Category Archives: calorie density

high nutrient density, high energy density foods for athletes

If you’re an athlete, the “problem” with nutrient dense foods like non-starchy vegetables and organ meats is that it can be hard to get enough fuel to support your activity.

Foods designed for athletes are energy dense but are not nutrient dense but rather are fast burning foods that don’t contain a lot of essential nutrients.  These foods may provide fuel for the short term, but they can lead to gut distress in the short term and as well as inflammation and insulin resistance in the long term.

To overcome these problems, this list of foods has been designed to be both nutrient dense and energy dense to ensure someone who is very active can get enough fuel while maximising nutrient density as much as possible.

energy density

The energy density of the foods listed below comes out at 367 calories per 100g compared to 231 calories per 100g for all foods in the USDA foods database.  They will contain enough energy to fuel an active life without spending all day chewing or overfilling your stomach.

macronutrients

From a macronutrient perspective these foods will provide you with:

  • more protein for muscle recovery,
  • more fat to provide energy,
  • more fibre due to the lower level of processing, and
  • less non-fibre carbohydrates which will normalise blood glucose levels while still providing some glucose for explosive power.

micronutrients

The chart below shows that these foods are quite nutrient dense, with all of the nutrients achieving greater than the daily recommended intake.

nutrient dense, energy dense foods for athletes

Listed below are the top 10% of the foods using this ranking including:

  • nutrient density score (ND)
  • energy density (calories/100g) and
  • their multi criteria analysis score (MCA).

vegetables

While the vegetables and spices in this list aren’t particularly energy dense they will ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need to perform at your best.  The lower energy density vegetables have been removed because they won’t be that helpful fueling for race day.

food ND calories/100g MCA
spinach 17 23 1.6
yeast extract spread 11 185 1.4
seaweed (wakame) 13 45 1.3
portabella mushrooms 13 29 1.2
shiitake mushrooms 7 296 1.1
broccoli (sulforaphane) 11 35 1.0
shiitake mushroom 11 39 1.0
seaweed (kelp) 10 43 0.8
cauliflower 9 25 0.7

seafood

Seafood packs some nutrient density and energy density at the same time.

food ND calories/100g MCA
cod 13 290 1.9
crab 14 83 1.4
anchovy 10 210 1.3
salmon 11 156 1.3
lobster 13 89 1.3
fish roe 11 143 1.3
caviar 8 264 1.2
halibut 11 111 1.2
trout 10 168 1.2
sturgeon 10 135 1.1
crayfish 11 82 1.1
pollock 10 111 1.0
oyster 10 102 1.0
shrimp 10 119 1.0
haddock 9 116 0.9
rockfish 9 109 0.9
sardine 7 208 0.9
octopus 8 164 0.9
flounder 9 86 0.8
white fish 9 108 0.8
perch 8 96 0.8
mackerel 4 305 0.7
whiting 7 116 0.7
herring 5 217 0.7
tuna 6 184 0.7
clam 6 142 0.6
scallop 7 111 0.6

eggs and dairy

Eggs are nutritionally excellent.  Butter has plenty of energy.

food ND calories/100g MCA
egg yolk 6 275 0.9
butter -5 718 0.7
whole egg 5 143 0.5

fats and oils

Fats and oils don’t contain a broad range of micronutrients, but they’re a great way to fuel without excessively raising your blood glucose or insulin too.  From an inflammatory perspective, they’re going to be better than process grains and glucose for fueling as well as keeping insulin levels low to enable you to access your fat stores during endurance activities.

food ND calories/100g MCA
grapeseed oil -4 884 1.3
peanut oil -5 884 1.1
olive oil -6 884 1.1
soybean oil -6 884 1.1
beef tallow -6 902 1.1
duck fat -6 882 1.1
soy oil -6 884 1.1
lard -6 902 1.1
coconut oil -7 892 1.0
walnut oil -7 884 1.0
palm kernel oil -6 862 1.0
mayonnaise -4 717 0.8

grains and cereals

The more nutrient dense bran component of wheat makes the cut, however, the more processed and more popular grains don’t make the list. Many people find use the “train low, race high” approach to be useful to ensure you are fat adapted through fasted or low glycogen training but have some glucose in the system for explosive bursts on race day.

food ND calories/100g MCA
wheat bran 10 216 1.3
baker’s yeast 12 105 1.2
oat bran 5 246 0.8

legumes

Legumes are moderately nutrient dense and have a higher energy density than most vegetables.  Properly prepared legumes can be a cost effective way of getting energy and nutrients, though not everyone’s gut handles them well.

food ND calories/100g MCA
peanut butter 1 593 1.1
soybeans 2 446 0.9
peanuts -1 599 0.9
cowpeas 2 336 0.6
black beans 1 341 0.5
broad beans 1 341 0.5

nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a great way to get some energy in, though they’re not as high in the harder to find nutrients.

food ND calories/100g MCA
sunflower seeds 4 546 1.4
pumpkin seeds 1 559 1.1
almond butter 0 614 1.1
almonds 0 607 1.0
pine nuts -2 673 1.0
walnuts -1 619 1.0
brazil nuts -2 659 1.0
flax seed 1 534 1.0
sesame seeds -2 631 0.9
sesame butter -1 586 0.9
hazelnuts -2 629 0.9
macadamia nuts -4 718 0.8
pecans -4 691 0.8
cashews -2 580 0.7
pistachio nuts -2 569 0.7

animal products

Organ meats also do well in terms of nutrient density.  Fattier cuts of meat will pack some more energy.

food ND calories/100g MCA
lamb liver 12 168 1.4
veal liver 10 192 1.2
ham (lean only) 11 113 1.2
lamb kidney 11 112 1.2
beef liver 9 175 1.1
chicken liver 9 172 1.1
turkey liver 9 189 1.0
pork chop 8 172 0.9
chicken breast 8 148 0.9
pork liver 7 165 0.8
beef kidney 7 157 0.8
pork shoulder 7 162 0.7
veal 7 151 0.7
leg ham 6 165 0.7
ground pork 6 185 0.7
lean beef 7 149 0.7
sirloin steak 5 177 0.6

 

post updated July 2017

energy density, food hyper-palatability and reverse engineering optimal foraging theory

In Robb Wolf’s new book Wired to Eat he talks about the dilemma of optimal foraging theory (OFT) and how it’s a miracle in our modern environment that even more of us aren’t fat, sick and nearly dead.[1]

But what is  optimal foraging theory[2]?   In essence it is the concept that we’re programmed to hunt and gather and ingest as much energy us we can with the least amount of energy expenditure or order to maximise survival of the species.

In engineering or economics this is akin to a cost : benefit analysis.  Essentially we want maximum benefit for minimum investment.

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In a hunter gatherer / paleo / evolutionary context this would mean that we would make an investment (i.e. effort / time / hassle that we could have otherwise spent having fun, procreating or looking after our family) to travel to new places where food was plentiful and easier to obtain.

