Category Archives: protein

micronutrients at macronutrient extremes

In the previous article, Which Nutrients is YOUR Diet Missing?, we looked at the micronutrients that you might be lacking when following popular dietary strategies such as vegan, Paleo, keto, or zero carb.

As a follow-up, I thought it would be interesting to look at the effect on essential micronutrients if we define our dietary approach in terms of macronutrient extremes such as low carb, high fat, high protein, high carb, or low protein.

Humans tend to think in extreme terms.  It’s easy to follow a binary approach to nutrition, but which, if any, of these are the most useful in terms of maximising the nutrition provided by our diet?

For most of my life, best practice nutrition has been defined by a fear of fat which spawned the low-fat processed food era.

And because protein is necessary for muscle growth, more must be better?

But protein is also insulinogenic, so less protein must be good.  Right?

And then of course there is low carb, which has been popular since the appearance of the Atkins diet appeared in the early 1970s.

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But then there are a good number of people who still define their diet as being high carb.

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All of them seem to be similarly zealous about their all-or-nothing approach.

But are any of these macronutrient extreme approaches beneficial?  And if so, which one leads us to the optimal selection of nutritious foods that will lead to health, happiness, optimal weight, and longevity?

why bother with nutrient density?

The premise of nutrient density is that we want to maximise the quantity of essential micronutrients that we need to support our bodily functions while not overdoing energy intake.

Micronutrient dense foods allow us to obtain adequate nutrition with fewer calories.  Then, with our nutrients accounted for, higher micronutrient density might just lead to higher satiety levels, reduced appetite, reduced food intake and optimal body fat levels.

At the other extreme, if we consume fewer foods with a lower nutrient density, we will likely end up needing to consume more food to obtain the nutrients we need to survive and thrive.  If our appetite drives us to keep on eating until we obtain the nutrients we need, we may end up having to consume too much energy and and end up storing unwanted energy as fat.

macronutrient comparison

In this post, we’ll look at the micronutrients provided by the highest-ranking foods when we sort the eight thousand foods in the USDA database by the most and least fat, protein, and carbs.

Approach % protein % fat % net carbs % fibre
high fat 14% 82% 3% 1%
low net carbs 33% 67% 0% 0%
most nutrient dense 49% 19% 20% 12%
high protein 77% 22% 1% 0%
least nutrient dense 7% 32% 59% 2%
low protein 1% 27% 68% 3%
low fat 8% 1% 84% 7%
high net carbs 3% 2% 92% 2%

This chart shows the macronutrient split for these extreme approaches.

fat

While low carb is still in the lead in terms of internet searches (as shown in the Google Trends data below), the ketogenic diet is becoming pretty popular these days.

The chart below shows the nutrients provided by 2000 calories of the fattiest foods.  Nutrients are expressed in terms of the percentage of the daily recommended intake (DRI), for each nutrient, per 2000 calories (i.e. a typical daily intake).

While we achieve adequate amounts of about half of the essential micronutrients with a therapeutic ketogenic diet, we may need to consider supplementing some of the harder to obtain nutrients such as vitamin C[1], vitamin D, potassium, choline, vitamin K, and magnesium.

Looking at things from the other extreme, a low-fat diet will give you a ton of vitamin C, sodium, manganese, and iron.  However, it will be harder to obtain adequate quantities of the twenty-one essential nutrients, particularly essential fatty acids.

saturated fat

These days, the US Dietary Guidelines have lifted their limit on fat and cholesterol but retained their limitation on saturated fat.  Saturated fat and trans fats remain the two nutrients that we are advised to avoid.

The chart below shows the outcome when we avoid saturated fat.  The top 10% of foods with the lowest saturated fat are lacking (i.e. < 100% DRI) in nineteen essential nutrients.

At the other extreme, foods with the most saturated fat are slightly better with seventeen essential micronutrients lacking.

As discussed in the ‘What about Saturated Fat?’ article, I think saturated fat is neither a concern nor a priority.  Saturated fat a great clean-burning fuel, but there’s no need for us to make up for the last four decades of avoidance by suddenly binging on it.

The chart below shows a comparison of the nutrient density of the quartiles of saturated fat in terms of percentage of energy.  It seems that the foods with moderate levels of saturated fat that are the most nutrient dense.

protein

Once you move past the fear of fat, the next hot topic is optimal protein levels.

The ‘high protein bros’ recommend more protein for muscle growth and satiety, while many in the low carb/keto community target lower protein levels for longevity and ketosis through minimising insulin and mTOR signalling.[2]

As shown in the chart below, when rank foods to minimise protein, we end up with only four essential nutrients meeting the recommended daily guidelines to prevent malnutrition.

At the other extreme, if we prioritise protein we end up with ten nutrients that we fall short of.  The other twenty-six essential nutrients meet the minimum recommended levels.

Not only does protein contain essential amino acids, this analysis indicates that higher protein foods generally come bundled with high amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B-12, selenium, vitamin B-6, riboflavin and copper.

It’s one thing to talk about targeting the minimum daily protein that you can get away with if you are looking to preserve muscle in fasting or extreme calorie deprivation during long term weight loss.  It’s a whole different discussion if you’re looking to minimise protein while making up the rest of your daily energy intake with fats or carbs!

carbohydrates

The chart below shows the nutrients we obtain if we maximise energy from non-fibre digestible carbohydrates (i.e. net carbs).  This high carb approach provides adequate amounts of twelve of the essential nutrients, while still being inadequate in twenty-four essential nutrients.

The chart below shows that low carb performs better than high carb, only falling short in sixteen essential micronutrients.

One of the benefits of a low carb approach, is that it often forces the elimination of many processed foods that fill the supermarket shelves to satisfy the demand for low fat foods driven by the admonition by the for the last four decades by the ruling dietary establishment to minimise fat.

A nutrient dense diet contains less non-fibre carb than the typical diet, but some people will do better, at least for a while, on a carb restricted diet.  Another major benefit of low carb is for insulin resistant people when they can lower their blood glucose and insulin levels on a carb restricted diet.  Many people find it easier to lose excess body fat once they have restored their insulin sensitivity.

nutrient density

You’re probably wondering where all these analyses are headed.

With all of these extreme approaches being so deficient in many micronutrients, you must be thinking “I hope there is a happy ending to this story, and soon.”

The good news is that we can manipulate our food selection to maximise micronutrients.  But first, here’s something to scare you even more.

The chart below shows the outcome when we minimise the harder-to-find nutrients.  This low nutrient density approach ends up being adequate in only three essential nutrients: sodium, vitamin C and iron.

The good news is shown in the chart below, which quantifies the nutrients provided by the most nutrient dense foods when we prioritise for the harder to find nutrients.  Alpha linolenic acid (found mainly in nuts and seeds) is hard to come by in adequate quantities, however we can obtain the daily recommended intake of all the other nutrients when we prioritise the harder to find micronutrients.

comparison of nutrients adequate

It’s a little hard to present and digest this analysis clearly.  There is no agreed protocol to compare the nutrient density foods.  So I’ve tried to summarise it in a number of different ways to allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Firstly, the chart below shows the number of nutrients that each macronutrient extreme is adequate in, from the most nutrient dense at the top to the least nutrient dense at the bottom.

The chart below shows a stacked bar chart of the various nutrients in terms of % DRI.  It’s like we have added up all the above charts for each nutrient and stacked them on top of each other.  This chart demonstrates that there is a is a massive difference between the most nutrient dense and least nutrient dense approaches.  If you’re foods that have a lower nutrient density you might just be hungrier compared to if you are eating the same number of calorie of the most nutrient dense foods which will much more effectively provide you with your essential micronutrients.

But  we needn’t be too concerned about the micronutrients that are easy to obtain.  What we really care about is the nutrients that are harder to obtain.  The chart below shows the sum of the eighteen nutrients that are harder to obtain for each extreme approach.

application

It seems that thinking in terms of macronutrient extremes has some usefulness.  However, focusing on micronutrient density seems to provide an order of magnitude improvement in the level of actual nutrients provided by our food.

Maybe it’s time for a new trend?

The ‘problem’ with nutrient dense foods is that that they are so lean and contain so much fibre that it can be hard to consume enough calories to maintain weight.  You’ll just be too full!

If you are insulin sensitive and not looking to lose weight, then you could consider adding some more ‘Paleo friendly’ carbs such as beets, squash, yams, and sweet potatoes, and/or some fattier cuts of meat to fuel your activity.  If you are insulin resistant, you may need to add some fattier (but still relatively nutrient dense) foods to maintain your weight while also keeping your blood glucose and insulin levels in check.

Perhaps micronutrient density is the most important parameter to pursue in our diet.  Then with that cornerstone in place we can personalise our nutritional approach to suit our goals (e.g. weight loss, ketosis, athletic performance or healthy maintenance).

The various food lists in the table below are designed with micronutrient density as the main priority, but also consider insulin load and energy density to suit 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

personalisation

In the end, no one sticks to an optimal list of foods that perfectly balances their diet 100% of the time.

I’ve been working on a system that will give you feedback on YOUR current diet, identify which nutrients you are currently lacking, and which supplements or real whole foods you may need to add or subtract to optimise your nutrition.  Most people don’t eat perfectly all the time, but we could all use some help moving forward towards optimal.

Check out the Nutrient Optimiser page for more details.

 

notes

[1] There is a strong case for the idea that the DRI for vitamin C could be relaxed for a diet with lower glucose.  See http://breaknutrition.com/ketogenic-diet-vitamin-c-101/ and http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/2005/pdf/2005-v20n03-p179.pdf

[2] Check out this video by Ron Rosedale for an overview of the topic of protein, mTOR signalling and longevity.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtZ0LqUBySQ

how to make endogenous ketones at home

I’ve spent some time lately analysing these 1100 ketone vs glucose data points looking for the secret to achieving optimal ketone values for weight loss and health.

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As you can see from this chart, there is a relationship between ketones and glucose.  As your blood glucose levels decrease your blood ketones rise to compensate.

Different glucose : ketone relationships for different people

It seems that each person has a unique relationship between their blood glucose and ketone values that gives us an insight to understand their insulin resistance status and metabolic health.

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Characterisation of different metabolic states

Similar to Dr Kraft’s insulin curves, we can characterise different levels of insulin resistance metabolic health using the relationship between glucose and ketones.

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If you want to know why hyperinsulinemia is the “unifying theory of chronic disease” it’s worth taking the time to read up on it to provide some more context for the discussion later in this article. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Type 2 Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes and your blood glucose levels are consistently high, you are not metabolising carbohydrates well, and will likely benefit from a lower insulin load dietary approach.

When you go a long time between meals, your ketones don’t kick in because of high insulin levels and / or your mitochondria are not functioning optimally.  You feel tired and hangry.

Particularly in the early stages when someone is still insulin resistant, a lower insulin load dietary approach will help with satiety and carb cravings while keeping blood glucose levels under control.

Hyperinsulinemia and metabolic disorders

If your blood glucose levels are very low and ketone levels are also very low, you may have an infection or a metabolic disorder that is stopping you from producing enough energy.

The yellow line in the chart above is based on an actual person who is suffering from a range of metabolic related issues including obesity, PCOS, depression, etc.  For these people, EXOGENOUS ketones may help to relieve the debilitating symptoms of acute Hyperinsulinemia.

Exciting research is currently underway looking at the use of EXOGENOUS ketones as an adjunct treatment for cancer or to provide energy directly to the mitochondria for people with epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s and the like.[6]  [7]  

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Patrick Arnold, who worked with Dr Dominic D’Agostino to develop the first ketone esters and BHB salts, has noted that exogenous ketones may help alleviate the symptoms of the ‘keto flu’ during the transition from a high carb to a low carb dietary approach.


However, as noted by Robb Wolf, once you have successfully transitioned to a lower carb eating style you would need to reduce or eliminate the exogenous ketones to enable your body to fully up-regulate lipolysis (fat burning), maximise ENDOGENOUS ketone production and access your ENDOGENOUS FAT stores.

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Insulin resistant

Someone with diabetes who persists with a nutrient dense low insulin load dietary approach may be able to successfully normalise their blood glucose and insulin levels.  When this happens your body will be able to more easily release ENDOGENOUS ketones which will help improve satiety between meals, and decrease appetite which will in turn lead to weight loss.  Exercising to train your body to do more with less is also helpful.

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If you are insulin resistant you are probably not able to metabolise carbohydrates, protein or fats very well.  The light blue “mild insulin resistance” line is based on my ketone and glucose values when I started trying to wrap my head around this ketosis thing.

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I enthusiastically started adding unrestricted amounts of fat from all the yummy stuff (cheese, butter, cream, peanut butter, BPC etc) in the hope of achieving higher ketone levels and therefore weight loss, but I just got fatter and more inflamed as you can see in the photo on the left.  My blood tests suggested I was developing fatty liver in my mid 30s!  And I thought I was doing it right with the bacon and BPC?!?!?

The photo on the right is after I worked out how to decrease the insulin load of my diet and learning about intermittent fasting from Jason Fung.  I realised that ENDOGENOUS ketosis and weight loss is caused by a lower dietary insulin load, not more EXOGENOUS fat on your plate or in your coffee cup.

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I recently had my HbA1c tested at 4.9%.  It’s getting there.  But knowing what I know now about the importance of glucose control,  I would love to lose a bit more weight and see my HbA1c even lower.

I recently purchased a couple of bottles of KetoCaNa from the USA after hearing a number of podcast interviews with Dominic D’Agostino and Patrick Arnold.[8] [9]

This metabolic jet fuel is definitely fascinating stuff!  My experience is that it gives me the buzz like a BPC, but also has an acute diuretic effect (meaning I need to stay close to a toilet and long drives to work in slow traffic were sometimes humiliating).

I had hoped it would have a weight loss effect like some people seemed to be saying it would.

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I did find it had an amazing impact on my appetite.  While it was in my system I didn’t care as much about food.  However once the ketones were used up my appetite came flooding back.  It was like I had ‘bonked’ all of a sudden and needed LOTS OF FOOD NOW!

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Unfortunately my hunger and subsequent binge eating seemed to offset the short term appetite suppression.  And it was not going to be financially viable for me to maintain a constant level of artificially elevated ketone levels.

I asked around to see if anyone had come across studies demonstrating long term weight loss effects of exogenous ketones.[11]   It was a VERY enlightening discussion if you want to check it out here.  Wow!

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The Pruvit FAQ says that one of the benefits of Keto//OS is weight loss, however no reference to the research studies was provided to Pruve this claim.

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Also, the studies that were referenced in the Pruvit FAQ all appear to relate to the benefits of ENDOGENOUS or nutritional ketosis rather than EXOGENOUS ketone supplementation.

