Category Archives: vegan

comparison of nutrients by food group

There are lots of claims about different dietary approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vegetables

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pros

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

cons

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

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

fruit

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pros

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

cons

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

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

grains and cereals

image10

pros

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

cons

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

legumes

image01

pros

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

cons

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

image11

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

nuts and seeds

image02

pros

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

cons

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

image15

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

eggs and dairy

image08

pros

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

cons

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

image08

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

seafood

image14

pros

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

cons

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

image21

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

animal products

image11

pros

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

cons

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

image09

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

most ketogenic

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

image00

pros

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

cons

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

most nutrient dense

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

2016-09-13-3

macronutrients split of all food groups

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

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

 (g/2000 cal)

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

comparison of the nutrient density by food groups

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

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

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

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

 

references

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

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

[3] https://zerocarbzen.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nutrient dense diabetic friendly vegan foods

  • Eating plant-based foods can be a great way to improve nutrient density and reduce the amount of highly insulinogenic processed carbohydrates in your diet.
  • This article looks at how we can optimize a plant-based diet for nutrient density as well as diabetic friendly by reducing insulin load.
  • Finally, we will look at whether adding additional food groups such as seafood, dairy or eggs would diminish or improve the nutrient density of a plant based approach.

nutrient density

A nutrient dense diet is key to maximizing health and satiety with a minimum of calories.  Maximising nutrient density enables our mitochondria to do more with less.  If our world is full of beneficial nutrients our body realises that there is no longer an energy crisis and is more likely to stop searching for more nutrients and lets go of our stored body fat and decrease appetite.

As detailed in the ‘Building a Better Nutrient Density Index’ article, quantifying nutrient density enables us to prioritise foods that contain the highest amount of essential nutrients that are harder to obtain.[1]

The chart below (click to enlarge) shows the percentage of the recommended daily intake of various essential nutrients provided by:

  • all 7000+ foods in the USDA foods database,
  • plant based foods, and
  • the most nutrient dense plant based foods.

2016-10-22

Restricting ourselves to ‘plant based’ foods will improve the vitamin and mineral content of the foods we eat.  However, focusing on the most nutrient dense plant based foods allows us to improve nutrient density even further

most nutrient dense plant based foods

Listed below is a summary of the most nutrient dense plant based foods sorted by their nutrient density score.

The nutrient density score (ND) is shown for each of the foods.

As you can see from the plot below from Nutrition Data, celery, which has a very high nutrient density score (ND), will provide you with a range of vitamins and minerals equivalent to 92% of your recommended daily intake with 1000 calories and 83% of your protein intake with 1000 calories.  Keep in mind though that you would need to eat five bunches of celery to get that 1000 calories though.

2016-10-22-1

The fact that broccoli has a low energy density may be a benefit if you are trying to lose weight, but perhaps would not be so helpful if you are fueling for an Ironman Triathlon.

Also shown in the tables below is the net carbohydrates and calories per 100g for each of the foods listed.

The great thing about most of these foods is that they will provide you with heaps of nutrients while having a low energy density which will make it hard to over consume them to a point that they will spike your blood glucose levels.

In the second half of this article we will look at how we can choose foods that will be more gentle on blood glucose levels for those of us that are more insulin resistant.

Vegetables

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
watercress 31 65% 2 11
broccoli 27 36% 3 22
spinach 25 49% 4 23
spirulina 22 70% 6 26
turnip greens 19 44% 4 29
asparagus 19 50% 3 22
portabella mushrooms 18 55% 5 29
Chinese cabbage 18 54% 2 12
white mushroom 18 65% 5 22
chard 16 51% 3 19
zucchini 16 40% 2 17
cauliflower 15 50% 4 25
parsley 14 48% 5 36
lettuce 14 50% 2 15
chives 13 48% 4 30
endive 13 23% 1 17
mung beans 13 74% 4 19
collards 12 38% 4 32
chicory greens 12 23% 2 23
okra 11 50% 3 22
seaweed (wakame) 11 79% 11 45
beet greens 11 35% 2 22
soybeans (sprouted) 10 49% 12 81
shitake mushroom 10 58% 7 39
alfalfa 10 19% 1 23
escarole 9 24% 1 19
summer squash 9 45% 2 19
brown mushrooms 8 73% 5 22
edamame 8 41% 13 121
radicchio 7 67% 4 23
Brussel sprouts 6 50% 6 42
bamboo shoots 6 60% 5 27
kale 6 60% 5 28
celery 6 50% 3 18
peas 6 65% 7 42
seaweed (kelp) 5 77% 10 43
radishes 3 43% 2 16
cabbage 3 55% 4 23
snap beans 3 58% 3 15
onions 3 65% 6 32
shiitake mushrooms 3 82% 72 296
arugula 3 45% 3 25
carrots 3 61% 4 23
turnips 2 51% 3 21
sauerkraut 2 39% 2 19
pickles 2 39% 1 12
cucumber 2 39% 1 12
red peppers 1 40% 3 31
eggplant 1 35% 3 25
chayote 1 40% 3 24
jalapeno peppers 1 37% 3 27
radishes 1 60% 3 18
cucumber 1 67% 3 15
pumpkin 1 76% 4 20
lima beans 1 70% 20 113
dandelion greens 0 54% 7 45
mustard greens 0 36% 3 27
yeast extract spread 0 59% 27 185

