Category Archives: therapeutic ketosis

are ketones insulinogenic and does it matter?

There has been a lot of hype around the interwebs lately about exogenous ketones and whether they are health promoting, particularly for people with conditions that relate to excess insulin such as diabetes, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s, cancer, epilepsy, obesity etc.

exogenous ketone are trendy
exogenous ketones, Pruvit and Keto//OS are becoming trendy.

Exogenous ketones are becoming trendy, particularly in the low carb scene!

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A couple of people recently asked me whether I thought exogenous ketones are insulinogenic.

Roger Unger’s 1964 paper the Hypoglycemic Action of Ketones.  Evidence for a Stimulatory Feedback of Ketones on the Pancreatic Beta Cells[1] indicates that ketone levels are controlled by insulin and that ketones suppress lipolysis:

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.[2]

It seems that exogenous ketones are indeed insulinogenic to some degree.

But how do we test this hypothesis to find out whether they are just slightly insulinogenic like fats or more insulinogenic like carbohydrates?

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how to test the insulin response to exogenous ketones in someone with Type 1 Diabetes

If someone with Type 1 Diabetes stops taking their insulin both their blood glucose levels and blood ketones spiral out of control as they slip into ketoacidosis[3] which can be dangerous and fatal before very long without exogenous insulin injection.[4]   In metabolically healthy people,  high levels of ketones suppress mobilisation of body fat (lipolysis).[5]

In someone with Type 1 Diabetes, taking exogenous insulin brings both ketones and blood glucose under control.  So, based on what we see in people with Type 1 Diabetes, it seems logical that exogenous ketones would provoke an insulin response to keep ketones and glucose under control.

One way to test whether exogenous ketones are insulinogenic would be to have a Type 1 Diabetic to take a significant amount of exogenous ketones and monitor how much additional insulin they need to keep the continuous blood glucose monitor stable with the same amount of calories in glucose.

I initially became interested in exogenous ketones after hearing a number of podcasts with Patrick Arnold and Dominic D’Agostino thinking that it may be a useful alternative source of energy that does not rely on insulin for my wife, who has Type 1 Diabetes.  However, the one time she tried it resulted in such bad gut distress she never touched it again.  So scratch that n = 1.

food insulin index testing with exogenous ketones

Another way to test whether exogenous ketones are insulinogenic would be to run a food insulin index test[6] [7] using ketones rather than food.  This would involve giving 1000kJ of exogenous BHB (e.g. 48g of KetoCaNa) and measuring the insulin response over two or three hours.

The chart below compares the results of previous food insulin index tests undertaken for different foods.[8]   Comparing the area under the curve insulin response for the exogenous ketones to the insulin area under the curve for glucose would give you the insulin index for exogenous beta hydroxybutyrate.

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I am surprised that the companies marketing exogenous ketones to people with metabolic issues, as part of their due diligence, haven’t already done this testing to understand to what degree exogenous ketones are insulinogenic.

but wait, the food insulin index testing with exogenous ketones has already been done!

Then I came across this figure in a paper, Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes (Cox et al, 2016)[9],  where they have effectively done the food insulin index testing with exogenous ketones.

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Thirty-nine athletes took an isocaloric dose of ketone esters, carbs and fat in three different sessions. In the chart on the right (G) we can see that the ketones provoked about half the insulin response compared to the carbohydrate drink.  This test is different to normal food insulin index testing in that the participants started to exercise ten minutes after taking the drinks (i.e. at T = 0) at which point insulin and glucose start to decline.

updated insulin load formula, including exogenous ketones

The chart below shows the relationship between the food we eat and our insulin response based on the previous food insulin index testing.

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In lieu of more thorough food insulin index testing, I think we can update the insulin load calculation formula to:

insulin load = carbohydrate – fibre + 0.56 * protein – 0.725 * fructose + 0.5 * exogenous ketones

It appears that exogenous ketones provide about half the insulinogenic impact of carbohydrates (i.e. about the same as protein).


So, if you’re avoiding protein because of its impact on insulin, should you also consider exogenous ketones for the same reason?

Exogenous ketones stimulate insulin, but BHB also inhibits lipolysis directly via the nicotinic acid receptor PUMA-G in adipose.[10]

While exogenous ketones may be equally as insulinogenic as protein, they’ll also be a counterproductive use of insulin.

Whereas the insulin response to protein is a positive use of insulin to build and repair muscle, with exogenous ketones, insulin simply reduces oxidation of other fuels to allow ketones to be burned.

Exogenous ketones displace the burning of other substrates.  You know what else displaces the burning of other substrates?  Glucose. Carbs reduce the amount of fat you burn. Similarly, exogenous ketones displace both fat and carbs/glucose.

That’s a double whammy in the wrong direction! Substrate competition is key.

Mike Julian

total energy = glucose + ketones

In a healthy metabolism, endogenous ketones are generated as fat stores are mobilised to compensate for a decreased energy availability from glucose.  When glucose is not available, ketones come to the rescue to ensure survival.

If you’re insulin resistant, you might have trouble releasing free fatty acids due to the high levels of insulin circulating in your bloodstream.  This inability to access your own fat stores will reduce your ability to create ketones and likely lead you to be more hungry and eat more than you otherwise would if you were insulin sensitive.  If you are insulin sensitive you can more easily access your own body fat stores.

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This chart demonstrates the concept of total energy (i.e. glucose + ketones) using more than a three thousand combined ketone and glucose readings from people following a low carb/keto lifestyle.  Other than in the extremes of extended fasts or major feasting, the body seems to use insulin to maintain a homoeostasis of around 5 to 6 mmol/L of total energy in the blood.

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On the left-hand side of the chart, when our blood glucose levels drop, we get a rise in ketones, but an increase in autophagy and all the good stuff that comes with fasting and ketosis.

On the right-hand side of the chart, when we drive our total energy high with excess energy (be it from processed carbs, Bulletproof Coffee, or exogenous ketones) the body releases insulin to stop stored body fat and glucose being released into our bloodstream.