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According to a Pruvit tele-seminar the EXOGENOUS ketone salts were not designed to be a weight loss product and hence have not been studied for weight loss.

The only studies that we could find that mentioned EXOGENOUS ketone supplementation and weight loss were on rats an they found that there was no long term effect on weight loss.[12]   

So in spite of my hopeful $250 outlay it seems that exogenous ketones ARE just a fuel source after all.

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Even the experts don’t seem to think exogenous ketones help with fat loss.

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image16 [13]

Confused yet?  I don’t blame you.

Metabolically healthy

The “metabolically healthy” line in the chart above is based on RD Dike man’s ketone and glucose data when he recently did a 21 day fast.

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Due to his hard earned metabolic health and improved insulin resistance he has developed the ability to fairly easily release ketones when goes longer periods between meals.

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RD has achieved a spectacular HbA1c of 4.4%.  Perhaps a two or three day water only fast testing blood glucose and ketones with no exercise would be a useful test of your insulin status?  You could use RD’s line as the gold standard.

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In spite of his improvement in insulin resistance and blood glucose control, he still says the “siren” of hunger is incredibility difficult to resist and mastering appetite is more challenging than particle physics.  As a Chief Scientist at Lockheed Martin, he would know.

RD also told me that when he is not fasting and is eating his regular nutrient dense higher protein meals his ketone levels are not particularly high. While RD fairly easily produces ketones, it seems they are also quickly metabolised so they do not build up in his bloodstream.

I know Luis Villasenor of Ketogains finds the same thing.

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Total energy = ketones + glucose

Where this gets even more interesting is when we look at the glucose and ketone data in terms of TOTAL ENERGY.  That is, from both glucose and ketones.

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The average TOTAL ENERGY of the 1100 data points from these 26 fairly healthy people working hard to achieve nutritional ketosis is 6.1mmol/L. It seems the body works to maintain homeostasis around this level.

When the TOTAL ENERGY in our bloodstream increases outside of the normal range it appears the body raises insulin to store the excess energy.  That is, unless you have untreated Type 1 Diabetes, in which case you end up in diabetic ketoacidosis with high blood glucose and high ketones.

Regardless of whether your energy takes the form of glucose, ketones or free fatty acids they all contribute to acetyl-coA which is oxidized to produce energy.  Forcing excess unused energy to build up in the bloodstream is typically not desirable and can lead to long term issues (gyration, oxidized LDL etc).

I’m not sure if ketones can be converted to glucose or body fat, but it makes sense that excess glucose would be converted to body fat via de novo lip genesis to decrease the TOTAL ENERGY in the blood stream to normal levels.

A number of studies seem to support this view including Roger Unger’s 1964 paper the Hypoglycemic Action of Ketones.  Evidence for a Stimulatory Feedback of Ketones on the Pancreatic Beta Cells.[14]

Ketone bodies have effects on insulin and glucagon secretions that potentially contribute to the control of the rate of their own formation because of antilipolytic and lipolytic hormones, respectively.  Ketones also have a direct inhibitory effect on lipolysis in adipose tissue.[15]

This guy seems to agree too.  But what would he know? [16]  [17] [18]

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Looking at the glucose and ketones together in terms of TOTAL ENERGY was a bit of an ‘ah ha’ moment for me.  It helped me to understand why people like Seyfried and D’Agostino always talk about the therapeutic benefits and the insulin lowering effects of a calorie restricted ketogenic diet. [19] [20] [21] [22]

Dealing with high ketones and high glucose typically a concern fro the body because it just doesn’t happen in nature with real whole foods.  But now we have refined grains, HFCS, processed fats and exogenous ketones to ‘bio-hack’ our metabolism and send it into overdrive.

While fat doesn’t normally trigger an insulin response, it seems that excess unused energy in the blood stream, regardless of the source, will trigger an increase in insulin to reduce the TOTAL ENERGY in the blood stream.

I am concerned that if people continue to enthusiastically zealously focus on pursuing higher blood ketones “through whatever means you can”[24] in an  effort to amplify fat loss they will promote excess energy in the bloodstream which will lead to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.

Using multi-level marketing tactics to distribute therapeutic supplements to the uneducated masses who are desperate to lose weight with a ‘more is better’ approach also troubles me deeply.

My heart sank when I saw this video.

MORE investigation required?

There are anecdotal reports that use of exogenous ketones provide mental clarity, enhanced focus and athletic performance benefits.  At the same time there are also people who have been taking these products for a while that don’t appear to be doing so well.

A July 2016 study Ketone Bodies and Exercise Performance: The Next Magic Bullet or Merely Hype? didn’t find that EXOGENOUS ketones were very exciting.

Recently, ketone body supplements (ketone salts and esters) have emerged and may be used to rapidly increase ketone body availability, without the need to first adapt to a ketogenic diet. However, the extent to which ketone bodies regulate skeletal muscle bioenergetics and substrate metabolism during prolonged endurance-type exercise of varying intensity and duration remains unknown. Therefore, at present there are no data available to suggest that ingestion of ketone bodies during exercise improves athletes’ performance under conditions where evidence-based nutritional strategies are applied appropriately.

Another study by Veech et al (who is trying to bring his own ketone ester to market) from August 2016 Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes found in favour of ketones.

Ketosis decreased muscle glycolysis and plasma lactate concentrations, while providing an alternative substrate for oxidative phosphorylation. Ketosis increased intramuscular triacylglycerol oxidation during exercise, even in the presence of normal muscle glycogen, co-ingested carbohydrate and elevated insulin. These findings may hold clues to greater human potential and a better understanding of fuel metabolism in health and disease.

I can understand how exogenous ketones could be beneficial for someone who is metabolically healthy and consuming a disciplined hypo-caloric nutrient dense diet.  They would likely be able to auto regulate their appetite to easily offset the energy from the EXOGENOUS ketones with less food intake.

While it seems that EXOGENOUS ketones assist in relieving the symptoms of metabolic disorders I’m yet to be convinced that a someone who is obese and / or has Type 2 Diabetes would do as well in the long term, especially if they were hammering MOAR fat and MORE exogenous ketones (along with maybe some sneaky processed carbs on the side) in an effort to get their blood ketones as higher in the hope of losing body fat.

Some questions that I couldn’t find addressed in the Pruvit FAQ that I think would be interesting to study in a long term controlled environment in the in the future are:

  1. What is the a safe dose limit of EXOGENOUS ketones for a young child?  How would you adjust their maximum intake based on age and weight?
  2. IF EXOGENOUS ketones do have a long term weight loss effect what is the upper limit  of intake of EXOGENOUS ketones to avoid stunting a child’s growth?
  3. Is there a difference in the way EXOGENOUS ketones are processed in someone is metabolically healthy versus someone who is very insulin resistant?
  4. Does the affect on appetite continue beyond the point that the ketones are out of your system?
  5. Do you need to take EXOGENOUS ketones continuously to maintain appetite suppression?  Does the effect of ENDOGENOUS wear off as your own ENDOGENOUS ketone production down regulates?  Do you need to keep taking more and more EXOGENOUS ketones to maintain healthy appetite control?
  6. How should someone with Type 2 Diabetes adjust their medication and insulin dose based on their dose of EXOGENOUS ketones?  Should they be under medical supervision during this period?
  7. Is there a difference in health outcome if you are taking EXOGENOUS ketones in the context of a hypo-caloric ketogenic diet versus a hyper-caloric ketogenic diet?  What about a diet high in processed carbs?
  8. Is there a minimum effective dose to achieve optimal long term benefits to your metabolic health or is MORE better?
  9. Are the long term health benefits of EXOGENOUS ketones equivalent to a calorie restricted ketogenic diet?

Unfortunately, I think we will find the answers to these questions sooner rather than later with the large scale experiment that now seems to be well underway.

Perhaps the burden of proof is actually on Pruvit to prove it rather getting their Pruvers to demonstrate that within 59 minutes they are successfully peeing out the product they’ve just paid some serious money for!

The lower the better?

Alessandro Ferretti recently made the observation that metabolically healthy people tend to have lower TOTAL ENERGY levels at rest (and hence have a lower HbA1c), but are able to quickly mobilise glycogen and fat easily when required (e.g. when fasting or a sprint). They are metabolically flexible[25] and metabolically efficient.[26]   

These people would have been able to both conserve energy during a famine and run away from a tiger and live to become our ancestors, while the ones who couldn’t didn’t.

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Similar to RD Dikeman, John Halloran is an interesting case.  Recently he has been putting a lot of effort into eating nutrient dense foods, intermittent fasting and high intensity exercise.

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He is also committed to improving his metabolic fitness to be more competitive in ice hockey.  His resting heart rate is now a spectacular 45 bpm!

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And he’s been able to lose 10kg (22lb) during July 2016!

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At 5.2mmol/L (i.e. glucose of 4.0mmol/L plus ketones of 1.2mmol/L) John’s TOTAL ENERGY is lower than the average of the 26 people shown in the glucose + ketone chart above.  Looking good John!

It seems excellent metabolic health is actually characterised by lower TOTAL ENERGY.

MORE is not necessarily BETTER when it comes to health.

Fast well, feed well

To clean up the data a little I removed the ketones vs glucose data points for a couple of people who I thought might be suffering from pancreatic beta cell burnout and one person that was taking exogenous ketones during their fast that had a higher TOTAL ENERGY.  I also removed the top 30% of points that I thought were likely high due to measuring after high fat meals.

So now the chart below represents the glucose and ketone values for a group of reasonably metabolically healthy people following a strict ketogenic dietary approach, excluding for the effect of high fat meals, BPC, fat bombs and the like.

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The average ketone value for this group of healthy people trying to live a ketogenic lifestyle is 0.7mmol/L. Their average glucose is 4.8mmol/L (or 87mg/dL). The average TOTAL ENERGY is 5.5mmol/L or 99mg/dL.

ketones (mmol/L)

blood glucose (mmol/L)

total energy (mmol/L)

average

0.7

4.8

5.5

30th percentile

0.4

4.6

5.2

70th percentile

0.9

5.1

5.8

The table below shows this in US units (mg/dL).

ketones
(mmol/L)

blood
glucose (mg/dL)

total
energy (mg/dL)

average

0.7

86

99

30th percentile

0.4

83

94

70th percentile

0.9

92

104

It seems we may not necessarily see really high ketone levels in our blood even if we follow a strict ketogenic diet, particularly if we are metabolically healthy and our body is using to ketones efficiently.

The real ketone magic

When we deplete glucose we train our body to produce ketones.

This is where autophagy, increased NAD+ and SIRT1 kicks in to trigger mitochondrial biogenesis and ENDOGENOUS ketone production (i.e. the free ones).[27]   The REAL magic of ketosis happens when all these things happen and ketones are release as a byproduct.  I do not believe that simply adding EXOGENOUS ketones will have nearly as much benefit to your mitochondria, metabolism and insulin resistance as training your body to produce ENDOGENOUS ketones in a low energy state.

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Everything improves when we train our bodies to do more with less (e.g. fasting, high intensity exercise, or even better fasted HIIT).  Resistance to insulin will improve as your insulin receptors are no longer drowning in insulin caused by high TOTAL ENERGY building up in your bloodstream.

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Driving up ketones artificially through EXOGENOUS inputs (treating the symptom) does NOT lead to increased metabolic health and mitochondrial biogenesis (cure) particularly if you are driving them higher than normal levels and not using them up with activity.

You may be able to artificially mimic the buzz that you would get when the body produces ketones ENDOGENOUSLY, however it seems you may just be driving insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia if you follow a “MORE is better” approach.

Simply managing symptoms with patented products for profit without addressing the underlying cause often doesn’t end well.

Just like having low blood glucose is not necessarily good if it is primarily caused by high levels of EXOGENOUS insulin couple with a poor diet, or having lower cholesterol due to statins, having high blood ketone values is not necessarily a good thing if it is achieved it by driving up the TOTAL ENERGY in your blood stream with high levels of purified fat and EXOGENOUS ketones.

Nutrient density

When we feed our body with quality nutrients we maximise ATP production which will make us feel energised and satisfied.  Nutrient dense foods will nourish our mitochondria and reduce our drive to keep on seeking out nutrients from more food.  Greater metabolic efficiency will lead to higher satiety, which leads to less food intake, which leads to a lower TOTAL ENERGY, greater mitochondrial biogenesis, improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood glucose levels.

Prioritising nutrient dense real food is even more important in a ketogenic context.[28]  While we can always take supplements, separating nutrients from our energy source is never a great idea, whether it be soda, processed grains, sugar, glucose gels, HFCS, protein powders, processed oils or exogenous ketones.

Based on my analysis of nutrient density I don’t think you should be trying to avoid protein and carbohydrates in the pursuit of higher ketone levels unless you have a legitimate medical reason for perusing therapeutic ketosis (e.g. cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, dementia etc).

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I believe the best approach is to maximise nutrient density as much as possible while working within the limits of your metabolic health and your pancreas’ ability to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

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Intermittent fasting

If your goal is metabolic health, weight loss and improving your ability to produce ENDOGENOUS ketones, then developing a practice of FEASTING and FASTING is important.

To start out, experiment by extending your fasting periods until your TOTAL ENERGY is decreasing over time.  This will cause your circulating insulin levels to decrease which will force your body to produce ENDOGENOUS ketones from your ENDOGENOUS fat stores.

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Check out the how to use your glucose meter as a fuel gauge article or Jason Fung’s Intensive Dietary Management blog for some more ideas on how to get started with fasting.   Rebecca Skvorc Latham has also developed a fasting protocol using weight to guide your eating schedule if your primary goal is weight loss rather than blood glucose control.

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If you really want to measure something, see how low you can get your glucose levels before your next meal.  Then when you do eat, make sure you choose the most nutrient dense foods you possibly can to build your metabolic machinery and give your mitochondria the best chance of supporting a vibrant, active and happy life.

As my wise friend Raymund Edwards keeps reminding me, FAST WELL, FEED WELL.

Epilogue

Like most people dabbling in this low carb thing, I’m still on a journey.

I’d love to be able to share shirtless photos like Ted and Dom but I’m still working to overcome my own genetic propensity for diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  I’m still learning and working out how to apply these things in my own life.

Although I do sometimes check blood glucose levels before meals to see how I’m tracking I haven’t been testing ketones much for a year or so after I realised chasing high ketones with more dietary fat wasn’t helping me lose weight.

However after writing this article using other peoples’ data, I was intrigued to see how my ketones were travelling.

This was mid-morning after a kettlebell session.

