Nutritious low energy density foods for weight loss

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Vegetarian / HCLF context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low carb/keto context

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

Energy density and satiety

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

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


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

Another step on the journey towards health

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

Not necessarily.  Context matters.

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


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

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


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

Is blood glucose management the only consideration?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

On a personal note

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


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

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

Comparison of approaches

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

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

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


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


Low-calorie density high nutrient density foods for weight loss

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

 grains and cereals

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


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


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


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


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


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

animal products  

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


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

so how does it work?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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






























post last updated July 2018

To kickstart your journey towards optimal get your free program and one of 70+ food lists personalised just for you!  

Marty Kendall

  • raphaels7 says:

    Hi Marty,

    Your breakdown of foods according to energy density & nutrient density (per gram or calorie) is great. With it we can correlate all sorts of with one another and form hypotheses. I hope it’ll get ‘food noobs’ to think of all the dimensions there are to foods, this wonderfully complex thing.

    Have you read the the multi-part series on Hunger, Satiation, Satiety, Wanting & Liking on the now inactive blog It is by far the best summary on the topic. Here is the link to Part 1 “Why Are We Hungry? Part I: What Is Hunger? Liking Vs. Wanting, Satiation Vs. Satiety”

    In my opinion, there are 2 major things I think your analysis needs to incorporate if it hopes to get closer to making predictions:

    1) the Nutrient density (per gram or calorie) + Energy density matrix must take into how food differently affects Satiety vs Satiation.
    2) The bioavailability &/or competitive uptake: on average, plant foods have much of their nutrients made less bioavailable to us (even when cooked/soaked/heated etc). It’s not (yet) possible to give a hard & fast dietary Vitamin C RDI for a population because Vitamin C uptake competes directly with glucose [and we don’t all eat the same amount of glucose obviously].

    I would really like to see what you come up with if your analysis incorporates these 2 ‘must have’ dimensions!

    Lastly, I’m still confused about your conclusions regarding Gardner’s 2015 IR-IS/LF-HC study. Maybe I am reading into what you’re saying (apologies if I am) but are you not directly contradicting the null finding of the authors? ==> “A significant interaction between diet assignment and IR-IS status was not detected, and there were no significant main effect differences in weight loss detected by diet group or by IR-IS status.”

    Furthermore, if for the sake of argument, we assume that there was ‘a significant interaction between diet assignment and IR-IS status’, we’d still be left with uncomfortable known unknowns. See Stipetic’s (@thepoisonguy) comments here

    I like the starting point of your analysis of foods and think there is great information out there to improve it.

    PS: I’d ditch the Barbara Roll’s Volumetrics thesis/conclusions but would keep an eye on her data.

    • Thanks Raphi. The Gnolls series is AWESOME! Thanks for pointing it out.

      The aim of this article is not a complete treatment of satiety and satiation but rather as a prelude to a shortlist of foods that will provide satiety (i.e. nutrient density to minimize cravings in the long term) and satiation (i.e. Less processed foods that have more water and a lower energy density that will make you feel fuller when you eat them).

      Nutrient bioavailability is a reality that is harder to address numerically. The outcome of such an analysis may decrease the emphasis on vegetables and swing towards animal based foods in which the nutrients are more bioavailability. This plant / animal split is going to come down to preference and culture as well.

      The Gnolls series also talks about metabolic flexibility and its affect on appetite which I think is fascinating. I think it aligns with the LF/LC IR/IS differentiation in the Gardener studies too. I agree that there are lots of limitations but a number of things align to suggest that ‘just eat more fat’ may not be the best advice for every context.

