.

net carbs Insulin load carb insulin fat protein fibre
4g 19g 13% 72% 29g 5g

sardines, spinach, eggs and avocado

My dad has been working hard to craft nutrient dense moderate protein meals.  For a while he was pursuing ketosis with a higher amount of dietary fat and his Bulletproof teas with extra butter after I introduced him to Dave Asprey’s version of “intermittent fasting” .

After an initial period of success  he found he was putting on weight, becoming inflamed and his blood glucose levels were starting to drift back up.

He then started to go for a slightly higher amount of protein in line with the concepts described in Volek and Phinney’s four phases of a ketogenic diet chart.  That is, during weight loss some of the fat being burned each day should come from body fat.  Hence his meals needed to focus on getting adequate protein to support muscle maintenance and obtain other necessary nutrients, while significantly reducing dietary fat.

Once he did this he started losing weight and his ketones actually increased due to the body fat being burned.  With adequate protein in place he then dialed down the dietary fat to the place that still comfortably satisfied hunger.  From there he had some great results in terms of weight loss.

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This meal of sardines, eggs, spinach, garlic, broccoli sprouts, avocado, goat cheese and a few walnuts is an example of one of those meals.  The details are shown in the analysis below.  As you can see it does well in terms of both the vitamins and minerals and the protein score.  While there is not a lot of added fat in this meal (butter used for cooking) there is still 65% fat from whole foods.

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The table below shows the nutritional data per 500 calorie serving.

net carbs Insulin load carb insulin fat protein fibre
4g 23g 16% 65% 35g 5g

Robb Wolf’s Wired to Eat

For what it’s worth, I’m appreciative of Robb Wolf’s influence on my thinking and learning in the area of nutrition.

Around 2009, my dad mentioned that he’d been reading the transcripts for the Paleo Solution Podcast.  I think Robb’s podcast with Andy Deas and then Greg Everett was the first podcast I listened to.  I would like to think I was their sixth listener, but I could be wrong.

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Robb is a research biochemist with some personal health challenges.  His mum had some major autoimmune issues and he’s been plagued with ulcerative colitis and the threat of a bowel resection in his mid-20s.  He started the first and fourth CrossFit affiliate gyms.  All this gives him a unique angle on health and nutrition.  His 2010 book, The Paleo Solution, has become a definitive manuscripts of both the Paleo and CrossFit communities and central to the massive growth of both.

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Although there is sometimes disagreement between the Paleo and Low Carb communities, Robb has, from the outset, had a soft spot for low carb, keto, and fasting.  It was through Robb that I learned about Dr Richard Bernstein and low carb to try to manage my wife Monica’s Type 1 Diabetes.  He’s also been interested in the use of ketogenic diets for traumatic brain injury. [1]

When I came across the insulin index data, it was Robb Wolf and Mat Lalonde’s thinking on nutrient density that made me believe there might be a way to combine the two parameters, insulin load and nutrient density, to find the optimum balance for each individual.

So how have Robb’s views changed in the last seven years since he wrote The Paleo Solution?  What’s new in his new book, Wired to Eat, which is due out 21 March 2017?

On a personal level, it seems he’s occasionally eating gelato with his two girls.  With a few more years under his belt, Robb seems more conscious of his genetic diabetes risk.  He is on a journey to find the optimal balance between keto and some more carbs to maximise mental and physical performance and a lot of that self-reflection and thinking is echoed in his new book.

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Over the last few years Robb has spent less time dealing with performance athletes and more time dealing with police and firefighters who are often metabolically broken.  This makes his new message even more relevant to the masses, who are more likely to be facing the challenges of diabesity rather than winning the CrossFit Games.

In Wired to Eat he has differentiated his ‘Paleo template’ depending on an individual’s carb tolerance.  The 7 Day Carb Test protocol will help you assess whether you can tolerate Paleo-style carbs such as beets, squash, yams, and sweet potatoes.

“Personalised Nutrition” is a central theme of Robb’s new book.  In Chapter 6, Robb delves into the Israeli study “Personalised Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses,”[2] in which they correlated blood glucose with gut microbiome parameters and identified optimal foods to rehabilitate the gut.  Eating to rebalance the gut microbiome is certainly a fascinating area of research.  With his personal and professional background, Robb brings a new angle to the discussion.

The great thing about the Paleo template is that is that it eliminates most of the nutrient poor foods that will spike your blood glucose and insulin levels.   Nutrient dense whole foods and the healthy dose of cellular carbohydrates also tend to feed a broad range of ‘good bacteria’ rather than the narrow band of pathogenic bacteria that can be fed by processed carbs and simple sugars.[3]  In the book, Robb tries to strike a balance between accessible mass market books and driving the science forward with novel and obscure discussions.

An overly simplistic view of the Paleo diet led to a mindless process of asking “Is this food Paleo?” versus the more appropriate question “Is this food a good option for me?”

On the other hand, if the details on how the diet works starts to look like Advanced Chemistry, a typical reader would rather roll around naked in broken glass.  I will aim to strike a balance between the two extremes, giving you sufficient information in a simple way so you understand how these choices will help you live a healthier life.

The overarching theme of the book is that we are Wired to Eat to ensure survival of the species.  Wanting a donut is not a moral failing.  From an ancestral perspective, it’s just how we’re programmed to perpetuate the survival of the species.  Robb says:

If you live in a modern, Westernized society of relative leisure and abundance but are not fat, sick and diabetic, you are, from a biological perspective, “screwing up.”   

Our species is here today because our genes are wired to eat damn near everything that is not nailed down.  Related to this is an expectation, again woven into our genes, that the process of finding food requires that we are active.

In unambiguous terms, we are genetically wired to eat simple, unprocessed foods, and to expend a fair amount of energy in the process (walk, run, lift, carry, dance!).  But modern life affords us the luxury of sedentariness and the most varied assortment of delectable food imaginable.  It is now possible to order food to your door, work from home, and sit when we travel, while our not so distant ancestors routinely walked 5 to 10 miles per day.  This is our conundrum.

The reason we get fat, sick, and broken, and the reason why it’s so hard to change our diet and lifestyle, is simple:  our environment has changed while our bodies have not – at least not enough to forestall the development of a host of degenerative disease.  Our genetics are wired for a time when our meals were relatively simple in terms of flavour and texture.  We only had access to foods that changed with the seasons and we always had to expend some amount of energy to get the goods.

Robb draws the parallel between processed and manufactured “food porn” and, well, real porn.

Once we become over exposed to things that are impossible to achieve naturally (whether that be Doritos[4]

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…49 chemically generated flavours of jelly beans…

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…effortless ketones in a packet…

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…or having fifty browser tabs open of surgically enhanced people performing superhuman feats of “intimacy”)…

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…we lose taste for and become desensitised to the real things that can be found in nature.

The problem with the surreal world we live in comes when the Doritos or the Jelly Beans don’t deliver the nutrition that their chemically induced flavours promise, or when the surgically enhanced people and ‘social media’ don’t deliver the relationship, intimacy, and meaning that we’re really craving and adapted to thrive on.

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Aside from food quality, Robb also addresses the mismatch between what our species are adapted to when it comes to movement, relationships, light, and sleep.

Studies have indicated that inadequate social connectivity increases early death potential as much as a pack-a-day smoking habit.

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Although Rob is pro low carb for the right application, he’s also pragmatic about it.

For some, a higher fat intake, particularly with adequate protein, causes a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake due to a profound sense of satiety.  Folks who eat this way tend to experience fairly easy fat loss and dramatic improvements in health parameters such as blood sugar and inflammation.

Keep in mind, however that this might have nothing to do with the satiety of fat specifically and everything to do with removing junk carbs from the diet, which can hijack the neuro-regulation of appetite and make us feel hungry.

Some folks who really buy into the insulin hypothesis of obesity say that with elevated insulin levels we cannot get fats out of cells.  Elevated insulin levels certainly play into the ease of liberating fat from adipocytes; this is why insulin sensitive people can lose body fat on relatively high-carb, low-fat diet.

Conversely, however, folks with insulin resistance will find the high-carb, low – fat approach almost impossible to lose weight on, but may thrive on a lower – carb, higher protein / fat mix.  Once the underlying resistance has been addressed, these people may find they tolerate more carbs and can shift their diet accordingly but this is a highly individual thing.

Coming from a physical performance and diabetes headspace, Robb has a good grasp on the importance of muscle mass, blood glucose control, activity, and endocrinology.

The brain becomes leptin resistant and the muscles become insulin resistant.  This fools the brain and the liver into believing we are starving.  So, despite being awash in excess calories, the body releases glucagon, cortisol, and adrenaline, behaving as if would it we were in an underfed or starvation state.

The release of these catabolic hormones leads to a host of problems, not the least of which is muscle and bone wasting.  This occurs in anyone with insulin resistance (estimates range as high as 50 percent of the US population) and particularly for diabetics.  What’s worse, when you lose muscle mass, you have even fewer places to store glucose, which further exacerbates the problem of excess glucose storage.

High insulin levels downregulate insulin receptors, which increases insulin resistance and puts more and more stress on the pancreas.  This is the race toward uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, accelerated aging, increased rates of cancer, neurodegenerative disease, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure.

Having higher levels of functional muscle mass means we don’t have to rely as heavily on our pancreas producing insulin.

The spread in macronutrients appears to have little if any impact on health as long as the foods are largely unprocessed and the carbohydrate comes mainly from fruits, vegetables and tubers.

Food quality should be the greatest priority for most people before they start worrying about micromanaging macronutrients.  Restriction of carbs should ideally be one of the last lines of defence against high blood glucose levels after you’ve got the food quality, sleep, sunlight, stress, and relationship issues sorted.

If we restrict ourselves to nutrient dense, unprocessed foods that our ancestors would have recognised as food most of us won’t need to worry so much about macronutrients.  If we limit our exposure to modern engineered foods we can pretty much eat whatever we desire, letting our appetite and cravings lead us to the nutrients we need.

From a scientific perspective, this nutrient density topic is actually the most credible argument for the Paleo diet; it arrives at this position not from anthropological observations, but rather from the best that reductionist science has to offer.

But if you couldn’t be bothered with abstract concepts like nutrient density that require some faith in number crunching by geeks like me, just ask yourself, “Would my ancestors recognise this as food?“ or “Is it Paleo?”

Armed with the insights of Dr Kirk Parsley, Robb spends a chapter talking about the importance of sleep and light exposure on our hormones.  Just drugging yourself with sedatives or alcohol doesn’t bring sleep but rather just a lack of consciousness.

Robb also has a good go at blitzing the morality and guilt surrounding food. So often we think that our lack of physical awesomeness is due to our lack of willpower or moral failures.  The reality is that it’s not entirely our fault.  We are programmed to binge on that bag of Doritos, Snickers, cheesecake, or the Jellybeans if we’re left alone with them.

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This biological love of simple sugars allowed our ancestors to make it through the impending winter and become our ancestors.  The problem is, these days, winter never comes.[5]

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Now we’re surrounded by summer foods (fruit, jelly beans, and fairy floss) and summer (blue) light.  We never have to go through the discomfort of winter (fasting), relying on less sugar (low carb), and perhaps our body’s fat stores (ketosis).

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So, what’s the new Paleo Solution?  The first step is to figure out where you’re at so you can manipulate your environment to push you back the other way towards optimal.  This is the essence of Personalised Nutrition that is the centre of the book.

The key factor is to understand if you exceeded your body’s ability to process sugar and need to give it a break for a while until you can use up your current glucose stores.  Meanwhile if you’re insulin sensitive, you will need to tweak the dietary plans toward more whole, unprocessed carbs and less fat.

Maybe Wired to Eat will bring some low carb to Paleo and nutrient dense Paleo foods to low carb?  A match made in heaven?

A while back, after hearing Robb discuss Optimal Foraging Theory, I wrote the blog post, Energy Density, Food Hyper Palatability and Reverse Engineering Optimal Foraging Theory, to combine my nutritional analysis with Rob’s insights.    The table below and the accompanying food lists are my attempt to identify the optimal (most nutrient dense) whole foods that will suit different people with different starting points and different goals.

approach average glucose waist : height
(mg/dL) (mmol/L)
therapeutic ketosis > 140 > 7.8
diabetes and nutritional ketosis 108 to 140 6.0 to 7.8
weight loss (insulin resistant) 100 to 108 5.4 to 6.0 > 0.5
weight loss (insulin sensitive) < 97 < 5.4 > 0.5
bulking < 97 < 5.4 < 0.5
nutrient dense maintenance < 97 < 5.4 < 0.5

It’s not primarily about self-discipline, guilt, calorie counting, or a one-size-fits-all dietary approach.  Personalised nutrition is about understanding where you are now and where you want to be.  You then need to actively “deprive yourself” of the foods that you are no match for and surround yourself with the environment that will help you reach your goals.

Resistance is useless when you’re surrounded by “food porn” but you’re Wired to Eat.

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references

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPXAyYZEpEk

[2] http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(15)01481-6

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3402009/

[4] http://www.simonandschuster.com.au/books/The-Dorito-Effect/Mark-Schatzker/9781476724232

[5] http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/met.2014.0027

how to use your bathroom scale as a fuel gauge

“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

St Augustine

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This article is a follow up to the “How to use your glucose metre as a fuel gauge” article, which has been quite popular, with lots of people reporting success in lowering their blood glucose and recalibrating their hunger signals by using the numbers they see on their glucose metre.

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To recap, the process revolves around the idea that, perhaps even better than calorie counting or carbohydrate counting, the numbers you see on your blood glucose metre are a good indication of whether you are running low on fuel and need to eat or whether you are just eating out of habit, routine, social boredom or for entertainment.

While eating for pleasure occasionally or as part of a celebration is fine and part of enjoying life, in the long run most of us need to find a way to obtain the nutrients we need with less energy if we want to avoid obesity, diabetes and all the associated negative consequences.

If we eat highly insulinogenic low nutrient density foods regularly our insulin levels stay high and our fat stays locked in storage and hunger drives us to eat more frequently.  However, if we reverse this cycle to lower our glucose and insulin to normal levels we start to eat less frequently and we allow our stored energy to flow out of our fat cells, our appetite decrease and there is a good chance we will lose weight and gain health.

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The table below shows the simple process whereby someone could decide if they really need to eat.  Using this process would ensure that their blood glucose levels continue to trend down as their excess energy in their bloodstream and vital organs (pancreas, liver etc) flows out of storage.

blood glucose action
>  7 day average, well slept and low stress delay eating and / or exercise and wait for blood glucose to come down
< 7 day average if hungry, enjoy nutrient dense foods that align with your insulin sensitivity
< 73mg/dL or 4.0 mmol/L if hungry, eat higher insulin load foods and delay exercise

Using numerical outputs to guide our decision making

There is no end of debate as to whether a calorie is a calorie or whether calories matter.   Rather than tracking estimates of inputs like calories eaten or calories burned in exercise, there is nothing like tracking outputs such as your blood glucose levels, waist or weight to understand what your body is doing with the food you are eating and whether you are eating too much or too little.

If your glucose levels, insulin, waist or weight are increasing then chances are you’re eating too much, too often or the wrong type of food.

The plot below is a stark reminder that our chances of living longer improve if we have lower body fat levels or a waist to height ratio close to 0.5.

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The problem with tracking glucose levels

The ‘problem’ with tracking blood glucose levels is that, in time, with regular fasting, our glucose levels will normalise to healthy levels but we may still be left with excess weight.  So where do we turn once our blood glucose levels are optimal but our body fat levels are still above optimal?

This brings us to the star of this article, Rebecca Latham, who is a great example of how you can use your body measurements to guide your feast / fast cycle to achieve your long-term goals.

Rebecca has been following a low carb diet since the start of February 2009.  She was featured in the 2010 New Atkins for a New You[1]  as well as on the Atkins site as an example success story.[2]  She was a guest on Episode 404 of Jimmy Moore’s Livin’ La Vida Low Carb podcast.

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After a stressful time towards the end of 2015 Rebecca Latham decided she needed to make a focused effort to her lose some extra weight that had crept on.  Rebecca is also particularly motivated by her family history of ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia and cancer and her own ongoing battle with Type 2 Diabetes.

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Rebecca’s Protocol

On 1 January 2016 Rebecca set an initial goal to lose 0.2 pounds per day over three months.      Rebecca was also eager to reduce her fasting blood glucose levels from the 100mg/dL back to the 70mg/dL that they had been at before she regained her weight.

Part of Rebecca’s inspiration comes from her uncle, Buell Carlton Cole.

He was general surgeon to the President of the United States, who would control his weight by simply not eating until he returned to his goal weight.  I initially thought this was an unhealthy approach until I read up a more about intermittent fasting.

Rather than simply not eating until she achieved her goal weight, Rebecca’s system involved not eating on days when her weight in the morning was above her target weight.  Her only exception was to be special occasions and celebrations.

Here are Rebecca’s weight loss results during her initial 90-day challenge.  Initial weight loss can be quite quick as the insulin levels drop and the body releases water.  However, it gets a bit harder to continue with straight line weight loss as time goes on as you can see towards the end.

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After the reached her initial goal, Rebecca had some issues that she needed to look after and ended up regaining some of the weight as you can see in the plot below of her weight over the past year.  However, once these challenges were behind her she got back on her program.  For the final part leading up to the end of the year she has dropped her goal weight loss back to 0.06lbs per day to hit her goal on 31 December 2016.   See if you can spot the few ‘blips’ around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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This chart shows that she needed to fast for about one day in three through the year to lose nearly a quarter of her body weight over the year!

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Reflecting on her journey, Rebecca says:

I reached my highest lifetime weight in February 2009, when I weighed in at 158 pounds, with a body fat percentage of 43.7%. This is my scale weight chart for this past almost eight years, since I started eating low carb high fat (LCHF) and nutritional ketosis.

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Each time I lost weight and stopped tracking and weighing myself, I gradually put most of the weight back on again. As you can see by the chart, this happened several times, and the last few times it happened, my weight was going up a little higher each time.

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On January 1, 2016, I developed and started using my Protocol. Since starting the Protocol, I took two breaks, once in May 2016 when my husband had a heart attack and I was too concerned with his health to care about my own, but I got back on the Protocol within a couple of weeks and started seeing success again.

The next time I took a break was in July 2016, when I had to eat high carb and not fast for a week in preparation for some metabolic testing. As soon as the testing was over, I was back on the Protocol and started losing again. I have been going strong ever since, with small gains here and there brought on by restaurant meals and Thanksgiving.

I have now I reached my ultimate goal for scale weight, weighing in at 122.4 pounds with a body fat percentage of 25.7%, which means that I have lost approximately 37.5 pounds of body fat. The Protocol is the only thing that has brought me sustained weight loss, and I plan to follow it for the rest of my life!

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Many people have a love / hate or even just a hate / hate relationship with their bathroom scale.  It would be nice if low carb or nutrient dense achieved optimal health outcomes without any restriction for everyone.  However, unfortunately, sustaining weight loss in the long term often takes discipline, some form of accountability and some level of restriction for most of us.