People with the highest levels of metabolic health tend to walk around with a lower total energy in their bloodstream.  It seems you don’t need to buffer lots of energy in the blood if you can easily mobilise body fat and glycogen stores quickly when required.

Having high levels of energy sitting around in the blood stream is far from ideal and leads to glycation in the case of high blood glucose levels and oxidation in the case of free fatty acids.

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The total energy concept also seems to hold up with laboratory testing in rat pancreas islet cells, where exogenous ketone bodies promoted insulin secretion when there was greater than 5.0 mmol/L of glucose.[11]

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It appears that if your blood glucose levels are greater than 5.0 mmol/L (or 90 mg/dL), then exogenous ketones will be insulinogenic (at least if you’re a rat, but we have no reason to believe this wouldn’t occur in humans as well).

So if your blood glucose levels are greater than 5.0mmol/L (or 90 mg/dL),  then those expensive exogenous ketones will be working just like a quick burning insulinogenic fuel, just like a dose of carbs.

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do exogenous ketones “help” with fasting?

If exogenous ketones raise insulin and reduce blood glucose, then where does the glucose go?  It gets stuffed back into the liver. 

Think about all of these people who fast with the intent of depleting liver glycogen but drinking Keto/OS. They’re literally preserving glycogen stores! No wonder we were seeing whacky glucose and ketone response to fasting with exogenous ketones.

Instead of the normal trajectory of a fast that would result in depleted liver glycogen we see exogenous ketones keeps this from happening, so you would get purges of glucose out of the liver throughout the fast when people were fasting using exogenous ketones.”

Mike Julian

Let’s take a quick look at what Mike means by “the normal trajectory of glucose”.    In the chart below, we can see that blood glucose levels drop and ketone increase in four people.

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Where things get interesting is when you step look at the longer-term glucose and ketone trajectory of the fourth person who was taking exogenous ketones during the fast.

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What’s causing this anomaly in glucose and ketone response?   Is it a unique level of insulin resistance, or could this simply be explained by the use of exogenous ketones which are down regulating release of free fatty acids and endogenous ketone production?

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One theory is that exogenous ketones are switching off lipolysis, which drives the liver to release more glucose and ramp up gluconeogenesis to fuel the system during fasting?

The glucose : ketone index is the measure that Dr  Thomas Seyfried encouragescancer patients to use during a fast to measure its therapeutic effect.  The lower the better.  For most people the GKI continues to drop during extended fasting, but in this case the GKI dropped and then starts to rise over time when taking exogenous ketones.

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I would like to see some more thorough studies to understand if this is typical in people taking exogenous ketones during extended fasting.  It’s not conclusive, but n = 1s are useful to build a hypothesis that can be tested in a more controlled environment.

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oxidative priority

Ray Cronise and David Sinclair recently published an intriguing article, Oxidative Priority, Meal Frequency, and the Energy Economy of Food and Activity: Implications for Longevity, Obesity, and Cardiometabolic Disease (2016)[12] where they detailed the basis for the oxidative priority of different fuel substrates.

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  1. Alcohol will be burned first because the body has limited storage capacity for it. It sees it as a toxin that needs to be cleared.
  2. Protein will be burned second because you can only store a few hundred calories worth of amino acids in the bloodstream (though I think most people struggle to overeat protein when from whole food sources).
  3. Carbohydrate will then be burned before we can access our virtually unlimited stores of body fat.

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So, I think it would be logical that exogenous ketones would be first in line (before or just after alcohol) to be burned off because the body has no way of storing the exogenous ketones other than circulating in the blood stream.

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So, it seems that exogenous ketones neither lower insulin nor promote fat burning.  They’re just another fuel that will be burned before the fat on your bum and your belly.

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do exogenous ketones boost exercise performance?

Exogenous ketones in sports performance is an interesting area of research.  Rumour has it the Tour de France cyclists and British Olympic rowers are using ketone ester drinks (though it’s worth noting that the people spreading these rumours are selling the ketone esters).[13]

Some people use exogenous ketones as a preworkout, like caffeine, to give them a cognitive boost.  Research by Richard Veech and Kieren Clarke suggests that there may be a small athletic boost if you provide both exogenous ketones and exogenous glucose at the same time to provide a “dual fuel”.[14] [15]  This situation provides a fuel oversupply that would force the body to burn off the excess fuel quickly.

Dr Mike T Nelson suggest that driving a chronic energy surplus from high ketones and high glucose might be problematic in the long term as there is no precedent in nature for this condition.[16]

I have dabbled with exogenous ketones (i.e. KetoCaNa, Pruvit and the Ketone Aid ketone ester).  The chart below shows  how my blood ketones rose to 3.5mmol/L and then back down to normal levels after about 3 hours.  Note how my body tries to remove the excess energy from the blood stream and bring the total energy back down to around 5.0mmol/L.

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I didn’t find a massive boost in performance in my workouts with any of the ketone products.  My best performance is when I was fasted without supplementation and it seems I could easily access my fat stores and breath more effortlessly.

I’m far from a high level athlete, but when I perform at my best cycling or in my kettlebell workouts, my breathing seems effortless and my time to exhaustion increases.   When we are insulin sensitive and / or don’t have excess glucose in our system and burn more fat for fuel we use less oxygen than when we burn glucose for energy.[17]  That reduction in oxygen usage is critical to make sure you don’t get out of breath and fatigue.  It seems that too much exogenous ketones or glucose in the system will mean that we’re less reliant on burning our own body fat.

I think the future of exogenous ketones in athletic performance will revolve around finding the right dose to boost ketones enough to get a performance benefit, without switching off lipolysis, which is where the real performance powerhouse lies.   If you put in so much fuel in line in front of your virtually unlimited fat stores, then you may risk gassing out because you can’t access your fat stores as easily.

Perhaps someone who is a normal carb burner might benefit from having ketones raised to the 3 or 4 mmol/L range, while someone who is more fat adapted might benefit more with ketones in the 1 to 2 mmol/L range so as to get a dual fuel boost without switching off fat burning?