Spices

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
basil 22 47% 3 23
parsley 21 49% 44 292
paprika 6 27% 26 282
cloves 5 35% 35 274
mustard seed 3 27% 37 508
curry powder 2 13% 14 325
caraway seed 1 27% 28 333
turmeric 0 61% 52 312
sage -0 26% 26 315
thyme -0 34% 31 276
dill seed -0 42% 43 305
coriander -1 64% 54 279

Fruits

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
carambola -5 56% 5 31
avocado -5 8% 3 160
rhubarb -5 55% 3 21
Guava -5 57% 11 68
jackfruit -6 61% 16 95
cantaloupe -7 70% 7 34
apricots -7 71% 10 48
strawberries -7 49% 4 32
kiwifruit -7 55% 9 61
blackberries -7 27% 3 43
peaches -8 70% 8 39
grapefruit -8 85% 8 33
boysenberries -8 54% 8 50
honeydew melon -8 66% 7 36
lemon peel -8 34% 6 47
mango -9 63% 11 60

Legumes

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
soy protein isolate 16 72% 69 335
tofu 13 34% 8 83
soy sauce 13 78% 12 57
soybeans 6 44% 49 446
natto 3 39% 22 211
lupin seeds 3 51% 50 371
cowpeas 3 79% 68 336
lima beans 3 70% 61 338
lentils 2 64% 19 116
mung beans 2 73% 65 347
navy beans 1 72% 63 337
broad beans 1 61% 54 341
kidney beans 0 74% 63 337
black beans 0 73% 63 341
pinto beans -0 73% 64 347

Nuts and seeds

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
pumpkin seeds 2 19% 29 559
sunflower seeds 0 15% 22 546
coconut water -0 66% 3 19
sesame butter -3 21% 33 586
brazil nuts -3 9% 16 659
cashews -3 26% 40 580
walnuts -4 13% 22 619
flax seed -4 11% 16 534
sesame seeds -4 10% 17 631
pistachio nuts -4 22% 34 569
almond butter -4 16% 26 614
almonds -4 15% 25 607
butternuts -6 17% 28 612
hazel nuts -6 10% 17 629
macadamia nuts -7 6% 12 718
pine nuts -8 11% 21 673
coconut milk -9 8% 5 230
coconut -9 10% 9 354
coconut cream -9 8% 7 330
gingko nuts -9 52% 15 111

diabetic friendly nutrient dense vegan foods

While the foods listed above would represent a significant dietary improvement for most people, those who are insulin resistant may struggle to keep their blood glucose levels stable if they eat too much non-fibre carbohydrate that can be found in plant based foods (e.g. bread, sweet potato, quinoa, rice, beans or spaghetti).

It is hard to get too many calories and / or spike your glucose levels if you restrict yourself to vegetables like celery, broccoli and spinach.

The problem comes if you are still hungry after you have eaten your fill of non-starchy veggies and are not wanting to lose more weight.  People using a plant based approach may end up filling up on energy dense higher carbohydrate foods which are more likely to raise their blood glucose and insulin levels.