In these new areas we could spend as little time as possible hunting and gathering and more time relaxing.  Once the food became scarce again we would move on to find another ‘land of plenty’.

The people who were good at obtaining the maximum amount of food with the minimum amount of effort survived and thrived and populated the world, and thus became our ancestors.  Those that didnt’ didn’t.

You can see how the OFT paradigm would be well imprinted on our psyche.

OFT in the wild

In the wild, OFT means that native hunter gatherers would have gone bananas for bananas when they were available…

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… gone to extraordinary lengths to obtain energy dense honey …

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… and eaten the fattiest cuts of meat and offal, giving the muscle meat to the dogs.

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OFT in captivity

But what happens when we translate OFT into a modern context?

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Until recently we have never had the situation where nutrition and energy could be separated.

In nature, if something tastes good it is generally good for you.

Our ancestors, at least the ones that survived, grew to understand that as a general rule:

 sweet = good = energy to survive winter

But now we have entered a brave new world.

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We are now surrounded by energy dense hyperpalatable foods that are designed to taste good without providing substantial levels of nutrients.

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Our primal programming is defenceless to these foods.  Our willpower or our calorie counting apps are no match for engineered foods optimised for bliss point.

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These days diabetes is becoming a bigger problem than starvation in the developing world due to a lack of nutritional value in the the foods they are eating.[3]

The recent industrialisation of the world food system has resulted in a nutritional transition in which developing nations are simultaneously experiencing undernutrition and obesity.

In addition, an abundance of inexpensive, high-density foods laden with sugar and fats is available to a population that expends little energy to obtain such large numbers of calories.

Furthermore, the abundant variety of ultra processed foods overrides the sensory-specific satiety mechanism, thus leading to overconsumption.”[4]

what happens when we go low fat?

So if the problem is simply that we eat too many calories, one solution is to reduce the energy density of our food by avoiding fat, which is the most energy dense of the macronutrients.

Sounds logical, right?

The satiety index demonstrates that there is some basis to the concept that we feel more full with lower energy density, high fibre, high protein foods.[5] [6]   The chart below shows how hungry people report being in the two hours after being fed 1000 kJ of different foods (see the low energy density high nutrient density foods for weight loss article for more on this complex and intriguing topic).

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However the problem comes when we focus on reducing fat (along with perhaps reduced cost, increased shelf life and palatability combined with an attempt to reach that optimal bliss point[7]), we end up with cheap manufactured food like products that have little nutritional value.

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Grain subsidies were brought in to establish and promote cheap ways to feed people to prevent starvation with cheap calories.[8]  It seems now they’ve achieved that goal.[9]

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Maybe a little too well.

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The foods lowest in fat however are not necessarily the most nutrient dense.     Nutritional excellence and macronutrients are are not necessarily related.

In his blog post Overeating and Brain Evolution: The Omnivore’s REAL Dilemma Robb Wolf says:

I am pretty burned out on the protein, carbs, fat shindig. I’m starting to think that framework creates more confusion than answers.

Thinking about optimum foraging theory, palate novelty and a few related topics will (hopefully) provide a much better framework for folks to affect positive change. 

The chart below shows a comparison of the micronutrients provided by the least nutrient dense 10% of foods versus the most nutrient dense foods compared to the average of all foods available in the USDA foods database.

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The quantity of essential nutrients you can get with the same amount of energy is massive!  If eating is about obtaining adequate nutrients then the quality of our food, not just macronutrients or calories matters greatly!

Another problem with simply avoiding fat is that the foods lowest in fat are also the most insulinogenic, so we’re left with foods that don’t satiate us with nutrients and also raise our insulin levels.  The chart below shows that the least nutrient dense food are also the most insulinogenic.


what happens when we go low carb?

So the obvious thing to do is eliminate all carbohydrates because low fat was such a failure.  Right?

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So we swing to the other extreme and avoid all carbohydrates and enjoy fat ad libitum to make up for lost time.

The problem again is that at the other extreme of the macronutrient pendulum we may find that we have limited nutrients.

The chart below shows a comparison of the nutrient density of different dietary approaches showing that a super high fat therapeutic ketogenic approach may not be ideal for everyone, at least in terms of nutrient density.  High fat foods are not always the most nutrient dense and can also, just like low fat foods, be engineered to be hyperpalatable to help us to eat more of them.

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The chart below shows the relationship (or lack thereof) between the percentage of fat in our food and the nutrient density.   Simply avoiding or binging on fat does not ensure we are optimising our nutrition.

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While many people find that their appetite is normalised whey they reduce the insulin load of their diet high fat foods are more energy dense so it can be easy to overdo the high fat dairy and nuts if you’re one of the unlucky people whose appetite doesn’t disappear.

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what happens when we go paleo?

So if the ‘paleo diet’ worked so well for paleo peeps then maybe we should retreat back there?  Back to the plantains, the honey and the fattiest cuts of meat?

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Well, maybe.  Maybe not.

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For some people ‘going paleo’ works really well.  Particularly if you’re really active.

Nutrient dense, energy dense whole foods work really well if you’re also going to the CrossFit Box to hang out with your best buds five times a week.

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But for the rest of us that aren’t insanely active, then maybe simply ‘going paleo’ is not the best option…

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… particularly if we start tucking into the energy dense ‘paleo comfort foods’.

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If we’re not so active, then intentionally limiting our exposure to highly energy dense hyperpalatable foods can be a useful way to manage our OFT programming.

enter nutrient density

A lot of people find that nutrient dense non-starchy veggies, or even simply going “plant based”, works really well, particularly if you have some excess body fat (and maybe even stored protein) that you want to contribute to your daily energy expenditure.

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Limiting ourselves to the most nutrient dense foods (in terms of nutrients per calorie) enables us to sidestep the trap of modern foods which have separated nutrients and energy.  Nutrient dense foods also boost our mitochondrial function, and fuel the fat burning Krebs cycle so we can be less dependent on a regular sugar hit to make us feel good (Cori cycle).

Limiting yourself to nutrient dense foods (i.e. nutrients per calorie) is a great way to reverse engineer optimal foraging theory.

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If your problem is that energy dense low nutrient density hyperpalatable foods are just too easy to overeat, then actively constraining your foods to those that have the highest nutrients per calorie could help manage the negative effects of OFT that are engrained in our system by imposing an external constraint.

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But if you’re a lean Ironman triathlete these foods are probably not going to get you through.  You will need more energy than you can easily obtain from nutrient dense spinach and broccoli.

optimal rehabilitation plan?

So while there is no one size fits all solution, it seems that we have some useful principles that we can use to shortlist our food selection.