I was able to get my heart rate up to 190 bpm which is my highest ever!  My daughter joined me today so there was some downtime between sets.  Usually I do an exercise until my heart rate gets up to at least 170 bpm.  I then stop and wait until it drops back down to 140 bpm and then go again.

My aim is to train my mitochondria to pump out more power with less energy (i.e. fasted) to improve insulin sensitivity as well as mitochondrial efficiency and drive  mitochondrial bio-genesis.

You can get a lot of work done in an intense 25 to 30-minute session with these weapons of torture that I keep downstairs in my garage (although I don’t think it really matters what you do as long as you push your body to do more with less).

My appetite today was great so I didn’t feel the need to eat until I had dinner with my family.

Previously I would have not been happy with these ketone readings and would have wanted to drive my ketones higher to get into the ‘optimal ketone zone’.  I would have wondered “Maybe I should have eaten some MORE butter or had a BPC to drive ketones higher to facilitate fat loss?”

But given I’d still like to lose some more body fat I’m pretty happy with these numbers.

  • My total energy is low (4.5mmol/L and 5.1mmol/L).  Check.
  • Ketones are present but not too high which means I’m able to mobilise fat but not building it up in my bloodstream.  Check.
  • Blood glucose is low.  Check.

All good!  Feeling crisp, happy and vibrant thanks to ENDOGENOUS ketones!

(Sorry.   I can’t sell you mine.  You’ll have to make your own.)

references

[1] http://www.thefatemperor.com/blog/2015/5/6/the-incredible-dr-joseph-kraft-his-work-on-type-2-diabetes-insulin-reigns-disease

[2] http://www.thefatemperor.com/blog/2015/5/10/lchf-the-genius-of-dr-joseph-r-kraft-exposing-the-true-extent-of-diabetes

[3] https://profgrant.com/2013/08/16/joseph-kraft-why-hyperinsulinemia-matters/

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Diabetes-Epidemic-You-Joseph-Kraft/dp/1425168094

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=193BP6aORwY

[6] http://fourhourworkweek.com/2016/07/06/dom-dagostino-part-2/

[7] http://www.thelivinlowcarbshow.com/shownotes/10568/848-dr-dominic-dagostino-keto-clarity-expert-interview/

[8] http://superhumanradio.com/579-shr-exclusive-patrick-arnold-back-in-the-supplement-business.html

[9] http://superhumanradio.com/shr-1330-best-practices-for-using-ketone-salts-for-dieting-performance-and-therapeutic-purposes.html

[10] http://docmuscles.shopketo.com/

[11] https://www.facebook.com/groups/optimisingnutrition/permalink/1574631349504574/

[12] https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12986-016-0069-y

[13] https://www.facebook.com/groups/optimisingnutrition/permalink/1574631349504574/

[14] https://www.dropbox.com/s/287bftreipfpf29/jcinvest00459-0078.pdf?dl=0

[15] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129159/

[16] https://www.facebook.com/BurnFatNotSugar/

[17] http://www.dietdoctor.com/obesity-caused-much-insulin

[18] http://www.lowcarbcruiseinfo.com/2016/2016-presentations/Hyperinsulinemia.pptx

[19] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0115147

[20] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1819381/

[21] http://healthimpactnews.com/2013/ketogenic-diet-in-combination-with-calorie-restriction-and-hyperbaric-treatment-offer-new-hope-in-quest-for-non-toxic-cancer-treatment/

[22] https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjK8Jvku7DOAhUJspQKHS5-DkwQFggbMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rsg1foundation.com%2Fdocs%2Fpatient-resources%2FThe%2520Restricted%2520Ketogenic%2520Diet%2520An%2520Alternative.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFuTA7xmWX1pFr6wBTV_hsS7C5j_w&sig2=pcBN_f_kCLSgFKYUy–uug&bvm=bv.129391328,d.dGo

[23] https://www.facebook.com/DocMuscles/videos/10210426555960535/?comment_id=10210431467003308&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R9%22%7D&pnref=story&hc_location=ufi

[24] https://www.facebook.com/DocMuscles/videos/10210426555960535/?comment_id=10210431467003308&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R4%22%7D&hc_location=ufi

[25] http://guruperformance.com/episode-3-metabolic-flexibility-with-mike-t-nelson-phd/

[26] http://guruperformance.com/tag/metabolic-efficiency/

[27] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2852209/

[28] http://ketotalk.com/2016/06/23-responding-to-the-paleo-mom-dr-sarah-ballantynes-claims-against-the-ketogenic-diet/

want to live forever?

Living a long, vibrant, healthy life is a common goal.  But what can we do to extend our health span?

Should we eat more fruit and veggies?  Less processed foods?  More protein?  Less protein?  Exercise more?  Lose weight?  Sleep more?  Get more sun?  Less blue light?

Confused yet?

The numerous facets of health and longevity are complex and above my pay grade.  However, I am willing to add my two cents to the discussion in the areas of insulin, blood glucose, fasting and nutrition along with some input from people I respect.

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Dr Ted’s top tips

My wise mate Dr Ted Naiman recently commented on the topic of longevity.

I see centenarians at work, and as far as I can tell it is important to be:

– insulin sensitive,

– active, and

– relatively strong

Extreme careful protein restriction? Not so much.  I for one will focus on the first three.

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Not only is Ted enviably buff, he also has a neat way of condensing wisdom into short bites that are worth unpacking a little further.

insulin sensitive

The leading causes of death in adults in the western world (i.e. heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s)[1] all have something in common.  They are diseases of modern society, related to metabolic health and exacerbated by excessive insulin and / or high blood glucose levels.

People who live longer still die from these same diseases, they just succumb to them later.

This chart (from Barbieri, 2001) shows that insulin resistance generally deteriorates with age.  However if you’re one of the few to make it past 90 then chances are your insulin resistance is pretty spectacular!

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Ted’s infographic below explains how insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome leads to hyperinsulinemia (elevated insulin) and hyperglycaemia (elevated blood glucose) and then to heart disease and many of the other diseases of modern society.

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The chart below indicates that you have a much better chance of delaying the top two causes of death in western society (i.e. heart attack and stroke) if you have a lower HbA1c.[2] [3]

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And your chance of maintaining a big brain that is free of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (causes of number four and five)[4] seems to be greatly improved if you keep your blood glucose levels low.

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We’ll come back to cancer, cause of death number three, a little later.

relatively strong

While you might be able to make an argument for longevity around restricting protein or even calories based on laboratory experiments, people live in the real world and need adequate strength to move around, stay active and be relatively strong.  People who are lean and strong intuitively look healthy and attractive to us.

Longevity research is typically done in yeast, worms, mice or other animals who live protected in captivity.  Unfortunately, real people don’t live in protected laboratory environments in a petri dish.  We live in the real world where real people break.

Loss of muscle as we age (i.e. sarcopenia) is a major issue.  Many older people become brittle and weak.  They take a fall, break their hip and never get up.  Maintaining strength and lean muscle mass is important.

You don’t see many fat animals in the wild, but at the same time you don’t see skinny animals, unless they are sick.  Animals that survive in their natural environment are lean, strong and fast.  They have to be to survive, to catch food and avoid being eaten.

Humans in the wild also tend to be strong and lean.

Similar to Ted Naiman, Ian Rambo (pictured below), 62, is a fan of intermittent fasting and a moderate protein diet.  Rambo doesn’t look like he’s about to trip and break his hip any time soon.

12719385_10153555753198542_6383765872037081186_o[1]

active

A lot can be said about exercise, longevity and metabolic health.

Peter Attia, who recently left NUSi to go back to practice medicine with a focus on longevity, says:

Glucose disposal is everything. The best way to get there is by increasing the muscle’s capacity to take up glucose and make glycogen, and that’s best accomplished through lifting heavy weights. Doing so also increases health span (i.e. reducing injuries, lowering pain, and increasing mobility through life).[5]

Exercise depletes the glucose in our blood, liver and muscles and causes us to tap into our fat stores.  But it’s more than just about using up energy.

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As metabolic health and mitochondrial density improves through exercise, our fat oxidation rate increases.  We become metabolically flexible which means that we can easily use glucose or fat for fuel.  Once we improve our fitness and insulin sensitivity we get to the point that we can even obtain some of the glucose we need from fat.

My friend Mike Julian commented:

Every triglyceride that is broken down gives up one glycerol molecule.  Two glycerol molecules will make one glucose.   So the more fat we are capable of burning, the more glucose we can make from fat oxidation, thus the better we get at restoring muscle glycogen without eating carbohydrates.

Also the glycogen that we do burn produces lactate, which is then recycled to make more glucose in the cori cycle, which also contributes to muscle glycogen stores during recovery.

The goal is to increase mitochondrial density so that we are very good at oxidizing fats. When we have poor mitochondrial density we are far more prone to switching over to anaerobic metabolism at low activity levels and anaerobic activities require glucose.

So if we can’t burn fat at high rates due to low numbers of mitochondria, we can’t make much glucose from glycerol via fat oxidation, so in turn our bodies go to plan B which is to make it out of amino acids in order to make up for the rest of what it needs.

So if you increase your mitochondrial density through exercise, you’ll oxidize a higher volume of fat, which will give a higher yield of glucose from glycerol and thus reduce your body’s need to break down aminos from dietary protein and lean mass.

Post exercise increased fat oxidation due to mitochondrial density produces more ketones during the recovery period which get used preferentially so the increased glucose production during that time can go towards refilling of glycogen stores rather than be oxidized for energy. This is why many top keto athletes will fast for a few hours post training. If they eat straight away they miss out on this phenomenon and actually will recover slower.

caloric restriction

Building on the prior trials in yeast and worms, the current dietary restriction longevity experiments in rhesus monkeys are looking positive.  You can see the monkey on the right who has been living on 30% less calories looks younger and healthier than the monkey on the left who is the same age.

The monkeys who eat less have less age related disease and live longer.[6]

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While avoiding excess energy intake is beneficial, there are differing opinions on how this translates to humans in the real world in terms of increased life span.

Peter Attia says:

Most people in this space, the super-in-the-weeds people on this topic that I’ve spoken with at length, do not believe caloric restriction actually enhances survival in the wild. 

Nobody disputes that for most species it enhances survival in the laboratory, but once you get into the wild, you’re basically trading one type of mortality for another.[7]

So many things in life are a balance and involve compromise.  While you need adequate nutrition to be strong and active, our bodies also age more slowly if we don’t subject ourselves to excess energy.

Another problem with calorie restriction is that unfortunately most of us don’t have the self-discipline to limit our food intake all the time.  When we do eat we find it hard to stop until we are satisfied.  Our survival instincts don’t know about the studies in the monkeys, the worms and the yeast.

Most people find it hard to maintain constant caloric restriction when they have free will and unlimited access to food.  And then the cruel trick for people who do have the discipline to consistently reduce their energy intake is that the body will scale back its energy expenditure to stay within the reduced energy intake.

intermittent fasting

 “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

Saint Augustine[8]

So if caloric restriction doesn’t necessarily work, then what’s the solution?  Jason Fung makes a compelling case for the benefits of intermittent fasting rather than chronic calorie restriction.

When there is a lack of food a process called autophagy (from the Greek auto, “self” and phagein, “to eat”) kicks in and we turn to our own old cells for nutrients.  Autophagy is nature’s way of getting the energy we need when we don’t eat in addition to cleaning out the old junk in our bodies and brains.  When we get to eat again we build up new, fresh healthier cells.

But this process of cell clean up and regeneration cannot occur without giving the body the chance to clean out the old cells first.[9]  We regenerate and slow aging when we don’t always have a constant supply of energy.  One of the advantages of intermittent fasting over simply reducing calories is that you get a deeper cleanse of the old cells with total restriction of energy inputs.

In the video below David Sinclair explains how our body makes a special effort to repair itself when there is a lack of food.  In a famine 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 until a time when food is more plentiful and you can reproduce and pass on your genes.  Unfortunately, this emergency repair function just doesn’t happen when food is plentiful.  They’re working on drugs that will mimic this effect, but in the meantime, intermittent fasting is free.

As detailed in the how to use your glucose meter as a fuel gauge article, it can be useful to track blood glucose or weight to help guide the frequency and duration of intermittent fasting to make sure you’re moving towards your goals.

protein restriction?

Many people hypothesise that restricting protein is an important component to slow aging.

Dr Ron Rosedale talks a lot about the dangers of glycation and the kinase mTOR.  His hypothesis, as articulated in the Safe Starches Debate and AHS 2012, is that we should avoid carbohydrates to avoid the dis-benefits of glycation, particularly as we can get the glucose we need from protein and to a lesser extent from fat.  When you see that all the major diseases of aging are correlated with high blood sugars and high insulin levels you might think that he is onto something.

In his AHS 2012 talk Rosedale discusses the dangers of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin).  mTOR is activated when we eat protein and raise insulin and leads to suppression of autophagy.  In view of this Rosedale recommends relatively low levels of protein for people with diabetes (e.g. 0.6g/kg) and even lower for people who are battling cancer (e.g. 0.45g/kg).

Vegan luminary Dr Michael Gregor points to the various drawbacks of excess dietary protein and makes a compelling case for restricting animal protein by focusing on plant foods rather than caloric restriction or intermittent fasting.

There’s a fascinating August 2015 paper by Valter Longo et al that gives an overview of the current thinking in longevity.[10]   While it mentions protein restriction as a possible area for future investigation, discussion of protein restriction generally seems to be in the context of intermittent restriction with subsequent re-feeding.

To date, very few studies have been performed in humans on the potential beneficial effects of protein and/or amino acid restriction on aging processes or age-associated chronic diseases. [11]

There are obvious benefits in having periods where the body can clean out old proteins, however you also need high quality nutrition to build back the new shiny parts.

While I have gone to great lengths to bring attention to the fact that protein contributes to the insulin load of the diet, I struggle with the concept of chronic protein avoidance when so many of the things I read talk about the mental health benefits of protein,[12] [13] the benefits of lean muscle mass for metabolic health, the satiety benefits of protein and the importance of lean muscle as we get older to ensure we can be active and strong rather than brittle.[14]

Like everything though it’s a balancing act.  Binging on protein supplements and egg whites to get big and jacked is not going to lead to optimal health and longevity.  Some of these guys are even injecting extra insulin for its anabolic hypertrophy effects on top of the anabolic hormones.  This is not healthy and not natural.

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So how much protein do you need when you do eat?   I think you need enough to be strong and active but at the same time without raising insulin and blood sugars and decreasing ketones.