  • says:

    Hello, I am totally shocked this article has appeared in my inbox. I am really quite startled after reading this through…

    Please can you read Dr Fung’s book The Obesity Code as it has answers for most of the issues you raise. A couple of points: 1. The full stomach approach to satiety is over simplistic and does not take into account the complex endocrinology surrounding satiety signalling (which it looks like fat and protein may play more of a part in signalling satiety than the amount of food in the stomach). 2. CICO (calories in, calories out) has been proven time and time again to be inaccurate and Dr Fung tears it apart in his book and on his website. 3. People are obessing about WHAT to eat but it is time to obsess about WHEN to eat. 4. High fat keto ratios work because it provides nutrition (high fat, nutrient dense animal foods) for recovery but more importantly fat is less insulinogenic (thank you to your website for highlighting this). Vegetable fibre and acid such as vinegar are also less insulinogenic than protein and carb…………………… But do you know what the least insulinogenic food of all is? No food. i.e. fasting. People stop losing weight on keto just because they are not leaving enough time inbetween meals and their insulin levels can’t drop further. Dr Fung’s website, book and lectures show that the obese not only have higher levels of insulin but it takes longer for their insulin levels to drop than for people of a normal weight. IF works for relatively thin people to tone up. It is just a difference of time for the obese. Adopting a fasting regimen (such as ADF or 16:8 generally with a single 42hr fast per week) will reverse the insulin resistance the obese in 6-12 months…

    Please digest Dr Fung’s book in its entirety. It changed my understanding. We need to get off the calorie bandwagon and stop saying that eating fat is too many calories. This is the underlying assumption why keto stops working and people stall but it is time inbetween meals to get the insulin levels down which is key, nothing to do with calories which it seems to me is a massive red herring. As long as we obsess about calories we are encouraging guilt and penalising the obese on a moral level. But not only that, it also impairing their metabolic rate resulting in their body fighting against them and them gaining weight on much fewer calories:

    I beg you to engage with Dr Fung’s ideas before posting. The mainstream aren’t just a little bit wrong. They are WAY off and the obese will continue to suffer if we do not fight against CICO and “caloric deficit” style dieting.

    Best Regards, Danyelle

  • Wenchypoo says:

    The trio of authors mentioned in the article (and god knows there are many more!) base their “diets: on the CICO method. Barbara’s in particular has you filling up on the cheapest subsidized whole foodstuffs (mostly beans, grains), and it worked for me while I still had youth and estrogen in my body–I lost 40 lbs.without even batting an eye, but did I keep it off…?

    Fast-forward about 20 years (and 50 lbs.)–I lost those same 40 lbs.(again) + another 5, and am KEEPING IT OFF with HFLC. By the way, I think the initials of the HFLC diet should be changed to HFHFLC–high fat, high fiber, low carb. In my case, I need more fiber than just veggies provide–I have to make glucomannan-based “pastas/rice”, or coconut-flour-based breads or bread products (like coconut flour tortillas) part of the meal as well (my meter tells me so). Too many veggies, even in combination, and my blood sugar pays the price.

  • Danyelle says:

    Why losing weight by reducing calories doesn’t help the obese – it just drives down their metabolic rate so they can put weight on eating 1500cals.
    Losing weight=reducing your body’s insulin level.
    Body fat level=amount of insulin you have in your body.
    HFLC/Keto works because it reduces insulin levels.
    Foods in order of being insulinogenic:
    carbs, protein, fat, nothing!
    i.e. LC is better than high carb and keto is better than LC at reducing insulin levels because fat is less insulinogenic than protein. But nada is the least insulinogenic! Even better than dietary fat!
    Fasting is the best way to reduce insulin levels. The pioneering work of Dr Fung (The Obesity Code) means the diabesity epidemic can finally be solved by a 6-12 month regimen of 42hr+ fasting every week! Once weight-reduced the weight loss can be maintained by IF protocols of 20:4 and 16:8.
    You are obese? Why not start with HFLC and 5:2 (eat HFLC for 5 days and fast for 2 days every week) and see how you get on….

    Fasting also increases metabolic rate so the problem of the obese serial dieters with lowered metabolic rates who are maintaining their obesity on 1500 cals is also reversed.