  1. We are hardwired to get the maximum amount of energy with the least amount of effort (i.e. optimal foraging theory).
  2. Commercialised manufactured foods have separated nutrients from food and made it very easy to obtain a lot of energy with a small investment.
  3. Eliminating fat can leave us with cheap hyperpalatable grain-based fat free highly insulinogenic foods that will leave us with spiralling insulin and blood glucose levels.
  4. Eating nutrient dense whole foods is a great discipline, but we still need to tailor our energy density to our situation (i.e. weight loss vs athlete).

the solution

So I think we have three useful quantitative parameters with which to optimise our food choices to suit our current situation:

  1. insulin load (which helps as to normalise our blood glucose levels),
  2. nutrient density (which helps us make sure we are getting the most nutrients per calorie possible), and
  3. energy density (helps us to manage the impulses of OFT in the modern world).

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I have used a multi criteria analysis to rank the foods for each goal.  The chart below shows the weightings used for each approach.

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The lists of optimal foods below have been developed to help you manage your primal impulses.  The table below contains links to seperate blog posts and printable .pdfs for a range of dietary approaches that may be of interest depending on your goals and situation.

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.

survey

I hope this helps.  Good luck out there!

post last updated May 2017

references

[1] http://ketosummit.com/

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

[3] http://www.hoajonline.com/obesity/2052-5966/2/2

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24564590

[5] http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/fullness-factor

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7498104

[7] https://www.nextnature.net/2013/02/how-food-scientists-engineer-the-bliss-point-in-junk-food/

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

[9] http://blog.diabeticcare.com/diabetes-obesity-growth-trend-u-s/

low energy density high nutrient density foods for weight loss

  • Low energy density foods help you feel full with fewer calories as well as improving nutrient density per calorie.
  • Some people who benefit from an LCHF approach initially may, as their blood glucose and insulin levels normalise, also benefit by decreasing the energy density and increasing the nutrient density of their diet.
  • These low energy density foods will provide the nutrients you need with fewer calories.

context

Human appetite is an intriguing, multifaceted and complex system that works to keep us alive and drives us to obtain fuel to survive and nutrients to thrive.  Three key drivers of appetite are:

  1. metabolic flexibility,
  2. satiety, and
  3. satiation.

Someone who is metabolically flexible can easily switch between available fuel sources.  Their insulin levels are lower and when food is not available they can easily transition to using body fat for fuel and not be as compelled by their appetite to eat as often.

You can develop metabolic flexibility through intermittent fasting (which is the most effective thing to lower insulin levels) and tailoring the insulin load of your diet to optimise your blood glucose levels (which we looked at in the last article).

Satiety is a longer term process that occurs when we have of obtained adequate nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids).  We looked in detail at how we can maximise the nutrient density of the food we eat in the Building a Better Nutrient Density article.  Satiation occurs when we have had a good meal and feel full and no longer feel like eating.

If you want a more thorough discussion of these topics I highly recommend checking out J. Stanton’s excellent series on satiety, satiation and hunger.  This article focuses on how we can identify and prioritise foods that maximise satiety (increasing nutrient density to reduce cravings) and satiation (feeling of fullness with fewer calories) for people who are metabolically flexible (i.e. reasonable blood glucose level) but still have some more weight to lose.

vegetarian / HCLF context

The message to reduce our intake of high-fat foods is not new.  It has been the cornerstone of much of the ‘conventional nutritional wisdom’.  We are told not to consume too much fat because it contains more than twice as many calories per gramme as carbohydrates and protein.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

People who promote a vegan lifestyle point out that high-fat foods are not as filling as fruits and vegetables as shown in the diagram below from forksoverknives.com. [7]   This makes sense intuitively but appears initially to be at odds with the low carb high-fat approach.

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calorie density… what 500 calories look like

Plant based diet advocates like Joel Fuhrman[8] [9] and Neal Barnard[10] [11] talk about low energy density as a key element of the effectiveness of their program.

Professor Barbara Rolls has also published the Ultimate Volumetrics Diet[12] based on her research into low energy density foods.[13]  [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

The logic is that people typically eat a constant weight of food and hence if we can decrease the calories per gramme we will decrease overall energy intake.[19]

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While I’m not sure I agree that 100g of celery will leave you as satisfied as 100g of butter, it’s worth noting that you would need to eat more than four kilogrammes (or 9lbs) of celery to get as much energy as you would from the 100g of butter.  So if the theory is partly true it could make for an interesting ‘hack’ to limit energy intake (satiation)

It’s also worth noting that the nutrient density for these non-starchy veggies are very high per calorie (high satiety) while the net carbs and insulin load are still quite low.   Most people would need to eat a lot of these to significantly affect their blood glucose or insulin levels (maintaining metabolic flexibility).

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
celery 2.63 88% 1 4 17
broccoli 1.21 86% 4 9 42
beef steak 0.16 28% 0 21 305
butter  0.09 0% 0 1 734

A low-fat dietary approach, however, approach has its own challenges.  In the process of avoiding fat people often end up eating highly processed, highly insulinogenic foods which tend to be problematic for people.  These foods can drive people to become less metabolically flexible which in turn will affect appetite control.

People tend to try to ‘game the system’ eat foods with higher energy density and more food reward, regardless of the approach.

“Replacement of saturated fat by carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates and added sugars, increases levels of triglyceride and small LDL particles and reduces high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol, effects that are of particular concern in the context of the increased prevalence of obesity and insulin resistance.”[20]

Most people agree that highly processed low nutrient density carbohydrates are bad news as they will drive appetite and lead to obesity.

low carb/keto context

In low carb circles, some people hear the ‘don’t fear the fat’ and ‘butter is back’ message a little too loud and get caught overdoing added dietary fat.

It’s not uncommon to see messages along the lines of “I’m keeping to the keto macros but still not losing weight” or “I’ve hit a stall” on LCHF forums and Facebook groups.

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“Eat fat to satiety” is useful advice for people who are insulin resistant and starting out on a low carb approach to manage blood glucose levels.  Eating adequate fat while minimising processed carbohydrates will decrease insulin levels and allow body fat stores to be used for energy which will, in turn, lead to improved metabolic flexibility and better appetite regulation.

However, it’s still possible to over consume high-fat foods, particularly for people who have a history of struggling to control their appetite.   Weight loss involves some level of energy restriction, especially if you are approaching your “goal weight”.  The sad reality is that there is no magic macro nutrient or food (other than perhaps indigestible fibre) that you can eat in unlimited quantities and still lose weight.  The key is to find what how we can manage appetite while minimising the feeling of hunger.

The Godfather of the ketogenic diet Dr Steve Phinney points out that in weight loss a significant proportion of energy comes from our body fat.[21]

In the “adapt phase” of the ketogenic diet scenario shown below 75% of the person’s energy is from fat, however, most of this fat is actually coming from body fat.

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One benefit of a low carbohydrate dietary approach to weight loss is the reduction in blood sugar spikes meaning that people are often less “hangry” with less processed carbs.  Smoothing out the blood glucose swings means that people often can more easily extend the period between meals without feeling compelled to snack.

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Some people hear the message that having high blood ketones means that the body is burning fat, and so they load up on dietary fat in an effort to attain high ketones.