While weighing yourself every day isn’t much fun, the national weight control registry data indicates that people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off weigh themselves regularly.[3] [4]  [5] Rebecca’s intended long term maintenance plan will likely be to weigh herself regularly and fast again once her weight goes outside her target range.

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Better than calorie counting?

Some people who first try low carb or keto find that they initially lose a lot of weight eating to satiety as their blood glucose and insulin levels drop to healthier levels.  However, in the long term many people find that they need to be more disciplined and mindful of how much and / or how often they are eating to reach their optimal level of body composition.

The great thing about combining fasting with working to a goal like this is that it makes sure you don’t overdo the feasting days.  I’ve found personally that it can be hard to know how much to eat after a fast.  A quantitative system like this helps to manage and calibrate your appetite when you’re feasting.

If you eat to satiety, and not beyond, then you won’t have to fast again as soon as compared to if you binge after your fast.  Eating to satiety on a regular basis means that your body’s metabolism doesn’t slow and adjust in the same way that it would if you maintained a constant caloric restriction.[6]

Life extension benefits

There are a number of benefits to fasting:

  • You can reduce your insulin levels more than if eating small but regular meals which keeps your insulin levels consistently elevated.
  • Fasting gives your body a chance to repair through a process called autophagy which is where the old cells are cleaned up which allow space for the fresh new cells to grow.
  • Fasting trains your body to become ‘metabolically flexible’ so you can use your body fat stores for and your food for fuel.
  • There is less need to focus on the quantity of food eaten at every single meal.
  • It’s not ideal to always be in growth mode with mTOR switched on. Alternating periods of growth and repair appear to be more beneficial in the long term.[7]
  • Fasting makes sense from an ancestral point of view when we wouldn’t have had constant access to plentiful food the way we do now. Periods of intentional restriction mimic what we have become adapted to and follow the seasons of the past.

Fasting also seems to have some special anti-aging effects.  When food is scarce your body senses an emergency, and sends out sirtuin proteins to maximise the health of our mitochondria to increase the chance that you will survive the famine and have the best chance of living to a time when food is more plentiful and you can reproduce and pass on your genes.  Unfortunately, this emergency repair function doesn’t happen when food is plentiful.

Fasting and blood glucose levels

During the first three months following her Protocol Rebecca added a blood glucose target to also bring her blood sugar down by 0.25 mg/dL per day.  As you can see in the chart below her blood glucose levels have dropped pretty much in parallel with her weight loss during this time.

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More recently, she tested her blood glucose levels and found that they were consistently great so she ended up discontinuing the testing because it was becoming monotonous and not helping her make useful decisions.

While it’s useful to track a few things, it can be overwhelming and time consuming to keep track of too many things at once and lead to analysis paralysis.  It’s good to find a handful of things to track that will help you make useful decisions.

Do we lose fat or muscle during fasting?

One hot topic of discussion is the amount of lean mass (i.e. or muscle) that one may lose in long term fasting.

The reality is that any weight loss is going to consist of a combination of water, fat and muscle (or lean muscle mass).  The chart below from Kevin Hall’s model shows that we initially lose a lot of carbohydrate (glycogen) and with it a lot of water.

Protein / muscle loss is the smallest component of loss from the body and this decreases as we adapt more to using fat and ketones rather than relying on glucose.  It takes a few days to adapt to using fat and ketones, but in the long run they are by far the greatest proportion of energy used during fasting.

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Rebecca’s experience aligns with this.  She didn’t get a DEXA scan, but she does take regular body measurements which she uses to calculate her body fat percentage (see US Navy Circumference Method).  Based on these measurements she lost 28.6 lbs of fat and 3.0 lbs of lean mass.   So, more than 90% of her weight loss over the past year was fat.

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“Problems” with fasting

Jason Fung has recently popularised the concept of fasting in the low carb community via his blog and videos and published The Complete Guide to Fasting.  There is a ton of convincing evidence on the benefits of fasting which is an age old practice for a variety of reasons.

However, Dr Steve Phinney has come out highlighting his concerns with long term fasting with respect to loss of lean tissues as well as vitamins and minerals.    A number of others have expressed concerns that fasting without due care and attention to refeeding will not be beneficial in the long term.

One way to reconcile the differences is to see these concerns as two ends of the spectrum.  Jason’s focus is very sick people who come to him with major kidney issues due to their advanced Type 2 Diabetes, while Steve’s focus is more around maximising athletic performance for those whom maintaining muscle mass is critical to performance.

As you can see in the chart below from Differences in fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism between lean and obese subjects undergoing total starvation the proportion of energy from lean body mass increases as our level of available level of body fat decreases.

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Also, if you are more fat adapted your body will be able to more easily draw energy from stored body fat rather than requiring glucose which can be drawn from the protein in your body via gluconeogenesis.

Most people don’t fit neatly into either of the extremes, so how do you refine the approach to suit your current situation?   That is where optimising your food choices to suit your current situation comes in.

How much to eat after your fast?

Personally, one challenge I find with fasting is that it’s easy to overdo it when you get to eat again.  I think some people experience this more than others.  Dr Phinney made the analogy that telling someone not to binge at the end of a fast is like telling someone to hold their breath but then not to take too big a breath when they come up for air.

While some people can eat normally the next day after a fast, personally I find that it’s easy to reach for the energy dense lower nutrient dense foods or to give yourself liberty to eat foods that you may not normally eat if you were being disciplined all the time.   By doing this, I’ve found it’s still possible to maintain or gain weight when fasting more days that you eat if you’re not disciplined with what you eat on your feasting days.

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If you find yourself reaching for energy dense low nutrient density foods like processed carbs, a block of chocolate or litre of cream after your fast then you could take that as a sign that you need to revert to shorter fasting periods until you’re more fat adapted.

Another challenge with fasting is that it will deplete your system of vital nutrients in the long term meaning that you may be more inclined to binge when you do eat unless you’ve focusing on maximising nutrient density in your feasting periods.[8]

What to eat after you fast

One of the unique things about fasting is that it forces your body into the cleansing process of autophagy and primes the body to rebuild.  Hence, it’s especially important to feed the parts of the body you want to grow (lean muscle mass is critical for long term health[9]) and maximise the nutrient density during the initial refeed.

In some ways, a fast is only as good as the feast afterwards that your body is highly primed to absorb.  For me that means trying to plan some nutrient dense greens and a solid amount of protein for my first meal so I don’t end up reaching for the energy dense cream, butter or peanut butter or indulge in some junk carbage because I feel like I’ve earned it.

If your goal is to lose fat during the fast then it’s important to build back the essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids during the feeding period.   The body will fight to get what it needs in the long run and I think you’ll have a better chance of avoiding cravings and involuntary binging if you maximise the essential nutrients of your food when you do this.  And if you are using fasting to achieve long term weight loss I think it makes sense to try to get the maximum number of nutrients with the least amount of energy (a.k.a.  avoiding empty calories and maximising nutrient density).

People looking to use fasting for long term weight loss may benefit from starting out with a higher fat dietary approach if they are very insulin resistant.  However, as blood glucose levels progressively improve you should be able to transition to a more nutrient dense nutritional approach which will allow you to get your required nutrients with less energy.

I see a lot of arguments online regarding whether high fat keto or high protein is optimal. I think these arguments come down to context.  The table below gives some guidance as to which approach might be right for you initially based on:

  1. your blood glucose levels (if your glucose levels are high you will likely benefit from a higher fat keto approach, at least initially until your glucose levels start to normalise),
  2. ketones (some is better than none, but there’s no need to chase high ketones with heaps of extra dietary fat, especially if you are trying to lose body fat), and
  3. waist to height ratio (this is going to be more useful than BMI to tell you if you still need to lose a bit of weight).
approach average glucose ketones (mmol/L) waist : height
(mg/dL) (mmol/L)
therapeutic ketosis > 140 > 7.8 < 0.3
diabetes and nutritional ketosis 108 to 140 6.0 to 7.8 < 0.3
weight loss (insulin resistant) 97 to 108 5.4 to 6.0 < 0.3 > 0.5
weight loss (insulin sensitive) < 97 < 5.4 > 0.2 > 0.5
nutrient dense maintenance < 97 < 5.4 > 0.2 < 0.5

This graphic from Dr Ted Naiman demonstrates how foods are all somewhere on the sliding scale between maximum energy density and maximum nutrient density.  If we are aiming for long term weight loss, we want to maximise nutrient density as much as we can while keeping blood glucose levels and insulin levels low. Then as we improve blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity we will be able continue to move towards the right to more nutrient dense approaches which will help to provide satiety and adequate nutrition with less energy.[10]

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If / when we reach our ideal weight or level of body fat, we can afford to add back in some more energy dense foods because we are no longer trying to use the glucose in our liver (glycogen) and body fat from our belly.[11] [12]

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Rebecca says:

I originally started eating ketogenically a few years ago by eating very high fat, lower protein, and very low (sometimes zero) carbs. That worked for a while, and I lost weight, but as time went on, I found that I was eating so much fat and so little protein that I was getting hungry all the time.

I now get plenty of protein on my eating days. I am 5’3″ and eat 125g on the days that I feast.  I find with this approach I am less hungry and my Protocol requires me to fast less often.[13] [14]

Losing lean muscle mass is bad news whether you’re a bodybuilder, a diabetic or an older person battling sarcopenia.[15]   Not only will losing muscle decrease your metabolic health, glucose disposal and metabolic rate, your body will also increase appetite to regain the muscle, making it harder to keep on losing the fat.[16]

It’s not just about looking buff and building muscles, amino acids are critical to fueling mitochondrial function and creating neurotransmitters that assist in staying happy and sleeping well.  For example, the amino acid tryptophan produces serotonin which makes us happy and melatonin which helps us sleep.[17]

For reference, Rebecca’s 125g of protein per day ends up being 3g/kg LMB.  This equates to 2g/kg LBM per day on average if you factor in the fact that she fasts every third day.   This aligns with Volek and Phinney’s recommendations in the Art and Science of Low Carb Living (i.e. 1.5 – 2g/kg reference body weight) which equates to 1.7 to 2.2g/kg LBM .  In Lyle McDondald’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook he recommends between 1.8 to 4.4g/kg LBM protein, with higher level of protein if you are lean and more active, and less if you are obese and inactive, to prevent muscle loss during a protein sparing modified fast.

The optimal food lists have been designed to help maximise nutrient density (including ensuring adequate amino acids) ideally without needing to rely on tracking calories.  Rebecca does track what she eats, but mainly to make sure she is getting adequate protein on her feasting days.

The Protocol does not *require* tracking food intake, but I strongly recommend it. I found, for myself, that if I did not track on feast days, I ate too much fat and not enough protein, and I was having to fast a lot more to make my daily goals. Starting in April, I did start using the OKL macros and recommending the same to others.[18]

Rebecca also practices early time restricted feeding (eTRF) which means she eats earlier in the day due to better insulin sensitivity which seems to be producing good results for a lot of people.  I have heard a lot of reports from people that have found that eating earlier rather than later helps with sleep, appetite and blood sugar.

Variations

I encourage you to check out Rebecca’s Facebook group where she has documented her daily progress and learnings and supports others using the Protocol.  You can download a spreadsheet and start tracking and sharing your own progress.  Public accountability and a supportive community are always going to be helpful in achieving such a long-term goal.

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Rebecca has ‘stacked’ several different techniques from her learnings to ensure her long term success this time around to fight her genetics and tendency to regain her weight.

Before launching in, there are several considerations to tailor Rebecca’s approach to suit your situation and goals such as:

  • Target rate of weight loss. Rebecca recommends that people aim for a maximum weight loss of 0.2lbs or 0.1kg per day.  Anything more is typically hard to sustain in the long term.  You might be feeling ambitious and this level might be easy to achieve when things are going well but it may be hard to sustain in the longer term, especially if you have a few social gatherings or parties that leave you with some catching up to do.  As you approach your goal weight you may be glad you chose a less aggressive goal as the weight loss becomes a little harder to achieve.

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  • Social context. This type of approach can be hard to work around family or social commitments.  I like to enjoy good food with my family on the weekends and save my fasting for work days when it’s easier to skip food.  When I’ve followed this protocol, it leaves me fasting Monday and Tuesday and eating dinner Tuesday night with the family or ideally a hearty breakfast Wednesday morning.  Based on my scale weight I may end up fasting another day or two on Thursday and / or Friday.
  • What’s your maximum fasting tolerance? Fasting gets easier with practice.  You might want to start with just skipping a couple of meals, then going for 36 hours, then a couple of days.  If you find your cravings are leading you to binge or sacrifice food quality, then you may want to stick with shorter fasting periods or aim for a less aggressive target rate of weight loss.
  • What else do you want to measure? The good thing about measuring weight is that it’s easy.  It can however be problematic in that there are a ton of things that influence your weight other than fat gain or loss (e.g. muscle, water, how full is your gut, whne did you go to the toilet etc); it’s an easy way to measure your progress day to day.  In the long term, you want to see a trend in the right direction.  If you have diabetes, then you may also want to track your glucose and even your ketone levels.  It will also be useful to track your waist measurement periodically to see whether you’re getting closer to your optimum waist to height ratio of 0.5, particularly if you are building muscle and hence the BMI categories won’t mean much for you.  For reference, during 2016 Rebecca’s waist to height ratio went from 0.54 to 0.44.

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How full is your stress bucket?

A word of warning, again from personal experience, is that this approach is simple, but it’s not necessarily easy.  Wondering what number you will see on the scale each day can be exciting but a bit stressful.  It can be frustrating when you see the number going in the wrong direction or not keeping up with your target rate of weight loss.

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Chris Masterjohn recently did an excellent podcast How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months and How I Knew It Was Time which I highly recommend if you’re hoping to lose some serious weight.

A regular fasting routine is another thing that you will add to your “stress bucket” and if you don’t already have your sleep, nutrition, relationships, stress, circadian rhythm and regular activity in check then the cortisol and related insulin spikes may make achieving long term success with this approach harder than it would otherwise be.

If you do have these things ticked off and you’re feeling relaxed after a Christmas holidays but may have overdone the celebratory food then you can download a copy of the spreadsheet from My Low Carb Road – Fasting Support and give it a go.

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references

[1] http://www.why-low-carb-diets-work.com/atkins-forum.html

[2] https://www.carbsmart.com/low-carb-success-story-rebecca-latham.html

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24355667

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18198319

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14668267

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20921964

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/10/29/the-complete-guide-to-fasting-book-review/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988700/

[9] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988700/

[11] http://livinlavidalowcarb.com/blog/the-llvlc-show-episode-1161-qa-medical-panel-2016-low-carb-cruise/26797

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KYYnEAYCGk

[13] http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com/

[14] http://www.ketoisland.com/blog/is-keto-high-fat-or-low-fat/

[15] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[16] http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ejcn2016256a.html?platform=hootsuite

[17]  https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/12/03/finding-your-optimal-insulin-load/

[18] https://www.facebook.com/groups/MyLowCarbRoadFastingSupport/permalink/147072942381538/

 

optimising protein and insulin load

  • “Low carb”, “ketogenic” or “nutrient dense” mean different things to different people. Defining these terms numerically can help us to choose the right tool for the right application.
  • Decreasing the insulin load of your diet can help normalise blood glucose levels and enable your pancreas to keep up. However, at the same time a high fat therapeutic ketogenic approach is not necessarily the most nutrient dense option, and may not be optimal in the long term, particularly if your goal is weight loss.
  • Balancing insulin load and nutrient density will enable you to identify the right approach for you at any given point in time.
  • This article suggests ideal macro nutrient, protein and insulin load, and carbohydrate levels for different people with different goals to use as a starting point as they work to optimise their weight and / or blood glucose levels.

context matters

Since I started blogging about the concepts of insulin load and proportion of insulinogenic calories many people have asked:

“What insulin load should I be aiming for?” 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to give a simple answer without some context.

The answer to this question depends on a person’s current metabolic health, age, activity level, weight, height and goals etc.

This post is my attempt to provide an answer with some context.

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disclaimers

Full disclosure…  I don’t like to measure the food I eat.  I have developed the optimal foods lists to highlight what I think are the best foods to suit different goals and levels of metabolic health.

I think food should be nutritious and satiating.  If you goal is to lose weight it will be hard to overeat if you limit your food choices to things like broccoli, celery, salmon and tuna.

At the same time, some people like to track their food.  Tracking food with apps like MyFitnessPal or Cron-O-Meter can be useful for a time to reflect and use as a tool to help you refine your food choices.  If you’re preparing for a bodybuilding competition you’re probably going to need to track your food to temporarily override your body’s survival to force it to shed additional weight.

Ideal macronutrient balance is a contentious issue and a lot has already been said on the topic.  I’ll try to focus on what I think I have to add to the discussion around the topics of insulin load and nutrient density.

If you want to and skip the detail in the rest of this article, this graphic from Dr Ted Naiman does a good job of summarising optimal foods and ideal macronutrient ranges.   If you’re interested in more detail on the topic, then read on.

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insulin is not the bad guy

The insulin load formula was designed to help us more accurately understand the insulin response to the food we eat, including protein and fibre.

insulin load = total carbohydrates – fibre + 0.56 * protein

The first thing to understand is that insulin per se is not bad.  Insulin is required for energy metabolism and growth.  People who can’t produce enough insulin are called Type 1 Diabetics and typically don’t last long without insulin injections after they catabolise their muscle and body fat.

Insulin only really becomes problematic when we have too much of it (i.e. hyperinsulinemia[1]) due to excess processed carbohydrates (i.e. processed grains, added sugar and soft drinks) and/or a lack of activity which leads to insulin resistance.

The concepts of insulin load and proportion of insulinogenic calories can provide us with a better understanding of how different foods trigger an insulin response and how to quantitatively optimise the insulin load of our diet to suit our unique situation and goals.

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different degrees of the ketogenic diet

Words like “ketogenic”, “low carb” or “nutrient dense” mean different things to different people.   This is where using numbers can be useful to better define what we’re talking about and tailor a dietary approach.  For clarity, I have numerically defined a number of terms that you might hear.

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ketogenic ratio

The therapeutic ketosis community talk about a “ketogenic ratio” such as 3:1 or 4:1 which means that there are three or four parts fat (by weight) for every part protein plus carbohydrate.[2]

For example, a 3:1 ketogenic diet may contain 300g of fat plus 95g of protein with 5g of carbs.  This ends up being 87% fat.  A 4:1 ketogenic ratio is an even more aggressive ketogenic approach that is used in the treatment of epilepsy,[3] cancer or dementia and ends up being 90% fat.