Lean muscle = good

Insulin sensitivity = good

Excess body fat = bad

High insulin = bad

cancer

There’s also a growing momentum around the metabolic theory of cancer (the number three leading cause of death) which hypotheses that excess glucose feeds cancer growth and restricting glucose through a therapeutic ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting will reduce your risk of cancer.

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There is some great work by Thomas Seyfried, Travis Christoferson and Domonic D’Agostino that is well worth your time if you haven’t already seen it.

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When you hear Seyfriend talk he seems very proud of and excited about the glucose : ketone index (GKI) which he developed as a proxy for a person’s insulin levels.  As you can see in the chart below, as our blood glucose levels decrease ketone levels rise.

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More than blood glucose or ketones alone, the relationship between your blood glucose and ketones seems to be a good proxy for your insulin sensitivity.

It seems that someone with a GKI of less than 10 has fairly low insulin levels, someone with a GKI of less than 3 has excellent metabolic health, while someone battling cancer might want to target a GKI of 1.0.

Reducing the insulin load of your diet can reduce your glucose levels, increase your ketones and reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome and the most prominent causes of death (i.e. heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).

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Just to be clear, you people who achieve these excellent insulin resistance levels don’t get get there by simple adding more fat to their morning coffee but through disciplined intermittent fasting which tends to lead to reduction in body fat which improves insulin resistance.

finding the optimal balance

On one extreme too much food will make us fat and insulin resistant and stop the body from repairing itself.

On the other extreme calorie restriction will make us frail and vulnerable to disease and accidents.

So how do we find the middle ground?

On the topic of carbohydrates Peter Attia says:

You want to consume basically as much glucose as you can tolerate before you start to get out of glucose homeostasis. For me there’s a different number than for the next person, and you have to find what the level is.

I’ve been wearing a continuous glucose monitor for several months now. Every day I just have it spit out my 24-hour average of glucose plus a standard deviation, and I now know my sweet spot. I like to have a 24-hour average of between 91 and 93 mg/dL with a standard deviation less than 10.

We can’t measure insulin in real time. To me, the Holy Grail would be to have an area under the curve of insulin, but this becomes a pretty good proxy.

It’s fascinating to see that Attia, who is a super fit semi pro athlete is going to the effort of wearing a continuous glucose meter full time.  CGMs are generally worn by people with type 1 diabetes like my wife.

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The process he is describes of reducing dietary glucose intake to a point where blood glucose levels are normalised is essentially the process used by the people we see who are managing type 1 diabetes as well as possible.

The food insulin index testing measured the area under the curve response to various foods (i.e. what Attia describes as the Holy Grail) and has been really useful for us to understand which dietary inputs cause the greatest blood glucose swings and require largest amounts of insulin.

I think the reason that Attia is recommending ‘as much glucose as you can tolerate’ is to fuel your energy needs for activity, maximise nutrition and dietary flexibility.  This level of blood glucose control will give him an HbA1c of 4.8% which will put him in the lowest risk category for the most common diseases of aging.  But to maintain such a tight standard deviation he’s going to be managing the net carbs and protein in his diet so his blood sugar doesn’t go over 100mg/dL or 5.6mmol/L too often.

Dr Roy Taylor recently released an interesting paper where he proposes that each person has a personal fat threshold[15].  Rather than BMI or body fat, there is a certain level at which the body fat becomes inflamed and insulin resistant which leads to diabetes and all the issues related to metabolic syndrome.  What this means in practice is if your blood glucose levels are rising above optimal you need to eat less to lose body fat.

When it comes to protein Attia says:

What I’m telling my patients is really you only need as much protein as is necessary to preserve muscle mass.

You have a sliding scale, which is carbohydrate goes up until you hit your glucose and insulin ceiling, protein comes down until you’re about to erode into muscle mass and slip into positive nitrogen balance, and then fat becomes the delta.

So in somebody like me, that’s probably about 20% carb, 20% protein 60% fat.

I’ve done everything from vegan to full ketogenic.  I’ve experimented with the entire spectrum of religions, but nevertheless, that’s the framework.[16]

It’s worth noting here that this quote from Peter is in the context him talking at length about mTOR, ROS, glucose control and protein restriction.  Attia is one of the smartest guys in nutrition, medicine and anti-aging science, but he’s not avoiding protein.  He’s making sure he gets enough to maintain lean muscle mass but not so much that it messes with his glucose levels or requires a significant glucose response.

Attia also talks about maximising glucose and minimising protein to normalise blood glucose and insulin.  Given that the focus is on managing insulin levels, I think you could also take the opposite approach to minimise carbs and maximise protein as much as you can without disrupting glucose or losing ketones.   People with type 1 diabetes will tend to consume medium to higher protein levels (which provide glucose but without the same degree of glucose swing) with lower levels of carbohydrates.

Or alternatively find your own balance of net carbs and protein that gives excellent blood glucose levels and some ketones.

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When it comes to finding the optimal level of protein and energy Dr Tommy Wood said:

The anti-IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor) crowd confuse me. Lots = bad (cancer). Very little = also bad (sarcopenia and broken hips).[17]

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caloric restriction

One of the pioneers in the field of longevity is Roy Walford,[18] who developed the concept of Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition (CRON).  Many of the ideas in this article and the blog overall are built around Walford’s ideas regarding optimising nutrition for health and longevity.

While Walford lived his theories in practice, he unfortunately died at 79 of ALS so we didn’t really get to find out whether calorie restriction delayed the major diseases of aging for him.  The pictures below are taken of Dr Walford before and after two years living in Biosphere 2.[19]

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Walford was the crew’s physician and meticulously recorded the health markers of the Biosphere 2 ‘crew members’[20].  It’s interesting to see how markers like BMI, glucose, insulin and HbA1c all improved markedly with the semi-starvation conditions during the experiment, however they reverted to more normal levels after resuming normal eating.

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optimal nutrition

If we are going to fast and / or restrict calories to optimise our metabolic health it’s even more important that we make sure that the food we do eat, when we eat it, provides all the nutrients that we need to thrive and build back new shiny parts of our body.  Unfortunately it seems that the optimal nutrition component of Walford’s CRON concept is not discussed much these days.

In the article optimal foods for different goals I have detailed a system that can be tailored to identify nutrient dense foods for different goals to balance nutrient density and insulin load.  I hope this will help to spark further discussion around the topic of nutrient density and which foods would be most helpful for different people.

summary…

So what does all this mean?  What do we know about maximising our metabolic health and avoiding the primary diseases of aging?

Is too much energy bad… yes.

Is eating all the time bad…. yes.

Is excess protein bad… maybe, maybe not, however the vegans would say that we should avoid animal protein and stick to only plant based foods.

Are excess carbohydrates bad… maybe, maybe not, however the low carb / keto crowd would say that you need to avoid carbohydrates because they raise your insulin.

Is excess protein and excess non-fibre carbohydrates bad… most likely, yes.

Both carbohydrates and protein will raise insulin, blood glucose, IGF-1 and upregulate mTOR which all accelerate aging.

In the end though we have to eat.  We are programmed for survival.   While not eating too much and intermittent fasting are important considerations, when we do eat though we should maximise the nutrient density and prioritise foods that do not not raise our insulin and blood glucose levels.  I think if you get that right a lot of the other things will follow.

There is no perfect dietary solution for all.  What is best for you will come down to your situation, goals and preferences.

Some people will prefer zero carb with lots of meat.

Some people feel strongly about avoiding animal products and do well on a plant based diet with minimal processed foods.

Some will aim for a therapeutic ketosis approach to tackle major metabolic issues.

All of these extremes are viable but a balance somewhere in the middle might be easier to maintain in the long term while also maximising the nutrient density of the calories we consume.

What is almost certainly dangerous for most people is the low fat, high insulin load approach that has been recommended for the past few decades and seems to have led to increased consumption of low nutrient density highly processed food products by many.

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references

[1] http://chriskresser.com/the-keys-to-longevity-with-peter-attia/

[2] http://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-12-164

[3] http://cardiothoracicsurgery.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1749-8090-3-63

[4] http://chriskresser.com/the-keys-to-longevity-with-peter-attia/

[5] http://chriskresser.com/the-keys-to-longevity-with-peter-attia/

[6] http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140401/ncomms4557/fig_tab/ncomms4557_F1.html

[7] http://chriskresser.com/the-keys-to-longevity-with-peter-attia/

[8] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6741-complete-abstinence-is-easier-than-perfect-moderation

[9] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/fasting-and-autophagy-fasting-25/

[10] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4531065/

[11] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4531065/

[12] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

[13] https://www.moodcure.com/safe_alternatives_to_antidepressants.html

[14] http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/sarcopenia-with-aging

[15] http://www.clinsci.org/content/128/7/405

[16] http://chriskresser.com/the-keys-to-longevity-with-peter-attia/

[17] http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2011-1377

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Walford

[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosphere_2

[20] https://m.biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/57/6/B211.full

[21] http://www.walford.com/cronmeals1.htm

[22] https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/andi-food-scores.aspx

[23] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVQmPVBjubw

Fine tuning your diet to suit your goals – Darth Luiggi

It looks like Luis Villasenor is doing something right.

Luis (aka Darth Luiggi who runs the Ketogains Facebook Group) has been on a ketogenic diet for more than 14 years!

Here are a couple of video interviews where Luis explains his approach.

He is also very active in coaching the more than 7000 Ketogains members on his Facebook group and Reddit.

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Recently I was able to get a look at a few days of Luis’s food diary on My Fitness Pal so I thought it would be interesting to run some numbers on his diet.

My focus of the blog has been on optimising diet for diabetes management, however I wanted to also demonstrate that a nutritious low insulin load diet is also great for health and fitness.

The analysis below shows the combination of three meals.  Along with plenty of protein (beef, chicken, egg, pork) he also has a solid amount of vegetables (broccoli, lettuce and spinach) as well as a good amount of added fats (butter, olive oil and coconut oil) to maintain ketosis.

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The nutritional analysis of these three meals is shown below.  As you would expect from the dude who runs Ketogains, the carbs are low at 5% with the protein being fairly substantial at 29% of daily calories.

The protein score is excellent with 145% of the RDI being met with 1000 calories and 58% of the RDI for vitamins and minerals being met with 1000 calories.

A score of 100 means that you will meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) for all the nutrients with 1000 calories, as discussed in the previous ‘the most nutrient dense food for different goals’ article.

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The table below shows how Luis’s diet stacks up based on the nutritional ketosis weighting.

At 26g of fibre per day his fibre score is solid but not high compared to the other meals analysed.  His calorie density is high but that isn’t a big issue given that he is already fairly lean.

The insulin score is not extremely high as there is a solid amount of protein and he’s not worried about diabetes or achieving therapeutic ketosis.

The vitamin and mineral score is the one area that could be improved, though it is better than average.

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As you will hear on the videos, Luis is already a big advocate for leafy greens as an integral part of a ketogenic diet.

If we did want to improve the vitamin and mineral score we could simply add extra spinach and broccoli (or any of the nutrient dense veggies from this list).

I’ve dropped the lettuce (which is not as nutrient dense) and increased the broccoli and spinach so we have 400g of each across the three meals.

The resultant nutritional analysis for the revised food diary is shown below.  The nutrient balance score has increased from 58 to 70 and we’d only have 8g of net carbohydrates per meal in spite of the significant increase in vitamins and minerals.

image010

With the increase in non-starchy veggies we increase the fibre intake from 26g to 40g across the three meals which would mean that he would now meet the recommended daily fibre intake of 30g per day for men.

The other advantage of this approach is that it would be more filling which may lead to a decreased overall calorie intake.  While Luis knows the power of a ketogenic diet for weight loss he also knows that to get such a low percentage body fat you also need to run in a calorie deficit and this approach may assist in naturally controlling appetite and satiety.

He is currently in a ‘cutting phase’ which is why he is tracking his food intake in My Fitness Pal, so reducing his calorie density and increasing fibre might help him to spontaneously achieve a reduction in overall energy intake.

If you’re interested in using the ketogenic diet as part of a bodybuilding routine I would definitely recommend checking out Ketogains.  Even though he looks tough with all those muscles he’s really polite, gracious and only too willing to help other people on the journey.  And regardless of your goals, Luis’s Ketogains calculator is an excellent tool if you want to calculate your macros or target grams of protein, fat and carbs.

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]

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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

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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

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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.

image043

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

image044

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.

image045

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/

optimising micronutrients and macronutrients for different goals

  • This article looks at the macro and micronutrient split for the most nutrient dense foods using a multi criteria analysis tailored for different goals (i.e. diabetes, therapeutic ketosis, weight loss and athletic performance).
  • High protein foods are typically much more nutrient dense than high carbohydrate foods.
  • The optimal protein intake for athletes, people who are metabolically healthy and people who are trying to lose weight is virtually unrestricted, particularly as the blood glucose impact from gluconeogenesis is not a concern and the amount of protein someone can eat is self-limiting.
  • People with diabetes and metabolic syndrome may benefit from a more moderate protein intake in order to reduce their insulin load to the point that that their pancreas can keep up and maintain normal blood glucose levels.

the setup

In a number of previous articles I have discussed minimum glucose and protein requirements based on starvation experiments.  Thinking that these are recommendations for protein a number of people responded noting that 0.8g/kg lean body mass (LBM) or 8% of calories is too low. [1]

My typical response to these comments has been along the lines of:

  • We need to get adequate amino acids from protein, just like we need adequate vitamins and minerals.
  • It’s all about finding the balance between adequate nutrition while keeping your dietary glucose load low enough so your pancreas can function efficiently.
  • The optimal approach is going to be different for each individual, depending on your needs, activity levels, personal situation and goals.

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But what does this look like in practice?  What is the optimal macronutrient ratio that balances the competing goals of maximising nutrition while not overloading our body’s capacity to process those nutrients?  How do we get adequate protein for growth, repair and mental function while avoiding high blood glucose and excess body fat?

How do you find a way through all the contradictory health advice from different health camps saying ‘you can’t eat too much protein’, ‘maximise your veggies’, ‘eat fat to lose fat’, or others saying ‘intermittent fasting is the rediscovered cure for everything’?

different strokes for different folks

Context matters when it comes to designing the optimal diet.

In the article Your Personal Food Ranking System I outlined a multi criteria system to help prioritise food choices for different situations.  The system uses different weightings for a range of parameters available from the USDA food database.  I then used these parameters and weightings to develop lists of optimal foods for different situations (i.e. weight loss, diabetes / nutritional ketosis, therapeutic ketosis, and athlete / metabolically healthy) highlighting foods from the top 25% of the foods ranked using those weightings.

In developing these lists of optimal foods I also included cost considerations as a factor.  However in the discussion of optimal nutrition I don’t think cost is as important.  I also wanted to use the full USDA database of nearly 8000 foods rather than the smaller database of around 1000 foods that I have cost data for.