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In the video below Dr Eric Westman points out that on his ADAPT program

“very high calorie foods and drinks like cheese and cream are limited so your body will draw on its own store of fat energy”.

energy density and satiety

One of the most interesting pieces of research into the area of satiation is a 1995 paper by Susanne Holt, Jennie Brand-Miller and Peter Petocz, “A satiety index of common foods”.[22]  (Incidentally, this is the same team that did the original research into the insulin index a couple of years later.[23])   This research indicates that how much we eat at subsequent meals tends to be influenced by how much our stomach stretches, not just the calorie content of our food.

The chart below shows SELFNutritionData.com‘s analysis of the data from the 1995 paper which they have used to develop their Fullness Factor[24] parameter which is associated with energy density (i.e. calories per 100g), protein content and fibre.  Fat appears to be negatively correlated with satiety.

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As we can see from the ‘building a better nutrient density index’ article, ranking foods by nutrient density per calorie gives us very high levels of fibre and protein, so we only need to add energy density to the system to improve satiety.

another step on the journey towards health

Does this mean that everyone looking to lose weight or normalise their blood glucose should adopt a low energy density approach?

Not necessarily.  Context matters.

Chris Gardner’s recent pilot study provides some useful guidance as to which approach might be best for a particular person.[25]

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The chart below summarises the results of this study indicating that:

  • everyone does better with nutrient dense whole foods;
  • people who are insulin resistant do better on a reduced carbohydrate approach; while
  • people who are insulin sensitive do better on a low fat low energy density

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It’s debatable where this cut over between insulin resistant and insulin sensitive lies, but the take home message seems to be that if you are achieving normal blood glucose levels then increasing your non-starchy veggies in exchange for added fat might be a good idea if you want to keep losing weight.

is blood glucose management the only consideration?

As we’ve seen previously in many charts like the one below,[26] [27] managing your blood glucose levels and improving your insulin sensitivity may be the most important thing you can do for your health.[28]  Having an HbA1c less than 5.0% greatly reduces your risk of heart attack and a range of other common diseases.

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Simply eating more fat won’t automatically lead to more weight loss.  It’s the reduction in non-fibre carbohydrates that leads to decreased blood glucose and insulin levels, not the consumption of higher levels of fat.

Once you normalise your blood glucose and insulin levels you will need to make sure make sure fat is coming from your body rather than your food if you want to continue your weight loss journey.

As someone loses weight improves their insulin sensitivity they may then benefit by incorporating more foods with a lower energy density to ensure that their weight loss and improvement in insulin sensitivity continue.

So, if you’ve had success on an LCHF approach that has enabled you to normalise your blood sugars but you’re not achieving everything you’d hoped for you could consider incorporating more foods that have:

  1. reduced energy density (i.e. fewer calories per 100g),
  2. a higher nutrient density, and
  3. high fibre.

Ideally, this transition would be guided by regular monitoring to ensure that you’re still achieving excellent blood glucose levels.   If your blood glucose levels start to drift up you might retreat back to the higher fat options, ideally with some intermittent fasting.

on a personal note

On a personal note, I have had some good results recently following the intermittent protocol detailed in the how to use your blood glucose as a fuel gauge article.  My blood glucose levels are consistently lower, down from an average in the mid 5s to typically under 5.0mmol/L.

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After reading Keto Clarity and living in the low carb/diabetes head space for a while I have come to enjoy snacks like peanut butter with cream, cheese or butter.  These foods are satiating and yummy.  I find they turn off my appetite more than the simple carbs that would spike my blood glucose levels and make me feel hungrier.  When I’ve been active (e.g. riding to work which burns about 1200 calories in a day) or fast from a time energy dense foods can be an effective way to quickly refuel.

However, now my blood glucose levels seem to have now stabilised I’m now making an effort to snack on less calorie dense foods like the ones listed below and fill up on celery, spinach, broccoli, carrots and other green leafy veggies m that don’t spike my blood glucose levels.

comparison of approaches

The table below shows a comparison of the macro nutrients, percentage insulinogenic calories and the energy density for the highest ranking 1000 for different approaches.

approach % protein % fat fibre (g) % insulinogenic weight (g) / 2000 cals
all foods 25% 30% 19 55% 933
nutrient dense foods 34% 25% 60 31% 1118
nutrient dense low carb foods 26% 55% 22 30% 621
low energy high nutrient density 38% 19% 70 54% 1841
  • The most nutrient dense foods have a lower energy density than the average of all the foods (i.e. weight per 2000 calories).
  • Low carb foods have a higher energy density due to the higher fat content.
  • The low energy density foods have half the energy density of the average of all foods and a third of the energy density of the low carb foods.
  • The low energy density foods are also very high in indigestible fibre which will make it very hard to over consume these foods.
  • While the low energy density foods may have a higher percentage of insulinogenic calories it will also be harder to eat as much of these foods so the insulin load will likely still be quite low.

The chart below (click to enlarge) of the nutrients provided by each approach shows that focusing on lower calorie density foods enables us to increase nutrient density per calorie even more!

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The chart below (click to enlarge) compares the nutrient density of this low energy density approach compared to all 7000+ foods in the USDA database and the moderated nutrient density approach (see the building a better nutrient density index article) as well as the average minus 0.8 times the standard deviation.  In both of these measures, the low energy density high nutrient density approach outperforms the other two approaches.

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Low-calorie density high nutrient density foods for weight loss

Listed below is a summary of the top 1000 foods in the USDA foods database using this low energy density high nutrient density approach.

The list of vegetables is long as always.  However, the list of animal products is also significant, with a particular emphasis on seafood which provides essential fatty acids which are hard to obtain in significant quantities from other sources.

You may also be interested in this interactive analysis of nutrient density versus energy density using Tableau that I think is pretty snazzy!

Notably absent from this list of low energy density foods are dairy and nuts.   Many people find that they do better in terms of weight loss when they cut out dairy and nuts.

If you have type 1 diabetes or are very insulin resistant you may not do so well with the cereals, fruit, legumes, sweet potato or sweet corn in these lists, though you may find some of the other higher ranking foods useful.   As always you should ‘eat to your metre’.

vegetables

You can see from the data below that the energy density (i.e. calories per 100g) of these vegetables is very low.  It would be physically difficult to overeat these foods.    If you’re managing your blood glucose levels you will notice that the amount of non-fibre carbohydrates is also very low.

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The charts below from Nutrition Data Self show that broccoli has a really wide distribution of vitamins and minerals and would give you 92% of your DRI for vitamins and minerals and 83% of your protein in 1000 calories.

