Tag Archives: calorie density

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 as 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 didn’t, 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 eat 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 hyper-palatable 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 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 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 hyper palatable 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 separate 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 OCtober 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/

optimal meals for fat loss

Who Someone who wants to lose body fat and has good blood sugar control, i.e.:

  • HbA1c < 5.4mmol/L
  • fasting blood sugar < 5.0mmol/L (90mg/dL)
  • average blood sugar < 5.4mmol/L (100mg/dL)
  • post meal blood sugar < 6.7mmol/L (120mg/dL)

If you don’t yet have optimal blood sugar control start here.

How
  • This weighting is balanced to prioritise high fibre, low calorie density meals with excellent levels of vitamins, minerals, and protein with a lesser emphasis on insulin load than the other scenarios.
  • If you don’t have great blood sugar control then you should start here.

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

Learn more about weight loss in this article.  See this article for details of the basis of the ranking of the meals.

See optimal foods for weight loss here.

Terry’s Wahls’ lamb skillet meal

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baked creamed spinach

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curried egg with cows brains

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steak, broccoli, spinach & halloumi

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spinach, cheddar and scrambled eggs

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bacon, eggs, avocado and spinach

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baked eggs with sardines

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spicy fish tacos

White Fish Fillets being prepared for Cooking

beef heart chili

spinach, egg, cheese and cream

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Dom’s breakfast of sardines, oysters, eggs and broccoli

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slow cooked pork with veggies 

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low carb breakfast stax

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greek salad

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egg, spinach, avo and tomato

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Chris Froome’s rest day breakfast

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breakfast tortilla

Bulletproof Coffee Vs. Breakfast

spinach, egg and avocado

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

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cheesy garlic bread with bacon, beans and tomato

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chicken stir fry

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chia seed pudding

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garlic prawns with spinach

eggs benedict

slow-cooked heart on fire with kale

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bacon wrapped salmon

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salad and salmon lunch

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your personalised food ranking system

  • A number of attempts have been made to develop food rankings.
  • We can combine the concept of insulin load with nutrient density to help us make optimal food choices based on our goals, situation and budget.
  • This article looks at other ways to prioritise our our food choices quantitatively to design a food ranking to suit your situation, goals and budget.

Mat Lalonde’s nutrient density

Dr Mat Lalonde developed a ranking of foods based on nutrient density in terms of nutrients per gram using the USDA food database. [1]  This analysis identified organ meats as one of the more nutritious foods, with vegetables coming in second.  Fruits and grains landed much further down the list.

Lalonde noted that people wanting to lose weight may wish to prioritise in terms nutrient density per calorie, however he had chosen to analyse nutrient density in terms of weight as that might be more relevant for athletes (Lalonde is a CrossFit athlete as well as a biochemist). [2]

I was left excited, yet a little unsatisfied, wondering what the ranking might look like in terms of calories, or maybe some other measure.

Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)

Joel Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) ranks foods based on micronutrients per calorie [3] but excludes a number of essential vitamins and minerals while placing extra emphasis on the oxygen radical absorbance capacity.

This approach heavily biases plant foods and seems to ignore the nutritional benefits of animal foods. [4]  Kale ranks at the top of the list, largely due to its massive amount of vitamin K.

Unfortunately a massive dose of vitamin K isn’t much use to us in the context of a low fat given that vitamin K (along with vitamin D and E) is a fat soluble vitamin.  It’s also not much use having a food that ranks off the chart in one nutrient but it’s that good in a number of other areas.   Vitamin K is important but you can only absorb so much in one day.

Another criticism that has been levelled at ANDI is that simply using nutrition per calorie prioritises very low calorie density foods that may not be viable for anyone doing a significant amount of activity.

Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet

Dave Asprey developed the Bulletproof Diet Infographic [5] which is a simple ranking of foods to avoid and preference based on both nutritional density and toxins.

The downside of this is that it shows only a select range of foods and doesn’t explain why each of the foods has the ranking that is has been given (though there is a good discussion of the toxins and various issues in his book [6]).

Most people would be happy with this visual list of foods to preference and avoid, and I recommend you check it out, however I wanted to see the numbers to understand why one food ranked above another.

nutrient density per dollar

I also came across a food ranking system in terms of nutrient density per dollar.  Dale Cumore of the blog Solving Nutrition [7] had created a ranking based on nutrient density per dollar cost of that food to arrive at the cheapest way to get nutrition for around 1000 foods that he could find cost data for.

Dale included a link to his  spreadsheet on his blog (in which he has mimicked Lalonde’s analysis [8]) for people to have a play with.  So I downloaded it to see what I could do with it. [9]     After dropping out the fortified products, we get the following list of foods based ranked on nutrient density per dollar.