These levels of ketosis is hard to achieve with real food and is hard to sustain in the long term.  Hence, it is typically used as a short term therapeutic treatment.

ratio of fat to protein

People in the ketogenic bodybuilding scene (e.g. Keto Gains) or weight loss might talk about a 1:1 ratio of fat to protein (by weight) for weight loss.    A diet with a 1:1 ratio of fat to protein could be 120g of fat plus 120g of protein.  If we threw in 20g of carbs this would come out at 66% fat (which is still pretty high by mainstream standards).   A 1:2 protein:fat ratio would end up being around 80% fat.

protein grams per kilogram of lean body weight

Some people prefer to talk in terms of terms of percentages or grams of protein per kilo of lean body mass.  For example:

  • The generally accepted minimum level of protein is 0.8g/kg/day of lean body mass to prevent malnutrition.[4] This is based on a minimum requirement of 0.6kg to maintain nitrogen balance and prevent diseases of malnutrition plus a 25% or two standard deviations safety factor.[5]
  • In the Art and Science of Low Carb Performance Volek and Phinney talk recommend consuming between 1.5 and 2.0g/kg of reference body weight (i.e. RW). Reference weight is basically your ideal body weight say at a BMI of 25kg/m2.  So, 1.5 to 2.0kg RW equates to around 1.7 to 2.2g/kg lean body mass (LBM).
  • There is also a practical maximum level where people just can’t eat more lean protein (i.e. rabbit starvation[6]) which kicks in at around 35% of energy from protein.

The table below shows a list of rule of thumb protein quantities for different goals in terms of grams per kilogram of lean body mass and as a percentage of calories assuming weight maintenance.[7]

scenario % calories g/kg LBM
minimum (starvation) 6% 0.4
RDI/sedentary 11% 0.8
typical 16% 1.2
strength athlete 24% 1.8
maximum 35% 2.7

gluconeogenesis

You may have heard that body will convert ‘excess protein’ to glucose via gluconeogenesis, particularly if there is minimal carbohydrates in the diet and/or we can’t yet use fat for fuel.

For some people this is a concern due to elevated blood glucose levels, but it may also mean that more protein is required because so much is being converted to glucose that you need more to maintain muscles growing your muscles.  As we become more insulin sensitive we may be able to get away with less protein because we are using it better (i.e. we are growing muscles rather than making glucose).

Most people eat more than the minimum level of protein to prevent malnutrition.  People looking to gain muscle mass will require higher levels.  Although keep in mind you do need to be exercising to gain muscle, not just eating protein.

Ensuring adequate protein and exercise is especially important as people age.  Sarcopenia is the process of age related muscle decline which is exacerbated in people with diabetes.

Sadly, many old people fall and break their bones and never get up again.   When it comes to longevity there is a balance between being too big (high IGF-1) and too frail (too little IGF-1).

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carbohydrate counting

Then there is carb counting.

  • People on a ketogenic approach tend to limit themselves to around 20g (net?) carbohydrates.
  • Low carbers might limit themselves to 50g carbs per day.
  • A metabolically healthy low carb athlete might try to stay under 100g of carbs per day.

Limiting non-fibre carbohydrates typically eradicates most processed foods (e.g. sugar, processed grains, sodas etc).   Nutrient density increases as we decrease the amount of non-fibre carbohydrates in our diet.

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protein, insulin load and nutrient density

In the milieu of discussion about protein I think it’s important to keep in mind that minimum protein levels to prevent the diseases of malnutrition may not necessarily optimal for health and vitality.

Protein is the one macronutrient that correlates well with nutrient density.  Foods with a higher percentage of protein are typically more nutrient dense overall.

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Considering minimum protein levels may be useful if you are looking to drop your energy intake to the bare minimum and while still providing enough protein to prevent loss of lean muscle mass (e.g. a protein sparing modified fast).   However, if you are looking to fill up the rest of your energy intake with fat for weight maintenance then you should be aware that simply eating foods with a higher proportion of fat will not help you maximise nutrient density.

Practically though very high levels of protein will be difficult to achieve because they are very filling, thus it is practically difficult to eat more than around 35% of your energy from protein.  Protein is also an inefficient fuel source meaning that you will lose around 25% of the calories just digesting and converting it to glucose via digestion and gluconeogenesis.

If you are incorporating fasting then I think you will need to make sure you are getting at least the minimum as an average across the week, not just on feasting days to maintain nitrogen balance.  That is,  you might need to try to eat more protein on days you are eating.

what is ketosis?

“Ketogenic” simply means “generates ketones”.

An increase in ketosis occurs when there is a lack of glucogenic substrates (i.e. non-fibre carbohydrates and glucogenic protein).  It’s not primarily about eating an abundance of dietary fat

I think reducing insulin load (i.e. the amount of food that we eat that requires insulin to metabolise), rather than adding dietary fat, is really where it’s at if you’re trying to ‘get into ketosis’.   We can simply wind down the insulin load of our diet to the point that out blood glucose and insulin levels decrease and we can more easily access our stored body fat.

insulin load = total carbohydrates – fibre + 0.56 * protein

Whether a particular approach is ketogenic (i.e. generates ketones) will depend on your metabolic health, activity levels and insulin resistance etc.

Whether you want to be generating ketones from the fat on your excess belly fat rather than your plate (or coffee cup) is also an important consideration if weight loss is one of your goals.

While people aiming for therapeutic ketosis might want to achieve elevated ketone levels by consuming more dietary fat, most people out there are just looking to lose weight for heath and aesthetic reasons.  For most people, I think the first step is to reduce dietary insulin load until they achieve normalised blood glucose levels (i.e.  average BG less than 5.6mmol/L or 100mg/dL, blood ketones greater than 0.2 mmol/L).   People with diabetes often call this “eating to your meter”.

Once you’ve achieved normal blood glucose levels and some ketones the next step towards weight loss is to increase nutrient density while still maintaining ketosis.  Deeper levels of ketosis do not necessarily mean more fat loss, particularly if if you have to eat gobs of eating processed fat to get there.

Ray Cronise and David Sinclair recently published an article “Oxidative Priority, Meal Frequency, and the Energy Economy of Food and ACtivity:  Implications for Longevity, Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease”  which does an interesting job of looking at the ‘oxidative priority’ of various nutrient and demonstrate that the body will burn through nutrients in the following order:

  1. alcohol,
  2. protein (not used for muscle protein synthesis),
  3. non fibre carbohydrate, and then
  4. fat.

What this suggests to me is that if you want to burn your own body fat you need to minimise the alcohol, protein and carbohydrate which will burn first.  To me this is another angle on the idea that insulin levels are the signal that stops our body from using our own body fat in times of plenty.   And if we want to access our own body fat we need to reduce the insulin load of our diet to the point we can release our own body fat.

insulin load versus nutrient density

The risk however with the insulin load concept is that people can take things to extremes.  If our only objective is to minimise insulin load we’ll end up just eating bacon, lard, MCT, olive oil… and not much else.

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In his “Perfect Health Diet” book Paul Jaminet talks about “nutrient hunger”, meaning that we are more likely to have an increased appetite if we are missing out on a particular nutrients.  He says

“A nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the nutrients in the right proportions is the key to eliminating hunger and minimising appetite.“

In the chart below shows nutrient density versus proportion of insulinogenic calories.  The first thing to note is that there is a lot of scatter!  However, on the right-hand side of the chart there are high carb soft drinks, breakfast cereals and processed grains that are nutrient poor.  But if we plot a trendline we see that nutrient density peaks somewhere around 40% insulinogenic calories.

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If you are metabolically challenged, you will want to reduce the insulin load of your diet to normalise blood glucose levels.  But if you reduce your insulin load too much you end up living on purified fats that aren’t necessarily nutrient dense.

If we are trying to avoid both carbohydrates and protein we end up limiting our food choices to macadamia nuts, pine nuts and a bunch of isolated fats that aren’t found in nature in that form.  Rather than living on copious amounts of refined oils I think we’re in much safer territory if we maximise nutrient density with whole foods while still maintaining optimal blood glucose levels.

The chart below shows the proportion of insulinogenic calories for the highest-ranking basket of foods (i.e. top 10% of the foods in the USDA foods database) for a range of approaches, from the low insulin therapeutic ketosis, through to the weight loss foods for someone who is insulin sensitive and a lot of fat is coming from their body.  At one end of the scale a therapeutic ketogenic may only contain 14% insulinogenic calories while a more nutrient dense approach might have more than half of the food requires insulin to metabolise.

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macronutrient splits

It’s one thing to set theoretical macronutrient targets, but real foods don’t come in neat little packages of protein, fat and carbohydrates.  The chart below shows the macronutrient split of the most nutrient dense 10% of foods for each of the four nutritional approaches.  The protein level for the weight loss approach might seem high but then once we factor in an energy deficit from our body fat it comes back down.

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In reality you’re probably not going to be able to achieve weight maintenance if you just stick to the nutrient dense weight loss foods.  You’ll either become full and will end up using your stored body fat to meet the energy deficit or you will reach for some more energy dense foods to make up the calorie deficit.  If you look at the macronutrient split of the most nutrient dense meals for the different approach you find they are lower in protein and higher in fat as shown in the chart below.

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nutrient density

The chart below shows the percentage of the daily recommended intake of essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids you can get from 2000 calories for each of the approaches.

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You can meet most of your nutritional requirements with a therapeutic ketogenic diet, however you’ll have to eat enough calories to maintain your weight to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

As you progress to the more nutrient dense approaches you can meet your nutrient requirements with less energy intake.   The beauty of limiting yourself to nutrient dense whole foods is that you can obtain the required nutrition with less energy and you’ll likely be too full to overeat.

As far as I can see the holy grail of nutrition,  health and longevity is adequate energy without malnutrition.

If we look in more detail we can see that the weight loss (blue) and nutrient dense approaches (green) provide more of the essential micronutrients across the board, not just amino acids.

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While the protein levels in the “weight loss” and “most nutrient dense” approaches are quite high, keep in mind that the food ranking system only prioritises the nutrients that are harder to obtain.

The table below shows the various nutrients that are switched on in the food ranking system for each approach.

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This table shows the number of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids counted for each approach.

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In the weight loss and nutrient dense approach, of the twelve essential amino acids, only Tyrosine and Phenylalanine has been counted in the density ranking system.

It just so happens that protein levels are high in whole foods that contain essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. 

It appears that if you set out to actively avoid protein it may be harder to get other essential nutrients.  The risk here is that you may be setting yourself up for nutrient hunger, and rebound/stall inducing cravings in the long term as your body becomes depleted of the harder to obtain nutrients.

choosing the right approach for you

I believe one of the key factors in determining which nutritional approach is right for you is your blood glucose levels which gives you an insight into your insulin levels and insulin sensitivity.

As shown in the chart below, if your blood glucose levels are high then it’s likely your insulin levels are also high which means you will not be able to easily to access your fat stores.  I have also created this survey which may help you identify whether you are insulin resistant and which foods might be ideal for you right now.

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While you may need to start out with a higher fat approach, as your glucose levels decrease and ketone levels rise a little you will be able to transition to more nutrient dense foods.

The table below shows the relationship between HbA1c, glucose, ketones and GKI.   Once you are getting good blood glucose levels you can start to focus more on nutrient density and weight loss.

 Risk level HbA1c average blood glucose ketones GKI
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)  (mmol/L)
low normal 4.1 4.0 70 5.5 0.7
optimal 4.5 4.6 83 2.5 1.8
excellent < 5.0 < 5.3 < 95 > 0.2 < 30
good < 5.4 < 6.0 < 108 < 0.2
danger > 6.5 7.8 > 140 < 0.2

more numbers

The table below shows what the different nutritional approaches look like in terms of:

  • ketogenic ratio
  • ratio of fat to protein
  • protein (g)/kg LBM
  • insulin load (g/kg LBM)
approach keto ratio fat : protein protein g/LBM insulin load (g/LBM)
therapeutic ketosis 1.8 2.2 1.0 0.9
diabetes 0.9 1.0 1.8 1.5
weight loss (incl. body fat) 0.5 0.6 2.5 2.4
nutrient dense 0.3 0.3 3.0 2.8

The 1.0g/kg LBM for therapeutic ketosis is greater than the RDA minimum of 0.8g/kg LBM so will still provide the minimum amount while still being ketogenic.  It’s hard to find a lot of foods that have less than 1.0g/kg LBM protein in weight maintenance without focussing on processed fats.

At the other extreme most nutrient dense foods are very high in protein but this might also be self-limiting meaning that people won’t be able to eat that much food.  As mentioned earlier, it will be hard to eat enough of the nutrient dense foods to maintain your current weight.  Either you will end up losing weight because you can’t fit as much of these foods in or reaching more energy dense lower nutrient density foods.  Also, if you found you were not achieving great blood glucose levels and some low-level ketones with mean and non-starchy veggies you might want to retreat to a higher fat approach.

The table below lists optimal foods for different goals from most nutrient dense to most ketogenic.    Hopefully over time you should be able to work towards the more nutrient dense foods as your metabolism heals.

dietary approach printable .pdf
weight loss (insulin sensitive) download
nutrient dense (maintenance) download
weight loss (insulin resistant) download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download
therapeutic ketosis download

what about mTOR?

Many people are concerned about excess protein causing cancer or inhibiting mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin).[8]  [9]

From what I can see though, the story with mTOR is similar to insulin.  That is, constantly elevated insulin or constantly stimulated mTOR are problematic and cause excess growth without being interspersed with periods of breakdown and repair.

Our ancestors would have had times when insulin and mTOR were low during winter or between successful hunts.  But during summer (when fruits were plentiful) or after a successful hunt, insulin would be elevated and mTOR suppressed as they gorged on the nutrient dense bounty.

These days we’re more like the futuristic humans from Wall-E than our hunter gather ancestors.   We live in a temperature controlled environment with artificial lighting and tend to put food in our mouths from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep.[10]

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Rather than chronic monotony (e.g. eating five or six small meals per day every day), it seems that periods of growth (anabolism) and breakdown and cleaning (catabolism) are optimal to thrive in the long term.  We need periods of both.  One or the other chronically are bad news.

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As my wise friend Raymund Edwards from Optimal Ketogenic Living says

“FAST WELL, FEED WELL.” 

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how much protein?

Optimal protein levels are a contentious topic.  There is research out there that says that excess protein can be problematic from a longevity perspective.  Protein promotes growth, IGF-1, insulin and cell turnover which can theoretically compromise longevity.  At the same time, there are plenty of studies that indicate that we need much more protein than the minimum RDI levels.[11]

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In the end, you need to eat enough protein to prevent loss of lean muscle and maintain strength.  If you’re trying to build lean muscle and working out, then higher levels of protein may be helpful to support muscle growth.  If you are trying to lose weight, then higher levels of protein can be useful to increase satiety and prevent loss of lean muscle mass.  Maintaining muscle mass is critical to keeping your metabolic rate high and avoiding the reduction that can come with chronic restriction.[12] [13]

In addition to building our muscles, protein is critical for building our bones, heart, organs and providing many of the neurotransmitters required for mental health.  So protein from real whole foods is generally nothing to be afraid of.  It’s typically the processed high carb foods that make the detrimental impact on  insulin and blood glucose levels.

The table below shows a starting point for protein in grams depending on your height.  This assumes that someone with a lean body mass (LBM) of 80 kg is burning 2000 calories per day and your lean body mass equates to a BMI of 20 kg/m2.  LBM is current weight minus fat mass minus skeletal mass which again is hard to estimate without a DEXA.

There are a lot of assumptions here so you will need to take as a rule of thumb starting point and track your weight and blood glucose levels and refine accordingly.  It’s unlikely that you will get to the high protein levels of the most nutrient dense approach because either you would feel too full or your glucose levels may rise and ketones disappear, so most people, unless your name is Duane Johnson, will need to moderate back from that level.

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Example:  Let’s say for example you were 180cm and were managing diabetes and elevated blood glucose levels.  You would start with around 117g of protein per day as an initial target and test how that worked with your blood glucose levels.  If your blood glucose levels on average were less than say 5.6mmol/L or 100mg/dL and your ketones were above 0.2mmol/L you could consider increasing transitioning to more nutrient dense foods. 

If you want to see what this looks like in terms of real foods and real meal meals check out the optimal food list and the optimal meals for the different approaches.

insulin load

Using a similar approach, we can calculate the daily insulin load (in grams) depending on your height and goals.  The values in this table can be used as a rule of thumb for the insulin load of your diet.

If you are not achieving your blood glucose or weight loss goals, then you can consider winding the insulin load back down.  If you are achieving great blood glucose levels, then you might consider choosing more nutrient dense food which might involve more whole protein and more nutrient dense green leafy veggies.

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Example:  Let’s say for example you are a 180cm person with good glucose control but still wanting to lose weight, your initial target insulin load would be 156g from the superfoods from fat lost list.  If you were not losing weight at this level, you could look to wind it back a little until you started losing weight.  If you are consistently achieving blood glucose levels less than 5.6mmol/L or 100mg/dL and ketones greater than 0.2mmol/L you could consider transitioning to more nutrient dense foods. 

summary

In summary, reducing the insulin load of your diet is an important initial step.  However, as your blood glucose and insulin levels normalise there are a number of other steps that you can take towards optimising nutrient density on your journey towards optimal health and body fat.

  1. Reduce the insulin load of your diet (i.e. eliminate processed carbage and maybe consider moderating protein if still necessary) to normalise blood glucose levels and reduce insulin levels to facilitate access to stored body fat.
  2. If your blood glucose levels are less than say 5.6 mmol/L or 100mg/dL and your ketone levels are greater than say 0.2 mmol/L then you could consider transitioning to more nutrient dense foods.
  3. If further weight loss is required, maximise nutrient density and reduce added fats to continue weight loss.
  4. Consider also adding an intermittent fasting routine with periods of nutrient dense feasting. Modify the feasting/fasting cycles to make sure you are getting the results you are after over the long term.
  5. Once optimal/goal weight is achieved, enjoy nutrient dense fattier foods as long as optimal weight and blood glucose levels are maintained.
  6. If blood glucose levels are greater than optimal blood glucose levels, return to step 1.
  7. If current weight is greater goal weight return to step 3.

references

[1] http://diabesity.ejournals.ca/index.php/diabesity/article/view/19

[2] http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

[3] http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

[4] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096

[5] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/how-much-protein-is-excessive/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_poisoning

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/08/31/optimal-protein-intake/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv-M-5-s9B0

[9] http://nutritionfacts.org/video/prevent-cancer-from-going-on-tor/

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPpAvvPG0nc

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27109436

[12] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1558S.long

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein-sparing_modified_fast

the alkaline diet vs acidic ketones

  • Whether you think eating alkaline foods is useful or woo woo junk it appears that metabolic acidosis is a thing.
  • Metabolic acidosis seems to be interrelated with insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes and retention of muscle mass.
  • To prevent metabolic acidosis it appears prudent to ensure that your body has adequate minerals to enable your kidneys to balance pH over the long term. This can be achieved by eating plenty of veggies and / or supplementing with alkaline minerals (e.g. magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc etc).
  • If you eat plenty of veggies you’re probably getting enough alkalising minerals, however you can easily test your urine to see if your dietary acid load is high.
  • If you are targeting a high fat therapeutic ketogenic diet, following a zero-carb dietary approach and / or taking exogenous ketones it seems then it may be even more important to be mindful of your acid load and consider mineral supplementation.

some unique ketone and blood glucose results

Recently I had a very interesting, surprising and exciting experience during a fast.  The chart below shows my ketones, glucose and ‘total energy’ (i.e. glucose plus ketones) over the seven days.

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My ketones increased to above 8.0 mmol/L.  They even couldn’t be read on my ketone metre!