The only ‘problem’ here is that you will need to eat five bunches of broccoli to get 1000 calories!   You can see how you might be able to drastically drop your energy intake if you only ate low energy density high nutrient density foods.

image04

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
celery 2.63 49% 1 2 17
rhubarb 1.46 57% 3 3 21
lettuce 1.34 52% 2 2 17
turnip greens 1.31 39% 1 4 37
winter squash 1.22 80% 7 8 39
broccoli 1.21 57% 4 6 42
asparagus 1.12 46% 2 3 27
Chinese cabbage 1.02 60% 1 2 16
summer squash 1.00 65% 2 3 19
okra 0.94 57% 4 5 37
bamboo shoots 0.90 52% 3 4 28
bell peppers 0.86 64% 6 7 43
artichokes 0.83 33% 3 4 54
cabbage 0.81 53% 3 4 30
kale 0.75 74% 8 10 56
snap green beans 0.74 47% 4 5 40
seaweed (kelp) 0.74 43% 4 5 50
parsnip 0.73 38% 7 7 76
radishes 0.70 50% 2 2 19
peas 0.69 58% 5 7 51
mushrooms 0.65 70% 2 5 30
jalapeno peppers 0.52 54% 4 5 35
onions 0.52 77% 7 8 41
sweet potato 0.51 82% 17 18 87
collards 0.44 46% 2 5 40
dill 0.42 30% 2 4 52
pinto beans 0.44 60% 16 21 142
sweet corn 0.43 47% 10 13 111
eggplant 0.39 67% 7 7 41
mung beans 0.33 46% 1 3 26
beets 0.34 44% 4 5 48
mustard greens 0.27 45% 2 3 30
chives 0.27 34% 1 3 37
Brussels sprouts 0.24 54% 5 7 52
carrots 0.20 55% 5 5 39
shallots 0.27 60% 46 56 377
banana pepper 0.17 41% 3 4 39
parsley 0.15 49% 3 5 44
thyme 0.27 21% 14 19 359

fruit

The net carbs, energy density and percentage of insulinogenic calories is higher for the fruit in comparison to vegetables.  It is possible to overeat fruits, particularly if you are insulin resistant.

image06

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
cherries 0.72 84% 10 11 54
orange 0.49 77% 10 11 55
apples 0.48 77% 10 10 53
grapes 0.45 80% 15 15 77
figs 0.37 81% 16 17 82
mandarin oranges 0.31 63% 9 9 59
blueberries 0.32 72% 16 16 91
honeydew melon 0.30 88% 8 9 40
passion fruit 0.24 54% 13 15 109
litchis 0.20 80% 14 15 73
pear 0.14 69% 11 11 64

 grains and cereals

The net carbs, energy density and proportion of insulinogenic calories for the cereals and grains are higher than for the vegetables.  If you are insulin resistant make sure you eat to your metre.

image08

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
oatmeal 0.77 58% 8 10 67
teff 0.70 54% 11 14 101
spelt 0.58 54% 14 18 135
rice noodles 0.54 87% 22 23 105
quinoa 0.45 55% 14 16 120
millet 0.34 76% 20 22 118
oat bran bread 0.35 57% 29 38 264
rye bread 0.30 64% 37 45 282
rice bran bread 0.25 54% 31 37 273

legumes

Similar to grains, the legumes have a moderate energy density so are a good option to provide additional calories if you have filled up on the vegetables.

image10

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
lima beans 0.56 71% 16 23 129
navy beans 0.47 55% 15 20 143
lentils 0.35 62% 12 18 118
hummus 0.26 32% 8 14 175
tofu 0.17 28% 2 8 112

seafood

It is important to prioritise either regular fish intake or supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids.   I’ve included the insulin load rather than net carbs for the fish animal products which may be of interest if you are injecting insulin.

image02

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
oyster 0.31 57% 14 98
lobster 0.30 69% 14 84
anchovy 0.34 42% 21 203
tuna 0.30 50% 17 137
white fish 0.27 67% 17 102
salmon 0.28 50% 15 122
crab 0.26 69% 13 78
halibut 0.27 63% 16 105
mackerel 0.28 45% 17 149
Pollock 0.27 66% 17 105
rainbow trout 0.28 43% 17 162
shrimp 0.26 66% 19 113
swordfish 0.28 41% 17 165
sturgeon 0.26 47% 15 129
snapper 0.25 64% 15 94
octopus 0.26 69% 27 156
haddock 0.24 67% 18 110
caviar 0.30 32% 22 276
crayfish 0.21 64% 12 78
herring 0.26 34% 18 210
haddock 0.21 69% 15 85
abalone 0.21 76% 19 99
whiting 0.21 63% 17 109
sardine 0.24 36% 18 202
mussel 0.22 61% 25 165
clam 0.20 71% 24 135
cod 0.17 67% 17 99
perch 0.16 59% 13 91

animal products  

Similar to sea food, the energy density of the animal products is moderate.  Not as low as the non-starchy veggies but similar to the fruit, grains and legumes.

7450703_orig

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
beef liver 0.46 58% 24 169
chicken liver 0.43 48% 20 165
ham 0.26 55% 20 146
pork 0.25 54% 21 154
emu 0.24 63% 25 159
veal (leg) 0.25 56% 25 174
turkey breast 0.22 70% 22 127
chicken breast 0.22 56% 25 178
beef 0.22 50% 25 197

so how does it work?

This style of nutrient dense lower energy density approach is likely to be successful because it provides:

  1. nutrient dense proteins that will improve satiety,
  2. more fibre, water and bulk that will lead to increased satiation with lower levels of calories compared to a higher energy density,
  3. negligible levels of processed carbs which will help to keep insulin and blood glucose levels at normal levels which will allow body fat to be accessed for fuel,
  4. high levels of nutrition across the board (vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids) meaning that the body will be able to obtain adequate nutrition with a lower energy intake, and
  5. lower levels of dietary fat which will allow body fat to be used.

While many people from the LCHF head space might think of this as heresy, you might be interested to see that once we take the body fat into account this style of approach is actually quite high in fat.

The table below shows the macronutrient split for a low carb approach versus the low energy density high nutrient density approach.  The last column shows that if we apply a 40% deficit with 800 calories per day coming from body fat then the macro nutrients are quite similar to the LCHF approach, with more than half the energy coming from fat.

approach nutrient dense low carb foods low energy high nutrient density (2000 calories) low energy high nutrient density (40% deficit)
% protein 26% 38% 23%
% dietary fat 55% 19% 11%
% net carbs 15% 29% 17%
% fibre 4% 14% 8%
fibre (g) 22 70 42
% insulinogenic 30% 54% 32%
deficit 0% 0% 40%
dietary energy (cal) 2000 2000 1200
body fat (cal) 0 0 800
total fat 55% 19% 51%

summary

If you have lost some weight on an LCHF approach and have normalised your blood glucose levels, you may benefit from transitioning to a lower energy density high nutrient density approach.

If you want to fine tune this a little further it might be worth tracking your insulin load  and tweak it to the point that you achieve excellent blood glucose levels (i.e. HbA1c < 5.0%, average blood glucose less than 5.4 mmol/L or 100 mg/dL) while also maximising nutrient density and minimising energy density.