    It is time to apologise to the obese for forcing them to go into caloric deficit to lose weight and wreck their metabolic rate. 6yrs after dieting the biggest losers can end up with more weight than they started with before the program!!! What have we done to these poor people! Don’t eat less, eat less OFTEN.

    • If you read the rest of the blog you’ll see that I’m a massive fan of Jason’s work on fasting. The foods in this article are also designed to have a low insulin response as well as being filling and nutritious. I agreed that eating highly insulinogenic foods in smaller portions is a recipe for disaster. At the same time just adding more fat is probably not a long term solution for the obesity epidemic either.

      • Danyelle says:

        It matters less what you eat than when you eat. Adding more fat doesn’t solve the obesity problem but it does not worsen it and it does improve overall health and does not cause weight gain.
        I found it easier to transition between back to back fasts when eating high fat and a lot of vegetables and obviously eating higher fat and high vegetable fibre and higher vinegar and acid type foods will help mitigate the insulin response so those are the things to stick to for health and healing….But it matters less what you eat than when you eat. The best fasting protocol is one someone can stick to. I know a lady who had her bowl removed and has started 4:3 (like 5:2). She cannot digest fat or fibre and is very ill and overweight. She has experienced health improvement and weight loss (!) by doing 4:3. She survives on white bread and rice basically but is still making amazing progress by increasing her fasting period.

        Scaring people off high fat in the name of calories is wrong. Read Dr Fung’s demolition of CICO (a full chapter in his book The obesity code) and then read this post and it makes no sense.

        High fat, acid foods and vegetable fibre can help correct satiety signalling and mitigate insulin response. You cannot trick the body by eating at caloric deficit without it reducing metabolic rate and making you feel awful, depressed and cold.

        We need to improve the body’s signalling for satiety, but satiety is just one thing that is out-of-whack when the obese are permanently in the fed state and can’t reach the proper fasted state. The signalling for the fasted state, burning fat for energy instead of sugar, needs to be corrected in the obese to enable them to access fat cells for energy. Insulin is responsible for a lot of this signalling and insulin remains too high permanently in the obese. It is a massive assumption that just because someone is overweight and eating in a supposed caloric deficit that their energy is coming from their body fat so they don’t need to eat high fat. Energy is coming from the fat cells if they are losing weight but if stalled and not eating much food and feeling hungry and tired all the time they are more likely to be in a state of decreased metabolic rate, doing themselves damage like the biggest losers who regained within 6yrs. They don’t need more fibre necessarily, they need a longer fasting period and more dietary fat when they do eat to signal plenty to the body.

        We need to give the body the right signals to consume body fat. Therefore the insulin hypothesis is the most important work in the battle against obesity. Your pages on the insulin index are a fantastic resource for those looking to understand and mitigate insulin response. An obese person’s response to food is MAGNIFIED compared with a normal person and the normal fasting period for IFing (16-20 hrs which is enough for people at a normal weight) is NOT LONG ENOUGH for obese people’s insulin to reduce to a fasting level! If they eat often (even fat bombs!) they are just keeping the insulin level high and not allowing it to drop. (This is why some can stall on keto by eating too often, not because of the calories in fat but just because like fat is better for insulin response than protein, eating nothing is better than eating fat.)

        I believe an obese person is better eating insulinogenic carbs and protein once a week than eating LCHF several times a day! Nothing to do with calories. All to do with the level of insulin in the body. The insulin index can help break a long fast and can help mitigate insulin response when doing back to back fasts to ensure the fast can continue as easily as possible.

        I thank you for your website Marty (and your youtube lecture I watched with great interest where you explained about your wife) and we all come from different angles. I know you have posted before about Dr Fung but I am just trying to reach you on this diabesity issue.

        Diabetes type 1 management is a totally different condition to diabesity. Following Bernstein’s law of small numbers is the best way to approach T1. It means T1s are never at risk of insulin toxicity like T2s are, because T2’s are excessively hyperinsulinemic (even when eating HFLC!). I know your work on the insulin index has helped many and will continue to do so but for the obese the best thing at the top of the insulin index should be “no food” since in the obese their insulin response to food (even fat) is exaggerated beyond that of healthy men (the normal graphs shown).