It’s still early days.  Time and more experimentation will tell.

does it matter?

If you’re metabolically healthy and you enjoy the brain buzz of exogenous ketones more than alcohol or caffeine and want to use exogenous ketones as a pre-workout, then I say go your hardest if you can afford it.

However, if you are looking for improvements in your metabolic health or magical weight, I think you should be cautious.

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Companies like Ketopia are marketing exogenous ketones as a “bridge” through the keto flu, which I think is a more ethical approach (although many people say you can eliminate the ‘keto flu’ with good mineral supplementation).

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But you probably haven’t heard of Ketopia, because selling seven days’ worth of exogenous ketones isn’t a great business model in comparison to getting people to sign up for an ongoing subscription as a distributor buying thousands of dollars of ‘inventory’ up front so they can take it… Every.  Single.  Day.

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Perhaps when exogenous ketones are no longer the realm of overhyped multi level marketing campaigns people will be able to experiment with exogenous ketones and find whether they live up to any of the claims and are indeed worth the money?  This is starting to happen now with Julian Baker’s InstaKetones coming in at about one sixth of the price of Pruvit’s products.

If you’re using exogenous ketones with the hope of reducing insulin levels or reversing metabolic disease (e.g. Type 2, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity), then maybe think again.  Exogenous ketones may alleviate your symptoms while they’re in your system (about 2 hours), but I fear they might worsen the conditions that people are using them for in the hope of improved metabolic health.

Mike Sheridan’s article in T-Nation makes a number of excellent points:

Ketones may be depressing dieters’ hunger and giving them a hit of energy and cognitive enhancement, but it’s INHIBITING their ability to burn fat, providing zero nourishment, and doing nothing for their metabolic health. There’s an assortment of evidence suggesting that it’s probably making things worse.

Think of exogenous ketones kind of like alcohol. When they’re consumed, everything is stored and nothing else is burned. So any lipolysis (fat burning) that would be taking place is halted; any glucose and fatty acids in your blood that were circulating are stored; and the ingested ketones are burned until there aren’t any left.

But suggesting individuals already fasting, restricting calories, or cutting carbs will get anything other than a brain buzz is misleading. And to serve up exogenous ketones to an obese, insulin-resistant general population with promises of fat-burning and disease prevention is potentially damaging.

Sure, it might suppress hunger and give a damaged brain a useable fuel source, but what happens when pre-diabetic Pete starts adding ketones to his glucose-rich blood? Or anaerobic Andy continues reloading with the same amount of carbs post-workout even though the liver glycogen he normally burns during his sessions is now suppressed?[18]

Sure, exogenous ketones might provide energy to the muscles or brain cells of someone with Type 2 or Alzheimer’s who can’t use glucose well because of decades of hyperinsulinemia.  But, if someone already has super high glucose and insulin levels, will they worsen the condition by chasing high ketone levels with large doses of insulinogenic exogenous ketones?

If someone is trying to shrink their brain tumour by reducing growth stimulating insulin, will ingesting large amounts of exogenous insulinogenic ketones accelerate growth in the brain tumors?  Recent studies suggest that this may in fact be the case.[19]

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At the current rate, it looks like we will be able to confirm the long term effects of exogenous ketones sooner rather than later.


But by then, the people running the MLMs will have driven off into the sunset and be on to another scheme.

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good news… endogenous ketones for free!

The good news is that all the benefits of endogenous ketosis is freely available risk free!  It’s not easy, but you can get the benefits of ketosis (e.g. autophagy, apoptosis, increased NAD+, mitogenesis etc) by keeping the insulin load of your normal diet down to the point that you can maintain normal blood glucose and insulin levels, then occasionally you can push the time between meals than usual in order to derive some extra benefits (i.e. intermittent fasting).

 

references

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

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC441933/

[3] http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-1-diabetes-guide/ketoacidosis

[4] http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/tc/diabetic-ketoacidosis-dka-topic-overview#1

[5] https://www.dropbox.com/s/hnycwc6b5pw37hr/Inhibition%20of%20Ketogenesis%20by%20Ketone%20Bodies%20in%20Fasting%20Humans.pdf?dl=0

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

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

[8] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/4/986.short

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27475046

[10] https://www.dropbox.com/s/j66y3osyasvq3b3/KETONES%20and%20NICOTINIC%20ACID%20receptor.pdf?dl=0

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1152056/

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27869525

[13] http://www.nutraingredients.com/Markets-and-Trends/Ketones-get-rough-ride-at-Tour-de-France

[14] http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Abstract/publishahead/A_Ketone_Ester_Drink_Increases_Postexercise_Muscle.97232.aspx

[15] http://www.nourishbalancethrive.com/blog/2016/10/10/instant-ketosis-04-62mm-30-minutes/

[16] http://www.nourishbalancethrive.com/podcasts/nourish-balance-thrive/high-ketones-and-carbs-same-time-great-performance/

[17] http://www.freemocean.com/2017/02/22/oxygen-and-your-dna/

[18] https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/avoid-this-ketogenic-rip-off

[19] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40170-017-0166-z

 

post updated July 2017

which nutrients is YOUR diet missing?  

I recently took a look at which nutrients might be missing from various popular dietary approaches in preparation for a recent on nutrient density.  At a population level, the chart below shows the proportion of the US population that are deficient in various micronutrients.  Many people are not getting enough vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, etc.

While your body hasn’t read the World Health Organisation’s reports on the Daily Recommended Intake of the various essential nutrients,[1] it’s likely that your appetite will drive you to seek out the nutrients that are lacking.  If we are deficient in something that is required the body kicks in “nutrient hunger” and cravings that will make sure it gets what it needs.[2] [3] [4]

If you work hard to restrict your food intake to a certain dietary approach, but the body doesn’t receive the nutrients it needs, it may slow down and not function at full capacity.   By contrast, adequate nutrition, without too much energy, slows many of the modern diseases of aging such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer and improves your chance of living healthfully to a ripe old age.[5]

USDA foods database

The chart below shows the nutrients that are both easiest and hardest to obtain from the eight thousand foods in the USDA foods database.  At the bottom of this plot we have iron, various amino acids, and vitamin C, all of which are easy to obtain in adequate quantities.