As shown in the chart below, our insulin response to food is only partially explained by the quantity of carbohydrates in our food.

image01

The analysis of the food insulin index data indicates that our insulin response is also influenced by the fibre and the protein in the foods we eat.

image02

We can use the formula below to estimate the amount of insulin that our food will require as shown by the formula below.  Foods with a lower insulin load will enable your pancreas to keep up with demand and maintain normal blood glucose levels without the ‘blood glucose roller coaster’.

insulin load (g)=carbohydrates (g)-fiber (g) + 0.56*protein (g)

The higher fat foods actually have a lower nutrient density than the most nutrient dense vegetarian foods listed above.  Ideally in time someone with insulin resistance would be able to restore their insulin sensitivity through eating nutrient dense, low insulin load foods along with perhaps intermittent fasting and exercise.  However, in the meantime the lower insulin load foods will enable you to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

diabetic friendly plant based foods

The list of foods below is prioritised by both nutrient density and the proportion of insulinogenic calories.  These foods will provide high levels of nutrition while also being gentle on your blood glucose levels with lower levels of insulin required.

vegetables

The vegetables in this list have a lower percentage of insulinogenic calories, lower amounts of net carbohydrates and a low energy density and therefore will have a minimal impact on blood glucose levels.   While the percentage of insulinogenic calories is often high, the net carbohydrates is low so the effect on blood glucose will be minimal.

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
alfalfa 12 19% 1 23 1.47
endive 15 23% 1 17 1.38
chicory greens 14 23% 2 23 1.37
escarole 10 24% 1 19 1.27
broccoli 30 36% 3 22 1.14
coriander 10 30% 2 23 1.07
beet greens 15 35% 2 22 0.97
zucchini 18 40% 2 17 0.81
collards 7 37% 4 33 0.77
eggplant 1 35% 3 25 0.77
mustard greens 2 36% 3 27 0.72
banana pepper 1 36% 3 27 0.71
jalapeno peppers 3 37% 3 27 0.71
turnip greens 20 44% 4 29 0.71
spinach 30 49% 4 23 0.70
pickles 6 39% 1 12 0.67
sauerkraut 4 39% 2 19 0.66
edamame 8 41% 13 121 0.65
cucumber 4 39% 1 12 0.64
red peppers 2 40% 3 31 0.58
asparagus 23 50% 3 22 0.56
chayote 1 40% 3 24 0.55
radishes 3 43% 2 16 0.52
summer squash 9 45% 2 19 0.52
parsley 15 48% 5 36 0.50
chives 15 48% 4 30 0.48
lettuce 17 50% 2 15 0.47
chard 19 51% 3 19 0.45
arugula 4 45% 3 25 0.43
cauliflower 15 50% 4 25 0.43
okra 13 50% 3 22 0.40

spices

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
curry powder 1 13% 14 325 1.52
poppy seeds -5 17% 23 525 1.32
paprika 7 27% 26 282 1.14
mustard seed 2 27% 37 508 1.05
sage -0 26% 26 315 1.04
caraway seed 1 27% 28 333 1.03
nutmeg -15 23% 32 525 0.93
mace -13 26% 34 475 0.86
marjoram -4 31% 27 271 0.83
cloves 4 35% 35 274 0.79
thyme -0 34% 31 276 0.76
pepper -4 34% 36 318 0.73
cinnamon -8 34% 30 247 0.65
basil 22 47% 3 23 0.63
cumin -6 39% 44 375 0.51
dill seed -1 42% 43 305 0.48
bay leaf -10 52% 53 313 -0.01
pepper -4 57% 47 251 -0.11
turmeric -1 61% 52 312 -0.21

nuts and seeds seeds

Nuts and seeds have a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories as well as being lower in net carbs which makes them diabetic friendly.  They do have a considerably higher energy density and hence, unlike the veggies, it is possible to overeat nuts and seeds if you’re keeping an eye on your weight.

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
macadamia nuts -7 6% 12 718 1.65
brazil nuts -4 9% 16 659 1.59
pecans -11 6% 12 691 1.59
sesame seeds -5 10% 17 631 1.55
coconut milk -10 8% 5 230 1.53
coconut cream -11 8% 7 330 1.52
flax seed -4 11% 16 534 1.52
hazelnuts -8 10% 17 629 1.50
coconut meat -10 10% 9 354 1.49
sunflower seeds 1 15% 22 546 1.46
pine nuts -9 11% 21 673 1.44
walnuts -5 13% 22 619 1.43
almonds -5 15% 25 607 1.37
almond butter -5 16% 26 614 1.35
pumpkin seeds 1 19% 29 559 1.31
butternuts -7 17% 28 612 1.29
sesame butter -4 21% 33 586 1.17
pistachio nuts -5 22% 34 569 1.12
cashews -5 26% 40 580 0.99
coconut -11 34% 39 443 0.61
gingko nuts -10 52% 15 111 -0.02

fruits

The list of diabetic friendly fruits with a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories ends up being quite short.