 

 

references

[1] http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(12)00132-3/abstract

[2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012410540900003X

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18439712

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23128764

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14995052

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6303104

[7] http://www.forksoverknives.com/the-calorie-density-approach-to-nutrition-and-lifelong-weight-management

[8] https://youtu.be/XZGgeGHU1Bs?t=31

[9] https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/eat_more_often_gain_weight.aspx

[10] https://youtu.be/2UPQfdIlzaA?t=466

[11] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=C6KTATgbTacC&pg=PA264&lpg=PA264&dq=neal+barnard+energy+density&source=bl&ots=JomyWaNJn7&sig=nAPHWYJL_V-NtSZeKl_82DigERU&hl=en&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjQjJqtiJvMAhVDHJQKHWe7AXsQ6AEIIzAB#v=onepage&q=neal%20barnard%20energy%20density&f=false

[12] http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Volumetrics-Diet-Science-Based-Strategies-ebook/dp/B007JLK9HW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461080587&sr=1-1

[13] http://health.usnews.com/wellness/slideshows/the-10-best-diets-for-healthy-eating

[14] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/3/412.abstract

[15] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/88/6/1459.abstract?sid=238201eb-6207-4843-886b-9e1410e5a716

[16] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/1/174.abstract?sid=238201eb-6207-4843-886b-9e1410e5a716

[17] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14995052

[18] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490955

[19] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4182946/

[20] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943062/

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

[22] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/15701207_A_Satiety_Index_of_common_foods

[23] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/66/5/1264.abstract

[24] http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/fullness-factor

[25] https://www.dropbox.com/s/n8tzuiixb1n1cxi/Weight%20Loss%20on%20Low-Fat%20vs.%20Low-Carbohydrate%20Diets%20by%20Insulin%20Resistance%20Status%20Among%20Overweight%20Adults%20and%20Adults%20With%20Obesity-%20A%20Randomized%20Pilot%20Trial%20%281%29.pdf?dl=0

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

[27] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/03/22/diabetes-102/

[28] http://diabetesupdate.blogspot.com.au/2007/05/misunderstanding-ukpds-7-is-not-good.html

 

post last updated July 2018

optimal meals for fat loss

Who Someone who wants to lose body fat and has good blood sugar control, i.e.:

  • HbA1c < 5.4mmol/L
  • fasting blood sugar < 5.0mmol/L (90mg/dL)
  • average blood sugar < 5.4mmol/L (100mg/dL)
  • post meal blood sugar < 6.7mmol/L (120mg/dL)

If you don’t yet have optimal blood sugar control start here.

How
  • This weighting is balanced to prioritise high fibre, low calorie density meals with excellent levels of vitamins, minerals, and protein with a lesser emphasis on insulin load than the other scenarios.
  • If you don’t have great blood sugar control then you should start here.

The highest ranking meals using these weightings are shown below. Click on the image to see more details.

Learn more about weight loss in this article.  See this article for details of the basis of the ranking of the meals.

See optimal foods for weight loss here.

Terry’s Wahls’ lamb skillet meal

10960080_10152573976645544_5136038329487064728_o

baked creamed spinach

Chrome Legacy Window 17042015 61152 AM.bmp

curried egg with cows brains

2016-11-18-copy

steak, broccoli, spinach & halloumi

10974722_10152618347760544_6160378433418389446_o

spinach, cheddar and scrambled eggs

20131111_105815 (1)

bacon, eggs, avocado and spinach

spinach-avocado-salad-bacon-egg

baked eggs with sardines

1_pete_evans_19n80hs-19n80ie

spicy fish tacos

White Fish Fillets being prepared for Cooking

beef heart chili

spinach, egg, cheese and cream

IMG_9736

Dom’s breakfast of sardines, oysters, eggs and broccoli

picture_usf_laboratory

slow cooked pork with veggies 

image026

low carb breakfast stax

breakfastpizza (1)

greek salad

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egg, spinach, avo and tomato

10897970_10152569117015544_5899544708654587592_n

Chris Froome’s rest day breakfast

image03[1]

breakfast tortilla

Bulletproof Coffee Vs. Breakfast

spinach, egg and avocado

10285383_10152637092785544_6458157593847633736_o

Dr Rhonda Patrick’s Ultimate Micronutrient Smoothie vs Zero Carb Gregg

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cheesy garlic bread with bacon, beans and tomato

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chicken stir fry

1514334_10152567896886906_1666855980715729299_n[1]

chia seed pudding

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garlic prawns with spinach

eggs benedict

slow-cooked heart on fire with kale

HeartonFire1

bacon wrapped salmon

10171083_10152582552745544_7436963505230120472_n

salad and salmon lunch

1512064_10152569146355544_6420556248848115740_o (1)

the most nutrient dense foods for different goals

While a lot of attention is often given to macronutrient balance, quantifying the vitamin and mineral sufficiency of our diet is typically done by guesswork.  This article lists the foods that are highest in amino acids, vitamins, minerals or omega 3 refined to suit people with different goals (e.g. diabetes management, weight loss, therapeutic ketosis or a metabolically healthy athlete).

I’ve spent some time lately analysing people’s food diaries, noting nutritional deficiencies, and suggesting specific foods to fill nutritional gaps while still being mindful of the capacity of the individual to process glucose based on their individual insulin sensitivity and pancreatic function.  The output from nutritiondata.self.com below shows an example of the nutrient balance and protein quality analysis.

image001

In this instance the meal has plenty of protein but is lacking in vitamins and minerals, which is not uncommon for people who are trying to reduce their carbohydrates to minimise their blood glucose levels.

The pink spokes of the nutrient balance plot on the left shows the vitamins while the white shows the minerals.  On the right hand side the individual spokes of the protein quality score represent individual amino acids.

A score of 100 means that you will meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) for all the nutrients with 1000 calories, so a score of 40 in the nutrient balance as shown is less than desirable if we are trying to maximise nutrition. [1]

I thought it would be useful to develop a ‘shortlist’ of foods to enable people to find foods with high levels of particular nutrients to fill in possible deficiencies while being mindful of their ability to deal with glucose.

essential nutrients

The list of essential nutrients below is the basis of the nutrient density scoring system used in the Your Personal Food Ranking System article, with equal weighting given to each of these essential nutrients. [2]

The only essential nutrients not included in this list are the omega-6 fatty acids which we typically get more than enough of in our western diet.  [3]

essential fatty acids

  1. alpha-Linolenic acid (omega-3) (18:3)
  2. docosahexaenoic acid (omega-3) (22:6)

amino acids

  1. cysteine
  2. isoleucine
  3. leucine
  4. lysine
  5. phenylalanine
  6. threonine
  7. tryptophan
  8. tyrosine
  9. valine
  10. methionine
  11. histidine

vitamins

  1. choline
  2. thiamine
  3. riboflavin
  4. niacin
  5. pantothenic acid
  6. vitamin A
  7. vitamin B12
  8. vitamin B6
  9. vitamin C
  10. vitamin D
  11. vitamin E
  12. vitamin K

minerals

  1. calcium
  2. copper
  3. iron
  4. magnesium
  5. manganese
  6. phosphorus
  7. potassium
  8. selenium
  9. sodium
  10. zinc

the lists

Previously I’ve developed short lists of nutrient dense foods also based on their insulin load or other parameters (see optimal foods lists).