So we are left with the following parameters from which to develop a food ranking system:

  • nutrient density / calorie,
  • nutrient density / weight,
  • fibre / calorie,
  • fibre / weight,
  • percentage of insulinogenic calories, and
  • calories / weight.

fibre

Fibre can be useful to help feed and increase the diversity of our gut bacteria which appears to be good for a range of benefits including insulin sensitivity and autoimmunity.

The amount of fibre per calorie also seems to be a good proxy for the degree of processing involved in carbohydrate containing foods.

  • Highly processed foods = bad.
  • Minimally processed foods = good.

calorie density

Regardless of calories, it seems we eat about the same weight of food per day. [2]

Calorie density is related to fibre content.  Decreasing calorie density is a useful way to spontaneously manage energy intake.

A low calorie density typically means that your food contains a lot of water, so by itself it isn’t particularly useful;  a fortified energy drink or a slice of watermelon will end up scoring highly when we only consider nutrient density per calorie.

Considering both calorie density and fibre together ends up being a much more useful approach.

proportion of insulinogenic calories

If you are insulin resistant or obese then managing the insulin load of your diet will be an important consideration.  The percentage of insulinogenic calories concept builds on the food insulin index testing which demonstrates that both carbohydrates and protein require insulin. [3]

Keeping your percentage of insulinogenic calories low (as defined by the formula below) means reducing net carbohydrates, increasing fibre and possibly moderating protein.

image002

This formula biases against non-fibre carbohydrates.  As noted earlier, one of the major concerns people have with this approach to identifying optimal foods is that we still need our protein.  So the question is, “to what extent would protein be penalised if we also try to maximise our nutrients?”

nutrient density

The nutrient density concept builds on the excellent work of Mat Lalonde which he discusses in this video from AHS 2012.

Lalonde shortlisted the following essential nutrients [4] which have been used in the nutritional analysis as part of the multi criteria analysis:

Essential fatty acids [5]

  1. alphalinolenic 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

It is worth noting that the list of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals has about equal number of elements (i.e. eleven amino acids, twelve vitamins and ten minerals).  Hence it is unlikely that we would end up biasing towards high protein foods just because we have more amino acids being counted than say vitamins or minerals.

The nutrient density for a certain food is based on a relative score calculated by comparing the amount of a particular nutrient in each food with the all of the foods in the database.

For example, if a food has an average amount of vitamin C compared to the 8000 other foods in the database it will get a score of zero because it is zero standard deviations from the mean.  If it has a large amount of a certain nutrient then it will receive a high score.  If it is two standard deviations from the mean then it gets a score of two for that nutrient.  If however it is five standard deviations from the mean it gets a maximum score of three in order to avoid prioritising foods that have massive amounts of one nutrient versus foods that have high amounts of a number of nutrients.

Kale

One example of where this limitation comes into play is kale, which has a massive amount of vitamin K, [6] versus spinach which has a high amount of vitamin K but also has a range of other nutrients and ends up with a higher overall nutrient density score.  Because of the upper limit on the score for a single nutrient, this system would give a higher ranking to spinach which has a more well-rounded nutrient profile rather than simply being an over achiever in one or two nutrients.

image004

No weighting of individual nutrients has been applied.  Weighting one nutrient as more important than another could be useful for a particular person with a particular goal or health condition.  However at the same time it’s nice to keep the analysis ‘clean’ to avoid arguments about bias. [7]  This unweighted approach highlights foods that have a broad spectrum of nutrients at significant levels.

minimum protein

So what is the minimum amount of protein that we require?

  • According to Nuttall and Gannon [8] the body requires between 32 and 46g of high quality dietary protein per day to maintain protein balance in a starvation situation. This equates to around 6 to 7% of calories in a 2000 to 2500 calorie diet but in starvation this is how much your body will cannibalize off your muscle per day if it gets no food, with the rest coming from body fat stores.
  • The recommended daily intake (RDI) of 0.8g/kg LBM is based on an estimated average requirement (EAR) of 0.66g/kg LBM which is the amount estimated to ensure that 50% of the population are not deficient.
  • Ron Rosedale, an advocate of ketogenic diets and minimising insulin as far as possible, recommends 1.0g/kg LBM for most people, 1.25g/kg LBM if you exercise and 0.8g/kg LBM for people with diabetes. [9] [10] [11] [12]

typical protein intake

As a reference point, the American diet typically consists of between 65 and 100g of protein per day.  According to NHANES fat and protein intake has decreased over the last few decades as carbohydrate content has increased. [13]

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maximum protein

Most people will find it difficult to eat more than 30% of their calories from protein from whole foods, though you can push to higher levels by using protein powders.

Protein is very satiating so our intake is typically self-limiting.  The upper limit of protein intake for our liver is said to be 200 to 300g per day, or 35 to 40% of calories from protein. [14]

The term ‘rabbit starvation’ refers to a situation where people who only have lean rabbits to eat starve because they just can’t process any more protein. [15]

This video from Dr Donald Layman gives an overview of the benefits of protein.  He says that the range of safe protein intake varies between 0.8g/kg LBM and 2.5g/kg LBM.

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Steve Phinney’s WFKD triangle suggests that people will find it hard to achieve nutritional ketosis with protein levels greater than 30% of calories or 2.4g/kg LBM, even if they have very low carbohydrate levels.

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In The Myth of 1 g/lb: Optimal Protein Intake for Bodybuilders[16] Menno Henselmans argues that there is a limit to how much protein we can metabolise to grow muscle.  More protein does not necessarily mean more “gainz”.  As shown in the figure below:

  • people who are sedentary will be unlikely to gain more muscle with more than 0.8kg/kg lean body mass;
  • an endurance athlete may not gain more muscle with more than 1.3g/kg lean body mass; and
  • a strength athlete will not activate more protein synthesis by eating more than around 1.8g/kg lean body mass.

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Interestingly Luis Villasenor (aka Darth Luiggi, pictured below), who runs Ketogains and is studying under Henselmans, recently changed the upper limit on his Ketogains macro calculator to include an upper limit of 1.8g/kg total body mass for protein to reflect Menno’s findings.

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Luis said his rationale behind the protein levels in the Ketogains macro calculator:

  • lower limit of 0.8 to 1.0g per pound of lean pound of body weight, and  .
  • upper limit that will not affect ketosis = 1.8g per total kilogram.

Luis says that protein grams over 1.8g/kg total body mass should be counted as 50% toward daily carb intake and that higher levels of protein can hinder ketone production.  Higher levels of protein are not necessarily going to be a problem if your carbs are low and / or you are insulin sensitive and have your blood glucose levels under control.  This approach certainly seems to be working for Luis!

While there is a limit to the amount of amino acids we can use for muscle growth and repair, it’s important to note that amino acids are also important for mental health.  Julia Ross’s Mood Cure details how nutrients can be targeted to address depression and a range of other mental health issues. [17]  So protein in excess of what is required for our muscles is not necessarily wasted.

To summarise, the table below shows a comparison of these minimum and maximum levels in terms of percentage of daily calories, grams per kilogram of lean body mass and grams per day for a 2250 calorie per day diet for a man with 74kg lean body mass (LBM).

scenario PRO (g/day) PRO (%) g/kg LBM
minimum (starvation) 32 6% 0.4
RDI / sedentary 59 11% 0.8
typical 90 16% 1.2
strength athlete 133 24% 1.8
WFKD max 169 30% 2.3
maximum 197 35% 2.7

the Goldilocks glucose zone

I believe that consideration of optimal protein intake needs to have some regard for the carbohydrate level, given that we can get the glucose we need from both protein and carbohydrate.  If we increase the glucose load (from carbohydrates and / or protein) above what our body can tolerate then we drive up blood glucose and insulin levels, thus ending up with obesity and diabetes.

In the Goldilocks Glucose Zone article I looked at how we can obtain glucose from both carbohydrate and protein (through gluconeogenesis).  If we are more towards the bottom left of the plot of protein versus carbohydrate chart, our diet is more likely to be more ketogenic.  However, the more we minimise protein and carbohydrates the more we risk not obtaining the fibre and nutrients that might be harder to find on a higher fat diet diet of butter, coconut oil and avocado.

What this means in practice is that the more ketogenic our diet is, the more intentional we have to be about achieving adequate nutrition and maximising the nutrient density of the foods that we eat.

Microsoft Word Document 23082015 22135 PM.bmp

therapeutic ketosis

Let’s first look at the most extreme end of the spectrum, therapeutic ketosis.  This approach is based on the theory that a low insulin load diet will help control conditions such as cancer and epilepsy.

The table below shows the weighting criteria for therapeutic ketosis, with a low percentage of insulinogenic calories being the primary goal.  Minimal weighting is given to fibre and calorie density with moderate weighting given to nutrient density.

ND / cal fibre / cal ND / weight calories / 100g insulinogenic (%)
10% 5% 10% 5% 70%

People who are aiming for therapeutic ketosis in an effort to conquer cancer or epilepsy are typically motivated to reduce the insulin load of their diet, sometimes at the expense of nutrition.

Check out Andrew Scarborough’s story for a fascinating example of someone who has worked very hard to maximise nutrition while still having a very low insulin load.   Andrew focuses on maximising omega-3 fats and has to avoid ketogenic favourites such as avocado and coconut oil due to his intolerances.

I’ve sorted the foods in the USDA food database using these weightings and plotted the highest ranking 5% of these foods against the protein versus net carbs chart with the various levels of ketosis.  On average these foods have a very low 1.4% net carbohydrates and a fairly low 11% protein (i.e. approximately the RDI minimum level for sedentary people).

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In the bottom left hand corner of the chart butter, cream and oils make the list due to their very low percentage of insulinogenic calories.  However what I find most interesting is to look at the foods that make the list due to their higher nutritional value such as spices, olives, bacon and cheese.

You can download the list of the top 500 foods ranked using this system here to review the outputs of the system in more detail.  Because nutrient density and fibre don’t play a big part in this ranking there are lot of high fat foods here that don’t have a lot of amazing nutritional properties, so you’ll need to use your discretion to find foods from this list that suit your goals other than just being high fat.

diabetes and nutritional ketosis

The table below shows the weighting to identify optimal foods for diabetes and nutritional ketosis.  This approach is less extreme than the therapeutic ketosis approach with only half the weighting in the multi criteria analysis being given to the insulinogenic properties with some of the weighting spread to nutritional density and calorie density.

ND / cal fibre / cal ND / weight calories / 100g insulinogenic (%)
10% 10% 10% 10% 60%

The plot below shows the top 5% of foods in the USDA database ranked using this weighting in terms of protein versus net carbohydrates.  On average these foods have 2% net carbohydrates and 20% protein which aligns reasonably well with what we see practiced in the low carbohydrate and diabetic community.

Protein levels are moderate in order to ensure adequate levels of amino acids while managing the insulin load of the diet.  With such low levels of carbohydrates this approach is certainly still ketogenic!

To give some context it’s worth noting that the typical western diet is about 15% of calories from protein, [18] so most people would need to eat more protein to achieve these levels.

Again, it’s interesting to look at the outliers that make the cut due to their nutritional density such as black pepper, parsley, rosemary, spinach and liver.  Although these foods have a higher percentage of insulinogenic calories it would be hard to overeat them.

You can download the top 500 foods using this system here.

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weight loss

This approach to the weighting of the multi criteria ranking is designed for someone who already has their blood glucose levels under control, but still wants to lose more weight.

Some people find that they can achieve their target weight on a ketogenic diet.  However others don’t have the same degree of success and perhaps may need more help to reduce their calories lower through food choices to help them lose weight.

While many people find that a higher fat diet will naturally lead to increased satiety with the reduced insulin load enabling stored body fat to be released for fuel, it is still possible to overdo your calories on a high fat diet.  Too many calories, even with ketogenic macronutrient ratios, can still mess with your insulin sensitivity and cause weight gain. [19]

Chris Gardner’s A to Z trial [20] highlighted that people with insulin resistance lost the most weight if they reduced their insulin load, while people who were not insulin resistant could lose weight on any diet as long it was low enough in calories. [21] [22]

aima-schofield-2015-059

The table below shows the weighting for the suggested optimal foods for weight loss which prioritises high fibre, high nutrient density and low calorie density foods rather than focusing as much on insulin load.

ND / cal fibre / cal ND / weight calories / 100g insulinogenic (%)
15% 10% 15% 20% 40%

This approach might be appropriate for a person that still has weight to lose but has gained control of their blood glucose levels and meets the following criteria:

  • 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)

Being overweight and / or having a larger than desirable waist line is usually a good sign you are insulin resistant, so most people wanting to lose weight should typically start with the diabetes / nutritional ketosis approach (possibly with some intermittent fasting) until they get their blood glucose levels and insulin resistance under control.

As indicated by the chart above from the analysis of Gardner’s study, the low carb approach worked the best regardless of insulin resistance status.  Designing a diet that is high in fibre, has high nutrient density,  while still being fairly low in carbohydrates and calories, may help automatically limit food intake and manage calorie intake. This way we are focusing on food quality rather than having to count calories!

The plot below shows the top 500 foods using the weight loss ranking.  You will note that there are a lot of foods that sit well outside the ketogenic triangle.  On average we have 4% net carbohydrates and 36% protein.

Once we reduce the emphasis on glucose load the system will strongly prioritise protein rather than carbohydrate-based foods to source nutrition!

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With the priority on high fibre and low calorie density, this approach would simply make it physically difficult for someone to overeat.  The insulin load will naturally be reduced because you just won’t be able to binge on calorie dense foods!

If you can manage to eat 2250 calories per day (i.e. typical intake[23]) of the top 10% of foods prioritised using these weightings you would be eating 150g of net carbs but also 130g of fibre!  Most people would struggle to eat this much fibre and volume of food.  If they were able to consume only 1500 calories per day they would be getting 120g of protein, 100g net carbs and 85g of fibre.

While 100g of net carbohydrates is high by low carb standards it is much less than the 300g per day consumed by most people and is unlikely to drive insulin resistance in most people because the carbohydrates being consumed would have an extremely low glycemic index!

If you find your blood glucose levels are drifting up using this approach (i.e. post meal blood sugars of greater than 6.7mmol/L or 120mg/dL) you could revert back to the diabetic / nutritional ketosis approach to make certain you are keeping your insulin levels low enough to be able to successfully lose weight.