However, at the top of the chart, we can see that it is much harder to obtain adequate quantities of six essential nutrients (omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, choline, vitamin E, and potassium).  We would obtain sufficient quantities of all the other essential nutrients if we ate just a little of each of the foods in the USDA food database.

If we want to maximise nutrient density, it makes sense to prioritise foods that contain more of the harder-to-obtain nutrients.  The chart below shows the nutrients for the top 10% of the 8000 foods in the USDA database (blue bars) when we prioritise for those.  Not only do we get an increase in the more difficult to obtain nutrients, we also get a massive boost in all nutrients.  Rather than being inadequate in six nutrients, we are now lacking only one (alpha-Linolenic acid, an Omega 3 fatty acid).

Limiting our food selection to the most nutrient dense foods makes it easier for us to consume the required nutrients without excessive energy, which is ideal if we are trying to lose fat or reduce calorie intake to slow the diseases of ageing.[6] [7]  Nutrient density becomes even more important if you’re fasting or restricting calories to achieve long term weight loss.

Optimising nutrient density

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely aware that there is a wide variety of dietary approaches that people follow to optimise their health depending on their preferences and beliefs.

I’ve tried to turn many of these beliefs about nutrition into a quantitative algorithm that we can use to evaluate and compare these approaches, and make sure we’re getting the outcome we want (e.g. low insulin, blood glucose control, nutrient density, or low/high energy density).

After testing a number of options, the three quantitative parameters that I have found the three parameters that are most useful are:

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

My aim in this post is to show how considering nutrient density can improve various dietary approaches, from therapeutic ketogenic, vegan, paleo, and low fat.   This post highlights which nutrients you will most likely be lacking with each of the different nutritional approaches, which foods you can use to fill these nutritional gaps, and perhaps which supplements you may need if you are still looking for some added nutritional insurance.

There’s been a lot of talk lately by Taubes[8] and Lustig[9] about how bad sugar and fructose are, but I think these nutritive sweeteners are just extreme examples of nutrient poor foods that are highly insulinogenic and energy dense.  At the other end of the spectrum, we have foods like liver, broccoli, and spinach.  Everything else is somewhere in the middle and will support or work against your goals, whatever they may be, to different degrees.

My aim here is to help you see where each of these foods sits on that continuum and use this information to help you refine your food choices to reach your personal goals.

Therapeutic ketogenic diet

Let’s start with the therapeutic ketogenic dietary approach.   I have previously noted that a number of the issues and concerns with the ketogenic diet seem to relate to being able to obtain essential nutrients rather than consuming excessive levels of fat.[10] [11] [12]  On one hand, I’m excited that the concepts of insulin load and percentage of insulinogenic calories have been helpful for people with chronic conditions such as epilepsy, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc.  However, I think there is a risk their ultra-high fat diet will not contain the nutrients which are critically important for mitochondrial function and energy production.

The chart below shows the vitamins and minerals provided by a therapeutic ketogenic dietary approach if we simply prioritise for low insulin load (red bars)[13] in comparison to the average of all foods in the USDA database (orange bars).  If you don’t pay attention to nutrient density a therapeutic ketogenic diet can provide lower levels of nutrition.

As shown in the chart below if we ate a little of all the foods in the USDA database, we would be deficient in six essential nutrients, whereas if we follow a therapeutic ketogenic diet, we will likely be lacking in ten essential nutrients.

The chart below shows the effect of how thinking in terms of nutrient density can improve the therapeutic ketogenic dietary approach (blue bars) compared to prioritising for insulin load only (red bars).  All nutrients are boosted, particularly the harder to obtain ones.

While lots of people find that higher fat whole foods are hard to overeat, there are still some hyper palatable high fat foods that go down easily.  We talk about eating “fat to satiety”, but what happens when nutrient hunger kicks in and your body is craving more potassium, magnesium, calcium, or one of the other nutrients that are harder to obtain in a very high fat dietary approach?  If you keep on consuming large amounts of processed fats that don’t contain the nutrients you require, your appetite may not automatically turn off before you’ve consumed a lot of excess energy!

Low carb

The chart below shows the boost in nutrients when we consider nutrient density combined with a low carbohydrate approach.  It appears that, based on this analysis, that without a focus on nutrient density, a low carbohydrate diet is likely to be deficient in folate, vitamin D, choline, potassium, magnesium, pantothenic acid, calcium, vitamin E and manganese.  With a focus on nutrient dense foods, a low carb diet provides adequate amounts of the majority of nutrients.

Weight loss (insulin sensitive)

The weight loss approach is intended for people who are insulin sensitive but still have excess body fat to lose.  Foods with a lower energy density (e.g. spinach, broccoli cucumber, celery, lettuce etc) typically are harder to overeat because they are bulky.

This approach doesn’t pay any attention to insulin load because it is assumed that people using this approach are not insulin resistant and are able to maintain good blood glucose levels.  Practically, it’s also difficult to achieve a really high insulin load with these foods because they do not contain a large amount of processed carbs and are hard to overeat.

Without consideration of nutrient density, the essential fatty acids tend to be low along with vitamin B-12, choline, and tyrosine.  However, once we factor in nutrient density all these nutrients dramatically improve.

This approach may not be viable for long term maintenance due to the extremely low energy density which would make it hard to get in enough energy.  However, in the short term, it may be appropriate for a period of substantial energy restriction, and will provide maximum nutrition with a minimum amount of energy.

Zero carb

Getting adequate protein on a zero-carb approach is not a problem.  However, unless there is a major focus on organ meats, there are a large number of vitamins and minerals, such as   vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and calcium that may be worth supplementing.