        For the obese (and the T2 diabetics) there is one message that needs to be said and that is that the body’s hyperinsulinemia is more important than CICO and fasting for longer than 42hrs+ is the only way to reduce it enough in the obese.

        Dump CICO. Let the insulin hypothesis run free of it. Keto works for non-obese for the same reasons, it does not increase the body’s insulin levels like high carb does, so you can get into the fasted state quicker. When in the fasted state you feel energetic and not hungry. You get stronger because growth hormone increases in the fasted state. You get thinner because your body fat is consumed in the fasted state. In a healthy man eating keto he can reach the fasted state quicker than an obese person. An overnight fast is long enough for him to reach the fasted state. Eating keto gets him into the fasted state quicker. It is nothing to do with calories no matter whether or not you are obese. The only reason why keto doesn’t work for people who have been obese for a very long time is because the fasting period (typically over night) is not long enough to get into the fasted state for obese people because their insulin level is permanently too high and never drops to a proper fasted level, even when eating keto. The day is not long enough for the obese. Eat keto every 2 days and the obese person will be in the fasted state by day 2 and will lose weight. Fat loss=time spent in the fasted state. How quickly you get into the fasted state correlates with the body’s insulin level. I hope you are following me and seeing what I mean. It is the same principle for everyone, just a difference of time for the obese. Given time in the fasted state they can burn their fat. Epidemic solved. Nothing to do with calories.

        Forkoverknives’ stomach diagrams are simplistic. We are taking about an endocrinological disorder (obesity) resulting in internal starvation and an absurd accumulation of fat cells, which eventually cripple liver (and pancreas) function. It is not just “oh wouldn’t it be nice if I could cut calories a little to lose weight, but darn it I can’t as I’m feeling a bit peckish.”

        While ever CICO is propagated it carries with it the assumption that obesity is a moral issue about will power. It’s not helpful. The culprit is insulin levels in the body. Tell your obese readers to fast and feast by eating the SAME amount of calories in one sitting instead of 6 (i.e. a giant-size, long and lazy indulgent 4000kcal several-course fatty french meal instead of 2 days worth of breakfast,lunch and dinner) and they will lose fat off their waist!!!

      • Love the passion! Agree that nailing an ongoing IF routine is the best solution. Conscious calorie control sux!

  • Therese Willette says:

    Been following you and Fung and Davis and all the rest of the great docs and researchers and bloggers etc for nearly 2 years and learning so much. My question is about the food lists for various goals. Are the foods listed the suggestions/recommendations for that goal, or are they examples of foods that both fall into and out of the goal as by example? There seems to be such a range of numbers in each column and I don’t want to sabotage myself. Maybe I’m missing the point or just overwhelmed with all the info! Can you also speak to the issue of grains? I see there are some listed for wt loss but we have been grain free due to the gluten/gliadin problems I have developed several years ago. Gut and skin problems that only resolved after the exclusion of grains. Doesn’t seen that they are healthy. Thank you for all the great work and info you are doing and sharing!

    • This list is a summary of the the top 1000 of the 7000 foods in the USDA food database when you rank them by high nutrient density and low energy density. So, yes, the lists at are suggestions for each situation. Overwhelm is understandable.
      I haven’t edited the lists to remove grains or legumes etc that some people take issue with. In my family my wife and daughter have a pretty bad gut reaction to pretty much all gains. Lots of people do much better without grain based products. I don’t much care for bread or anything grain based. But my son enjoys oats for for breakfast which I don’t really have a problem with because things like oats and quinoa are nutrient dense and probably OK for people who can tolerate them and are metabolically healthy. The nutrient density analysis however suggests that most bread, processed grains and breakfast cereals are certainly on the ‘avoid list’. Hope this helps.