You can download the top 500 highest ranking foods using this approach here.

athletes and metabolically healthy

As shown in the weightings in the table below, this approach maximises nutrient density without trying to minimise calorie density.  If you’re a lean athlete trying to refuel quickly you won’t want to be eating a pile of low calorie density lettuce and spinach to fill your calorie needs.  You will be interested in maximising nutrient density to maximise health and athletic performance.

ND / cal fibre / cal ND / weight calories / 100g insulinogenic (%)
30% 10% 30% 10% 20%

The top 500 foods using this ranking are plotted below.  On average these foods are 4% net carbohydrate and 36% protein.  Most people will find it difficult to eat greater than 30% protein from whole food sources, so as with the weight loss approach, this scenario would enable you to basically eat as much protein as you wanted from real food sources.

If you’re lean and insulin sensitive then it’s hard to eat too much protein.  Again, if you found that your blood glucose levels were driving up with this approach you should revert to foods with a lower insulin load.

You can download the top 500 highest ranking foods using this approach here.

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without consideration of insulin load

To see if the insulin load was adversely biasing the analysis against carbohydrate and towards protein, I thought that it would be worth running the analysis without the percentage of insulinogenic calories as a consideration.

The table below shows the weightings used for this scenario which heavily bias towards nutrient density and with a smaller weighting towards fibre and calorie density.

ND / cal fibre / cal ND / weight calories / 100g insulinogenic (%)
35% 15% 35% 15% 0%

The chart below shows the most nutrient dense 500 foods plotted on the protein versus net carbohydrates chart with an average of 54% protein and 12% carbohydrates.  While the carbohydrates comes up a little compared to the other scenarios the protein is very high.

If the insulin load is not considered the macronutrient split of the highest ranking foods is 54% protein and 12% carbohydrates.  However this isn’t realistic as we can’t physically eat that much protein, so we will end up eating either more fat or carbohydrate rather than all that protein.  If you have some level of insulin resistance, fat is the logical choice rather than carbohydrates in order to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

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You can download the highest ranking 500 foods using this criteria here.

summary

The table below lists the average protein and net carbs for the highest ranking foods for the four dietary approaches.  The figure below shows this graphically.

approach protein (%) net carbs (%) insulinogenic (%) protein (g) net carb (g)
therapeutic ketosis 11% 1% 8% 62 6
diabetes / nutritional ketosis 20% 2% 13% 113 11
weight loss (2250 cal) 36% 4% 24% 203 22
weight loss (1500 cal) 29% 3% 19% 109 11
athlete / metabolically healthy 36% 12% 38% 203 67
typical western diet 16% 50% 59% 90 281

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When it comes to weight loss it’s also useful to consider the fat that is coming from your body.  I have shown the macronutrient split for the weight loss scenario both in terms of a 2250 calorie per day diet and as a 1500 calorie per day diet assuming that the calorie deficit is coming from fat stores.

For athletes and the metabolically healthy, protein is largely unrestricted when it comes to maximising nutrient density.  The maximum amount of protein for people who are insulin sensitive will come down to how much they can physically eat.

Even if blood glucose levels are not a concern the most nutrient dense foods are still quite low in net carbohydrates.

If you have some degree of insulin resistance or elevated blood sugar it may be useful to moderate protein levels to some extent as well as cutting carbs.  If you are watching your blood glucose levels and / or ketones you can wind the amount of protein back until you achieve your target levels.

In all scenarios nutrient density was maximised, with much less carbohydrate relative to the western diet.

references

[1] See comments section in https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-blood-glucose-glucagon-and-insulin-response-to-protein/ and https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/why-Regardwe-get-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it-v2/

[2] http://www.precisionnutrition.com/what-are-your-4-lbs

[3] It’s worth noting that Metformin works by limiting gluconeogenesis (i.e. the conversion of protein into glucose) in order to help the body better manage blood glucose levels (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24847880).

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

[5] The omega 6 fatty acids are also classed as essentially however it is generally recognised that we have more e

[6] Possibly more than the body could ever use especially in a low fat environment given that it is a fat soluble nutrient.

[7] For example see Chris Masterjohn’s review of Joel Furhman’s ANDI index at http://www.westonaprice.org/book-reviews/eat-to-live-by-joel-fuhrman/

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636610/

[9] http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/daily-protein-requirement.html

[10] http://drrosedale.com/blog/2011/11/21/ron-rosedale-protein-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#axzz3gVOJ69np

[11] http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2010/05/07/ron-rosedale-protein-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

[12] While Rosedale has his reasons for reducing protein such as longevity and avoiding the mTOR metabolic pathway, this minimal protein approach may not be ideal if your goal is to maximise nutrition.  Check out this interesting discussion between Robb Wolf and Jamie Scott from the 52 minute mark in this podcast about the balance between health and longevity when it comes to optimal protein intake levels.  – http://robbwolf.com/2015/07/21/episode-279-jamie-scott-the-state-of-paleo-and-ahsnz/.  I tend to agree with the approach to maximise health and vitality now rather than eating for theoretical longevity with reduced health and vitality now.

[13] http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9146789&fileId=S1368980012005423

[14] http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/04-22/meat-is-not-the-devil-high-protein/

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit_starvation

[16] http://bayesianbodybuilding.com/the-myth-of-1glb-optimal-protein-intake-for-bodybuilders/

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

[18] http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9146789&fileId=S1368980012005423

[19] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1819381/

[20] http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=205916

[21] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3504183/

[22] http://profgrant.com/2015/07/21/5-reasons-sugar-not-fat-is-the-problem/

[23] http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1126.aspx?categoryid=51

insulin dosing options for type 1 diabetes

  • This article reviews a range of approaches to calculating insulin requirements for people with type 1 diabetes.
  • The simplest approach is standard carbohydrate counting, which may be ideal for someone whose diet is dominated by carbohydrates.
  • Bernstein recommends standardised meals for which the insulin dose is refined based on ongoing testing and refinement.
  • Stephen Ponder’s ‘sugar surfing’ builds on carbohydrate counting, with correcting insulin given when blood glucose levels rise above a threshold due to gluconeogenesis.
  • The food insulin index approach predicts insulin requirements based testing in healthy people of the insulin response to popular foods.
  • The total available glucose (TAG) advocates a ‘dual wave bolus’ where insulin for the carbohydrates is given with the meal, with a second square wave bolus given for the protein which is typically slower to digest and metabolise.

introduction

In the article Standing on the Shoulders of Giants we met a handful of people who have achieved excellent blood sugar control in spite of having type 1 diabetes.  Common elements of their success include:

  • keeping carbohydrates low to prevent the blood sugar roller coaster,
  • accurately dosing for a controlled amount of dietary carbohydrate,
  • targeting normal blood sugar ranges (i.e. 83mg/dL or 4.6mmol/L) with regular correcting doses,
  • regular exercise and / or intermittent fasting to improve insulin sensitivity, and
  • having a reliable method to account for the insulinogenic effect of protein.

Everyone’s diabetes management regimen is going to be different.  There will be a degree of trial and error to find what will work best for you.  This article reviews a number of approaches that you can learn from to see what suits you.

carbohydrate counting

In the 1970s Dr Richard Bernstein got hold of a blood glucose meter (long before they were easily available) and started experimenting on himself to understand how much a certain amount of carbohydrate raised his blood glucose levels and how much insulin he required to bring his blood glucose back down.

From this style of experimentation we can determine the “carbohydrate to insulin ratio” (i.e. how much insulin is required for a certain amount of carbohydrates).

Carbohydrate counting is now the standard approach that most people with type 1 diabetes are taught.  This approach involves estimating the grams of carbohydrate in your food for each meal.  With this knowledge you can then program the amount of carbohydrates eaten into the insulin pump which calculates the insulin dose based on a pre-set carbohydrate to insulin ratio.

The advantage of this approach is that it is relatively simple.  However it does not consider the insulin required for protein which is typically addressed with correcting doses or sometimes basal insulin.

Carbohydrate counting is a good starting point, but it is by no means perfect. [1] [2]

Bernstein’s own approach

Dr Richard Bernstein advises that his patients, in addition to restricting carbohydrates (i.e. no more than 6g of carbohydrates for breakfast, 12g for lunch and 12g dinner), to have the same meals every day which allows insulin doses to be refined to optimise for blood sugars.  If your blood glucose levels run high one day you can add a little more insulin the next day or a little less if they are running low.

Bernstein also advises targeting an average blood glucose of 83mg/dL (4.6mmol/L), and that you correct if blood glucose levels go outside a ten point range from this target (i.e. 73mg/dL to 93mg/dL or 4.0mmol/L to 5.2mmol/L).  A small bolus of insulin is given to bring blood glucose levels down and a certain portion of a glucose tablet is used to bring blood sugars back up precisely.

Bernstein advises that people with type 1 diabetes modulate the quantity of protein to manage their weight.  If you’re a growing child, protein is essentially unrestricted.  If you’re trying to lose weight protein can be reduced to further reduce insulin.

Bernstein says that protein requires about half as much insulin as carbohydrates and outlines how to dose for it in this video from Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes University.  In practice, though, his approach to dosing for protein requires consistent meals and fine tuning of insulin dose.

sugar surfing

Another popular method is ‘sugar surfing’ which is effectively a ‘bolt-on’ to carbohydrate counting developed by Dr Stephen Ponder to manage the glucose response to things other than carbohydrates.

This approach involves dosing for carbohydrates with the meal, and then watching the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and giving regular ‘micro doses’ of insulin to keep blood sugar under around 93mmol/L (5.2mmol/L).  Typically two or three separate doses will be required to bring a ‘protein spike’ under control for someone with type 1 diabetes.

Injected insulin works over a period of up to eight hours and it is difficult to match the timing of the insulin action with digestion.  The advantages of this approach are that it allows for the variability in the time of protein digestion which varies from person to person and is different for different foods and hence difficult to predict accurately.

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I think the secret to making ‘sugar surfing’ work is to turn the waves that you’re surfing into more manageable ripples by following a diet with a reduced insulin load.

food Insulin Index

“It is possible that other methods of matching insulin with food are not being studied because of the belief that carbohydrate counting is a well-founded, evidence-based therapy,” the researchers concluded. “Indeed, this meta-analysis shows the scarcity of high-level evidence.” [3]

One of the experiments documented in Clinical Application of the Food Insulin Index to Diabetes Mellitus (Bell, 2014) [4] demonstrated that type 1 diabetics calculating their insulin requirement using the food insulin index approach achieved significantly improved blood glucose control compared with those using standard carbohydrate counting.

Estimating the insulin required for the meal from carbohydrate and protein rather than carbohydrate alone is potentially a massive step forward in improving blood sugar control for people with type 1 diabetes.

The limitation of using the approach practiced in the study is that the food selection tested is limited to the one hundred or so popular processed supermarket foods.

If you’ve read my blog you’ll know that I’ve tried to develop a robust method for calculating the insulin requirement for foods based on their macronutrients without having to test them in vivo (i.e. in real, living people). [5] [6] [7]  The chart below shows how we can use the food insulin index test data to more accurately predict the insulin demand of a particular food using this formula.

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Rather than separating doses for carbohydrates and protein, the food insulin index approach assumes that all of the insulin is given with the meal.  The risk with this is that the insulin will take action before the protein digests which will lead to low blood glucose.

Total Available Glucose (TAG)

The TAG (Total Available Glucose) approach is based on a book by Mary Joan Oexmann published in 1989. [8]  This method calculates the insulin required for carbohydrate, protein (54% of carbohydrate) and fat (10% of carbohydrate).

If we gave all the insulin calculated for both carbohydrates and protein when we sat down to eat a high protein meal it is possible that the insulin would take effect before the protein digested, leading to low blood glucose before the gluconeogenesis from the protein had time to kick in.

To deal with the fact that glucose from protein can take longer to show up in the blood stream people who follow the TAG approach typically use a ‘dual wave bolus’.  The insulin for the carbohydrates is dosed with the meal, while the insulin for the protein is infused slowly as a separate “square wave bolus” over a period of three hours or so.  The need for the carbohydrate and protein boluses to be split will depend on the amount of protein in your meal and how quickly protein raises your blood sugars.

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separate boluses for carbohydrates and protein

A few people who achieve excellent blood sugar control simply use two separate boluses – one for carbohydrates before the meal with another one for protein around an hour after the meal.

This approach requires that the insulin for the protein and carbohydrate are calculated separately with the protein bolus being given a number of hours after the meal.

This approach can be refined using a CGM to confirm when the blood sugar response to the protein kicks in and hence when the bolus for protein is required.

insulin calculator

To assist in calculating the bolus for carbohydrates and protein Ted Naiman of Burn Fat Not Sugar has created this insulin calculator.

You can run it on your computer or phone, enter the properties of the food that you are about to eat and it will calculate the appropriate dose for carbohydrate and protein.  The outputs from this calculator will give you all the required data to follow any of the insulin dosing strategies above.

People who have used it so far have found it beneficial.

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An example screen grab from the calculator is shown below with the explanation of inputs and outputs following.

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inputs

  • If you are using a manufactured food product in a packet you can simply use the nutritional details per serve (protein, fat, carbohydrates) and then factor for the number of serves.
  • If you are in the US you will need to enter the total carbohydrates and fibre values. If you’re in the UK or Australia you don’t need to enter the fibre as it is already subtracted from the carbohydrate count.
  • The protein multiplier is based on the food insulin index testing in non-diabetic people, [9] however you can modify this if you want, based on your own trial and error testing. The analysis of the quantity of amino acids (as detailed in the article the insulin index v2) suggests that this value is unlikely to exceed 80 to 90%.
  • A default carb to insulin ratio of 22 has been used, however you can enter yours from your pump or calculate it based on this article.  [10]
  • You can enter your bolus insulin on board (BoB) which will be subtracted from the carbohydrate insulin dose.

outputs

  • The first line of the outputs is the percentage of insulinogenic calories. As a reference keep in mind that a whole egg is about 25% insulinogenic calories.  A high percentage of insulinogenic calories is not ideal for people with diabetes and insulin resistance.  It may be helpful to select nutritious foods with a low insulin load from this list.
  • The insulin load is calculated using the following formula (i.e. for both carbohydrates and protein).

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  • The percentage of glucose from carbohydrate could be used if you were going to split your dose into an initial bolus for carbohydrates with a separate bolus for protein. This value can be entered into your pump if you’re using a dual wave bolus, with the protein bolus typically given over a longer period.
  • You can use the grams of carbohydrates or the quantity of insulin for the carbohydrates and the protein if you’re using separate boluses.

meals

If you are following the meals from the blog you will notice that the net carbs, total insulin load and percentage of insulin for carbohydrates have been included in a table at the end of each recipe assuming a standardised 500 calorie meal.

our experience

Moni has experimented with dosing separately for the protein component of the meal, however it typically turns out that her blood glucose has risen by the time she doses for the protein.  It seems that for her, the glucose from the protein (via gluconeogenesis) hits her bloodstream quickly and hence delaying the dose for protein is not appropriate for her.