But what if we want to get more specific and find the optimal foods for a diabetic who is getting adequate protein but needs more vitamins or minerals?  What about someone whose goal is nutritional ketosis who is trying to maximise their omega-3 fats to nurture their brain?

To this end the next step is to develop more specific lists of nutrient dense foods in specific categories (i.e. omega-3, vitamins, minerals and amino acids) which can be tailored to individual carbohydrate tolerance levels.

I’ve exported the top foods using each of the ranking criteria from the 8000 foods in the database.  You can click on the ‘download’ link to open the .pdf to see the full list.  Each .pdf file shows the relative weighting of the various components of the multi criteria ranking system.  The top five are highlighted in the following discussion below.

It’s worth noting that the ranking system is based on both nutrient density / calorie, and calorie density / weight.  Considering nutrient density / calorie will preference low calorie density foods such as leafy veggies and herbs.  Considering calorie density / weight tends to prioritise animal foods.  Evenly balancing both parameters seems to be a logical approach.

You’re probably not going to get your daily energy requirements from basil and parsley so you’ll realistically need to move down the list to the more calorie dense foods once you’ve eaten as much of the green leafy veggies as you can.  The same also applies if some foods listed are not available in your area.

weighting all nutrients omega-3 vitamins minerals aminos
no insulin index contribution download download download download download
athlete download download download download download
weight loss download download download download download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download download download download download
therapeutic ketosis download download download download download

all nutrients

This section looks at the most nutrient dense foods across all of the essential nutrients shown above.  Consider including the weighting tables.

no insulin index contribution

If we do not consider insulin load then we get the following highly nutrient dense foods:

  1. liver,
  2. cod,
  3. parsley,
  4. white fish, and
  5. spirulina / seaweed

Liver tops the list.  This aligns with Matt Lalonde’s analysis of nutrient density as detailed in his AHS 2012 presentation.

It’s likely the nutrient density of cod, which is second on the list of the most nutrient dense foods, is the reason that Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock) eats an inordinate amount of it. [4]

image003

It certainly seems to be working for him.

Duane Johnson 2 - Copy

athlete and metabolically healthy

If you have no issue with obesity or insulin resistance then you’ll likely want to simply select foods at the top of the nutrient dense foods list.  However most people will also benefit from considering their insulin load along with fibre and calorie density.   Most of us mere mortals aren’t as active or metabolically healthy as Dwayne.

When we consider insulin load we get the following foods at the top of the list:

  1. basil,
  2. parsley,
  3. spearmint,
  4. paprika, and
  5. liver

We grow basil in a little herb garden and use it to make a pesto with pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil.  It’s so delicious!   (And when I say ‘we’ I mean my amazing wife Monica.)

Aaron Tait Photography

You’ll note that spices and herbs typically rank highly in a lot of these lists.  The good news is that they typically have a very low calorie density, high nutrient density and are high in fibre.

The challenge again is that it’s hard to get all your energy needs from herbs alone, so after you’ve included as many herbs and green leafy veggies as you can fit in, go further down the list to select other more calorie dense foods to meet your required intake.

weight loss

If we reduce calorie density, increase fibre and pay some attention to insulin load for the weight loss scenario we get the following foods:

  1. wax gourd (winter melon),
  2. basil,
  3. endive,
  4. chicory, and
  5. dock

If you’re wondering what a winter melon looks like (like I was), here it is.

image008

The winter melon does well in this ranking because it is very fibrous, has a very low calorie density and a very low 8% insulinogenic calories which means that it has very few digestible carbohydrates.

Again, basil does pretty well along with a range of nutrient dense herbs.  Basil is more nutrient dense than the winter melon while still having a very low calorie density.

diabetes and nutritional ketosis

If we factor carbohydrate tolerance into the mix and want to keep the insulin load of our diet low we get the following foods:

  1. wax gourd (winter melon),
  2. chia seeds,
  3. flax seeds,
  4. avocado, and
  5. olives

Wax gourd does well again due to its high fibre and low calorie density; however if you’re looking for excellent nutrient density as well, then chia seeds and flax seeds may be better choices.  When it comes to flax seeds are best eaten ‘fresh ground’ (in a bullet grinder) for digestibility and also freshness and that over consumption may be problematic when it comes to increasing estrogens.

image010

therapeutic ketosis

Then if we’re looking for the most nutrient dense foods that will support therapeutic ketosis we get the following list:

  1. flax seeds,
  2. fish oils,
  3. wax gourd,
  4. avocado, and
  5. brazil nuts.

Good nutrition is about more than simply eating more fat.  When you look at the top foods using this ranking you’ll see that you will need to use a little more discretion (e.g. avoiding vegetable oils, margarine and fortified products) due to the fact that nutrients and fibre have such a low ranking.

ganze und halbe reife avocado isoliert auf weissem hintergrund

fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are important and most of us generally don’t get enough, but rather get too many omega-6 fats from grain based processed foods.

Along with high levels of processed carbohydrates, excess levels of processed omega-6 fats are now being blamed for the current obesity epidemic. [5]

The foods highlighted in the following section will help you get more omega-3 to correct the balance.

no insulin index contribution

If we’re looking for the foods that are the highest in omega 3 fatty acids without consideration of insulin load we get:

  1. salmon,
  2. whitefish,
  3. shad,
  4. fish oil, and
  5. herring

I like salmon, but it’s not cheap.  I find sardines are still pretty amazing but much more cost effective. [6]  If you’re going to pay for salmon to get omega 3 fatty acids then you should make sure it’s wild caught to avoid the omega 6 oils and antibiotics in the grain fed farmed salmon.

Sardines have a very high nutrient density but still not as much omega 3 fatty (i.e. 1480mg per 100g for sardines versus 2586mg per 100g for salmon).

image014

athlete and metabolically healthy

If we factor in some consideration of insulin load, fibre and calorie density we get:

  1. salmon,
  2. marjoram,
  3. chia seeds,
  4. shad, and
  5. white fish

It’s interesting to see that there are also  excellent vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as marjoram (pictured below) and chia seeds (though some may argue that the bio-availability of the omega 3 in the salmon is better than the plant products).

image016

weight loss

Some of the top ranking foods with omega-3 fatty acids for weight loss are:

  1. brain,
  2. chia seeds,
  3. sablefish,
  4. mackerel, and
  5. herring

While seafood is expensive, brain is cheap, though a little higher on the gross factor.

image018

Cancer survivor Andrew Scarborough tries to maximise omega 3 fatty acids to keep his brain tumour and epilepsy at bay and makes sure he eats as much brain as he can.

diabetes, nutritional ketosis and therapeutic ketosis

And if you wanted to know the oils with the highest omega-3 content, here they are:

  1. Fish oil – menhaden,
  2. Fish oil – sardine,
  3. Fish oil – salmon,
  4. Fish oil – cod liver, and
  5. Oil – seal

image019

amino acids

This section will be of interest to people trying to build muscle by highlighting the foods highest in amino acids.

no insulin index contribution

So what are the best sources of protein, regardless of insulin load?