Vegan

At the other extreme, the chart shows the nutritional analysis of the vegan diet.  The main deficiencies in a vegan approach are omega 3s and vitamin B-12, which are hard to obtain without animal products.  It may be prudent for vegans to consider fish oil supplementation and B-12 injections, or alternatively adding some seafood occasionally.

While it appears possible to obtain the recommended levels of protein, it’s hard to get very high levels of it.    If you are insulin resistant, the fat levels can be increased using added coconut products and nuts.

Higher insulin load foods for bulking

The bulking approach is designed for people who are looking to gain strength and size by combining nutrient density with more calories and insulin load.  Without consideration of nutrient density, a high insulin load means very low nutrient density foods.  However, once we factor in nutrient density, we get a range of highly nutritious foods that may be helpful if you want to gain size and strength, while still maximising health and nutrition.

Paleo

The chart below shows the nutrients provided by the Paleo approach (i.e. no processed foods, dairy or grains) both with and without consideration of nutrient density.  While ‘going Paleo’ eliminates many of the nutrient-poor processed food, it appears to be beneficial to also consider nutrient density as well in addition.

What does this all mean?

So, how do we decide which approach is best?  Unfortunately, it’s not straightforward so I’ll look at this a number of ways.

What we ideally want is to identify the foods that will provide us with high amounts of all of the nutrients.   The blue bars in the chart below represents the average of the % daily recommended intake of all the nutrients in the various approaches evaluated above, without considering nutrient density.  The orange bars represent the average minus 0.5 x the standard deviation which is a measure of reliability.  The higher the reliability the more consistent and high are the nutrients over all.

This chart shows that, in comparison to the other approaches, Paleo foods have a high and consistent level of nutrients; while the vegan and low energy density weight loss foods have high levels of some individual nutrients, but low levels of some others.  Without consideration of nutrient density, the high insulin, low carb and zero carb approaches are a bit lacking in nutrients.

Things become a little more interesting once we factor in nutrient density.  The vegan, therapeutic keto, low carb and zero carb approaches do poorly against the paleo, higher insulin load, most nutrient dense of all foods, and the lower energy density weight loss foods.

Many people will benefit on a high fat therapeutic ketogenic dietary approach, at least until their blood glucose and insulin levels normalise.  However, in time, it may be beneficial to transition to more nutrient dense foods to continue their journey towards optimal health.

As detailed in the ‘how to optimise your diet for insulin resistance’ article, I think you should eat the most nutrient dense foods your pancreas can keep up with while maintaining good blood glucose levels.  In time, someone who is highly insulin resistant may be able to progress to a more nutrient dense and more moderate fat approach if your ultimate goal is to normalise blood glucose levels and lose weight.

Food lists

If you identify with any of these goals, you may be interested in following these food lists.   If blood glucose levels are sky high or you are managing a chronic condition such as epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may benefit from a higher fat therapeutic keto dietary approach, for a period.  As your glucose levels come under control, you can transition to more nutrient dense foods that will also help you to achieve your weight 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

Getting even more personal

As you can see, nutrients are provided at different levels depending on the approach.  However, most people don’t follow any dietary approach strictly, so the nutrients in your diet will be different depending on your personal habits and preferences.

Rather than trying to pick up someone else’s nutrition plan, or live by a strict list, I think it’s better to refine your current habits, emphasising the good foods, minimising the bad, and progressively trying new foods that may be beneficial.

To this end, I’ve been developing a Nutrient Optimizer algorithm that can help you refine your food choices to suit your goals.  By identifying the foods you are currently eating that align most with your current goals, which ones don’t, and which new foods perhaps you should consider.

Most current nutritional advice is driven by the avoidance of fat, particularly saturated fat, and therefore ends up being next to useless.  Calorie counting apps like MyFitnessPal does nothing but count calories, which is also of limited use.  Cron-o-meter tracks your micronutrients and can recommend foods to boost a single nutrient.  However, there doesn’t seem to be anything available that will tell you which foods will help you actually correct multiple deficiencies and  achieve a diet that is truly balanced in micronutrients.

The Nutrient Optimiser also allows you to tailor the approach to your goals, such as:  therapeutic ketosis, diabetes management, weight loss or just nutrient dense maintenance.  Food preferences like vegan, pescetarian, autoimmune, or paleo can be factored in to the recommended food lists.

At the moment, the process involves manually exporting food intake data from Cron-o-meter, then analysing it in a spreadsheet to manually generate a personalised report.  I am eager to do this as a proof-of-concept for a range of people with various goals (particularly therapeutic ketosis, vegetarian, zero carb, fruitarian) to demonstrate how it works.  So, if you’re happy to have your report shared publicly, and have a couple of weeks of Cron-o-meter data, feel free to send it to me and  have your data analysed.

In time, the plan is to automate the process via an online interface and then ideally an independent mobile app.    To keep up-to-date with progress, watch this space and check out the various analysed examples on the Marty Kendall’s Nutrient Optimiser Facebook page.

Epilogue…  limitations

For completeness, I thought it would be worth mentioning a few limitations relating to calculating nutrient density…

  1. Measuring foods in terms of calories has its own limitations as different macronutrients provide different amounts of energy (ATP) in different people. Some smart friends of mine are working on calculating ATP yield for different foods based on their macronutrient content.  I’ll happily update this analysis in terms of nutrients per ATP as soon as that data is available.  Initial indications are that people who are fat-adapted are able to use fat more efficiently (i.e. less entropy/losses in metabolism) and hence require less calories to yield the same amount of energy in the body (i.e. ATP).  Hence, it appears that it is even more important for someone following a low carb or ketogenic approach to maximise nutrient density in terms of nutrients per calorie.
  2. The official dietary reference values are based on limited research.[14] Typically, they relate to the minimum amount of a nutrient to avoid disease rather than the amount required for optimal function.  They may also vary by person (e.g. someone who is more active may need more protein) and by their diet type (e.g. someone who is on a low carb diet may need less vitamin C to process the limited amount of glucose).  Hence, I think the DRI values should be seen as a minimum.  Ideally, we want to get more than the minimum while not having to ingest too much energy.  I also don’t think nutrients are meant to come as individual vitamins and minerals in a bottle.  The nutrients required to metabolise a certain food typically come packaged in whole foods, and often work synergistically.  Taking supplements or fortifying foods will always be inferior to obtaining nutrients from whole foods.
  3. Species-specific bioavailability and anti-nutrients are contentious topics. Zero carbers will tell you that nutrients in animal based foods are more bioavailable than plant based foods, while the vegans will tell you the opposite.  To date, I haven’t been able to find useful data that would enable me to quantitatively refine the nutrient data in the USDA database regarding bioavailability.  All we currently have is a measure of the nutrients contained in the food– rather than the nutrients that make it into your body after digestion.  Again, if this data ever comes to hand, I’ll eagerly update the analysis.