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I really did feel sky high on ketones!

It was the full keto brochure experience.  It was like my body fat was effortlessly feeding my brain with delicious, succulent ketones!  I felt great.

This chart shows my glucose : ketone index (GKI) dropping to below 0.5 after a few days.

image07

The orange dots in this chart shows the relationship between glucose and ketones about 18 months ago when I first started trying this keto thing (after I read ‘Jimmy’s Moore’s Keto Clarity’).  The blue dots show the relationship between my glucose and ketones during the recent fast.  As you can see from the much flatter line, my blood glucose levels were lower and I could more easily access my body fat for fuel to manage my appetite.

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The frustrating thing is that, thinking I was now a bonafide keto super hero, I’ve tried to repeat this feat of super ketones and perfect blood glucose levels without any luck!   My ketones just didn’t go as high again!

So, what’s the go?  What changed?  What gives?  What was it that let me trip with the magic ketone fairies in Keto Land for such a short period!

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context

So let’s rewind the story a little and give some context…

In July 2016, I got some blood tests.  I’d been good with my diet, eating nutrient dense foods, with some fasting and intense exercise.

My HbA1c was great at 4.9% and the cholesterol markers were all good.

I went to see Elizma Lambert (pictured below), my family doctor / naturopath / friend / mentor / hero, with the simple request that I wanted to feel superhuman.  I felt like I had been doing all the right things (e.g. good food, exercise etc) but not quite getting results that I was after (e.g. weight loss, energy levels, higher ketone levels).

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Elizma said everything looked good but my blood tests indicated that I was acidic.  But what does this mean?

  • You can see in the test results shown below that my uric acid levels are at the top of the normal range. High uric acid levels can be affected by fasting and exercise (i.e. lactic acid)[1] which may have influenced my test results.
  • My “other anions” test was at the top of the normal range.
  • I had also been using exogenous ketones occasionally around workouts leading up to these tests. I wondered whether they might contribute to the acidity.
  • My bicarbonate levels were on the low end which I’ve now learned suggests that I was running low on alkalising minerals (i.e. magnesium, calcium and potassium) for my kidneys to balance the acid load I was serving up with my exercise, diet and fasting.
  • My calcium and potassium were also on the lower end of the normal range.

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So Elizma sent me away with a mineral mix of magnesium, potassium, N-acetyl Cysteine and Calcium-D-Glucarate to help with the acidity issue that she had observed in my tests and to help improve my fat metabolism.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect, if anything.  But after a couple of weeks of taking this stuff my brain felt really clear and sharp and I felt full of energy.  I actually felt the superhuman energy and crispness that I’d been hoping for!

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My blood glucose and ketone levels were spot on.  And my hunger seemed to be massively reduced.

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So, just for interest, I decided to see how long I could go without eating.

Seven days later I had some spectacular ketone readings.

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As well as the alkalizing mineral mix, I was also taking some Celtic sea salt, Carnitine, Creatine and some alkalising green powder to keep my micronutrients up during the seven days.  I was aware of keto experts like Steve Phinney advocating adequate electrolytes during keto or fasting and I wanted to give myself the best chance of surviving and keeping up with my day job as well as riding to work.  I also started taking Nicotinamide Riboside which arrived on day four of the fast.

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So unfortunately, it wasn’t a really well controlled experiment to understand which supplement during my ‘fasting’ had the biggest effect.

Towards the end, I ran out of the alkalising mineral mix and I spent the day in the sun at a birthday party with my daughter (pictured below on the last day…  she knows how to pose for better for photos than me).

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I started to feel a bit shabby, so I decided to eat.

I figured seven days was a good ‘achievement’.

Since then I’ve tried a number of four-day fasts with various supplements (i.e. the alkalising minerals, Nicotinamide Riboside, exogenous ketones, a ‘fat fast’ and Robert Miller’s MitoFuel) to understand what the magic ingredient was, but I haven’t been able to repeat the phenomenal ketone excursions.

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I quizzed Elizma about what she thought might have happened.  Could it simply be the alkalising mineral mix that causes the magic ketone fairies to visit me?  She said:

Whether you call it resistance or stuck, the alkalizing minerals can open up a lot of enzyme pathways that work at more neutral pH levels, which means it’s like opening the door with a massive crowd outside.

Once the door is open everyone just rushes through (giving you those big readings), but the crowd eventually thins out and becomes a regular stream of customers walking through the door again.

Very interesting though.  Every single person on ketogenic diet that I have tested have high acidity levels, which is natural considering that ketones are highly acidic, but it does mean it’s something to really look out for when ketogenic.

Hmmm…  intriguing.

Then I came across a Ben Greenfield podcast with Yuri Elkaim where he talked about alkaline diets.  It got interesting when Yuri started talking about the Potential Renal Acid Load which is based around the balance between the foods that leave an acidic residue (i.e. sulphur from protein and phosphorus) versus the foods that leave an alkaline residue once metabolised (i.e. magnesium, calcium and potassium).

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Previously when I’d heard talk of alkaline foods I’d written it off as woo woo.  But maybe this might explain the symptoms what I’d experienced (e.g. loss of appetite, high ketones, perfect blood glucose etc)?   Given the fact that taking the magnesium, potassium and calcium supplements had worked wonders for me I was interested and thought I’d dig into the topic a little further.

Here’s a video from Yuri on the pros of the alkaline dietary approach.  I’m not saying I’m advocating 100% of this, but it’ll give you an overview of some of the theory on alkaline diets from one of the less fringe advocates of the concept of alkalising.

let’s start with the basics

As I am prone to do, I went down a bit of a ‘rabbit hole’ looking at the research on this topic looking for answers trying to understand and explain my experience.   In this article I have tried to explain my journey and learnings along the way.

So let’s start with the less controversial stuff.  Basic biochem.

pH (or “potential hydrogen”) is a measure of the number of negatively charged hydrogen ions (H+).[2]

More formally, “pH is the negative of the logarithm to base 10 of the molar concentration, measured in units of moles per liter, of hydrogen ions.”

But why should we care about pH?

Well, when it comes down to it, your entire metabolism exists to pass around hydrogen ions.

You call it energy.  It’s important.

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maintaining pH homeostasis

The body goes to great lengths via a range of different systems to keep different parts of your body at a specific pH to enable the chemical reactions that fuel metabolism to continue function.

A pH of 7.0 is “neutral”, however the blood is slightly alkaline at somewhere between a pH of 7.35 and 7.45.  It’s virtually impossible to change the pH of your blood outside this range.

If your pH drops to 6.9, you’re in a coma.  At 6.8 you’re dead.[3]

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At this point many people simply say “see, we can’t change the pH of our blood so worrying about alkalinity is bogus garbage” (or something to that effect) and walk away.  Conversation over.

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However, I think it’s interesting to think about how the body actually maintains this tight homeostasis and whether a pH of 7.35 is different (more acidic) to a pH of 7.45 (more alkaline).

The body has so many different buffers and so many different systems and ways of mitigating pH.   Intracellularly, it has phosphate; extracellularly, hydrogen types of proteins. The lungs get involved, the kidneys get involved.   Which just tells you is the more processes or mechanisms in the body, or systems, devoted to a certain subject or topic of process, the more important that process is.

Bryan Walsh, Keto Summit Interview[4]

Part of the body’s pH balance involves our kidneys which use the various minerals that it obtains from our food to keep a tight rein on the acid / base balance of our blood.

The minerals that can donate acid forming negative charge are:

  • Bromine (Br-)
  • Chlorine (Cl-)
  • Copper (Cu-)
  • Fluorine (Fl-)
  • Iodine (I-)
  • Phosphorus (P-)
  • Silicon (Si-)
  • Sulphur (Su-)

The minerals that can donate alkaline positive charge are:

  • Boron (B+)
  • Calcium (Ca+)
  • Iron (Fe+)
  • Magnesium (Mg+)
  • Manganese (Mn+)
  • Nickel (Ni+)
  • Potassium (P+)
  • Sodium (Na+)
  • Zinc (Zn+)

alkalinity, carbon dioxide and oxygen

In Australia, one of our premier tourist attractions, Great Barrier Reef, is dying as the ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and becomes more acidic.[5]  It’s not hard to see how an increasing environmental acid load could similarly be affecting our internal microbiome.[6]

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Every farmer knows the importance of getting the pH of the soil right before planting a crop.  A higher pH is achieved by adding extra potassium and lime which is taken up by the plant.   The pH of the soil in which plants are grown can have considerable influence on the mineral content of the food we eat.

When it comes to the pH and net acid load in the human diet, there has been considerable change from the hunter gather civilization to the present.[7]

As we continue to grow mono crops in the same field year after year with farmers relying on chemical fertiliser to provide nutrients for the plant, it’s understandable that our veggies are also decreasing in nutrient content, particularly the alkalising minerals.

With the agricultural revolution (last 10,000 years) and even more recently with industrialization (last 200 years), there has been a decrease in potassium (K) compared to sodium (Na) and an increase in chloride compared to bicarbonate found in the diet.

It is generally accepted that agricultural humans today have a diet poor in magnesium and potassium as well as fibre and rich in saturated fat, simple sugars, sodium, and chloride as compared to the pre-agricultural period. [8]

This results in a diet that may induce metabolic acidosis which is mismatched to the genetically determined nutritional requirements. With aging, there is a gradual loss of renal acid-base regulatory function and a resultant increase in diet-induced metabolic acidosis while on the modern diet.[9]

Even if you don’t like veggies, it’s not hard to see how the meat from animals fed with grains (which contain less alkalising minerals than grass) grown with chemical fertilisers could be leading to a higher acid load compared to animals that are able to eat grass and other natural stuff.

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When the pH of something is higher (more alkaline) it can hold more dissolved oxygen.  If it is more acidic (lower pH) it can hold less oxygen.  Blood with a pH of 7.3 (more acidic) and can carry 65% less oxygen than blood at a pH of 7.45 (more alkaline).[10]

Good things happen when there is more oxygen available.  For example, when there is more oxygen the body is able to utilise the fat burning Krebs Cycle based / aerobic metabolism (with oxygen) and less on the sugar based Cori cycle / anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen).

Conversely, more acidic = not so good.

image05[11] [12]

While still controversial, in the 1930s Otto Warburg (pictured below, with poodle) suggested that “cancer cells live in hypoxic, very low oxygen, and acidic conditions and derive energy from sugars by fermenting them the way yeast does.” [13] From this, he theorized that these low-oxygen and more acidic conditions caused cancer.

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So low oxygen = bad.  Lots of oxygen = good.

Wim Hof, Iceman Extraordinaire, achieves superhuman feats essentially by hyperventilating to increase the oxygen in his blood.

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the effect of food and alkalinity

There is some indication that this ability to absorb more oxygen is also affected by the food we eat.

The chart below shows how athletes on a lower acid load dietary approach appear to be burning more fat (as indicated by a lower respiratory exchange ratio or RER[14]) and have a longer lead time to exhaustion.[15]

image45

The study Effects of Dietary Acid Load on Exercise Metabolism and Anaerobic Exercise Performance (Caciano et al, 2015) noted that:

An alkaline promoting (low-PRAL) diet increases anaerobic exercise performance, as evidenced by greater time-to-exhaustion during high-intensity treadmill running.

Preliminary evidence suggests that an alkaline promoting (low-PRAL) diet increases lipid oxidation and may have a carbohydrate-sparing effect during submaximal endurance exercise, although further studies are needed.[16]

More fat burning = winning!

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This aligns with my personal experience.  During a good workout it feels like my cells can “breath better”.  My stamina and performance in my cycling or kettlebell workouts is not so much limited by my strength but more by my ability to recover my breath quickly.  When everything is working just right I seem to be able to maintain a high heart rate easily for a longer time without running out of breath.

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The chart below shows my heart rate during a good kettlebell session.

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It seems that a lower insulin load (i.e. low carb / ketogenic) diet with lower levels of insulin enables us to tap into our fat stores more easily.  However, in addition, it seems that a more alkaline pH also helps us burn more fat by enabling us to access more oxygen as well.

potential renal acid load

So how does all this this relate to nutrition and optimising our food choices?

Well, back in the late 1870s a scientist named Marcellin Berthelot used the Bomb Calorimeter to study the amount of heat produced or absorbed during chemical reactions.[17]  This machine consisted of a cylinder-shaped chamber, pressurized oxygen, and a small amount of water.

image04

Berthelot would take various food substances and incinerate them within this device which turned the item into an ash-type substance. When this ash was mixed with water, Berthelot could check the pH of each item to determine whether a food was acidic or alkaline after it had been burned.

The Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) revolves around the idea that there is a residual ash remaining after a food is metabolised in our body that is either acidic or basic.  This residual ash, which has a net acidic or alkaline property, then needs to be cleared from the body to maintain optimal pH.[18] [19] [20]

A simplified PRAL value can be calculated based on the most dominant nutrients affecting pH.  That is, protein (which forms sulphur) and phosphorus (acidic) minus the magnesium, calcium and potassium (alkaline).

Potential renal acid load (PRAL) = [0.49 x grams of protein + 0.037 x mg of phosphorus]  – [0.026 x mg magnesium + 0.013 x mg calcium + 0.021 x mg potassium] 

If the PRAL value is negative, then you are left with an alkaline residue.

If the PRAL number is positive, then you are left with a net acidic residue that needs to be cleared by the kidneys.

urine ph

While significantly changing the pH of the blood is controversial, the food we eat does seem to have an impact on the pH of our urine as the kidneys clear the excess acid load that is not used up in balancing our pH.[21] [22]  The theory is that pH of our urine changes based on whether the residual ash from our food after it is metabolised is either acidic or alkaline.

The chart below shows the urine pH of the test subjects in the Effects of Dietary Acid Load on Exercise Metabolism and Anaerobic Exercise Performance study mentioned above.  In the cross over trial participants performed the best when they had a more alkaline urine pH greater than 7.0 (alkaline) in comparison to when they had a pH less than 6.0 (acidic).

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balancing electrolytes

If you’re a die hard low carber / ketonian congratulations in getting this far into the article before switching off and writing me off as a vegan tree hugging hippie.

You’ll also likely be aware that in The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance Volek and Phinney talk a lot about how important it is to manage minerals and electrolytes when following a low carb / ketogenic dietary approach.  Chapter 9 of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance is all about how important it is to make sure you keep up your electrolytes in the form of sodium, potassium, magnesium and zinc.

[Steve was recently in Brisbane and we had the privilege of having him stay at our place.  Not only did he make us his famous blue cheese dressing (see action shot below) I also got to pick his brains for a day!]

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You get bonus points if you realised that these critical electrolytes that Volek and Phinney talk about are the same as the alkalising minerals in the PRAL formula (i.e. magnesium, calcium and potassium)!  Maybe erring on the side of being alkaline and ensuring good mineral / electrolyte management in a keto diet are two sides of the same coin?

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We can get this critical electrolytes from supplements or more ideally from real food.

As you dig further you quickly find that the discussions around PRAL can go sideways really quickly and turn into a keto / carnivore vs vegan / plant based argument.

I have tried to wade through the science versus woo woo, which I’ll try to summarise later in this article.  But for now let’s jump into what the analysis of PRAL could mean for our choices around what we should eat.

the most alkaline foods

The table below shows the most alkaline foods with their nutrient density (ND), and PRAL value per 100g and PRAL / 2000 calories.[23]

Most lists I’ve seen use PRAL per 100 calories.  However, I think it’s more useful to think of it in terms of the amount as a proportion of your daily energy intake (i.e. per 2000 calories).

To make the lists more concise I’ve filtered for the most nutrient dense foods for each category.

vegetables and spices

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The PRAL values of the most nutrient dense vegetables are listed below.  Overall vegetables are quite alkaline (i.e. negative PRAL values).  Only alfalfa has a positive PRAL value due to high levels of phosphorus.

The other observation here is that nutrient density and alkalinity don’t necessarily go hand in hand.  It’s not as simple as saying ‘eat your veggies’ because there is a wide range of nutrient density and PRAL values within the vegetables.

If you are striving for optimal in terms of ND and PRAL then some veggies are better than others.

 

food ND PRAL / 2000 cal PRAL / 100g
beet greens 19 -1,523 -17
Chinese cabbage 20 -1,241 -7
watercress 24 -1,034 -6
spinach 25 -895 -10
chard 19 -857 -8
coriander 23 -841 -10
chicory greens 18 -724 -8
dill 16 -721 -15
endive 19 -707 -6
arugula 16 -629 -8
parsley 19 -618 -11
celery 12 -610 -5
basil 22 -569 -7
mustard greens 16 -507 -7
escarole 15 -495 -5
zucchini 20 -489 -4
pickles 11 -424 -3
lettuce 19 -419 -3
summer squash 13 -397 -4
brown mushrooms 16 -383 -4
yeast extract spread 12 -369 -34
dandelion greens 16 -353 -8
cauliflower 15 -351 -4
sauerkraut 11 -328 -3
chives 16 -317 -5
turnip greens 13 -307 -4
banana pepper 10 -296 -4
sage 13 -295 -46
cabbage 10 -286 -3
paprika 11 -262 -37
okra 15 -243 -3
seaweed (kelp) 12 -224 -5
cloves 13 -216 -30
snap beans 11 -215 -2
white mushroom 13 -205 -2
portabella mushrooms 13 -204 -3
asparagus 20 -199 -2
broccoli 27 -167 -2
collards 11 -141 -2
shiitake mushroom 11 -80 -2
mung beans 13 -64 -1
seaweed (wakame) 17 -59 -1
spirulina 11 -1 -0
alfalfa 12 154 2

dairy

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Dairy is widely regarded to be some of the most acidic of foods.   As you can see below there are a wide range of PRAL values, from slightly alkaline high fat cream and butter to the low fat cheeses which are quite acidic.

Even though dairy can be nutrient dense, many people seem to do better with their weight or allergies when they limit dairy.

Personally, I know I lost some weight when I reduced dairy for a period.  I thought it might be related to the energy density.  Maybe the minerals and pH balance plays a role too and living on a low carb diet primarily comprised of cheese could be a problem for some people in the long term.


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food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
sour cream 4 -2 0
low fat milk 4 -1 0
milk (full fat) 2 0 0
butter 3 0 0
cream 4 3 1
milk 5 5 0
kefir 10 14 0
cream cheese 4 15 3
brie 1 66 11
blue cheese 2 68 12
Colby 0 83 16
cheddar cheese 7 85 17
feta cheese 5 85 11
muenster cheese 1 87 16
camembert 2 87 13
Monterey cheese 1 88 16
limburger cheese 2 90 15
edam cheese 2 100 18
Greek yogurt 6 100 5
parmesan cheese 6 102 21
gruyere cheese 2 103 21
Swiss cheese 7 104 21
gouda cheese 3 113 20
goat cheese 2 119 16
mozzarella 8 123 19
egg yolk 8 133 18
whole egg 7 133 10
Greek yogurt (low fat) 6 143 5
cottage cheese (low fat) 6 157 6
cheddar (non-fat) 2 262 23
cream cheese (low fat) 8 306 16

 

baked products, cereals and grains

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Baked products, cereals and grains, in addition to generally having quite poor nutrient density values are also typically highly insulinogenic.