  1. cod,
  2. egg white,
  3. soy protein isolate,
  4. whitefish, and
  5. whole egg

Again, Dwayne Johnson’s cod does well, but so does the humble egg, either the whites or the whole thing.

We have been told to limit egg consumption over the last few decades, but now, in case you didn’t get the memo, saturated fat is no longer a nutrient of concern so they’re OK again.

And while egg whites do well if you’re only looking for amino acids, however if you are also chasing vitamins, minerals and good fats I’d prefer to eat the whole egg.

image021

athlete and metabolically healthy

If you have some regard for the insulin load of your diet you end up with this list of higher fat foods:

  1. parmesan cheese,
  2. beef,
  3. tofu,
  4. whole egg, and
  5. cod.

image023

weight loss

If we aim for lower calorie density foods for weight loss we get this list:

  1. bratwurst,
  2. basil,
  3. beef,
  4. chia seeds, and
  5. parmesan cheese

The bratwurst sausage does really well in the nutrition analysis because it is nutrient dense both in amino acids and high fat which keeps the insulin load down.

image025

diabetes and nutritional ketosis

If you’re concerned about your blood glucose levels then this list of foods may be useful:

  1. chia seeds,
  2. flax seed,
  3. pork sausage,
  4. bratwurst, and
  5. sesame seeds

image028

Therapeutic ketosis

And those who are aiming for therapeutic ketosis who want to keep their insulin load from low protein may find these foods useful:

  1. flax seed,
  2. pork sausage,
  3. sesame seeds,
  4. chia seeds, and
  5. pork

image030

vitamins

People focusing on reducing their carbohydrate load will sometimes neglect vitamins and minerals, especially if they are counting total carbs rather than net carbs which can lead to neglecting veggies.

I think most people should be trying to increase the levels of indigestible fibre as it decreases the insulin load of their diet, [7] feeds good gut bacteria, leaves you feeling fuller for longer and generally comes packaged with heaps of good vitamins and minerals.

At the same time it is true that some high fibre foods also come with digestible carbohydrates which may not be desirable for someone who is trying to manage the insulin load of their diet.

The foods listed in this section will enable you to increase your vitamins while managing the insulin load of your diet to suit your goals.

no insulin index contribution

These foods will give you the biggest bang for your buck in the vitamin and mineral department if insulin resistance is not an issue for you:

  1. red peppers,
  2. liver,
  3. chilli powder,
  4. coriander, and
  5. egg yolk

Peppers (or capsicums as they’re called in Australia) are great in omelettes. image031

Liver is also very high in vitamins if you just can’t tolerate veggies.

athlete and metabolically healthy

If we bring the insulin load of your diet into consideration then these foods come to the top of the list:

  1. paprika,
  2. chilli powder,
  3. liver,
  4. red peppers, and
  5. sage

It’s interesting to see so many spices ranking so highly in these lists.  Not only are they nutrient dense but they also make the foods taste better and are more satisfying.

image034

Good food doesn’t have to taste bland!

weight loss

If weight loss is of interest to you then this list of lower calorie density foods might be useful:

  1. chilli powder,
  2. chicory greens,
  3. paprika,
  4. liver, and
  5. spinach

It will be very challenging to eat too many calories with these foods.  We find spinach to be pretty versatile whether it is in a salad or an omelette.

image036

diabetes and nutritional ketosis

These foods will give you lots of vitamins if you are trying to manage your blood glucose levels:

  1. chilli powder,
  2. endive,
  3. paprika
  4. turnip greens, and
  5. liver

Most green leafy veggies will be great for people with diabetes as well as providing excellent nutrient density and heaps of fibre.

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therapeutic ketosis

If you really need to keep your blood sugars down then getting your vitamins from these foods may be helpful:

  1. chilli powder,
  2. liver,
  3. liver sausage,
  4. egg yolk, and
  5. avocado

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minerals

no insulin index contribution

Ever wondered which real whole foods would give you the most minerals per calorie without resorting to supplements?

Here’s your answer:

  1. coriander,
  2. celery seed,
  3. basil,
  4. parsley, and
  5. spearmint

Even if you found a vitamin and mineral supplement that ticked off on all the essential nutrients there’s no guarantee that they will be absorbed by your body, or that you’re not missing a nutrient that is not currently deemed ‘essential’.  Real foods will always trump supplements!

As you look down these lists you may notice that herbs and spices top the list of foods that have a lot of minerals.  Once you have eaten as much coriander, basil, parsley and spearmint as you can and still feel hungry keep doing down the list and you will find more calorie dense foods such as spinach, eggs, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds etc which are more common and easier to fill up on.

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athlete and metabolically healthy

If we factor in some consideration of insulin load then we get this list:

  1. basil,
  2. spearmint,
  3. wheat bran (crude),
  4. parsley, and
  5. marjoram

Wheat bran (crude) features in this list but it’s very rarely eaten in this natural state.  Most of the value is lost when you remove the husk from the wheat.

As much as we’re told that we shouldn’t eliminate whole food groups, grain based products just don’t rate well when you prioritise foods in terms of nutrient density.

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weight loss

If you’re looking for some lower calorie density options the list changes slightly:

  1. basil,
  2. caraway seed,
  3. marjoram,
  4. wheat bran (crude), and
  5. chilli powder

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diabetes and nutritional ketosis

If you’re trying to manage your blood sugars then this is your list of foods that are packed with minerals:

  1. basil,
  2. caraway seed,
  3. flax seed,
  4. chilli powder, and
  5. rosemary.

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therapeutic ketosis

If you’re aiming for therapeutic ketosis then the higher fat nuts come into the picture to get your minerals:

  1. flaxseed,
  2. sesame seed,
  3. pine / pinon nuts,
  4. sunflower seeds, and
  5. hazel nuts.

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application

So what does all this mean and how can we apply it?

I don’t think it’s necessary or ideal to track your food all the time, however it’s well worth taking a typical day of food and entering it into the recipe builder at nutritiondata.self.com to see where you might be lacking.

Are your vitamins or minerals low?  Protein?  What about fibre.

If you find these are lacking you can use these food lists to fill nutritional gaps while keeping in mind your ability to process carbohydrates and attaining your personal goals.

references

[1] http://nutritiondata.self.com/help/analysis-help

[2] http://ketopia.com/nutrient-density-sticking-to-the-essentials-mathieu-lalonde-ahs12/

[3] The omega 6 fatty acids are also classed as essential however it is generally recognised that we have more omega omega 6 than omega 3.

[4] http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/meal-plans/smell-what-rock-cooking

[5] http://ebm.sagepub.com/content/233/6/674.short

[6] http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4114/2

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/what-about-fibre-net-carbs-or-total-carbs/