    • Danyelle says:

      I don’t think you will sabotage yourself if you have excluded grains altogether. However, if you are in good health and a perfect weight and you are missing grains then look up Sally Fallon’s take on grains in her Nourishing Traditions book (There were traditional treatments for grains, including fermentation, and they were traditionally consumed with plenty of animal fat or butter). Also you can increase tolerance of carbs such as grains by increasing the fasting period following consumption. i.e. if you choose to eat grains, eat the freshest ones prepared traditionally, with lots of animal fat or butter and eat them only once a day and probably only eat once a day if you consume a lot of carbs that particular meal. It just depends what your goals are and what stage you are at. I’m with Marty – grains are out if you have weight to lose or T2 diabetes. Increasing fasting period to 24 or even 42hrs can also help both with T2 and weight loss. (Refer to Dr Jason Fung).

  • Danyelle says:

    Hi Marty, The intro is a nice add. Can you tell me if you have those graphs showing the levels of insulin in obese patients while fasting somewhere on your site? Think I saw them on a Dr Fung lecture?

  • I think this is one of the most important information for me.
    And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on few general things, The
    site style is wonderful, the articles is really excellent :
    D. Good job, cheers

  • Obat Sehat says:

    vegetables and fruits are the best food to loss weight. and to be vegetarian is fastest way to reach ideal body weight.

    • Yes. The lists of vegetables and fruits is significant in this article. Most people would lose weight if they could just stick with vegetables and some fruit, mainly due to the low energy density. I think omega 3s are also important though and are harder to get from a plant based approach.

      • Danyelle says:

        But losing weight via calorie restriction will only “work” in the short term to lose weight and will decrease your metabolic rate which means years later you are back at an even higher weight that you started with…

        Hence the recent study on The Biggest Loser showed they all had significant decreases of their metabolic rate and and went back to being obese within months of the show, despite only surviving on daily calorie restriction!

        They also had tons of FLABBY SKIN held in by corsets for the “after” photos. Follow calorie restriction if you want this.

        CICO is dead.

        Energy density is relevant to satiety but calories are irrelevant to weight loss (unless you want to be hungry, irritable, lethargic, cold and depressed since those are the symptoms of a decreased metabolic rate which is where calorie restriction gets you).

        Lose weight by fasting and feasting. Fat, vegetable fibre and vinegar are good things to eat when you do eat simply because they minimise insulin response to food compared with carbs and protein. But nothing lowers insulin more than fasting!

        Body fat level=insulin level in the body. Forget the calories. Fast and feast.

  • […] 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.    […]

  • […] food lists balance nutrient density, insulin load and energy density to identify optimal foods for different […]

  • […] seems nutrient dense foods are typically unprocessed and don’t have a have spectacularly high calorie density or insulin load which makes it harder to overdo the energy intake from real whole foods found in […]

  • […] A fantastic resource that reviews the nutrient density of different foods is available at Optimising Nutrition. […]

  • […] the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load (per 100g) and energy density (per […]

  • […] included the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load (per 100g), energy density (per 100g) and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these […]

  • […] included the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load (per 100g), energy density (per 100g) and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these […]

  • […] included the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load (per 100g), energy density (per 100g) and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these […]

  • […] in the table are the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load, energy density and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these […]

  • […] in the table are the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load, energy density and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these […]

  • […] how hungry people report being in the two hours after being fed 1000kJ of different foods (see the low energy density high nutrient density foods for weight loss article for more on this complex and intriguing […]

  • […] in the table are the nutrient density scores, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load, energy density and the multicriteria analysis score (MCA) that combines all these factors (see the building a […]

  • […] energy density – foods that contain high levels of fibre and water have a low energy density (i.e. calories per 100g) and will tend to make us full with fewer calories. […]

  • […] in the table are the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load, energy density and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these […]

  • […] to calculate our insulin response to food is a useful parameter, along with nutrient density and energy density, which enables us to prioritise our food choices to suit different […]

  • […] Download Plan More @ […]

  • >