My dad has been working hard to craft nutrient dense moderate protein meals. For a while he was pursuing ketosis with a higher amount of dietary fat and his Bulletproof teas with extra butter after I introduced him to Dave Asprey’s version of “intermittent fasting” .
After an initial period of success he found he was putting on weight, becoming inflamed and his blood glucose levels were starting to drift back up.
He then started to go for a slightly higher amount of protein in line with the concepts described in Volek and Phinney’s four phases of a ketogenic diet chart. That is, during weight loss some of the fat being burned each day should come from body fat. Hence his meals needed to focus on getting adequate protein to support muscle maintenance and obtain other necessary nutrients, while significantly reducing dietary fat.
Once he did this he started losing weight and his ketones actually increased due to the body fat being burned. With adequate protein in place he then dialed down the dietary fat to the place that still comfortably satisfied hunger. From there he had some great results in terms of weight loss.
This meal of sardines, eggs, spinach, garlic, broccoli sprouts, avocado, goat cheese and a few walnuts is an example of one of those meals. The details are shown in the analysis below. As you can see it does well in terms of both the vitamins and minerals and the protein score. While there is not a lot of added fat in this meal (butter used for cooking) there is still 65% fat from whole foods.
The table below shows the nutritional data per 500 calorie serving.
By using her regular fasting routine and nutrient dense feasting she has been able to lose 37.5 lb (17kg) of body fat during 2016 (which is significant given she is only 5′ 3″).
This was one of her favourite go to recipes during her weight loss. Rebecca says:
I originally started eating ketogenically a few years ago by eating very high fat, lower protein, and very low (sometimes zero) carbs.
That worked for a while, and I lost weight, but as time went on, I found that I was eating so much fat and so little protein that I was getting hungry all the time.
I now get plenty of protein on my eating days. I am 5’3″ and eat 125g on the days that I feast
It seems that as you approach your goal weight your body works increases appetite to maintain lean muscle mass. I think this style of higher protein meal will maximise your chance of managing appetite during weight loss as well as maximising nutrient density to prevent rebound binges due to cravings for nutrients.
Rebecca’s recipe is:
114g (4 oz.) raw chicken livers, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp. chopped, dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. ground, dried thyme
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
114g (4 oz.) frozen, chopped spinach, cooked, drained, warm
1 Tbs. butter, divided
57g (2 oz.) raw onion, chopped
114g (4 oz.) raw white mushrooms, chopped
2 thick slices bacon, cooked and cut into small pieces
1 Tbs. whiskey
2 raw eggs
Additional sea salt, as desired
In a small bowl, combine chicken livers, spices, and salt, stirring to combine. Set aside.
Preheat a small cast iron skillet on medium-low heat, then add 1/2 Tbs. butter. Add onions, cover and cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms, cover and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until veggies start to brown. Add chicken livers to the skillet, and continue to cook, stirring, until liver is cooked medium well. Add bacon and whiskey and stir again.
Cut the remaining 1/2 Tbs. butter into a several pieces and add to the skillet, allowing it to melt down into the bottom of the pan. Do not stir it in.
Carefully break the eggs into the skillet, letting them rest on top of the mixture. Cover the skillet and cook just long enough for the eggs to cook to however you like them. For the whites to be firm and the yolks to be runny, it may take 2-3 minutes.
Arrange the warm spinach on a plate, and with a spatula, carefully lift out the food from the skillet and set on top of the spinach. If there is any butter left in the skillet, pour it over the eggs. Add additional sea salt if desired, and enjoy!
Therapeutic ketosis, which involves reducing the insulin load of our diet to increase fat burning, is an exciting adjunct therapy for a range of chronic conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and dementia. A more aggressive ketogenic approach can also be implemented in the early stages of a low carb dietary approach to minimise blood sugars and strip excess glucose from the system.
At the same time, people using a very high fat approach need to be intentional to ensure they obtain adequate nutrition. These meals prioritise a low insulin load while maximising nutrient density as much as possible.
The nutrient density of these meals is not as high as other approaches and hence it is ideal if you are able to transition to one of the following approaches as your metabolic health and / or blood glucose levels improve:
In terms of vitamins and minerals, it did pretty well ranking at number 40 of 235 meals analysed to date. Liberal doses of kale and spinach always tend to boost the vitamin and mineral score. These green leafies contain heaps of vitamins A, C, K, B and folate as well as solid amounts of the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese.
If you’re interested, the meal that ranks the highest in terms of vitamins and minerals score is Terry Wahls’ lamb skillet meal (shown below). While you might think that a vegetarian meal might win in the vitamins and minerals category, Dr Wahls’ combination of broccoli, garlic, and spinach along with lamb and coconut oil actually does even better with a score of 94 compared to the green smoothie which has a score of 75.