Overall, I don’t think these limitations make a difference in the outcomes of the analysis.  This is not an exact science and the body doesn’t operate like a rigid machine.  Calculation of nutrient density is just a way to identify the foods that contain the most raw materials with the least amount of calories that your body can work with.

referecnes

[1] http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/nutrient/en/

[2] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=gtQyAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA185&lpg=PA185&dq=%22nutrient+hunger%22&source=bl&ots=VMRQ8EbvHx&sig=l_xJEksBS538UX3QwQNxVJBXTLw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjRj6mSs5DSAhWKyLwKHXBQAjEQ6AEIKDAC#v=onepage&q=%22nutrient%20hunger%22&f=false

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Health-Diet-Regain-Weight/dp/1451699158

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Dorito-Effect-Surprising-Truth-Flavor/dp/1476724237

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

[6] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/361.full

[7] http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14063

[8] https://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-Sugar-Gary-Taubes/dp/0307701646

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

[10] https://www.thepaleomom.com/adverse-reactions-to-ketogenic-diets-caution-advised/

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

[12] http://www.thelivinlowcarbshow.com/shownotes/10888/868-dr-sarah-ballantyne-challenges-the-wisdom-of-low-carb-diets-for-women-2/

[13] In terms of macronutrients this high fat dietary approach comes out at 80% fat, 15% protein, 2% fibre and 3% net carbs.

[14] http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/nutrient/en/

micronutrient flax crackers

Who would have thought crackers could be so ketogenic and nutrient dense at the same time.

This another recipe from the Ketogenic Edge Cookbook by Jessica Haggard.

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There are a ton of seeds and spices that soak up a liberal amount of butter or coconut oil which is what makes them so ketogenic.

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While the recipe comes out to be 20% total carbs, once you account for the massive amount of fibre the net carbs are negligible.  And the nutrient density from the herb and spices is awesome!

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If you like this sort of thing make sure you check out Jessica’s cookbook where she has created a whole range of real food ketogenic and diabetic friendly meals that won’t boost your blood sugars!

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

net carbs

Insulin load

carb insulin

fat

protein

fibre

4g

11g

34%

70%

13g

21

spinach and egg

I’m a pretty simple cook, but sometimes the simple things in life are the best.   You don’t have to achieve great feats of molecular gastronomy to get a hearty nutrient dense start to the day.

This recipe is a simply egg and spinach fried up with some dill, some cream with the egg and coconut oil with the spinach for cooking.

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The ‘secret’ here is to go heavy on the spinach.  Spinach always gives an amazing nutritional profile.

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Even with four eggs and 300g of spinach the end result is still very much ketogenic as well as being nutrient dense!

For some extra taste and you could throw in some mozzarella with the egg.

For all it’s simplicity, this recipe ends up ranking at #9 in the diabetes and nutritional ketosis ranking and #17 in the therapeutic ketogenic meals ranking.

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

net carbs insulin load carb insulin fat protein fibre
5g 18g 28% 72% 24g 6g

 

 

curried egg with cows brain

Considering how very nutrient dense offal is, it’s been surprisingly hard to find organ meat recipes that do really well in the nutrition ranking because so many of the recipes are ‘diluted’ with lots of sweet stuff to mask the taste.

That is, until Tristan Haggard sent me their long awaited ‘ketogenic edge cookbook‘.

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Tristan and Jessica Haggard from Primal Edge Health moved from California to Ecuador to seek a healthier place to live and raise their family.

Clean water.  More sunshine.  Closer to the equator.

These guys are the real deal.

The recipes in their new cookbook document’s how Jessica lovingly makes sure they ensure they ensure they thrive with their food.  It’s not all offal, but it’s clean, nutrient dense and simple, even when it comes to the deserts.

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This recipe for curried eggs with cows brains does spectacularly  well with the vitamins and minerals as well as the amino acids while still being 68% fat.

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

net carbs Insulin load carb insulin fat protein fibre
4g 16g 27% 68% 21g 14g

Combining the brains  with the egg, spinach and avocado makes for a pretty unbeatable combination when it comes to nutrient density.  In fact it ranks at:

The only thing really missing from the book is a family photo to show how health these nutrient dense whole foods are making them.  So here you go.

I  also recommend you check out their YouTube Channel, blog and podcast for some pragmatic nutrition and lifestyle advice.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OFT in the wild

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

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… gone to extraordinary lengths to obtain energy dense honey …

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

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OFT in captivity

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

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

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

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

 sweet = good = energy to survive winter

But now we have entered a brave new world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

what happens when we go low fat?

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

Sounds logical, right?

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

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

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

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Maybe a little too well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


what happens when we go low carb?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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what happens when we go paleo?

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

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Well, maybe.  Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

enter nutrient density

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

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

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

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

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

optimal rehabilitation plan?