Baking soda or bicarbonate is a powerful alkaline supplement that can be used to aggressively shift pH.

Other than wheat bran and baker’s yeast (think vegemite, marmite or brewer’s yeast), processed grains have a poor nutritional value while also being quite alkaline AND insulinogenic.

According to Bill Davis the phytates in grains also make it harder to absorb alkalising minerals.[24]

No wonder processed grains are problematic for so many people.

the alkaline diet vs acidic ketones | optimising nutrition
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food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
baking soda 0 -309 -15
oat bran muffins -4 13 2
crackers -3 18 4
croissant -2 22 5
blueberry muffins -4 23 4
bagels -4 23 3
wheat bran bread -4 27 3
rice bran bread -3 28 3
egg bread -4 31 4
wheat bran 12 32 3
bread roll -4 32 4
quinoa -2 38 2
rye flour -3 40 7
English muffins -3 50 5
baker’s yeast 15 50 3
wild rice -4 53 9
pancakes -4 128 22
oat bran 3 137 17

 

seafood

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Seafood is typically acidic due to the protein though also nutrient dense.  However, as we’ll see later, it’s not as simple as avoiding protein, as protein seems to help with calcium absorption.[25]
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food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
mackerel 7 34 5
anchovy 13 69 7
cisco 7 75 7
caviar 14 76 10
octopus 9 107 9
herring 7 114 12
white fish 8 123 7
trout 14 131 11
sardines 8 136 13
oyster 18 146 7
sardine 8 153 16
sturgeon 11 165 11
pollock 11 168 9
rockfish 11 168 9
halibut 12 175 10
salmon 17 180 14
haddock 9 188 11
whiting 8 197 11
tuna 9 197 18
lobster 12 201 9
cod 11 205 30
crab 15 238 10
crayfish 11 253 10
shrimp 12 282 17
fish roe 16 285 20
perch 8 297 14
flounder 11 322 14

animal foods

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Animal products have a high PRAL values due to their protein content.     Grain fed animals are likely to be even worse than animals able to eat their natural diet.

food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
chicken liver pate 7 105 11
rib eye steak 5 130 14
lamb chop 5 139 16
bison 5 166 14
beef brains 8 166 13
ground pork 6 168 16
ground beef 6 171 12
leg ham 6 175 14
pork shoulder 6 178 14
turkey heart 8 182 16
turkey meat 6 188 15
turkey drumstick 6 188 15
chicken 7 189 14
pork chop 6 195 17
beef tripe 6 208 11
lamb heart 8 212 17
lean beef 9 216 16
turkey liver 14 218 21
pork liver 10 218 18
beef heart 5 220 18
beef heart 8 229 21
turkey 6 230 16
chicken liver 15 233 14
ham 11 239 13
veal 8 239 18
veal liver 16 244 23
chicken liver 14 250 22
beef liver 16 262 23
lamb kidney 19 267 15
lamb liver 18 274 23
beef kidney 13 283 22

 

fruits

fruits-and-vegetables

Fruits are typically quite alkaline, however the nutrient density value is typically less than ideal.  Fruits are also typically quite insulinogenic.  So I don’t think it’s a matter of simply  saying that we should eat a ton of “fruits and vegetables” if nutrient density or insulin load are also an issue.
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food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
rhubarb 3 -621 -7
cantaloupe -2 -298 -5
honeydew melon -4 -247 -4
jackfruit -3 -186 -9
kiwifruit -2 -184 -6
apricots -4 -180 -4
grapefruit -4 -174 -3
peaches -4 -160 -3
strawberries -1 -159 -3
oranges -4 -156 -4
carambola -2 -138 -2
blueberries -0 -137 -3
blackberries -1 -130 -3
limes -3 -115 -2
avocado -1 -102 -8
raspberries -2 -93 -2
boysenberries -2 -86 -2
blackberries -4 -69 -2

 

legumes

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Legumes have a range of PRAL values, though again the nutrient density values are not that great compared to the veggies, seafood or animal products.

 

food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
navy beans 0 -32 -5
soybeans 2 -21 -5
cowpeas 1 -14 -2
peanut butter 2 -5 -1
broad beans -1 -2 -0
lentils 0 37 2
tofu 4 41 2
soy protein isolate 0 400 67

 

nuts and seeds

nuts_seeds

There are a range of PRAL values when it comes to nuts and seeds depending on the mineral content.

Anything based on coconut seems to do well in terms of nutrient density and alkalinity.  There’s nothing quite like fresh coconut water.  The photo below shows how we finished our recent holiday in Fiji!

image44

the alkaline diet vs acidic ketones | optimising nutrition
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food ND PRAL/2000 cal PRAL/100g
coconut water 4 -539 -5
gingko nuts -6 -20 -1
coconut milk 0 -16 -2
coconut meat -1 -15 -3
coconut -1 -13 -3
coconut cream -1 -9 -1
hazelnuts -3 -6 -2
macadamia nuts -2 -4 -1
sesame butter -1 -3 -1
almond butter -2 5 2
pecans -6 6 2
almonds -2 7 2
flax seed -2 8 2
pistachio nuts -3 8 2
cashews -2 24 7
brazil nuts -3 25 8
pine nuts -4 26 9
butternuts -6 43 13
walnuts -3 44 14
sesame seeds -3 54 17
pumpkin seeds 1 98 27
sunflower seeds 2 110 30

 

balancing alkalinity and nutrient density

So my big takeaway from the analysis above is that alkalinity and nutrient density are not necessarily related.  You can’t just say ‘eat your fruits and vegetables and avoid protein’ to manage your alkalinity and maximise nutrients at the same time.  Particularly given that protein is the one macronutrient that seems to be correlated with nutrient density.

Recent clinical studies and a meta-analysis have indicated either no effect or a modest benefit associated with higher protein intakes. These contradictory considerations may be explained by the existence of a two-faced relationship between protein and bone, with simultaneous positive and negative pathways. In opposition to the negative effects of dietary acid load, protein may exert positive effects related to improving calcium absorption, increasing insulin-like growth factor 1, or improving lean body mass, which, in turn, improves bone strength.[26]

The chart below shows  a comparison of the nutrient density of the top 10% of the USDA food database for a range of dietary approaches.  If we prioritise our food choices based on low PRAL values alone we end up with a lower nutrient density.

image52

Most things in nutrition are not binary.  We can’t just take one parameter and use it to guide ALL our decisions about nutrition.  That includes protein, carbs, fat, energy density, nutrient density or alkalinity.

Where it gets gets is when we mix and match a number of factors to prioritise our food choices to suit our goals.

image20

Nutrient dense low alkaline foods typically have quite a low energy density so we don’t have to worry too much about that.  To develop the list of more alkaline nutrient dense in the following section I have factored in:

  • nutrient density,
  • PRAL, and
  • insulin load.

The chart below shows a comparison of the nutrients provided by the top 10% of foods for the following approaches:

  • low PRAL,
  • nutrient dense alkaline, and
  • nutrient dense maintenance.

image31

If we just prioritise low PRAL (grey bars) then the amino acids drop.  However, if we prioritise low PRAL and nutrient density we get a better balance of alkalinity and nutrient density across the board.

  • The chart below shows a comparison of macronutrients.
  • The nutrient dense approach is quite high in protein while the more alkaline approach has less protein and more carbs from more veggies.
  • If we only look at minimising PRAL we get a lot of fibre and less protein.
  • The nutrient dense alkaline approach provides a reasonable balance in terms of macronutrients.

image50

From an insulin load perspective, the low PRAL approach is relatively insulinogenic.  Considering insulin load in the multi criteria analysis gives us a little bit of additional dietary fat which is useful for blood glucose regulation or satiety, particularly if we’re not trying to lose weight.  Moderate amounts of dietary fat help with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K).

image11

The chart below shows a comparison of some of the key minerals provided by a number of dietary approaches (note: phosphorus is acidic while the magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium are alkaline).

  • The therapeutic ketosis and the average of all foods do not have a lot of alkalising magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium to balance the acid forming phosphorus.
  • By comparison, the nutrient dense alkaline and low PRAL foods have a lot more alkalising minerals to balance the acidic phosphorus.

image16

Rather than worrying about actively balancing our pH I think we focus on maximising nutrient density our body will have what it needs to do what is necessary to balance pH.  Maximising nutrient density will also minimise nutrient hunger so our bodies will be satisfied with less and our kidneys won’t have to process as much.

The chart below shows that after Vitamin D and Vitamin E, many people are getting less than the recommended intake of magnesium, calcium and zinc (i.e. alkalising minerals).

image13

PRAL value of different nutritional approaches

The chart shows the PRAL value for thirteen different nutritional approaches outlined on this blog.

  • The nutrient dense vegan approach the is the most alkaline while the zero-carb approach is the most acidic.
  • The nutrient dense alkaline foods (listed below) end up being nearly as alkaline as the vegan.
  • On average, the 8000 foods in the USDA database have a net acid load.
  • The zero carb, high insulin load and therapeutic ketogenic approaches have net acid load.
  • Most of the other approaches that focus on nutrient density have adequate vegetables to ensure that they are alkaline overall.

image12

If the alkalinity of our diet does actually have a bearing on insulin resistance, oxygen availability / hypoxia, insulin sensitivity I wonder if people pursuing a therapeutic ketogenic approach should actually be considering prioritising their veggies and / or or mineral supplements that will balance their alkalinity to balance out their diet.

Results of recent observational studies confirm an association between insulin resistance and metabolic acidosis markers, including low serum bicarbonate, high serum anion gap, hypocitraturia, and low urine pH.[27]

image28

nutrient dense alkaline foods

The list of foods is prioritised for nutrient density, alkalinity and a lower insulin load.

vegetables, spices and fruit

image19

The list of vegetables and fruit below are both nutrient dense and highly alkaline.  Whether you buy into this alkaline food theory it will be hard to go wrong if you eat more of these foods which are nutrient dense and have a low insulin load.

If you are concerned that your body is lacking alkalising minerals, focusing on the green leafies at the top of this list will be a good first step.   Real food is always going to be a better option than supplements.

food ND insulin load (g/100g) PRAL/2000cal MCA
watercress 13 2 -1,034 2.8
spinach 11 4 -895 2.7
endive 9 1 -707 2.7
chicory greens 8 2 -724 2.5
basil 9 3 -569 2.3
coriander 7 2 -841 2.3
chard 9 3 -857 2.3
beet greens 7 2 -1,523 2.2
escarole 6 1 -495 2.2
zucchini 7 2 -489 2.2
Chinese cabbage 8 2 -1,241 2.1
lettuce 8 2 -419 2.0
mustard greens 6 3 -507 2.0
parsley 7 5 -618 2.0
arugula 7 3 -629 2.0
dandelion greens 8 7 -353 1.9
sage 6 26 -295 1.9
asparagus 9 3 -199 1.9
turnip greens 7 4 -307 1.8
summer squash 6 2 -397 1.8
okra 7 3 -243 1.7
alfalfa 8 1 154 1.6
thyme 5 31 -257 1.6
cloves 6 35 -216 1.6
curry powder 5 14 -107 1.6
collards 6 4 -141 1.6
paprika 4 26 -262 1.6
cucumber 4 1 -424 1.5
pickles 4 1 -424 1.5
celery 4 3 -610 1.5
chives 5 4 -317 1.5
brown mushrooms 7 5 -383 1.5
broccoli 6 5 -204 1.4
marjoram 3 27 -364 1.4
cauliflower 4 4 -351 1.4
bamboo shoots 4 5 -591 1.3
banana pepper 3 3 -296 1.2
celery flakes 3 42 -530 1.2
sauerkraut 3 2 -328 1.2
seaweed (wakame) 8 11 -59 1.2
cabbage 4 4 -286 1.2
dill 3 8 -721 1.2
radicchio 4 4 -413 1.2
radishes 2 2 -551 1.2
rhubarb 3 3 -621 1.2
seaweed (kelp) 6 10 -224 1.2
portabella mushrooms 5 5 -204 1.2
edamame 5 13 7 1.1
artichokes 4 7 -211 1.1
kale 4 5 -302 1.1
poppy seeds 3 23 -7 1.1
white mushroom 5 5 -205 1.1
snap beans 4 3 -215 1.0
eggplant 1 3 -314 1.0
caraway seed 3 28 -80 1.0
yeast extract spread 3 27 -369 1.0
dill seed 2 43 -218 0.9
cumin 2 44 -171 0.9
turnips 2 3 -275 0.9
shiitake mushroom 5 7 -80 0.9
onions 3 6 -312 0.9
jalapeno peppers 1 3 -269 0.9
soybeans (sprouted) 4 12 -16 0.9
tarragon 2 56 -437 0.9
pumpkin 3 4 -380 0.9
spirulina 6 6 -1 0.9
red peppers 2 3 -219 0.8
chayote 1 3 -228 0.8

nuts and seeds

image15

Coconuts do pretty well.  Some of the other nuts are not so nutrient dense or alkaline, so this list isn’t too long.  Keep in mind that drinking a lot of coconut water might not be ideal for someone with diabetes due to the carbohydrate content.

food ND insulin load (g/100g) PRAL/2000cal MCA
coconut water 2 3 -539 1.0
coconut milk 1 5 -16 0.9
flax seed 1 16 8 0.9
coconut meat 1 9 -15 0.9
coconut cream 1 7 -9 0.8
almond butter 1 26 5 0.8
pumpkin seeds 2 29 98 0.8
almonds 1 25 7 0.8
sunflower seeds 1 22 110 0.7

seafood

image21

If you are eating plenty of veggies I think you can so afford to also eat plenty of nutrient dense seafood as the acid / alkaline will balance each other out in the long run.   While there have been some concerns that a high protein diet will cause acidity that will, in turn, cause osteoporosis due to calcium being used to buffer the acid, more recent research indicates that protein has a net positive effect on bone health.[28] [29]

food ND insulin load (g/100g) PRAL/2000cal MCA
fish roe 11 18 285 1.6
caviar 7 23 76 1.5
trout 8 18 131 1.3
salmon 8 20 180 1.3
sturgeon 8 16 165 1.2
sardine 6 19 153 1.2
oyster 8 14 146 1.1
halibut 9 17 175 1.1
mackerel 3 10 34 1.1
anchovy 6 22 69 1.1
cisco 5 13 75 1.1
cod 9 48 205 1.1
flounder 9 12 322 1.1
crab 9 14 238 1.1
crayfish 9 13 253 1.1
pollock 8 18 168 1.1
rockfish 8 17 168 1.0
lobster 8 15 201 1.0
perch 8 14 297 0.9
herring 4 19 114 0.9
white fish 7 18 123 0.9
whiting 7 18 197 0.9
shrimp 8 19 282 0.9
haddock 7 19 188 0.8
clam 7 25 128 0.8

dairy and egg

image08

A number of cheeses make it onto the list due to their nutrient density along with egg, butter and cream.  Cheese are typically acidic however, in moderation, they can potentially form part of a well-rounded diet.

The problem, I think, is a that a lot of people looking for a low carb / keto dietary approach (me included) end up eating large quantities of dairy (e.g. cream, cheese and butter) and end up struggling to keep the weight off or find that they are “allergic to dairy”.   Perhaps excess acid load without adequate minerals to balance it from green leafy veggies may be playing a role here?

 

food ND insulin load (g/100g) PRAL/2000cal MCA
egg yolk 4 12 133 1.1
feta cheese 4 15 85 1.1
whole egg 5 10 133 1.0
milk 5 7 5 1.0
Swiss cheese 4 22 104 1.0
cheddar cheese 3 20 85 1.0
gruyere cheese 3 23 103 1.0
gouda cheese 4 21 113 0.9
Eggnog 5 11 14 0.9
kefir 6 7 14 0.9
edam cheese 3 21 100 0.9
mozzarella 4 26 123 0.9
cream 1 5 3 0.9
Monterey cheese 3 19 88 0.8
limburger cheese 2 15 90 0.8
butter 0 3 -0 0.8
muenster cheese 3 19 87 0.8
goat cheese 3 14 119 0.8
sour cream 1 6 -2 0.8
cream cheese 1 10 15 0.8
Colby 2 20 83 0.8
camembert 2 16 87 0.8
low fat milk 5 8 -1 0.8
blue cheese 2 19 68 0.8
cream cheese (low fat) 8 19 306 0.7
parmesan cheese 3 35 102 0.7
ricotta 2 12 71 0.7

animal products

image09

Several animal products make the list even though they carry an acid load.  I don’t think “animal protein” is really a concern if you are also eating your alkalising veggies.  Seafood and animal products are also nutrient dense and have beneficial properties, including lean body mass[30] and bone health.    If you can, it’s going to be ideal to consume seafood and animals that aren’t fed more acidic grains.

food ND insulin load (g/100g) PRAL/2000cal MCA
lamb liver 7 20 274 0.9
beef brains 3 8 166 0.9
ham (lean only) 7 17 239 0.8
lamb kidney 6 15 267 0.8
turkey liver 5 21 218 0.7
ground turkey 3 19 115 0.7
turkey heart 4 20 182 0.6
pork 3 22 128 0.6
roast ham 3 18 137 0.6
lamb brains 2 10 197 0.6
beef kidney 5 20 283 0.6
roast pork 3 20 130 0.6
chicken liver 5 20 250 0.6
lamb sweetbread 4 15 313 0.5
turkey drumstick 4 21 188 0.5
turkey meat 4 21 188 0.5
pork chop 5 23 195 0.5
leg ham 4 22 175 0.5

 

 

other dietary approaches

I’ve added this list to the various dietary in the table below.  If you’re already getting plenty of veggies then acidity probably won’t be a problem with your acid balance.  But if you already have metabolic acidosis, gout or kidney concerns they you may want to focus on getting more of the alkaline foods.

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 you identify your optimal dietary approach.

image43

am I getting enough veggies?

If you have blood tests handy you can see if they show any of the following signs that may suggest that your diet is more acidic and / or you are struggling to balance your acid load:

  • high uric acid levels,
  • low bicarbonate levels / CO2 levels,
  • a high anion gap,[31]
  • high potassium, or
  • low sodium / potassium ratio,

These values will give you an indication whether your kidneys are keeping up and you might need to review your diet.

If you don’t have the blood tests available, you can test your urine pH which gives you an indication of how much acid versus alkaline ash your kidneys are clearing after digestion.  This will not necessarily tell you how alkaline your blood is, but rather whether your body is having to excrete alkaline or acidic waste products after digestion which appears to still be a relevant guide.

The chart below shows the urine pH of people in the Caciano et al study noted above when they changed their diet to a low PRAL (alkaline) or high PRAL (acidic) dietary approach.   Most participants could achieve the high PRAL acidic target of greater than a pH of 6.0 within four days.  However, it took some participants up to nine days of changing their diet to achieve an alkaline pH of greater than 7.0.

image19

If you’re interested, you can grab some pH test tape and see where you are currently at.  If you find your urine is more acidic (i.e.  pH lower than 6.0) you could consider manipulating your diet and / or use mineral supplements until you are achieving a pH of greater than 6.8 or so.

image15

supplementation

Obviously eating real food such as the ones listed above is preferable.  However, if simply adding more non-starchy veggies listed above doesn’t work for you there are a number of other more aggressive options that you can turn to.