The good thing about blending everything into a smoothie is that you will be able to get more green leafy veggies down the hatch. The downside is that you might lose some of the beneficial effects of the fibre. The same thing can be said for cooking.
In terms of amino acids though, the smoothie was a bit disappointing coming in at 196 of 235. Some people will argue that low protein isn’t a big deal and that 9% protein is adequate. Others think you would need more protein.
The answer for you will depend on your activity levels and whether you want to be big and strong or whether you have some muscle mass that you don’t mind donating in the name of nutrition and weight loss.
The 57g of fibre was pretty good from all those leafy greens, ranking at 75 of 235 in terms of fibre. Energy density was also pretty good, ranking at 100 of 235, which means that the smoothie will be quite filling and not easy to binge on.
The insulin load was a bit disappointing. At 50% carbs, the smoothie mixture came in just above the porridge with blueberries in terms of insulin load. This may not be a problem if you’re insulin sensitive, but people struggling with diabetes might suffer from the apple and banana which don’t add much in terms of nutrient density (other than sweetness which would add to the palatability of the smoothie).
minus the apple and banana
So for interest, I dropped out the apple and banana and the ranking improved in terms of vitamins and minerals, though it didn’t change the protein score. The insulin load ranking improved marginally from 228 to 206.
Overall, this may not be a bad option for breakfast if you’re not diabetic and get some additional protein later in the day. Living on Rhonda’s smoothe may also not be optimal if you’re looking to maintain/build lean muscle.
and now for something completely different… zero carb Gregg
After releasing the ketogenic fibre article in October 2015 I got into an interesting discussion with Gregg about zero carb and ended up running the numbers on his typical daily diet which largely consists of meat, butter and cream.
As shown below, the protein score of Gregg’s daily diet is solid, though the vitamin and mineral scores are not so great (214 of 235). The insulin load of Gregg’s typical daily diet is pretty good coming in at #50.
[note: Just for interest Bulletproof Coffee comes in at #1 on the insulin load ranking but last in terms of vitamins and minerals and second last on the protein.]
Many people find that they do really well with a zero carb approach, particularly if they have major digestive issues. People who are fans of zero carb often speak highly of Fibre Menace by Konstantin Monastrysky. It seems that people with major digestive issues can get relief from their inability to digest FODMAPS using a zero carb approach.
Overall I’m a fan of fibre and wonder if people might benefit from the slow reintroduction of some fibre for the sake of their gut microbiome and promoting well-rounded nutrition once their gut has settled.
It’s also interesting to note that protein makes up only 22% of Gregg’s zero carb diet because of the solid amount of fat from the beef and the added fat from the butter and cream. This sort of approach might work well for people who are insulin resistant.
can you get enough vitamins and minerals from a zero carb diet?
Lots of people who use a zero carb approach say that they can get all the vitamins and minerals they could even need from animal products, so I threw in some sardines and liver to see how high we could get the vitamins and minerals score without any green stuff.
As you can see below, the protein score improves with the fish and liver (I’m not vouching for the palatability though). This meal now ranks at #1 for protein score with a massive score of 159 on the amino acid score! The vitamins and minerals take a significant jump to #142 of 235 with the addition of the sardines and liver.
So it seems that there are some benefits of a zero carb dietary approach, but perhaps some limitations when it comes to the vitamin and mineral side of the equation.
But then I thought, “what if Rhonda made Gregg breakfast and Gregg made dinner for Rhonda?”
As you can see from the analysis below, combining the green smoothie (without the fruit) with the zero carb approach (with sardines and liver) went really well in both the vitamins and minerals ranking (#20) and amino acid score (#41). Not a bad balance overall!
Lots of people get hung up on a particular magic nutrient and spend a lot of money to supplement just one missing ingredient. However, perhaps it would be optimal (and cheaper?) to get a high quantity of a broad range of nutrients from whole food sources.
Real foods that were recently alive are going to be a better bet than relying on supplements.
Should you eat more plant foods, more protein, or more fat? The answer will depend on your situation, your goals and your preferences. As always, optimal lies somewhere between the extremes.
enter… Nutrient Optimiser
More recently, I have been working on a tool to help people optimise their micronutrient balance while also being tailored to their metabolic health and goals.
The Nutrient Optimiser reviews your food log diet and helps you to normalise your blood glucose and insulin levels by gradually retraining your eating habits by eliminating foods that boost your insulin level and blood glucose levels.
Once your glucose levels are normalised, the Nutrient Optimiser focuses on refining your micronutrient fingerprint to identify foods that will fill in your micronutrient deficiencies with real food.
If you still have weight to lose, the Nutrient Optimiser will focus on the energy density of your diet until you have achieved your desired level of weight loss. Alternatively, the Nutrient Optimiser can help you if you were looking to increase your insulin levels for bulking or identify higher energy density foods for athletes.