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
olives -11 3% 1 145 1.72
avocado -6 8% 3 160 1.62
blackberries -8 27% 3 43 0.89
raspberries -10 30% 4 52 0.78
strawberries -8 49% 4 32 0.13
apples -15 50% 7 52 -0.01
gooseberries -12 52% 6 44 -0.02
rhubarb -6 55% 3 21 -0.06
boysenberries -9 54% 8 50 -0.07
passionfruit -14 52% 14 97 -0.08
carambola -6 56% 5 31 -0.08
kiwifruit -8 55% 9 61 -0.09

legumes

These legumes have a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories and lower carbohydrates, however there may still be some impact on blood glucose with the moderate levels of carbohydrates, so you may want to keep an eye on your blood glucose levels when you try these foods to see how you react to them.

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
peanut butter -5 17% 27 593 1.31
peanuts -3 18% 29 599 1.30
tofu 12 34% 8 83 0.94
natto 2 39% 22 211 0.63
soybeans 6 44% 49 446 0.50
hummus -7 45% 20 177 0.27
Miso -2 49% 25 198 0.21
lupin seeds 2 51% 50 371 0.20
garbanzo beans -2 57% 13 88 -0.07
broad beans 1 61% 54 341 -0.18
navy beans -1 61% 22 140 -0.21
lentils 2 64% 19 116 -0.27

what about pescetarian, lacto, ovo options?

In the development of this article I spoke with Barry Erdman who runs the Vegetarian Low Carb Diabetic Healthy Diet Society Facebook group.

Barry has been a strict vegetarian since 1970 and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes nine years ago.  Barry maintained a nutrient dense plant based diet after his diagnosis, however found that he needed to incorporate dairy, eggs and some oils (e.g. MCT, coconut) into his vegetarian diet in order to achieve acceptable blood glucose control.  Barry told me that when he lost 30 lbs when he switched from a vegetarian diet to a LCHF keto lacto ovo vegetarian diet eliminating all grains, bad oils and fruit (except berries).

Barry also came to the conclusion that he would need to incorporate some fish oil into his diet in order to provide adequate levels of essential fatty acids which are not available in significant quantities in plant based products.

Barry asked me to have a look at how a lacto, ovo, pescitarian diet would stack up against the straight vegan approach.  So listed below are the most nutrient dense lacto (dairy), ovo (eggs), and pescetarian (seafood) diabetic friendly foods.

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For those who are interested in adding eggs or seafood I have listed them based on their nutrient density and proportion of insulinogenic calories.

eggs and dairy

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
butter 0.00 0% 0 1 734
egg yolk 0.04 19% 4 15 317
cream cheese 0.01 10% 4 8 348
sour cream 0.00 9% 3 4 197
goat cheese 0.03 22% 2 25 451
limburger cheese 0.02 18% 0 15 327
blue cheese 0.02 20% 2 18 354
gruyere cheese 0.02 21% 0 22 412
edam cheese 0.02 22% 1 20 356
cream -0.01 5% 4 5 431
cheddar cheese 0.02 20% 1 20 403
camembert cheese 0.02 20% 0 15 299
muenster cheese 0.02 20% 1 18 368
Monterey 0.02 20% 1 19 373
gouda cheese 0.02 23% 2 20 356
Colby 0.02 20% 3 20 394
feta cheese 0.02 22% 4 14 265
provolone 0.02 24% 2 21 350
brie cheese 0.01 19% 0 16 334
Swiss cheese 0.02 26% 5 25 379
parmesan cheese 0.03 30% 3 31 411
mozzarella 0.01 23% 2 18 318
whole egg 0.03 29% 1 10 138
ricotta cheese -0.02 25% 3 11 174
Greek Yogurt -0.05 27% 6 9 130
cottage cheese -0.06 39% 3 9 93