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

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

the solution

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

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

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

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

dietary approach printable .pdf
weight loss (insulin sensitive) download
autoimmune (nutrient dense) download
alkaline foods download
nutrient dense bulking download
nutrient dense (maintenance) download
weight loss (insulin resistant) download
autoimmune (diabetes friendly) download
zero carb download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download
vegan (nutrient dense) download
vegan (diabetic friendly) download
therapeutic ketosis download
avoid download

If you’re not sure which approach is right for you and whether you are insulin resistant this survey may help you identify your optimal dietary approach.

survey

I hope this helps.  Good luck out there!

post last updated May 2017

references

[1] http://ketosummit.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a fresh perspective on nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

investing your insulin budget wisely

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

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

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

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

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

insulin is not the bad guy

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

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

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

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

show me the data

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

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

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

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

Richard David Feinman, The World Turned Upside Down

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

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

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

Sorry.

My 2c on nutrient density

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then the next question is what causes insulin resistance?

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

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

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

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

Dr Terry Wahls

The Wahls Protocol

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

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

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

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

Robb Wolf

robbwolf-468x468[1]

Nutrient density vs proportion of insulinogenic calories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy density versus nutrient density

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Net carbs versus nutrient density

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

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

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

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

Insulin load versus nutrient density

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vegetables

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

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

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

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

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Seafood

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

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

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

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Animal products

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

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

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Nuts seeds

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

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Dairy and egg

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

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

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

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Fruit

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

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Cereals and grains

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

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

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

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Legumes

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

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

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

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Fats and oils

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

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Beverages

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

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Appendix B – Nutrient density vs energy density

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

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

Vegetables

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

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Seafood

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

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

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

Animal products

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

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Nuts seeds

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

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Dairy and egg

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

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

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

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Fruit

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

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Cereals and grains

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

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Legumes

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

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Appendix C – Nutrient density vs net carbohydrates for diabetes

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

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

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

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

vegetables

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

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

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seafood

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

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animal products

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

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

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nuts seeds

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

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dairy and egg

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

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fruit

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

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cereals and grains

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

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legumes

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

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beverages

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

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Appendix D – Nutrient density vs insulin load

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

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

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

vegetables

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

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seafood

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

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animal products

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

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nuts seeds

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

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dairy and egg

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

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fruit

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

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cereals and grains

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

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legumes

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

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fats and oils

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

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Beverages

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

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references

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

optimal meals for therapeutic ketosis

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:

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

See this article for the basis of the ranking system.  See also optimal foods for therapeutic ketosis .

eggs benedict

bulletproof coffee with egg

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curried egg with cows brains

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coffee with cream and stevia

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bacon, eggs, avocado and spinach

spinach-avocado-salad-bacon-egg

spinach, egg and avocado

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keto chocolate cake in a mug

lowcarbchocolatecake

kale with chorizo and eggs

kale with chorizo and eggs

Chris Froome’s breakfast of Champions

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zucchini and feta fritters

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spinach, onion and goat cheese omelette

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Jimmy Moore’s keto eggs

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Jimmy Moore’s slow cooked pork with veggies

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spinach, cheddar and scrambled eggs

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are exogenous ketones right for you?

I’ve spent a lot of time lately analysing three thousand ketone vs. glucose data points trying to determine the optimal ketone and blood sugar levels for weight loss, diabetes management, athletic performance and longevity.

In this article, I share my insights and learnings on the benefits, side effects and risks of endogenous and endogenous ketosis.

Exogenous vs. endogenous ketosis

But first, I think it’s important to understand the difference between exogenous and endogenous ketosis:

  • Endogenous ketosis occurs when we go without food for a significant period. Our insulin levels drop, and we transition to burning body fat and ketones in our blood rise.
  • Exogenous ketosis occurs when we drink exogenous ketones or consume a ketogenic diet.

Ketones vs glucose

Ketones are important.  As blood glucose decreases, the ketones in your blood increase to keep our energy levels stable.

The chart below shows three thousand blood glucose vs ketone values measured at the same time from a range of people following a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet.

BHB ketones vs blood glucose

While there is generally a linear relationship between glucose and ketones, each person has a unique relationship between their blood glucose and ketone values that provide a unique insight into a particular person’s metabolic health.

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Some people produce more ketones than others.  Some people have higher blood glucose levels.

What our ketone and glucose values tell us about our metabolic health

Hyperinsulinemia has been called as the “unifying theory of chronic disease” [1] [2] [3] [4] [5].  It’s beneficial to understand where you stand on the spectrum of metabolic health and insulin sensitivity.

The chart below shows the typical relationship between blood glucose and blood ketone for a range of different degrees of insulin resistance/sensitivity.

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If your blood glucose levels are consistently high it’s likely you are not metabolising carbohydrate well.   When you go without food, endogenous ketones are slow to kick in because your insulin levels are also high.  You feel tired and hungry, and you are likely to eat again sooner and not stop until you feel good.

By contrast, if you are insulin sensitive you may be able to go longer between meals naturally and you will not feel as compelled to eat as much or as often.  If someone is insulin resistant, a lower insulin load dietary approach will help with satiety and carb cravings while keeping blood glucose levels and insulin under control.

hyperinsulinemia and metabolic disorders

Exciting research is coming out 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]  

EXOGENOUS ketones may help to relieve the debilitating symptoms and side effects of acute hyperinsulinemia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, epilepsy or other conditions where glucose is not used well.

exogenous ketones and the low carb flu

Patrick Arnold, who worked with Dr Dominic D’Agostino to develop the first ketone esters and ketone 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, once you have successfully transitioned to a lower carb eating style it may be wise 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 body fat stores.

As discussed in the article Are ketones insulinogenic and does it matter? it exogenous ketones require about half as much insulin as carbohydrate to metabolise (or about the same amount as protein).  Hence the continual use of exogenous ketones will limit how much our insulin levels are able to decrease.

Someone with diabetes who follows 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 liver will be able to more easily produce 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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my experience with exogenous ketones

The light blue “mild insulin resistance” line is based on my ketone and glucose tests when I started trying to wrap my head around low carb/keto.

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I enthusiastically started adding generous 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.

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My blood tests suggested I was developing fatty liver in my mid-30s!  And I thought I was doing it right with lots of bacon and BPC?!?!?

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The photo on the right is after I worked out how to decrease the insulin load of my diet and learning about intermittent fasting.  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.