We are also trying to focus on a handful of nutrient dense meals with pre-determined insulin doses.  The table below shows the insulin required for a 500 calorie serving for a range of meals.  All of these have limited carbohydrates and the insulin dose for the protein is greater than the carbohydrate dose.  I have provided hyperlinks to some of the meals that are already published on the blog.

If you can’t handle the thought of weighing and measuring and then calculating the insulin dose for everything you eat, as a ‘rule of thumb’ all of these meals require dosing as if they were about 20 to 25 grams of carbs.  If you are choosing meals with a low insulin load then the insulin dosing for food ends up representing only about 20% of the daily dose.

meal

carbs (g)

protein (g)

 insulin load (g)

bacon, eggs, avocado and spinach

4

15

19

spinach and cheddar scrambled eggs

6

18

24

steak, broccoli, spinach, haloumi

6

20

26

coffee with cream and stevia

1

1

2

chia seed pudding – no fruit

7

4

11

broccoli, bacon, cream and mozzarella

3

17

20

sausages, avocado, sour cream, tomato

7

13

20

bacon, eggs, spinach and pesto

4

16

20

bacon and eggs

3

18

21

bacon, eggs, avocado and sauerkraut

5

21

26

fathead pizza with anchovies and pesto

4

13

17

bacon asparagus and eggs

3

18

21

For us, this approach combines a number of aspects from the various approaches discussed above:

  • all of these meals having less than 12g of carbs as recommended by Bernstein,
  • calculated insulin dose for both protein and carbohydrates,
  • nutrient dense meals, and
  • relatively low percentage of insulinogenic calories (i.e. high fat meals) meaning that the overall insulin dose stays relatively low.

We’re all on a journey.  I hope this helps you move towards finding a strategy that is optimal for you.

References

[1] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(13)70144-X/abstract

[2] http://www.medpagetoday.com/Endocrinology/Diabetes/42610

[3] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(13)70144-X/abstract

[4] http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/11945

[5] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/most-ketogenic-diet-foods/

[6] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/the-insulin-index/

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/?p=2637

[8] http://www.amazon.com/T-A-G-A-Diabetic-Food-System/dp/0688084583

[9] http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/11945

[10] http://www.bd.com/us/diabetes/page.aspx?cat=7001&id=7303

the cost of going low carb

  • Analysis of the USDA Cost of Food at Home database shows that fat is the cheapest macronutrient.
  • Protein is the most expensive macronutrient, however a reduced carbohydrate diet does not necessarily require an increase in protein.
  • Reducing the amount of carbohydrate and increasing the amount of fat in your diet is the most effective way to reduce your grocery bill.

background

One of the common concerns about eating differently from the norm is that it will be more expensive.

Apparently one of the reasons for the relatively low Recommended Daily Intake for protein of 0.8g/kg is that many people can’t afford to eat more protein. [1]  One of the common criticisms of Paleo or the Banting Diet (LCHF) is that it will be too expensive due to the extra protein. [2]

To see if these concerns were valid I thought it would be interesting to see what the data has can tell us about the relative cost the three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat.

protein

The chart below shows the cost per calorie versus the percentage of protein in the thousand or so foods in the USDA Cost of Food at Home database. [3]

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Protein is indeed the most expensive of the three macronutrients.  As you move to the right in the chart you can see that your weekly grocery bill will increase.

Average intake of both protein and fat in the United States decreased between 1971 and 2004, with an overall increase in carbohydrate. [4]

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While from a nutritional point of view there area lot of good reasons for people to eat higher levels of protein, a low carbohydrate diet is not necessarily high in protein.

People aiming for therapeutic ketosis may aim for lower amounts of protein to minimise insulin.

Tim Noakes’ Banting diet recommends that people get between 20 and 30% of their calories from protein.  He says that those with diabetes and / or insulin resistance issues should aim for the lower end of this range, while people who are active and healthy can aim for higher amounts.  [5]

Practically it is difficult to eat much more than 30% to 35% protein from real foods.

The table below shows the relative change in cost if we were to increase our protein from current average levels back to 1970s levels, or to moderate levels such as the Mediterranean diet or even the higher protein Atkins approach.

scenario % protein cost ($/kcal) change
2004 average 14.7% 4.67
1970 average 16.9% 4.83 +3%
Mediterranean 20% 5.06 +8%
Atkins 30% 5.79 +24%

As shown in the table below, the most expensive high protein foods tend to be seafood.  For reference, the average cost of food across the more than one thousand foods in the database is $5.37/kcal.

food cost ($/kcal)
crayfish 26
spinach 26
crab 24
spirulina 23
lobster 22
scallops 17
clam 16
haddock 16
cod 15

While protein can be expensive there are some low cost high protein options available.

food cost ($/kcal)
whole egg 1.70
ground turkey 2.13
beef liver 2.81
chicken heart 2.94
cottage cheese 3.58
pork 3.59
chicken liver 3.81
ham 4.10

If you are willing to try organ meats you might get them even cheaper as they are often discarded.   The cheaper organ meats also typically have a much higher nutrient density than the more popular muscle meats or even fruits or vegetables.

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carbohydrates

You often hear the term ‘cheap carbohydrates’, but does this mean that a diet of processed grains and sugars is the most economical way to fill your shopping trolley?

While sugar and corn starch are very cheap food ingredients per calorie, the analysis of the data suggest that a higher carbohydrate diet is actually more expensive overall.

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The cheaper high high carbohydrate foods tend to be processed and calorie dense.   While the most expensive high carbohydrate foods tend to be natural foods that have a much lower calorie density. The table below shows that someone switching from a typical western diet to a reduced carbohydrate diet could make some significant savings.

scenario % carbohydrate cost ($/kcal) change
2004 average 51% 5.57
1970 average 45% 5.37 -4%
low carb 30% 4.77 -14%
ketogenic 5% 3.80 -32%

fat

So if increasing the proportion of protein and carbohydrate both increase the cost of our food bill then what makes it cheaper?  Yes it’s the other macronutrient, fat.

Increasing the proportion of fat in your diet while decreasing the carbohydrates will make your meals tastier, gentler on your blood glucose and cheaper.  Not to mention the fact that people typically spontaneously consume less calories when they consume less carbohydrates.

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You may pay a premium for coconut oil, butter or olive oil relative to corn oil which is the cheapest food ingredient, however these fats are still much cheaper than the other macronutrients.

food cost ($/kcal)
corn oil 0.20
coconut oil 0.31
chicken fat 0.86
butter 1.10
bacon fat 1.12
coconut milk 1.15
cream cheese 1.76
sesame oil 2.00
cream 2.81
olive oil 2.81

It appears that the it’s the very cheapest ingredients that are so prevalent in processed foods – sugar, corn starch, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup.  Regardless of cost you’re always going to have to make a value judgement on the nutritional value of your food.

summary

Increasing the protein content of your diet will increase your grocery bill marginally.

While higher levels of protein may be ideal for people who are healthy and active, LCHF is not necessarily high protein, particularly for those who struggle to regulate their blood glucose levels.

The LCHF approach, with its combination of moderate protein, lower carbohydrates and high fat provides an optimal solution with respect to blood glucose management, nutrition and cost.

references

[1] https://www.facebook.com/physiquescienceradio/posts/378943502302499

[2] http://talkfeed.co.za/lchf-diet-on-a-budget/

[3] http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood

[4] http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9146789&fileId=S1368980012005423

[5] http://www.biznews.com/health/2015/01/19/complete-idiots-guide-tim-noakes-diet-banting-lchf/

insulin index v2

It’s generally difficult for healthy people to eat too much protein.

However the fact that a portion of protein can convert to glucose which in turn requires insulin can be an important consideration for people with diabetes and / or insulin resistance.

A better understanding of the insulin response to various foods would be useful for diabetics calculating their insulin dose or even to help refine food choices to manage insulin load.

Since launching the optimising nutrition blog I have had many interesting discussions and learned a lot more about protein and how it affects insulin and blood glucose.

The Most Ketogenic Diet Foods article which reviews the food insulin index data and what we can learn about our food choices has received more than 50,000 views (nearly half of the page views on the site).

Given the level of interest I thought it would be useful to review this issue from a number of different angles to cross check the conclusions and the original top down analysis.

the food insulin index… a quick refresher

If you’ve been reading my blog you would have come across discussion of the recent food insulin index testing undertaken at the University of Sydney as detailed in Kirstine Bell’s PhD thesis Clinical Application of the Food Insulin Index to Diabetes Mellitus [1] (Sept 2014).

The primary learning from the recently expanded food insulin index data is that the carbohydrate content of a food only partially explains the insulin response.

The cluster of data points on the left hand side of the figure below shows that:

  1. low carbohydrate, high fat foods trigger a negligible insulin response, while
  2. low carbohydrate high protein foods cause a significant insulin response.

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When we assume that fibre is indigestible and protein has about half the insulinogenic effect of carbohydrates we get a much better prediction of insulin response.

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The insulin requirement of a particular food is described better by the following formula:

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digestion time for protein versus carbohydrates

One of the limitations of the food insulin index data is that the insulin area under the curve was measured over only three hours.  This is not a big deal for foods that are high in carbohydrates as they are generally fully digested within three hours.

However protein can take much longer to digest.  In the article The Blood Glucose, Glucagon and Insulin Response to Protein we saw that the insulin response to protein in diabetics can be even greater and over a longer period than for people who do not have diabetes.

If we were to repeat the food insulin index testing over a longer period it is likely that the measured insulin response would be significantly greater and even more-so in people with diabetes.

That is, the insulin response to protein is likely to be greater than the 56% indicated by the analysis of the food insulin index data if we were to measure the insulin response over a longer period.

Wilder’s ketogenic formula

Dr Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic was the first to coin the term ‘ketogenic diet’. [2]  Wilder developed the diet as an alternative to fasting in the treatment of epilepsy in the 1920s.

Wilder also developed the formula shown below to determine whether a diet would be ketogenic.  If the number from this calculation was greater than 1.5 (ideally greater than 2.0) then the diet would be considered to be ketogenic and appropriate for the treatment of epileptics. [3]

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This formula is based on the understanding that:

  • 100% of carbohydrate is glucogenic (i.e. converts to glucose),
  • 54% of protein is glucogenic,
  • 46% of protein is ketogenic, and
  • 10% of fat is glucogenic.

I had previously searched for detail on the basis of how Wilder had arrived at the 56% / 46% split for protein and only found references suggesting that the 56% glucogenic potential of protein comes from the analysis of nitrogen in the urine of dogs. [4]  However I recently came across this paper which details Wilder’s thinking in more detail.

Wilder’s conclusion that a diet needs to have more than two times the ketogenic precursors compared to glucogenic precursors is still the basis of the formulation of diets used to treat epilepsy and other conditions today.

According to George Cahill, Krebs also found that 57g of glucose may be derived from 100g of protein. [5]   Again this is similar to the insulin demand for protein observed in the food insulin index tests .

carbohydrate counting

The most straight forward approach is to assume that protein has no impact on insulin or blood sugars.

Dr Richard Berstein and Dr Robert Atkins pioneered the concept of carbohydrate counting for weight loss and diabetes management in the 70s and 80s.  There have been various waves of popularity of low carbohydrate diets with many people finding success.

Carbohydrate counting alone is a reasonable approach that is likely to work for most people, particularly if they are not highly insulin resistant.

However there are some people that reducing carbohydrates alone doesn’t work for.   The fact that protein also generates insulin suggests that managing protein as well as carbohydrates may be necessary to manage insulin levels.

thermic effect of food

You may have heard of the concept of the thermic effect of food.  That is, different foods require different amounts of energy for the digestion process.

For example, a mushroom, which has a very low calorie density and a lot of fibre and protein, may actually require more energy to digest than is obtained from the digestion of the mushroom.

The maximum and minimum thermic effect (also known as the specific dynamic action) for each macronutrient is shown below. [6]

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Compared to carbohydrates and fat, protein only yields between 76% and 84% of the energy per calorie ingested because of losses in digestion.  This is useful to know if you’re trying to minimise calorie intake.

As discussed in the Why We Get Fat V2 article, part of this thermic effect of food is also likely to be due to the fact that there is a significant loss of energy when we convert protein to glucose to be used as energy.

Steve Phinney’s “well formulated ketogenic diet”

One of the key observations from Steve Phinney’s well formulated ketogenic diet (WKFD) chart is that we need to strike a balance between carbohydrates and protein in order to maximise the ketogenic potential of our diet.

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You can have 30% protein and 5% carbs or 20% carbs and 10% protein and still be within the bounds of a ketogenic diet.

However if you have 30% protein and 20% carbs you will be outside the realms of a ketogenic diet because you will be producing too much glucose.

According to Nuttall and Gannon [7] the body requires between 32g and 46g of high quality dietary protein to maintain protein balance.  This equates to around 6 to 7% of calories in a 2000 to 2500 calorie diet being taken ‘off the top’ for growth and maintenance, with everything else potentially available as ‘excess’ protein for gluconeogenesis.  [note: This should not be considered optimal, but simply as a minimum reference point for the absolute minimum amount of protein.]

Interestingly, the slope of the line along the face of Phinney’s WFKD triangle corresponds with the assumption that 7% of protein goes to muscle growth and repair (protein synthesis) with 75% of the remaining ‘excess’ protein being glucogenic.

This 75% value is in the “ball park” (although a little higher) of our previous estimate of the glucogenic potential of protein based on the analysis of the food insulin index data.

amino acid potential

More recently I came across more detail on which amino acids are glucogenic, which are ketogenic and which are a bit of both. [8] [9] [10]

The table below shows the various amino acids divided up on the basis of their ketogenic versus glucogenic potential and also which are essential versus non-essential. [11]

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Only two amino acids are exclusively ketogenic.  There is a handful that are both glucogenic and ketogenic.  However most of the amino acids are glycogenic, meaning that they will most likely turn into glucose if not required for protein synthesis.

According to David Bender “In  fasting  and  on  a  low  carbohydrate diet  as  much  of  the  amino  acid  carbon  as  possible  will  be  used  for gluconeogenesis  –  an ATP-expensive, and hence thermogenic process.” 

Hence it appears likely that in a low carbohydrate diet situation excess amino acids that fit under the “both” classification will be turned to glucose rather than ketones because the body needs the extra glucose which it is not getting from ingested carbohydrates.