seafood

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
caviar 0.09 32% 22 276
anchovy 0.10 42% 21 203
herring 0.07 34% 18 210
sardine 0.05 36% 18 202
trout 0.08 43% 17 162
mackerel 0.07 45% 17 149
oyster 0.11 57% 14 98
tuna 0.08 50% 17 137
salmon 0.07 50% 15 122
sturgeon 0.06 47% 15 129
squid 0.02 50% 21 170
halibut 0.06 63% 16 105
mussel 0.05 61% 25 165
shrimp 0.07 66% 19 113
lobster 0.08 69% 14 84
Pollock 0.06 66% 17 105
whitefish 0.06 67% 17 102
octopus 0.06 69% 27 156
snapper 0.05 64% 15 94
crab 0.07 69% 13 78
whiting 0.03 63% 17 109
haddock 0.04 67% 18 110
crayfish 0.03 64% 12 78
perch 0.01 59% 13 91
haddock 0.02 69% 15 85
clam 0.03 71% 24 135
cod 0.01 67% 17 99
abalone 0.03 76% 19 99

comparison of essential micronutrients

The charts below show the level of vitamins, minerals and amino acids for each of the approaches including for the most nutrient dense foods (without the plant based constraint).  All of the reduced insulin load (IL) approaches do well compared to the average of all the foods in the USDA database.

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The plot below shows the amino acids and essential fatty acids of the various approaches.  This analysis indicates that you can achieve the daily recommended intake of protein from a nutrient dense plant based approach.  The area that suffers when it comes to an exclusively plant based approach is the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA which many vegetarians choose to supplement with.

However, with the high levels of omega 3s in seafood it appears that you could probably obtain adequate essential fatty acids from around 200 calories of nutrient dense seafood (or around 10% of your energy intake).

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In an effort to simplify things, the chart below shows a comparison of the average of the nutrient density provided by the various lower insulin load diabetic friendly approaches.

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When we look at the average (blue bars) the pescetarian approach (i.e. plant based plus seafood, no eggs, no dairy) wins out.

A more useful way to identify the approach that will maximise the nutrient density of all the nutrients is to look at the average minus the standard deviation (orange bars).  When we look at it from this perspective the pescetarian approach (i.e. plant based plus seafood without eggs or dairy) wins out again.

So it appears that the optimal approach from a nutrient density perspective is to focus on nutrient dense plant foods with some seafood.

summary

So in summary, there are some great nutrient dense options for people with diabetes who choose to follow a plant based dietary approach.  Supplementing a plant based diet with some seafood will provide essential fatty acids and boost protein levels.

more information

If you’re interested in learning more about the nutrient density ranking system check out:

other approaches

The table below contains links to separate blog posts and printable .pdfs detailing optimal foods for a range of dietary approaches (sorted from most to least nutrient dense) that may be of interest depending on your situation and goals.   You can print them out to stick to your fridge or take on your next shopping expedition for some inspiration.

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

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

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

I recently ran the numbers on Dr Rhonda Patrick’s Ultimate Micronutrient Smoothie that she says she and her husband have this for breakfast every day.   

I’ve been enjoying Rhonda’s podcasts as well as her mentor Bruce Ames’ great work on nutrient density.   I was pretty hopeful that Rhonda’s daily breakfast would knock it out of the park.  

So far I’ve run 235 meals though a system that ranks meals in terms of nutrient density, protein score, energy density, fibre and insulin load.  A score of 100 in the Nutrition Data analysis means that you would achieve all your daily requirements with 1000 calories (notwithstanding the limitations of bio-availability, anti-nutrients, fat soluble vitamins etc etc etc).  

So here is how Dr Rhonda’s morning smoothie scores in the nutritional analysis.  

rhonda's smoothie

In terms of vitamins and minerals it did pretty well ranking at number 40 of 235 meals analysed to date. Liberal doses of kale and spinach always tend to boost the vitamin and mineral score.  These green leafies contain heaps of vitamins A, C, K, B and folate as well as solid amounts of the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese.   

If you’re interested, the meal that ranks the highest in terms of vitamins and minerals score is Terry Wahls’ lamb skillet meal.  While you might think that a vegetarian meal might win in the vitamins and minerals category, Dr Wahls’ combination of broccoli, garlic, and spinach along with lamb and coconut oil actually does even better with a score of 94 compared to the green smoothie which has a score of 75.   

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The good thing about blending everything into a smoothie though is that you will be able to get more green leafy veggies down the hatch.  The downside is that you might lose a little bit of the effect of the fibre.  The same thing can be said for cooking.  