One popular approach is to use a greens powder.  On the positive side, a few spoonful’s of this will quickly give you lots of micronutrients and alkalising minerals.  However, real veggies are always going to be better and it will give you about one gram of carbohydrates per serving.

image40

Another option is to use baking soda which is highly alkaline and has been shown to improve athletic performance in a range of studies (check out the plethora of study reviews on Adel’s SuppVersity site if you are interested in seeing how the alkalinity provided by Bicarbonate can affect exercise performance).[32] [33] [34]

image39

In situations that result in acute acidosis, supplementing younger patients with sodium bicarbonate prior to exhaustive exercise resulted in significantly less acidosis in the blood than those that were not supplemented with sodium bicarbonate.[35]

The pros of baking soda is that it is cheap and effective and will turn your urine pee sticks blue very quickly (see picture below).  It may also cause gut distress if you have a sensitive gut (as many people with diabetes do).  And you’ll also be missing out on all the other benefits of eating whole veggies.

image08

Elizma says:

I prefer citrate minerals since taking bicarb soda can dilute stomach acid when taken with meals whereas citrate minerals can be taken at any time.  Using citrate minerals has a ‘bicarbonate sparing’ effect without necessarily taking bicarbonate.

By reducing the workload on the pancreas more ATP is available to produce insulin.   The lungs can only deal with volatile acids that can be excreted via CO2, but the kidneys have to do the rest via ammonia.

I think people try and simplify it for themselves by talking about acid / alkaline diets when it’s more to do with minerals imbalances and other factors that shift metabolic acid production.

But does it really matter what we call it if people eat better?

In our house what we’re trying to do is maximise the green leafy veggies, not overdo the dairy, perhaps increase the coconut intake as well as taking the a little and then take the potassium, calcium and magnesium citrate mineral supplement mix until the urine pH consistently is above 6.8.

are ketones acidic ketones?

If you are taking exogenous ketone supplements, then making sure you get your green leafies or taking a mineral supplement may be even more important.

Your body will likely secrete some insulin to bring down the total energy in your bloodstream if you have really high ketones, particularly in a fed state.  A recent study indicated that the pancreas does not secrete insulin in response to ketones alone, but rather when glucose is greater than 5.0 mmol/L or 90 mg/dL and you add in additional ketones.

So, I wondered if adding exogenous ketones to a diet that is not already ketogenic (i.e. high blood glucose levels) is a recipe for accelerated hyperinsulinemia and acidity?

image22

I had some exogenous ketones lying around the house so I thought it would be interesting to test at what point they become acidic.

Seems the answer is yes for the ketone salts…

image06

2016-11-19 11.03.08.jpg

… and so is the ketone ester.

image37

So maybe some of the acidity that I saw on my blood tests could also have been contributed to by me dabbling with exogenous ketones?

image49 [36]

So are exogenous ketones also acidic inside the body?  In the name of science I downed two packets of Keto//OS.  My ketone value went from 0.6 to 0.8mmol/L and the increased insulin released to clear the exogenous ketones also brought the blood glucose levels down over a period of about five hours.

2016-11-19 10.49.07.jpg

But the pH of my urine also went from alkaline to acidic as my kidneys worked to clear the acid load from the exogenous ketones.  I sure hope all those people with the recurring order of Keto//OS are also taking mineral supplements and ideally eating lots of green leafy veggies.

2016-11-19 12.57.53.jpg

I also wonder what the long term effects of high levels of exogenous ketones will be on people who are taking them for cancer and other conditions which appear to be exacerbated by insulin and acidity.  I suppose time will tell.

Interestingly there are some people who feel that increased ketones are more a downstream symptom of increased NAD+.  It’s actually the increased NAD+ that occurs in fasting and carb restriction and the upregulated Sitruins that is causing the positive outcomes and not actually the ketones themselves.

2016-11-20 03.04.20.png

endogenous ketones

Endogenous ketones are acidic too,[37] [38] though this is not really a problem in someone who has a functioning pancreas and is producing adequate insulin to keep ketone levels under control.  When the pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin in (i.e. Type 1 Diabetes) it is called ketoacidosis and it can be very dangerous.

In a metabolically healthy person, alkalising minerals play a role in balancing out the acid load of the ketones and actually neutralising them.  Perhaps this is part of the reason that many metabolically fit athletes do not tend to see really high blood ketones even if they have been following a ketogenic diet for a long time?  If their kidneys and pancreas are functioning well they have adequate minerals to balance their acidity they will be able to happily operate most of the time with very low glucose and ketone values (i.e. low total energy).

Perhaps the reverse could be an interesting “hack” if you really wanted to achieve higher blood ketone values without fasting?

In his Keto Summit interview Bryan Walsh (pictured below) raised some interesting questions about pH balance on a long term ketogenic diet.

Can we deplete our buffering capacity by being in this chronically acidic state all the time, a self-induced acidic state, meaning a ketogenic diet?  Long term can we deplete our body’s ability to mitigate this pH shift? 

The body will still maintain an incredibly tight pH.  But at what expense? What are we using up that we may have used for something else to try to maintain this golden egg of pH in the body?

I don’t think over time you’d see somebody’s pH shift.  But what I do think is that other things would suffer as a consequence.

image32

metabolic acidosis and insulin resistance

When you dig into the literature there seem to be a lot of parallels between Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic acidosis.[39] [40] [41]  Type 2 Diabetes and kidney disease often occur together.

“[The] dietary acid load is directly associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. From a public health perspective, dietary recommendations should not only incriminate specific food groups but also include recommendations on the overall quality of the diet, notably the need to maintain an adequate acid/base balance.”[42]

image09

The pancreas’ job is to maintain normal blood glucose levels within a tight range.  The adipose tissue continues to store the excess energy from processed carbs through de novo lipogenesis until it can’t take anymore and we become insulin resistant in order to slow the storage of fat in the adipose tissue.  Then, in the long run the pancreas burns out and we require exogenous insulin.

Similar to the pancreas’ role with glucose, it seems the kidneys maintain our pH within a tight range.  But then over time if it is subjected to excessive acid load, just like excessive glucose in our pancreas, our tight grip on pH may slip, even a little.  Then the kidneys start to burn out.  They no longer maintain optimal acid levels, but rather slightly more acidic levels and then lose their grip on optimal oxygenation of the blood which leads to a plethora of metabolic issues.

Similar to maintaining tight blood glucose control, part of the solution to slow the decline in our kidney function may be to eat some more leafy greens while minimizing the acidic load from nutrient poor foods such as sugar and processed grains.

muscle loss

Another parallel between Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic acidosis is muscle loss.  Our ability to optimise lean muscle mass is critical to maintaining good glucose disposal and insulin sensitivity.

Recent insights indicate that several consequences of metabolic acidosis including the development of insulin resistance can stimulate muscle protein degradation.[43]

So if we don’t eat our veggies maybe we risk losing our gainz?!?!?

In Type 2 Diabetes we often see excess gluconeogenesis when the body can’t burn fat due to high insulin / insulin resistance and instead to protein in our diet and body for energy.

Evidence increasingly suggests that acidosis promotes muscle protein wasting by both increasing protein degradation and inhibiting protein synthesis.

Correction of acidosis may therefore help to preserve muscle mass and improve the health of patients with pathological conditions associated with acidosis.[44]

The chart below shows that people with the highest amount of potassium excretion in the urine (i.e. most alkaline) had a greater percentage of lean body mass.  Perhaps the quickest way to get buff is to get adequate protein AND eat your veggies to enhance fat burning and reduce your reliance on glucose and protein for energy.

image27

It has been demonstrated that even the slightest degree of metabolic acidosis produces insulin resistance in healthy humans. Many recent epidemiological studies link metabolic acidosis indicators with insulin resistance and systemic hypertension.

The strongly acidogenic diet consumed in developed countries produces a lifetime acidotic state, exacerbated by excess body weight and aging, which may result in insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and Type 2 diabetes, contributing to cardiovascular risk, along with genetic causes, lack of physical exercise, and other factors… 

Even very slight levels of chronic kidney insufficiency are associated with increased cardiovascular risk, which may be explained at least in part by deficient acid excretory capacity of the kidney and consequent metabolic acidosis-induced insulin resistance.[45]

image23 [46]

As we age, there is a loss of muscle mass, which may predispose us to falls and fractures. A three-year study looking at a diet rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables, as well
as a reduced acid load, resulted in preservation of muscle mass in older men and women. Conditions such as chronic renal failure that result in chronic metabolic acidosis result in accelerated breakdown in skeletal muscle. 

Correction of acidosis may preserve muscle mass in conditions where muscle wasting is common such as diabetic ketosis, trauma, sepsis, chronic obstructive lung disease, and renal failure.[47]

summary

  • Whether you think eating alkaline foods is useful or woo woo junk it appears that metabolic acidosis is a thing.
  • Metabolic acidosis seems to be interrelated with insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes and retention of muscle mass.
  • To prevent metabolic acidosis it appears prudent to ensure that your body has adequate minerals to enable your kidneys to balance pH over the long term. This can be achieved by eating plenty of veggies and / or supplementing with alkaline minerals (e.g. magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc etc).
  • If you eat plenty of veggies you’re probably getting enough alkalising minerals, however you can easily test your urine to see if your dietary acid load is high.
  • If you are targeting a high fat therapeutic ketogenic diet, following a zero carb dietary approach and / or taking exogenous ketones it seems then it may be even more important to be mindful of your acid load and consider mineral supplementation.

epilogue

So, you may be wondering how my ketones are going these days with the alkalising minerals on board.  They seem to be a little lower now with the mineral supplementation.   When I fast for a few days they kick in and might get to around 2.0mmol/L and hunger is not a big deal.  I think the ketones are doing what they’re meant to do.

I’m still not exactly sure why my ketone spiked off the chart that brief period.  I think Elizma’s explanation makes sense.  That is, my insulin sensitivity improved and the flood gate of free fatty acids was released for a time and then settled down.  In time though I think the alkalising minerals balance out the ketones and keep them from getting too high.

I have also been taking the Niacel on an ongoing basis to increase NAD+ which in appears to increase the breath acetone (fat burning) and decreases the ketones in the blood (BHB).  But more on that in future posts.  This one is already too long.

The ratio of β-OHB to AcAc depends on the NADH/NAD+ ratio inside mitochondria; if NADH concentration is high, the liver releases a higher proportion of β-OHB.[48]

I think being able to run with a lower total energy (i.e. glucose plus ketones) in the blood most of the time might be a good thing.  When high levels of glucose or ketone are required (e.g. fasting or explosive exercise) they can be easily accessed if we have good insulin sensitivity.

P.P.S.

Elizma and I have been talking about kicking off an occasional Q&A podcast.  So, if you have any questions in the area of functional medicine, MTHFR, nutrigenomics / 23andme (Elizma) or diabetes and nutrition (me) then feel free to leave some questions below to kick off our first one.  It could be a fun adventure.

references

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8396707

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PH

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/03/11/how-our-bodies-go-to-extraordinary-lengths-to-maintain-safe-ph-levels/#4dd8545c208a http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/03/11/how-our-bodies-go-to-extraordinary-lengths-to-maintain-safe-ph-levels/#667262df208a

[4] http://ketosummit.com/

[5] http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/how-climate-change-can-affect-the-reef/ocean-acidification

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

[7] http://thepaleodiet.com/acidbase-balance/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

[9] http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/727630.pdf

[10] http://christinecronau.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/pH.pdf

[11] https://www.facebook.com/drjackkruse/posts/1537554709642211

[12] http://www.nature.com/articles/srep35907

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warburg_hypothesis

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respiratory_exchange_ratio

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4424466/

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4424466/

[17] http://www.madehow.com/inventorbios/32/Pierre-Eug-ne-Marcellin-Berthelot.html

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7797810

[19] http://www.precisionnutrition.com/acid-base

[20] http://thepaleodiet.com/acidbase-balance/

[21] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7797810

[22] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/23439373/

[23] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7797810

[24] http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/2015/02/mind-minerals/

[25] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21248199

[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/21457266/

[27] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/21481501/

[28] http://nutritionfacts.org/video/alkaline-diets-animal-protein-and-calcium-loss/

[29] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15546911

[30] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2597402/

[31] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_anion_gap_metabolic_acidosis

[32] http://firstendurance.com/the-ph-of-foods-and-their-effect-on-performance/

[33] https://www.facebook.com/groups/optimisingnutrition/permalink/1607541596213549/?comment_id=1608380926129616&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R%22%7D

[34] https://www.facebook.com/groups/optimisingnutrition/permalink/1607541596213549/?comment_id=1608380926129616&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R%22%7D

[35] http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/727630.pdf

[36] https://www.facebook.com/livinlowcarbman/photos/a.145604576319.138059.91566951319/10154770616481320/?type=3&comment_id=10154788120686320&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R%22%7D

[37] http://chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/54459/why-are-ketones-acidic

[38] http://answers.wikia.com/wiki/Is_a_ketone_an_acid_or_a_base

[39] http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fsuppversity.blogspot.com.au%2F2013%2F04%2Fscience-round-up-seconds-macro-mineral.html&h=sAQHCVlPJ

[40] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/diet-induced-acidosis-is-it-real-and-clinically-relevant/D7F03DFEF497996E90BB6DA487C777B8/core-reader

[41] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21481501

[42] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935236/

[43] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16736444

[44] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15586003

[45] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21352078

[46] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3155690/

[47] http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/727630.pdf

[48] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709699/

nutrient dense foods for weight loss and insulin resistance

I’ve talked to a number of people recently who use 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.

If you’re someone who is moderately insulin resistant and also wants to lose weight then…  read on.

optimal foods for diabetes and nutritional ketosis

My food ranking system revolves around manipulating three parameters to suit different people with different goals:

  • insulin load
  • nutrient density, and
  • energy density.

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.

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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 is fairly low in dietary fat to allow for to come form 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 the diabetes and nutritional ketosis approach comes in at #8 of thirteen.

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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 show a comparison of the various approaches with the weight loss approach having the lowest energy density.

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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 score (MCA) that combines all these factors.

The chart below shows the amount of each nutrient provided by the more balanced approach compared to 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.

weight-loss-insulin-resistant

vegetables

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

seafood

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

image09

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

image08

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.

image02

The Keto Summit

I’m really excited to be a part of the Keto Summit being hosted by Chris Kelly and Tommy Wood of Nourish Balance Thrive.

I have learned so much from Chris and Tommy with their generous sharing of knowledge.  It’s now exciting to see them gather a wide range of experts, potentially with divergent opinions, all captured in one place.

Chris Kelly has spent the last few months interviewing the big names in the area of low carb and ketogenic nutrition for diabetes management, therapeutic ketosis and athletic performance, including:

  1. Ben Greenfield,
  2. Patrick Arnold,
  3. Jason Fung,
  4. Mark Sisson,
  5. Tom O’Bryan,
  6. Maria Emmerich,
  7. Tommy Wood,
  8. Ken Ford,
  9. Max Lugavere,
  10. Tyler Bramlett,
  11. Bran Walsh,
  12. Dave Asprey,
  13. Tom Seyfried,
  14. Eric Westman,
  15. Tim Noakes,
  16. Phil Maffetone,
  17. Richard Feinman,
  18. Kirk Parsley,
  19. Robb Wolf,
  20. Cate Shanahan,
  21. Ivor Cummins,
  22. Jimmy Moore,
  23. Menno Henselmans,
  24. Mike T Nelson,
  25. Ron Rosedale,
  26. Chris Masterjohn,
  27. Dan Pardi,
  28. Kieren Clarke,
  29. Dominic D’Agostino,
  30. Patricia Daly,
  31. Catherine Crofts,
  32. Grace Liu,
  33. Travis Christofferson, and
  34. Luis Villasenor.

It’s a REALLY exciting honour to be a part of this list of experts with my heroes and so many people I have learned so much from! 

You can sign up to watch the videos free between 25 September and 6 October 2016 or you can buy them for a small fee to watch at any time.  

free

The prelaunch period runs until 24 September 2016.   Up until this time you will be able to receive unlimited access to the summit at a discount rate.

prelaunch

When you register for the summit sign up you will be able to get three masterclasses.  Firstly with Tommy Wood on:

  • keto 101
  • weight loss, and
  • performance

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The second bonus gift is professional cyclist Christopher Kelly navigating the controversial area of ketogenic supplements.

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Then Maria Emmerich makes gets practical and shows what it looks like in the kitchen.

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You can also watch Tom Seyfried’s interview on how you can use the ketogenic diet as an adjunct treatment for cancer.

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Over the 10 days of the summit, once you sign up,  you will be able to watch a selection of videos for free for 24 hours.

Day 1 is Ben Greenfield, Patrick Arnold (who developed KetoCaNa and exogenous ketone product with Domonic D’Agostino), Jason Fung and myself.

day-1

Day 2 is Mark Sisson, Tom O’Bryan, Maria Emerich and Tommy Wood.

day-2

Day 3 is Ken Ford, Max Lugavere, Tyler Bramlett and Bryan Walsh.

day-3

Day 4 is with Dave Asprey, Tom Seyfried and Eric Westman.

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Day 5 is Tim Noakes, Phil Maffetone, Richard Feinman and Kirk Parsley.

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Day 6 is Robb Wolf, Cate Shanahan and Ivor Cummins.

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Day 7 is Jimmy Moore, Meno Hesslemans, Mike Nelson and Ron Rosedale.

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Day 8 is Chris Masterjohn, Dan Pardi and Kieran Clarke.

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Day 9 is Domonic D’Agostino, Patricia Daly and Catherine Crofts.

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Day 10 is a Grace Liu, Travis Christofferson and Luis Villasenor.

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October 5th and 6th will be the encore replay days where you will be able to watch the most popular presentations again.

Happily, if you do end up paying to have unlimited access to all the presentations (rather than only being able to watch them on a specific day) using my affiliate link I will receive a commission fee for promoting the event.

This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this.  It’s great to be able to support Chris and Tommy who have put so much effort into their amazing podcast.  It’s also nice to see a little bit of money to justify the time I’m invested in developing the blog and not with my family or working paid overtime at my day job.

I’m excited!  I hope you enjoy the Keto Summit presentations and look forward to seeing the discussion it generates.

fbad1-registration

a fresh perspective on nutrition

Warning: This post is a celebration of how data analysis can help us understand how to optimise our nutrition to suit different goals.  It may contain novel ideas based on large amounts of data.   

I was flattered when Chris Green (@heuristics) recently posted a graphical presentation of the food insulin index and my nutrient density data analysis using Tableau.

If you click on the image below you can see where the different foods sit on the plot of nutrient density versus proportion of insulinogenic calories or click on individual data points to learn more about a particular food and find out why it ranks well or poorly.