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

Part of the reasons shelling out the money for the exogenous ketones was to see if it would provide a fuel source that didn’t need insulin for my wife Monica who has Type 1 Diabetes.

This metabolic jet fuel is definitely fascinating stuff!  My experience is that it gave me a buzz like a BPC but also has an acute diuretic effect.

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.

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Unfortunately, my hunger and subsequent binge eating seemed to more than offset the short term appetite suppression that had occurred while the exogenous ketones were in my system.  And it was not going to be financially viable for me to maintain a constant level of artificially elevated ketone levels which return to normal levels after a couple of hours.

do exogenous ketones help with weight loss?

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.

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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 prove his claim.

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

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According to Dominic D’Agostino in a Pruvit teleseminar, the EXOGENOUS ketone salts were not designed to be a weight loss product and hence have not been studied for weight loss after all!

The only studies that we could find that mentioned EXOGENOUS ketone supplementation and weight loss were on rats and 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?

I don’t blame you.

Metabolically healthy

The “metabolically healthy” line in the chart above is based on RD Dikeman’s ketone and glucose data when he fasted for 21 days.

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Due to his hard-earned metabolic health and improved insulin resistance RD has developed the ability to fairly easily release ketones when he doesn’t eat for a while.  RD still doesn’t find going without food effortless, but it is easier than when his insulin levels were much higher which prevented his body from accessing his body fat stores.

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Through a disciplined diet and exercise habits RD has achieved a spectacular HbA1c of 4.4%.

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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 glucose : ketone gradient as the gold standard.

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 when fasting, it seems they are also quickly metabolised so they do not build up in his bloodstream.

I know Luis Villasenor from 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, the energy coming from both glucose and ketones.

The average TOTAL ENERGY of the three thousand data points from these healthy people working hard to achieve nutritional ketosis is around 6.0mmol/L. It seems the body works to maintain homoeostasis around this level.

optimal fasting ketone and blood sugar levels in ketosis

When the TOTAL ENERGY in our bloodstream increases outside of the normal range it 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 due to the lack of insulin available to keep your energy in storage.

Regardless of whether your energy takes the form of glucose, ketones or free fatty acids, they all contribute to acetyl-coA which is oxidised to produce energy.  Forcing excess unused energy to build up in the bloodstream is typically desirable and can lead to long term issues (e.g. glycation, oxidised 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 lipogenesis 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]

image26[16] [17] [18]

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 Thomas Seyfried and Dominic 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 is typically not a concern because it doesn’t happen in nature or when eating 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, 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 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 to be 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.

However, 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 both more fat and 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 answer through a controlled study in the future are:

  1. What is the 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 effect 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 hypocaloric ketogenic diet versus a hypercaloric 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 mobilize glycogen and fat easily when required (e.g. when fasting or a sprint).

Metabolically healthy people are both 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.

image29

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

image13

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!

image08

And he’s been able to lose 10kg (22lb) in one month!

image12

At 5.2mmol/L (i.e. glucose of 4.0mmol/L plus ketones of 1.2mmol/L) John’s TOTAL ENERGY is well below the average of the 26 people shown in the glucose + ketone chart above.  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 or coffee.

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.

image22

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 magic of ketones

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 released 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.

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 flooded with insulin caused by high TOTAL ENERGY building up in your bloodstream (i.e. from glucose, ketones and even free fatty acids).

image01

Driving up ketones artificially through EXOGENOUS inputs (treating the symptom) does NOT lead to increased metabolic health or 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.

Perhaps as more exogenous products come to market without the marketing hype that that comes with multi level marketing (e.g. Julian Baker’s Insta Ketone which are a sixth of the price of the Pruvit products) people will get to see if they really do anything useful.

Just like having low blood glucose is not necessarily good if it is primarily caused by high levels of EXOGENOUS insulin coupled 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/or 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, increased 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.

the best exogenous ketone supplement

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.

best exogenous ketone supplement

Check out the how to use your glucose meter as a fuel gauge article or how to use your bathroom scale as a fuel gauge for some more ideas on how to get started with fasting.

If you 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.

 

 

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/

 

post last updated: July 2017

Jimmy Moore’s keto eggs

During his yearlong n=1 ketosis experiment Jimmy Moore in 2012 didn’t give too much away about exactly what he was eating.

What was he doing to keep his blood glucose consistently low and ketones high?  Could this help me lose some weight or perhaps my type 1 diabetic wife normalise her blood glucose levels

Jimmy did  publish a list of healthy high fat foods (i.e. avocados, butter, whole eggs, coconut oil, bacon, sour cream, 70% ground beef, full fat cheddar cheese and coconut) on the Carb Smart blog but he didn’t give away much more detail.

I suppose it’s part of what drove me to dig into the food insulin index to create a ranking of all foods.

One meal he did blog as one of his favourites was his “keto eggs” which he included in Keto Clarity and on his blog here.  He says it helps him “rock the ketones”.  This was often his meal for the day with intermittent fasting.  The recipe is shown below:

  • 4-5 pastured eggs
  • 2-3 oz grass-fed butter and/or coconut oil
  • sea salt
  • parsley (or your favorite spice)
  • 2 oz full-fat cheese (optional)
  • 2 Tbs Sweet Chili Sauce
  • 3 Tbs sour cream
  • 1 whole avocado

The nutritional analysis for the recipe below shows that it’s certainly ketogenic with 83% fat, 13% protein and 4% carbs.  This keto egg recipe provides a solid protein score though the vitamins and minerals aren’t as high as some of the other meals.  However if your primary aim is therapeutic ketosis then this meal will likely be great for you.

2016-07-18 (2)

The ranking for the keto eggs recipe, compared to the 241 other meals that have been analysed so far,  for each of the approaches is:

  • therapeutic ketosis – 18 / 242
  • diabetes – 54 / 242
  • weight loss – 175 / 242
  • nutrient dense (maintenance)  – 159 / 242

net carbs

insulin load carb insulin fat protein

fibre

6g 31g 21% 83% 13%

3g