In terms of amino acids though, the micro-nutrient smoothie was a bit disappointing coming in at 196 of 235. Some people will argue that low protein isn’t a big deal and that 9% protein is adequate.  Others think protein is really important. 

The answer for you probably depends on whether you want to be really big and strong or whether you have some muscle that you don’t mind donating in the name of nutrition and weight loss.  

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The 57g of fibre was pretty good from all those leafy greens, ranking at 75 of 235 in terms of fibre. Energy density was also pretty good ranking at 100 of 235 meaning that the smoothie will be quite filling and not easy to binge on.   

The insulin load was where things got a bit disappointing.  At 50% carbs the smoothie mixture came in just above the porridge with blueberries.  This may not be a problem if you’re insulin sensitive but I think people who are struggling with diabetes might suffer a bit with the apple and banana which don’t add a lot in terms of nutrient density (other than sweetness and palatability).  Maybe drinking fruit is not such a great idea?  

Minus the apple and banana

Just for interest I dropped out the apple and banana and the ranking improved in terms of vitamins and minerals, though it didn’t change the protein score.   The insulin load ranking improved marginally from 228 of 235 to 206 of 235.  

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Overall, this may not be a bad option for breakfast if you’re not diabetic and get some additional protein later in the day, especially if you’re looking to maintain / build lean muscle.

And now for something completely different… zero carb Gregg

After releasing the ketogenic fibre article a while back in October 2015 I got into a discussion about zero carb and ended up running the numbers on Gregg’s typical daily diet which largely consists of meat, butter and cream.

Not surprisingly the protein score of Gregg’s daily diet is high though the vitamin and mineral scores are not so great (214 of 235).

The insulin load of Gregg’s typical daily diet is pretty good coming in at #50. 

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[Just for interest Bulletproof Coffee comes in at #1 on the insulin ranking but comes in last on the vitamins and minerals and second last on the protein.]

Many people find that they do really well with a zero carb approach, particularly if they have had major digestive issues.  People who are fans of zero carb often speak highly of Fibre Menace by Kanstantin Monastrysky.  It seems that people with major digestive issues can get much needed relief from their inability to digest FODMAPS using a zero carb approach.  

Overall I’m a fan of fibre and wonder if people might benefit from the slow reintroduction of some fibre for the sake of their digestion and well rounded nutrition once their gut has settled.  

It’s also it’s interesting that the the protein level is only 22% in the zero carbohydrate (with 76% calories from fat) because of the solid amount of fat from the beef and the added fat from the butter and cream.  You can see how this might work really well for people who are insulin resistant.  

Can you get enough vitamins and minerals from a zero carb diet?

Lots of people who use a zero carb approach say that they can get all the vitamins and minerals they could even need from animal products, so I threw in some sardines and liver to see how high we could get the vitamins and minerals score without any green stuff.  

As you can see below, the protein score improves with the fish and liver (I’m not vouching for the palatability though).  This meal now ranks at #1 for protein score with a massive score of 159 on the amino acid score!  The vitamins and minerals take a significant jump to #142 of 235.

So it seems that there are some benefits of a zero carb dietary approach, but perhaps still some limitations when it comes to the vitamin and mineral side of the equation.  

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Combining forces

But then I thought, “what if Rhonda made Gregg breakfast and Gregg made dinner for Rhonda?”

As you can see from the analysis below combining the green smoothie (no fruit) with the zero carb approach (with sardines and liver) went really well in both the vitamins and minerals ranking (#20) and amino acid score (#41).  Not a bad balance overall!  

On the weight loss ranking this meal combination would come in at #26 of 235, on the athlete ranking it comes in at #10, on the diabetes and nutritional ketosis ranking it comes in at #23, and for therapeutic ketosis ranking it comes in at #67.  

Overall, not a bad balance of the extremes?

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What to make of all this?

Lots of people get hung up on a particular magic nutrient and spend a lot of money to supplement just that one missing ingredient.  However perhaps it would be optimal (and cheaper?) to get a high quantity of a broad range of nutrients from natural sources.

Real foods that were recently alive are going to be a better bet than relying on supplements as there are probably a bunch of other things that are good for us that we haven’t isolated and quantified yet.  

Should you eat more plant foods, more protein, or more fat?  

The answer will depend on your situation, your goals and your preferences.

As always, optimal lies somewhere between the extremes.  

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Further reading