I think presenting the data in an interactive format using Tableau makes large amounts of data more accessible compared to a static chart or spreadsheet that can be produced in Excel.

image41

Inspired by Chris’s chart, I uploaded the Food Insulin Index data for 147 foods from Kirstine Bell’s thesis Clinical Application of the Food Insulin Index to Diabetes Mellitus.

Click on the chart below to see a larger version or, better yet, open the interactive Tableau version here.   Click on the different tabs to see how your insulin response relates to different parameters such as carbohydrates, fat, protein, glycemic index, glycemic load and sugar.

image12

I think the food insulin index data is exciting because it helps us better understand what drives blood glucose, insulin, Hyperinsulinemia, metabolic syndrome, and the diseases of western civilisation that are sending us to an early grave and bankrupting our western economy.

I’ve included some brief notes on the interactive charts in order to unpack what I think the data is telling us, but if you want a more detailed discussion of the data I encourage you to check out the articles:

investing your insulin budget wisely

I think being able to better understand our insulin response to food is exciting for people with Type 1 diabetes (like my wife) to more accurately calculate their insulin dose or people trying to achieve therapeutic ketosis for the treatment of epilepsy or cancer.

Understanding exactly how fibre and protein affect insulin and glucose demonstrates quantitatively why a low carbohydrate moderate protein approach works so well for people who are insulin resistant.

While lots of people have found the food insulin index data useful, I want to highlight in this article that insulin load is only one factor that should be considered.

image39

If we only consider insulinogenic properties of food there is a risk that we unnecessarily demonise nutrient dense foods that happen to elicit an insulin response.  Rather than avoiding insulin, I think it’s better to think in terms of investing a limited insulin budget.  And just like different people have different levels of income, different people have a different (but still finite) “insulin budget”.  For example…

  • Someone using therapeutic ketogenic approach to battle epilepsy or cancer will want to minimise the insulin load of their diet by eating very high amounts of fat, fasting, and perhaps supplementing with MCTs or exogenous ketones. Someone pursuing therapeutic ketosis will need to pay particular attention to making sure they obtain adequate nutrition within their very small insulin budget.
  • If you have Type 1 Diabetes large doses of insulin will send you on a blood glucose roller coaster that might take a day or two to get under control. Eating a Bernstein-esque low carb diet with moderate to high protein levels and lots of non-starchy veggies will make it possible to manage blood glucose levels with physiologic (normal) amounts of insulin without excessive blood glucose and insulin swings.[1] [2]
  • For a type 2 diabetic who struggles to produce enough insulin to maintain their blood glucose in normal ranges, a lower carb moderate insulin load diet will help their pancreas to keep up and achieve normal blood glucose levels while minimising fat storage.
  • People using a ketogenic approach for weight loss need to keep in mind that reduced insulin levels and ketosis occurs due to a lack of glucose and not higher levels of dietary fat. If your primary goal is weight loss, fat on the plate (or in the coffee cup) should be just enough to stop you from going insane with hunger.  Too much dietary fat will mean that there will be no need to mobilise fat from the body.
  • Athletes and people who are metabolically healthy can be more flexible in their choice of energy source and perhaps focus more on more nutrient dense foods as well as energy dense foods.

insulin is not the bad guy

Humans are great at thinking in absolutes (good/bad; black/white) while ignoring context.  We all like to grab hold of our favourite bit of the elephant of metabolic health and hold on tight.

image02

While many people suffer from hyperinsulinemia and its vast array of associated health consequences we need to remember that insulin is critical to life and growth and is required to metabolise protein for muscle growth/repair as well as all the other important functions of amino acids (neurotransmitters etc).[3]

Ideally we should make every bite count if we want to maximise health and longevity.  Every calorie should contain the maximum amount of nutrients possible.  In a similar way, every unit of insulin that we “invest” should be associated with the maximum amount of nutrition (think of the nutrient density of spinach or liver liver versus than nutrient a soft drink or white bread).

So let’s look at how we can “leverage” our “insulin investment” to maximise our health outcome.

show me the data

In this article I’m going to risk overloading, overwhelming, and confusing you, the reader, with too much data.  But at the same time, with all the data available you won’t have to take my word for it.  You can make your own conclusions.

If the idea is far out, you need to see the data. All the data. Not the hazard ratio, not just the conclusions from the computer.

My new grand principle of doing science: habeas corpus datorum, let’s see the body of the data. If the conclusion is non-intuitive and goes against previous work or common sense, then the data must be strong and all of it must be clearly presented.

So, how should you read a scientific paper? I usually want to see the pictures first.[4]

Richard David Feinman, The World Turned Upside Down

I am trying to draw conclusions from more than 6000 foods in the USDA foods database.  These are hard to present accurately in single charts, so I’ve used a few.  If something that you see doesn’t make sense at first you can drill down into the data to check out the detailed description.  I have also included as much micronutrient and macronutrient as I can.  Just ‘mouse over’ a data point that you’re interested in to see how it compares to another data point.

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In the sections below I have given an overview of different ways to look at nutrient density with a more detailed discussion in the appendices at the end of this article.   Unfortunately this post is probably not going to work well on your phone.

You’ll need to view it on big screen for best effect.

Sorry.

My 2c on nutrient density

Lots of people talk about nutrient density, however most of the time this is in relation to a few favourite nutrient(s) rather than a broad range spectrum of essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids.

We hear that butter is high in Vitamin K2 and Vitamin D and hence we should eat more of it[5] or that whey protein is high in essential amino acids (e.g. leucine and lysine) and therefore everyone should be buying tubs of it.[6]

A lot of time these claims are used to advertise a product or to argue a particular philosophical position (e.g. zero carb, vegan, plant based, paleo etc).  The problem here is that many of these so call ‘nutrient dense superfoods’ do not contain a well rounded range of the nutrients that are required for health, but rather a narrow slice of nutrients.

Paleo, Just Eat Real Foods[7] or ‘plant based’ is a good start, however I think there are some foods that are more useful than others.  As detailed in the Building a Better Nutrient Density Index article there are also  some nutrients that are harder to obtain in adequate quantities.

Once we identify the nutrients that are harder to obtain we can focus on the foods that contain the highest amounts of these nutrients.   At the same time it is also useful to think about nutrient density in the context of specific goals, whether that be therapeutic ketosis, weight loss, diabetes or optimal athletic performance.

The more I try to get my head around what it means to optimise nutrition, the more important nutrient density seems to be.  The irony is that many people retreat from insulin to the safe haven of high fat diets that don’t actually have the micronutrients required to optimally power mitochondria, the power plants of our bodies.  Like most things, we need to find the right balance.

Most people now seem to understand that hammering high blood glucose with more insulin is dumb because the problem is insulin resistance and poor glucose disposal, not high blood glucose.

But then the next question is what causes insulin resistance?

It seems to me that part of the answer is sluggish mitochondria that aren’t running at optimal efficiency to burn off the energy we throw at them.  Part of the reason for this is that we’re not powering them with the right nutrients.

To produce ATP efficiently, the mitochondria need particular things.  Glucose or ketone bodies from fat and oxygen are primary.

Your mitochondria can limp along, producing a few ATP on only these three things, but to really do the job right and produce the most ATP, your mitochondria also need thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, minerals (especially sulfur, zinc, magnesium, iron and manganese) and antioxidants.

Mitochondria also need plenty of L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, creatine, and ubiquinone (also called coenzyme Q) for peak efficiency.

Dr Terry Wahls

The Wahls Protocol

Terry%20Wahls,%20M.D.%20Photo%20and%20Book%2003272014[1]

This video gives an excellent overview of the role that nutrients play to drive the krebs cycle to enable our mitochondria to produce ATP, the energy currency of our cells.

We can then moderate that using insulin load to  work within the limits of your current metabolic health (i.e. insulin resistance, muscle mass, activity levels, pancreatic function etc).

You need to eat to maintain the blood glucose levels of a metabolically healthy person.

Robb Wolf

robbwolf-468x468[1]

Nutrient density vs proportion of insulinogenic calories

The plot below shows nutrient density versus proportion of insulinogenic calories.   The size of the data points are proportional to the energy density of the foods they represent (e.g. the size of the markers for celery with a low energy density are smaller than for butter which has a high energy density).

image35

There is a lot of data here!  You can click on the image below to see a larger version of the chart or better yet look at the interactive online Tableau version (which I think is pretty cool!).  If you ‘mouse over’ the foods that you’re interested in you can see more details of the foods from the USDA food nutrient database.  Click through the various tabs to see how things look for specific food groups.

The x-axis on these charts is nutrient density / calorie.  You can find out more about how this is calculated in the Building a better nutrient density index article.  Essentially zero is average (or zero standard deviations from the mean) while greater than zero is better than average and less than zero is worse than the average of the 6000 foods analysed.

The nutrient density calculations are based on the USDA database which provides the nutrient content of more than 6000 foods.  It does not account for species specific bioavailability or issues such as fat soluble vitamins.  

I don’t think we can use this to say that plant foods are better or worse than animal foods, but rather it shows us which foods to avoid due and which foods are the best choices within particular categories.  

Personally I think optimal involves getting a balanced range of the most nutrient dense plant and animal based foods. 

So what does this data mean and how could it be practically useful?

  • If you’re metabolically healthy then I think you’d do well eating from the most nutrient dense foods on the right hand side of the chart (i.e. celery, spinach, mushrooms, onions, oranges etc). While many of these nutrient dense foods may have higher proportion of insulinogenic calories I think it’s hard for most people to overeat them.
  • The foods most people should avoid are the highly insulinogenic low nutrient density foods on the top left of this plot (i.e. soft drinks, fruit juice, sport drinks etc).
  • If you’re insulin resistant or aiming for therapeutic ketosis (e.g. as an adjunct treatment for cancer or epilepsy or dementia) you will want to move down the chart to the higher fat low insulinogenic foods while keeping to the right as much as possible.
  • It’s important to note that the high fat foods typically have a lower nutrient density because they do not contain as broad a range of nutrients.

Energy density versus nutrient density

While 60 to 70% of the western population seem to be suffering some level of metabolic syndrome and are insulin resistant[8] some people who are metabolically healthy are still obese.[9]  For these people simply reducing the energy density without consideration of carbs or insulin load (i.e. lowering their fat intake with higher amounts of water and fibre) will help them to consume less calories.

image03

Someone who is metabolically healthy (i.e. excellent blood glucose levels etc) yet still obese would do well to focus on the nutrient dense low energy density vegetables, fruits, seafood and meat in the top right of this chart.

This is basically where I’m at after normalising my glucose and HbA1c but I’d still like to drop some more weight.  I now need to take my own advice and focus on more nutrient dense proteins and vegetables and indulge less on the yummy high fat foods.

The typical problem with a low fat approach typically comes not from eating too much vegetables or fruit (top right of this chart) but rather when your energy comes from highly insulinogenic, energy dense low nutrient density foods (e.g.  processed grains and softdrinks) which end up on the top left of all of these charts.

The only real ‘problem’ with a high nutrient density low energy density approach is that it is physically difficult to get enough food down to achieve an energy surplus.  The benefit is that it typically leads to weight loss while still maintaining very high levels of nutrition.

A high nutrient density low energy density approach could still be ketogenic due to the low level of processed carbohydrates and low insulin load.

Click here to view the interactive Tableau version of nutrient density versus energy density.

Net carbs versus nutrient density

Lots of people like to count carbohydrates or net carbohydrates (i.e. carbohydrates minus the indigestible fibre).  In my view I think it’s better to think in terms of net carbohydrates when eating real foods to make sure you don’t miss out on nutrient dense vegetables.

The chart below shows nutrient density versus net carbohydrates.  Focusing on the foods on the top right and avoiding the soft drinks, cereals and breads at the bottom will be a pretty good strategy.

The limitation of net carbs is that it doesn’t account for the impact of protein which is an important consideration for people with type 1 diabetes or advanced type 2 diabetes.

image28

Click here to view an interactive Tableau version of nutrient density versus net carbs.

Insulin load versus nutrient density

This brings us to my favourite way to look at nutrient density… insulin load.

Thinking in terms of insulin load involves consideration of net carbs plus about half the protein as requiring insulin.  Insulin load per 100g of food is neat because it means that we also end up with lower energy density foods as well which is not a bad thing for most people who often wouldn’t mind losing some weight (note: low energy density foods like celery may not be so great if you’re trying to fuel for a marathon).

I think it’s good to also consider the insulin effect of protein because insulin is a finite resource.   While people who are metabolically healthy will be able to eat high protein foods without seeing a substantial rise in their blood glucose levels, people who are very insulin resistant or have type 1 diabetes will see their  glucose levels rise with protein and may need to inject insulin to cover the protein they eat.  This doesn’t mean though that people who are insulin resistant should avoid high protein foods, because they are typically very nutrient dense.

image33

Again, we can see that it’s the soft drinks, breakfast cereals and breads at the bottom of this chart that we really need to be avoiding!

This thinking seems to align with common sense wisdom.  Tick.

Click here to view an interactive version of insulin load versus nutrient density.

Summary

Hopefully you can see how thinking about nutrient density graphically in combination with other parameters can be useful to refine your food selection for different goals.

The appendices to this article below show more charts for different food groups with a little more discussion of my observations.

Or better yet, why not dive into the interactive data in Tableau and see what you can make of it yourself.

  • Appendix A – Nutrient density vs proportion of insulinogenic calories for therapeutic ketosis
  • Appendix B – Nutrient density vs energy density for weight loss and / or the metabolically healthy
  • Appendix C – Nutrient density vs net carbohydrates for people on a low carb diet
  • Appendix D – Nutrient density vs insulin load for diabetes and therapeutic ketosis

Appendix A – Nutrient density vs proportion of insulinogenic calories for therapeutic ketosis

Foods with a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories can be useful for people trying to achieve therapeutic ketosis, however at the same time we can see at the bottom of this plot that high fat / low insulin load foods are not necessarily the most nutrient dense.

People should ideally choose foods with the highest nutrient density (right hand side) while keeping the proportion of insulinogenic calories in their diet low enough to achieve their goals (e.g. blood glucose, insulin, tumour growth or seizure control).

image35

Click here to view the interactive Tableau version of nutrient density proportion of insulinogenic calories.

Vegetables

Vegetables are typically have high levels of vitamins and minerals as well as some protein but not much fat.

Most people, particularly those who are not severely insulin resistant, will do well to focus on the most nutrient dense vegetables on the right hand side of this chart (i.e. celery, spinach, squash, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, artichokes, kale) as their energy density, insulin load and net carbs are also low.

Celery is an example of a food with high amounts of vitamins and minerals with a very low energy density, hence it does really well on the nutrients / calorie scale.

The foods in the chart below with the lowest proportion of insulinogenic calories typically have added fat (e.g. french fries, onion rings which are not ideal) or are very high in fibre (e.g. asparagus, spinach and soybeans which is better).

image49

Seafood

Seafood is really the only substantial source of essential omega 3 fatty acids (i.e. DPA, DHA, EPA, ALA) and hence is an important part of a balanced diet.

The highest nutrient density seafoods are cod, anchovy, salmon, caviar and tuna.  The lowest insulin load fish are mackerel, herring, salmon and caviar.

Again, we should ideally focus on the most nutrient dense foods on the right hand side of the chart, but move down the chart to the least insulinogenic foods depending on our level of metabolic health.

image23

Animal products

Liver is the most nutrient dense of the animal products (right hand side) while processed meats are less nutrient dense (left hand side).  High fat meats are also typically less nutrient dense (bottom of chart).

Non-processed meats are typically well worth the investment of your limited insulin budget.

image32

Nuts seeds

Many nuts and seeds are high fat while also being fairly nutrient dense (i.e. pine nuts, coconut and pecans).  Nuts have a low proportion of insulinogenic calories and hence help to normalise blood glucose levels, but possible to overdo if weight loss is your primary goal.

image10

Dairy and egg

Some dairy products are both high fat and nutritious (e.g. parmesan cheese, egg yolk).

Cream and butter are high fat and energy dense so are useful for managing blood glucose levels but are possible to overdo if weight loss is your primary goal.

Low fat dairy products such as skim milk and whey are typically very nutrient poor overall.

image38

Fruit

Some fruits are nutrient dense, but are typically highly insulinogenic (tangerines, cherries, grapes, apricots, oranges and figs).  Only olives and avocados have a low proportion of insulinogenic calories, however they are not particularly nutrient dense.

image08

Cereals and grains

Unprocessed grains such as oatmeal, teff, spelt, brown rice and quinoa can be nutrient dense but are highly insulinogenic.  Unprocessed grains may be fine if you are metabolically healthy, but choose carefully and don’t go adding sugar, honey or molasses.

However breakfast cereals and most breads are typically highly insulinogenic while also having a poor nutrient density and hence are a poor investment of your limited insulin budget.

This analysis supports the idea that dropping processed grains, packaged breakfast cereals and soft drinks would be a pretty good place to start for most people!

image11

Legumes

Navy beans, lima beans and lentils are nutrient dense but highly insulinogenic.

Peanuts, peanut butter and tofu do OK in terms of both being low insulinogenic as well as nutrient dense.

Processed soy products and meat replacement products are typically highly insulinogenic and have poor nutrient density.

image45

Fats and oils

Fish oil is the most nutritious of the fats.  However as a general rule pure fats are not particularly nutrient dense.  Margarines and salad dressings are very nutrient poor.

image27

Beverages

Soft drinks, sports drinks and sweetened iced teas are bad news and are an extremely bad investment of your limited insulin budget.  Fruit juices are not also not particularly nutrient dense.  Better to eat your fruit whole.

image40

Appendix B – Nutrient density vs energy density

Low energy density, high nutrient density foods are a great way to lose weight, particularly for those who are insulin sensitive.  As we avoid processed carbs as well as high levels of dietary fat while maintaining high levels of nutrition we can allow the fat to come from our belly rather than our plate.

image03

Click here to view the interactive Tableau version of nutrient density versus energy density.

Vegetables

It’s hard to go wrong with the low energy density high nutrient density foods in the top right of this chart (i.e. celery, mushrooms, spinach, onions, broccoli, seaweed, kale etc).

image34

Seafood

Some seafood is nutrient dense and lower in fat (e.g. oysters, tuna, lobster).

Seafood is important because it provides the essential omega 3 fatty acids that are hard to obtain in significant amounts from vegetables and it provides higher levels of protein.

If you are serious about losing weight you’d do pretty well if you limited yourself to the vegetables in the top right of the chart above and the seafood in the top right of the chart below.

Animal products

There are many nutrient dense low energy density animal foods as shown in the chart below.  Liver does pretty well followed by game meat.  Processed meats are not so good.

image24

Nuts seeds

Nut are low insulin but not necessarily low energy density or spectacularly great in terms of nutrients per calories.  Consider limiting your nuts and seeds if your primary goal is weight loss.

image25

Dairy and egg

Whole egg (top right corner) is probably your best option from the dairy and egg category.

Butter and full fat cheese have a high energy density (bottom).

Low fat dairy is nutrient poor (top left corner)!