Conversely if someone is consuming a high carbohydrate diet the excess amino acids that fit into the “both” category will be converted to ketones rather than glucose because the body is getting more than enough glucose from the diet.

So, to some extent, protein is versatile depending on the body’s need. But at the same time it is only a small portion of the amino acids that are able to do this. The fate of the majority of the amino acids is pre-destined.

The figure below shows the process of catabolism of amino acids. [12]

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I am not an organic chemist, but from what I understand this means that:

  • The amino acids Leucine and Lysine cannot be converted back to glucose as they are ketogenic;
  • Isoleucine, Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, Threonine all enter into the amino acid catabolism cycle and can be used for various functions, such as muscle repair and growth, but can also be converted back into glucose if required (glucogenic) or turned into fatty acids (ketogenic); and
  • The remaining amino acids enter the cycle and can be used for a variety of functions in the body, but cannot be converted into fatty acids.  If they are not required they can be turned into glucose and potentially stored as body fat.

The majority of the amino acids obtained from the digestion of protein have the potential to be turned into glucose through gluconeogenesis.

The reason that we don’t see a sharp rise in blood glucose is partly because amino acids from digestion circulate in the blood until they are required.

By contrast, glucose from carbohydrates will be used to refill glycogen stores (liver and muscle) and then find their way quickly into the bloodstream.  In most people the amino acid stores in the blood are not saturated and hence there is plenty of capacity to store amino acids in the bloodstream until they are required, at least if you have good insulin sensitivity and are not diabetic.

The body does need glucose, and it is fine to get it from carbohydrates or protein via gluconeogenesis.  However many people struggle to produce enough insulin and / or are insulin resistant and hence struggle to keep their blood sugars in normal range.

For these people it makes sense to reduce the glucose load of the diet (that requires insulin) to a point that they can maintain normal blood glucose levels.

This glucose tolerance level will vary from person to person depending on their insulin sensitivity and the health of their pancreas.

tallying up the amino acids

I figured I could use this knowledge of the categorisations of the various amino acids to better understand how much of the proteins in the 8000 foods listed in the USDA food database are glucogenic verus ketogenic.

For each food in the USDA database I tallied up the weight of the glucogenic and ketogenic amino acids and the amino acids that fell onto the ‘both’ category and found that:

  • ketogenic amino acids make up only 12% by weight of the total protein across the 8000 foods in the database,
  • glucogenic amino acids comprise 74% of the foods, and
  • amino acids that fit in the “both” comprise 14% of the total weight of amino acids.

This means that somewhere between 78% and 89.5% of protein has the potential to turn into glucose, depending on whether you considered the amino acids in the ‘both’ column to be glucogenic or ketogenic, or somewhere in between.

For someone eating a low carbohydrate diet nearly 90% of ‘excess’ protein could be turned to glucose in the blood stream.

Why is this different to the observation from the food insulin index testing that approximately 56% of protein raises insulin?  Perhaps the following factors come into play:

  1. When we consider the glucogenic potential of the individual amino acids we are considering the maximum potential of protein if it is not first used for protein synthesis.  The amount of protein synthesis will be greater for say an athlete or a body builder, with less protein remaining for gluconeogenesis.
  2. Converting protein to glucose requires energy and hence some of the energy from ingested protein is lost in the process and hence is not converted to glucose.
  3. The insulin index testing is undertaken over only three hours. Protein takes much longer to digest and be metabolised into glucose hence the insulin index testing may underestimate the full glucogenic potential of protein.

which foods have the most ketogenic protein?

So I bet you are wondering which forms of protein have the highest amount of ketogenic protein.  Maybe not?  Well, I was, and I am going to share it with you.

The table below shows the foods from the USDA database that have the most ketogenic protein (assuming the ‘both’ amino acids are split 50/50 glucogenic / ketogenic) in terms of grams of ketogenic amino acids per 100 grams of the food.

Food ketogenic aminos (/100g) % ketogenic protein % insulinogenic
Seal, Bearded Alaskan 19.4g 23% 72%
Whale, Beluga 17.6g 25% 64%
Cod 16.3g 26% 68%
Seaweed, spirulina 14.2g 25% 64%
White fish 13.6g 22% 53%
Parmesan cheese 12.3g 32% 28%
Beef, sirloin 10.0g 33% 50%
Beef, ribeye 9.7g 33% 44%
Bacon 9.3g 25% 22%
Egg yolk 9.2g 27% 18%
Lamb 9.0g 25% 39%
Chicken, breast with skin 7.8g 24% 48%
Salmon 7.0g 28% 45%
Egg, whole 3.3g 26% 29%
Milk 0.9g 29% 43%

It is hard to know what to make of this list other than noting that the seal, whale and cod have the highest amounts of ketogenic protein.

Perhaps there is something about cold water animals that cause them to store more ketogenic amino acids?  This seems to align with what we see in the traditional diets of humans who may eat more fat if they are living further away from the equator but eat more carbohydrates from fruits if they live closer to the equator.

Although seal, whale and cod have high amounts of ketogenic amino acids, overall they are still quite insulinogenic.  In view of the high proportion of insulinogenic properties of some meats it is not surprising that people can thrive on a 100% meat zero carb diet because the body can get as much glucose they need from the meat.[13]  At the same time though, I’m not sure that an all meat diet can provide an optimal array of vitamins and minerals unless you are emphasising organ meats.

In view of the fact that a large amount of protein can be converted to glucose through gluconeogenesis, it seems better to focus on foods that have a lower percentage of insulinogenic calories if you are insulin resistant or do not have a fully functioning pancreas.

While there is no such thing as a glycemic index for protein, it also makes sense to avoid processed foods if you are after stable blood glucose levels and lasting satiety.  Unless you are a bodybuilder who is looking for a quick insulin spike it would be prudent to prioritise whole foods as much as possible.

summary

The table below shows a comparison of a range of glucogenic factors for protein relative to carbohydrate, summarising the discussion above.  Most of the approaches to understanding the insulinogenic portion of protein give an even higher value than suggested by the analysis of the food insulin index data.

Basis % insulinogenic Comment
Carbohydrates only 0% A lower end sensitivity assuming that no protein is converted to glucose (i.e. as per standard carbohydrate counting).
Food insulin index 56% Based on testing of > 100 foods in healthy individuals
Thermic effect of food 77% Average of additional in digestion losses minus 7%.
Wilder’s formula 54% Used in initial ketogenic formula
Krebs  / Janney 57% Based on nitrogen excretion in dogs
Glucogenic potential (min) 78% Based on summing amino acids in USDA foods database, excluding “both” aminos.
Glucogenic potential (max) 89.5% Based on summing amino acids in USDA foods database, including “both” aminos.
Steve Phinney WFKD 75% Assuming that the first 7% of calories goes to growth and repair with 75% of the remaining amino acids being glucogenic.

the most ketogenic foods… updated

I have calculated the insulinogenic potential of the foods shown in this previous article (The Most Ketogenic Diet Foods) using the following approaches:

  • carbohydrates only;
  • food insulin index data (i.e. protein is 56% insulinogenic);
  • thermic effect (i.e. protein is 77% insulinogenic); and
  • maximum glucogenic potential of the amino acids for each food (varies for each food based on data in USDA foods database).

This updated data illustrates the difference in standard carbohydrate counting and the full insulinogenic potential of the food.  While there is a range of values due to the varying amounts and types of protein overall, there is a reasonable alignment between the food insulin index (56%), thermic effect of food (77%) and maximum glucogenic potential values, particularly when we compare it to the carbohydrate only approach for the lowest carbohydrate foods.

least insulinogenic foods

food carb only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) glucogenic (max)
olives 1% 4% 4% 4%
cream 3% 4% 6% 4%
pecans 2% 5% 8% 6%
Macadamia nuts 3% 5% 7% 6%
duck 0% 7% 4% 9%
pork sausage 2% 10% 19% 9%
sesame seeds 7% 7% 10% 11%
sausage 0% 9% 12% 14%
frankfurter 2% 11% 14% 14%
pepperoni 0% 10% 14% 15%
bacon 1% 16% 21% 21%
mackerel 0% 20% 28% 28%

Eggs

egg  carb only (0%) FII 56%) thermic (77%) glucogenic (max)
egg yolk 16% 15% 20% 19%
whole egg 17% 21% 23% 25%
egg white 6% 53% 71% 72%

Dairy products

Cheese

cheese carbs only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) glucogenic (max)
cream cheese 5% 9% 10% 9%
brie 1% 14% 20% 18%
limburger 1% 14% 19% 18%
camembert 1% 15% 21% 19%
Monterey 1% 15% 20% 19%
cheddar 1% 15% 20% 19%
gruyere 0% 17% 23% 20%
Colby 3% 16% 21% 20%
blue 3% 16% 21% 20%
edam 2% 17% 23% 21%
gouda 2% 18% 24% 22%
feta 6% 18% 23% 22%
ricotta, whole milk 7% 21% 27% 24%
mozzarella 3% 20% 26% 26%
cream cheese, low fat 16% 25% 28% 27%
parmesan 3% 21% 27% 28%
mozzarella, skim milk 4% 26% 34% 31%
Swiss 6% 22% 27% 34%
ricotta, part skim milk 15% 33% 40% 37%
cream cheese, fat free 29% 62% 75% 72%
Swiss, low fat 8% 45% 48% 73%
cottage cheese, low fat 17% 55% 69% 86%
mozzarella, non-fat 10% 60% 79% 95%

Milk

milk carb only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
Full cream milk, 3.7% fat 29% 41% 41% 43%
Human milk 40% 43% 44% 43%
Skim milk, 1% fat 47% 65% 72% 69%
Chocolate milk, low fat 63% 72% 76% 70%

Yogurt

yogurt carb only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
plain, whole milk 30% 42% 48% 46%
Plain, low fat 44% 63% 70% 68%
fruit, low fat 71% 81% 85% 83%
plain, skim milk 55% 78% 87% 85%
fruit, non-fat 70% 90% 97% 96%

Fruits

fruit carb only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
olives 1% 3% 4% 4%
avocados 4% 8% 9% 7%
raspberries 42% 42% 51% 45%
blackberries 40% 42% 53% 47%
strawberries 70% 75% 76% 69%
oranges 77% 81% 83% 76%
apples 88% 89% 89% 81%
bananas 91% 91% 95% 86%

Vegetables

vegetable carb only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
endive 6% 22% 29% 24%
dock 5% 27% 33% 27%
mustard greens 7% 61% 43% 34%
asparagus 36% 60% 69% 34%
artichoke 22% 35% 39% 38%
sauerkraut 30% 41% 45% 40%
broccoli 3% 35% 47% 42%
lettuce 28% 44% 50% 42%
coriander 15% 36% 44% 43%
chrysanthemum leaves 0% 32% 43% 44%
alfalfa 3% 42% 57% 47%
parsley 34% 52% 59% 48%
cauliflower 32% 50% 56% 48%
spinach 24% 53% 63% 50%
bamboo shoots 19% 50% 62% 51%
mushroom 31% 56% 66% 55%
turnip 17% 30% 34% 62%
onions 78% 85% 88% 82%

Nuts, seeds and legumes

nuts, seeds legumes carbs only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
pecans  2% 5%  10% 5%
Macadamia  3% 5%  6% 6%
coconut meat  7% 6%  10% 7%
coconut cream  6% 7% 9% 8%
coconut milk  6% 7% 9% 8%
Brazil nuts  3% 7% 10% 9%
flax seed  1% 8% 12% 11%
walnuts  4% 9%  11% 11%
pine nuts  5% 9%  11% 11%
sesame butter (tahini)  6% 11% 15% 14%
sesame seeds  0% 12% 10% 15%
chia seeds  6% 13% 17% 16%
peanuts  4% 13%  19% 18%
sunflower seeds  9% 14% 19% 18%
pumpkin seeds  6% 14% 22% 19%
pistachio nuts  12% 19%  23% 22%
cashew butter  21% 22% 29% 25%
almonds  7% 13% 18% 17&

Fish

fish carbs only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
Tuna 0% 32% 44% 44%
Mackerel 0% 33% 46% 25%
Herring 0% 19% 26% 25%
Salmon 0% 24% 33% 34%
Sardine 0% 26% 36% 36%
Anchovy 0% 31% 42% 42%
Swordfish 0% 31% 42% 42%
Trout 0% 31% 44% 43%
Carp 0% 32% 43% 43%
Yellowtail 0% 36% 49% 49%
Bass 0% 37% 51% 51%
Mullet 0% 37% 51% 51%
Squid 18% 41% 49% 51%
Abalone 23% 47% 55% 57%
Monkfish 0% 44% 59% 60%
Halibut 0% 47% 24% 61%
Mussel 17% 49% 60% 62%
Oyster 21% 46% 56% 63%
Crab 0% 48% 66% 65%
Shrimp 5% 48% 64% 65%
Hadock 0% 51% 68% 66%
Perch 0% 49% 65% 67%
Clam 14% 56% 67% 71%
Scallop 19% 59% 76% 80%

Meat

meat carbs only (0%) FII (56%) thermic (77%) % insulinogenic (max)
Bologna 6% 12% 17% 14%
Frankfurter 2% 11% 14% 14%
Duck 0% 14% 17% 17%
Chorizo 2% 15% 18% 17%
Beef, ribeye 0% 15% 26% 21%
Bacon 1% 15% 21% 21%
Pork, ham 6% 17% 38% 22%
Pork, blade, hocks & shoulder 31% 23% 42% 31%
Turkey 0% 23% 29% 32%
Lamb mince 0% 24% 27% 34%
Chicken 0% 24% 34% 34%

[1] http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/11945

[2] http://www.thepaleomom.com/2015/05/adverse-reactions-to-ketogenic-diets-caution-advised.html

[3] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2011/02/ketogenic-diets-i-ways-to-make-a-diet-ketogenic/

[4] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=SqzMBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA245&dq=Krebs+1964+The+metabolic+fate+of+amino+acids.&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC292907/pdf/jcinvest00272-0077.pdf – Cahill references a 1964 paper by Krebs in this paper but I can’t find the original paper.

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_dynamic_action

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636610/

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glucogenic_amino_acid

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketogenic_amino_acid

[10] https://www.dropbox.com/s/4dkl03mz2fci71v/The%20metabolism%20of%20%E2%80%9Csurplus%E2%80%9D%20amino%20acids.pdf?dl=0

[11] http://www.medschool.lsuhsc.edu/biochemistry/Courses/Biochemistry201/Desai/Amino%20Acid%20Metabolism%20I%2010-14-08.pdf

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluconeogenesis

[13] http://zerocarbzen.com/2015/03/09/zero-carb-interview-the-andersen-family/