2016-09-04 (1)

Fruit

If your goal is weight loss then low energy density fruits such as tangerines / mandarins, cherries, apricots and pears will be more helpful than energy dense fruits such as bananas, prunes, raisins and dried fruits.

image09

Cereals and grains

Some unprocessed grains are nutritious and have a low energy density (top right), however as a general rule, breakfast cereals and processed grains are a poor investment of your limited insulin budget (bottom of chart).

image31

Legumes

Lima beans, navy beans, tofu, mung beans and hummus are nutrient dense and low energy density (top right).   Peanuts have a  low insulin load and solid nutrient density but a high energy density (bottom).

image48

Appendix C – Nutrient density vs net carbohydrates for diabetes

Most people keeping track of their carbohydrate intake think in terms of net carbs or total carbohydrates, however this does not consider the insulin demand from protein which is a real consideration if you have diabetes.

Thinking in terms of net carbs will be the best approach for most people; however, if you are highly insulin resistant or have type 1 diabetes you may be better to consider insulin load which considers the effect of protein on insulin.

Choosing foods to the top right of these charts will help you keep nutrition high and net carbohydrates low.

image28

Click here to view an interactive Tableau version of nutrient density versus net carbs.

vegetables

There are plenty of vegetables on the top right of this plot that have minimal net carbs while being very nutrient dense (e.g. celery, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms).

Low water foods such as mushrooms, leeks, shallots (at the bottom of the plot) will be hard to eat large quantities of although they have a higher amount of net carbs per 100g.

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seafood

Most seafood has minimal levels of net carbs, though it’s interesting to note that some seafoods such as oysters have a glycogen pouch depending on what time in the season they are harvested.

image44

animal products

Similar to seafood, most animal products have negligible amounts of net carbs.  The amount that is contained in muscle glycogen is not significant.

Liver and game meats are consistently the most nutrient dense of the animal products.

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nuts seeds

Nuts and seeds have some non-fibre carbohydrates.  Pine nuts, macadamias and almonds are low in carbs with moderate nutrient density.

image42

dairy and egg

Many dairy and egg products have a high nutrient density as well as being low in net carbs which is why they are popular with low carbers.  Fat free cheeses have more carbohydrates.

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fruit

There are some lower carb fruits however, it may be wise for people with insulin resistance to avoid many of the higher carbohydrate fruits at the bottom of this chart.

image22

cereals and grains

This chart demonstrates why many breakfast cereals and processed grains (at the bottom of this chart with high levels of carbohydrates and minimal nutrition) are a bad investment of your limited insulin budget.  This style of analysis demonstrates why the common wisdom that soft drinks and breakfast cereals are bad news.

image04

legumes

Not all legumes are created equal.  Choose wisely.  Navy beans, legumes, lima beans and peanuts are probably your safest bet.

image50

beverages

Soft drinks and sports drinks are a very poor investment of your limited insulin budget as they are very low in nutrients.

image29

 

Appendix D – Nutrient density vs insulin load

Thinking in terms of nutrient density versus insulin load enables us to more intelligently consider how we invest our insulin budget.  Again, it’s not that insulin is bad, but rather we should use it wisely for the most nutrient dense foods.

Soft drinks, breakfast cereals and bread at the bottom of this chart are a poor way to invest the limited capacity of your pancreas.

image33

Click here to view an interactive version of insulin load versus nutrient density.

vegetables

Don’t be afraid of vegetables.  Most of them have a very low insulin load.  They should take up a large amount of your plate.  But choose wisely from the top corner (e.g. celery, spinach, squash cabbage, broccoli).

image37

seafood

There are lots of good investments to be made in the top right of this chart of seafood (oyster, salmon, lobster, mackerel).

image51

animal products

Animal products require insulin but they are rich in amino acids which play an important role in the body.   The amount you need will be dependent on your situation and your goals (e.g.  someone aiming for therapeutic ketosis will want less while someone looking to build muscle or retain muscle while dieting will want more protein).

image16

nuts seeds

Looking at nuts in terms of insulin load rather than net carbs enables better differentiation based on how much insulin these foods will demand from your system.   Pine nuts, macadamia nuts and coconut have the lowest insulin load while being nutrient dense.

image43

dairy and egg

Dairy can be insulinogenic, however the higher fat butter, cream and egg still have a fairly low insulin load.

image21

fruit

Grapefruits, cherries, apples, grapes and oranges have a large amount of nutrition with a low insulin load versus more concentrated or dried fruit options.

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cereals and grains

The breakfast cereals at the bottom of this chart with high amounts of insulin demand and lower levels of nutrients are bad news people who are insulin resistant.

image00

legumes

Lima beans, navy beans, and lentils have a fairly low insulin load and high nutrient density.  However if you are insulin resistant you will need to eat to your metre and make sure your blood glucose levels don’t rise too much if you eat legumes.

image45

fats and oils

Just because it is low insulin doesn’t mean that it is good for you.  Not many very high fat foods have substantial nutrient density.  When it comes to nutrient density, fats in whole foods are a better than trying to consume refined oils.

image47

Beverages

Soft drinks are bad news as they will stimulate large amounts of insulin while providing minimal amounts of nutrition and satiety.

image15

 

references

[1] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuJ11OJynsvHMsN48LG18Ag

[2] http://www.diabetes-book.com/

[3] http://www.moodcure.com/

[4] Feinman, Richard David (2014-12-12). The World Turned Upside Down: The Second Low-Carbohydrate Revolution

[5] http://chriskresser.com/vitamin-k2-the-missing-nutrient/

[6] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38

[7] https://iquitsugar.com/jerf-just-eat-real-food/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=horIrfmLvUY

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolically_healthy_obesity

comparison of nutrients by food group

There are lots of claims about different dietary approaches.

  • Fruitarians advocate living on 30 bananas a day say you don’t need much else for health and athletic performance.[1]
  • Vegans say that in addition to high levels of vitamins and minerals, you can get all the protein and essential fatty acids you need from plant based foods.[2]
  • Zero Carbers who look like they’re doing great on purely animal foods and no plants and say they don’t need fibre and perhaps vitamins and minerals.[3]
  • Ketonians believe that you can’t go wrong with fat.[4]
  • Meanwhile the registered dieticians tell us that we shouldn’t eliminate whole food groups (like grains) or risk missing out on essential nutrients.[5]

As detailed in the Building a Better Nutrient Density Index article, we can quantitatively rank individual foods based on their nutrient density.  Eating nutrient dense foods will enable us to maximise satiety and avoid malnutrition and reduce the energy intake while avoiding malnutrition.

The Most Nutrient Dense Superfoods  article lists a wide range of whole foods from various food groups.   But could you thrive on a single food group?  And if you had to live on a single food food group, is there one that would be better than the others?

This article compares the the nutrients provided by the following food groups:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • cereals and grains
  • legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • grains and cereals
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • animal products
  • ketogenic[6]
  • must nutrient dense

All of the charts below show the vitamins, mineral, amino acids and essential fatty acids on the same scale for comparison.   I have also included a selection of the most nutrient foods as an example.

I’ve listed some pros and cons that came to mind for each category.  I’m sure you could come up with some of your own.

vegetables

image07

pros

  • It’s hard to eat too many vegetables as they typically have a low energy density and high nutrient density which will lead to increased satiety (adequate nutrients) and satiation (feeling full).
  • As well as vitamins and minerals, it appears that you could obtain adequate (but not excessive) protein from nutrient dense vegetables (i.e. you could get more than 100% of the DRI for the amino acids from vegetables only).
  • Vegans who consume exclusively plant foods tend to have a lower BMI and less diabetes. This makes sense as limiting yourself exclusively to low energy density plant based foods would help to prevent you overeating.

cons

  • A diet comprising of only vegetables may be lower in Vitamins E, D, choline, and pantothenic acid.
  • Vitamin V-12 is very low in plant based foods.  One of the common concerns when it comes to plant based diets is a lack of vitamin B-12 and vegans often require B-12 injections.[7]
  • There are negligible quantities for the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA in vegetables. If you were to eat only plant based foods it might be beneficial to supplement with essential fatty acids.[8]
  • Vegetables are not subsidised the way that grain based foods often are. They do not store and transport as well as more processed foods and hence can be more expensive.
  • Vegetables can require more preparation and cooking time than processed pre-packaged foods.

image19

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
celery 1.31 88% 1 17
Chinese cabbage 0.96 73% 1 17
rhubarb 0.83 91% 3 21
lettuce 0.73 83% 2 17
turnip greens 0.69 82% 2 37
asparagus 0.67 77% 2 27
broccoli 0.59 86% 4 42
winter squash 0.59 95% 6 39

fruit

image06

pros

  • Fruit provides solid levels of vitamins and minerals and has a lower energy density compared to grain based foods.
  • Fruits are can be more transportable compared to vegetables (e.g. easier to put in school lunches).

cons

  • Fruit tends to have the same nutritional gaps as vegetables (i.e. vitamin E, D, pantothenic acid, choline and essential fatty acids).
  • Some fruits have a higher energy density and amount of non-fibre carbohydrates compared to vegetables. This may be an issue if you are watching your blood glucose levels or your weight. Many fruits have a very high proportion of insulinogenic calories so may not be ideal for someone who is insulin resistant as it will raise their blood glucose levels.

image17

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
cherries 0.30 95% 10 54
orange 0.23 95% 10 55
grapes 0.18 97% 17 77
apples 0.18 97% 11 53
blueberries 0.14 98% 20 91
figs 0.12 96% 16 82
litchis 0.11 94% 15 73
mandarin oranges 0.10 94% 12 59
honeydew melon 0.08 96% 8 40
passion fruit 0.07 91% 13 109

grains and cereals

image10

pros

  • Grains are cheap compared to fruit and vegetables, largely due to production subsidies.[9]
  • Grain based foods can be processed (to remove the fibre and water) so they can be easily transported and stored for longer periods.
  • Grains provide some fibre, but less than vegetables.
  • Grains provide a provide a wide range of nutrients, but at much lower levels than the other food groups.

cons

  • The highest nutrient density grain based foods are typically unprocessed and rarely consumed.
  • The nutrient density of most breads and cereals are very poor, particularly after processing.
  • Grains have a high energy density, a high proportion of insulinogenic calories and a high amount of non-fibre carbohydrates. image04
food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
teff 0.31 91% 17 101
spelt 0.24 91% 23 135
quinoa 0.17 79% 19 120
millet 0.14 87% 22 118
brown rice 0.02 90% 22 111

legumes

image01

pros

  • Legumes provide a range of nutrients at a lower cost compared to vegetables.
  • The energy density of beans and legumes is moderate so they can provide more fuel if you can’t fit in any more veggies.
  • Legumes provide a solid level of protein, particularly for those not wanting to consume animal based foods.

cons

  • The nutrient density of legumes is low compared to other sources such as vegetables.
  • Legumes have higher levels of non-fibre carbohydrates and a higher proportion of insulinogenic calories which may be problematic if you are watching your blood glucose levels.
  • Some people can’t tolerate high levels of the lectin proteins in legumes.[10] [11]

image11

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
lima beans 0.22 92% 16 129
navy beans 0.16 86% 16 143
lentils 0.12 89% 12 118
hummus 0.08 46% 8 175
peanuts 0.03 24% 7 605
tofu 0.02 29% 2 112

nuts and seeds

image02

pros

  • Nuts are higher in what is typically considered to be ‘good fats’ (i.e. MUFA and PUFA).
  • Being higher in fat they are a good way for people with diabetes to get their calories without raising their blood glucose levels.

cons

  • Nuts and seeds provide a good range of vitamins and minerals but at lower levels per calorie than some of the other groups due to the higher energy density.
  • Nuts are calorie dense which may make weight loss more challenging.
  • Nuts have a relatively low nutrient density due to their high energy density.

image15

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
sunflower seeds 0.04 27% 20 491
tahini 0.03 22% 17 633
pistachio nuts 0.03 30% 19 602
pine nuts 0.03 14% 2 647
pecans 0.02 10% 5 762
pumpkin seeds 0.00 36% 48 777
macadamia nuts 0.00 9% 5 769
sesame seeds 0.00 26% 12 603
almonds 0.00 18% 7 652
cashew nuts 0.00 27% 30 609

eggs and dairy

image08

pros

  • Eggs have a solid protein profile, some EPA and DHA and a reasonable amount of vitamins and minerals.
  • Eggs and cheeses are typically lower in carbohydrates which is useful for people trying to normalise their blood glucose levels.
  • Dairy foods like cheese and cream are lower in non-fibre carbohydrates and have a low proportion of insulinogenic calories meaning that they won’t significantly raise your blood glucose levels.

cons

  • The energy density of cheese and some other dairy products is higher which makes it possible to overconsume. Lots of people do better with weight loss when they limit milk and cheese.
  • While the latest US dietary guidelines committee has stated that saturated fat is no longer a nutrient of concern,[12] many people are still concerned about their levels of saturated fat.
  • Milk, a commonly consumed dairy product, is not particularly nutrient dense and contains lactose which will raise blood glucose. Though full fat milk is better than low fat.
  • Many people find that they are allergic to eggs[13] or dairy[14].

image08

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs / 100g calories / 100g
egg yolk 0.19 19% 3.6 317
egg 0.20 29% 0.7 138
blue cheese 0.16 20% 2.3 354
parmesan cheese 0.16 30% 3.4 411
goat cheese 0.15 22% 2.2 451
edam cheese 0.15 22% 1.4 356
provolone 0.15 24% 2.1 350
gouda cheese 0.15 23% 2.2 356
mozzarella 0.15 51% 24 251

seafood

image14

pros

  • Seafood contains essential fatty acids EPA and DHA that are hard to obtain in the rest of the food system.
  • Seafood products have very high levels of protein and substantial levels of many vitamins and minerals.
  • Seafood has a low to moderate calorie density (i.e. lower than high fat cheese cheese but higher than vegetables).
  • Because seafood is so rich in essential fatty acids and amino acids we don’t actually need that much to cover our minimum requirements.

cons

  • Fish can be more expensive than other foods.
  • Many people are concerned about heavy metal toxicity and sustainability issues surrounding seafood.[15]

image21

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
oyster 0.12 57% 14 98
anchovy 0.11 42% 21 203
caviar 0.10 32% 22 276
swordfish 0.09 41% 17 165
tuna 0.09 50% 17 137
trout 0.08 43% 17 162
lobster 0.08 69% 14 84
salmon 0.08 50% 15 122
mackerel 0.08 45% 17 149

animal products

image11

pros

  • Animal products have an excellent amino acid profile as well as significant amounts of other vitamins and minerals.

cons

  • Animal products are lacking in a number of vitamins and minerals such as manganese, vitamin E, vitamin D, folate and vitamin K as well as essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.
  • Similar to fish, many people have concerns in the areas of sustainability and environmental impact.

image09

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g/100g) calories / 100g
beef liver 0.39 58% 24 169
chicken liver 0.32 48% 20 165
ham 0.25 55% 20 146
salami 0.22 29% 12 166
bacon 0.17 23% 30 522
turkey heart 0.22 39% 13 130
pork 0.21 54% 21 154

most ketogenic

The ‘most ketogenic foods’ are the 500 foods with the lowest percentage of insulinogenic calories of the 7000 foods in the USDA foods database.

image00

pros

  • If someone is insulin resistant, replacing processed non-fibre carbohydrates with fat will help to reduce insulin and blood glucose levels.
  • The ketogenic approach has relatively high levels of essential fatty acids. While the nutritional value of fat is a contentious issue, many fatty acids have substantial positive nutritional value.[16]
  • People who are insulin resistant will benefit by reducing the insulin load of their diet.

cons

  • The nutrient density of a therapeutic ketogenic approach is relatively poor. Someone looking to manage insulin resistance and diabetes should maximise nutrient density as much as possible while still maintaining excellent blood glucose levels.
  • A high fat / low insulin load diet is typically satiating,[17] however it is possible to overdo energy dense foods to the point that you won’t lose weight.
food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g / 100g) calories / 100g
sunflower seeds 0.21 20% 24 491
peanuts 0.20 18% 28 605
tahini 0.19 16% 26 633
pine nuts 0.18 11% 18 647
pecans 0.16 5% 9 762
egg yolk 0.19 19% 15 317
macadamia nuts 0.14 5% 9 769
chorizo 0.14 17% 19 448
olives 0.18 15% 3 90
pepperoni 0.14 14% 17 487
sesame seeds 0.13 18% 27 603
camembert cheese 0.14 20% 15 299

most nutrient dense

The chart below shows the comparison of all 7000 foods in the USDA database compared to the top 10% of the foods available prioritised by targeting the harder to obtain nutrients.

2016-09-13-3

macronutrients split of all food groups

Just for interest, the table below shows the comparison of the macronutrients of the various food groups as well as the fibre and energy density.

food group % insulinogenic protein (%) fat (%) net carbs (%) fibre (g/200cal) weight

 (g/2000 cal)

vegetables 60 18 11 48 107 2213
fruit 81 4 5 78 52 2142
cereals and grains 82 10 9 75 29 553
eggs and dairy 45 24 41 29 2 920
fish 55 70 26 4 0 155
animal products 46 62 37 1 0 1112
legumes 58 28 24 39 34 1141
nuts and seeds 36 11 58 28 16 382
most ketogenic 10 11 79 3 9 404
moderated nutrient density 54 22 20 39 64 928

comparison of the nutrient density by food groups

The chart below the average nutrient density of all the different food groups in terms of amount of nutrients provided versus the daily recommended intake.  If we just look in terms of average nutrient density (blue bars), fish does pretty well, followed by animal products and then vegetables.

However, what we really want is high levels of nutrient density across the board, not just a large amount of a few nutrients.  For example, fish and animal products have very high levels of protein but lower levels of vitamins and minerals.  By comparison, vegetables have higher levels of vitamins and minerals and do OK when it comes to amino acids.  What we want is for the quantity of nutrients to be high and the variability across the nutrients to be low.

The orange bars show the average nutrient density minus 0.8 times the standard deviation in the nutrient density.  When we look at it this way the vegetables do the best of the food groups because they provide a good range of vitamins, minerals and proteins.

image19

However, in the end though it’s the most nutrient dense foods that win out because they provide high levels of a broad selection of all the nutrients.  So, rather than focusing on a particular food group, if you’re interested in maximising nutrient density, the optimal approach appears to be to focus on the most nutrient dense foods across all of the food groups.

 

references

[1] http://www.30bananasaday.com/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n20uGGNoVdo

[3] https://zerocarbzen.com/

[4] http://ketotalk.com/2016/04/17-too-much-fat-higher-vs-lower-ketones-cortisol-testosterone-on-keto/

[5] http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/fad-diets/

[6] The most ketogenic foods are the top 500 foods with the lowest proportion of insulinogenic calories.

[7] http://chriskresser.com/why-you-should-think-twice-about-vegetarian-and-vegan-diets/

[8] http://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-based-omega-3-supplements-2/

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_subsidy

[10] https://authoritynutrition.com/dietary-lectins/

[11] http://www.marksdailyapple.com/lectins/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3eu7DQa4bw

[13] http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/egg-allergy

[14] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/milk-allergy/basics/symptoms/con-20032147

[15] https://jasonprall.com/blog/mercury-myth-fish-tale-epic-proportion/

[16] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/10/11/good-fats-bad-fats/

[17] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175736