  • bagels
  • French rolls
  • croissants
  • muffins
  • lentils
  • tortillas
  • rice
  • parsley
  • beef liver
  • spaghetti
  • Chinese cabbage (Bok Choy)
  • sunflower seeds
  • White bread
  • chicken liver
  • peanut butter
  • skim milk
  • peanuts
  • chives
  • whole eggs
  • brown rice
  • sweet potato
  • cabbage
  • orange juice

Grains are actually a cost effective way to get nutrients, however not necessarily the most healthy.    People believe that most if not all grains should be avoided. [10]  My ten year old daughter knows that if she eats bread she will end up tired, with a stomach ache and dark circles around her eyes.  However if  cost is your number one priority you might find this list useful.

cost per calorie

Cost will always be a consideration to some degree.  Some people may not have the finances to buy grass fed organic while others will have the means to invest in food as preventative medicine.  Listed below are the cheapest foods in terms of cost per calorie.  Again, grains (including white rice), candy and sugar rank up there with some of the cheapest ways to get calories. [11]

While it’s true that grass fed beef, salmon and organic vegetables can be more expensive than boxed cereals and sugar, it’s also worth noting that obtaining significant proportion of your calories from fats such as coconut oil and butter can actually be very cost effective on a per calorie basis.

  • pumpernickel rolls
  • croissants
  • bagels
  • canola oil
  • French rolls
  • margarine
  • what muffins
  • coconut oil
  • granulated sugar
  • rice
  • brown sugar
  • mayonnaise
  • doughnuts
  • tortillas
  • cake mix
  • peanut butter
  • cranberry juice
  • spaghetti
  • sausage
  • corn starch

nutrient density per calorie

Nutrient density per calorie is a useful measurement for someone wanting to lose weight while maximising nutrition.   One line of health and weight loss thinking says that once the body obtains adequate nutrients it will stop searching for food and overeating will be minimised. [12]  Using this approach vegetables shoot to the top of the list with things like spinach, liver, seafood oysters, kale and broccoli rank really well.

  • spinach
  • chicken liver
  • beef liver
  • beet greens
  • veal liver
  • pork liver
  • duck liver
  • goose liver
  • turnip greens
  • mustard greens
  • parsley
  • chard
  • oyster
  • coriander
  • dandelion greens
  • basil
  • caviar
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • All bran
  • collards

fibre per calorie

One of the more exciting concepts in the diet space recently is the concept that what you eat could possibly change your gut bacteria for better or worse.

While this area is still in its infancy the thinking is that lean people have a higher bacteriodes : fermicutes ratio and that this can be influenced by eating more fibre and taking prebiotics.

Typical daily fibre intake is around 17g for those of us in western civilisation. It is said that African hunter gatherer children obtain more than 150g of fibre per day from eating unprocessed foods in their natural state [13] and before the invention of fire and cooking our ancestors were eating more than 100g of fibre per day. [14]

Fibre in carbohydrate-containing foods neutralises the insulinogenic effect of the carbohydrate.  Fibre is not digestible by the human gut and hence it does not provide energy or cause a rise in blood sugar or insulin.

The typical western recommendation is to get at least 30g of fibre per day to improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  Most people don’t achieve these levels even when eating “healthy whole grains”, largely due to the high level of processing in most popular foods.

It’s also worth noting that it’s better to lightly steam your veggies rather than cooking them until they’re soft so that the fibre remains intact.

Ironically the number one recommended source for fibre is from “healthy whole grains”.  While whole grains will be marginally better than processed grains such as white bread, they also have a high glycemic load and will be much more insulinogenic than other options such as non-starchy vegetables.  The end result of eating the whole grains is increased blood sugars and cholesterol, which is exactly what “healthy whole grains” was meant to help us avoid!

If we rank for fibre per calorie we end up with a few spices such a cinnamon, curry powder, or cocoa at the top of the list along with vegies such as turnip, artichoke, sauerkraut, cauliflower.  All Bran features in the list but only because it has been fortified with extra fibre.

  • cinnamon
  • turnip greens
  • artichoke
  • curry powder
  • sauerkraut
  • cauliflower
  • raspberries
  • lettuce
  • blackberries
  • lemon peel
  • All Bran (w/ added extra fibre)
  • oregano
  • wheat bran
  • eggplant
  • basil

practical application

These lists of foods ranked based on one measurement or another are interesting, however they are not particularly useful by themselves.  If we went by Lalonde’s system we’d be eating bacon and organ meats all the time.  If we went by the ANDI system we’d be living off kale.  And if we just looked at the proportion of insulinogenic calories we would be living off butter, cream and oils.

But it gets interesting though when you can combine the various measurements to highlight foods to suit your individual goals.

In my previous articles on diets for weight loss, blood sugar management and athletes I provide a list of optimal foods for using different weightings for the following:

  • nutrient density per calorie,
  • fibre per calorie,
  • nutrient density per dollar,
  • nutrient density per 100g,
  • proportion of insulinogenic calories,
  • calories per 100g, and
  • cost per calorie.

Listed below are the weightings that I’ve devised for each situation.

I’ve also developed a suite of ‘cheat sheets’ to highlight optimal food choices to suit your goals, whether they be weight loss,  normalising weight loss or or athletic performance.

Why not print one out and stick it to your fridge as a helpful reminder or use them for some inspiration for your next shopping expedition?

In the next article we’ll look at how we can use this style of analysis to identify diabetic friendly, ketogenic, nutrient dense meals.

weighting for blood sugar control and ketosis

ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 5% 5% 10% 50% 10% 5%
weighting for weight loss
ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 10% 10% 5% 20% 30% 10%
weighting for athletes and metabolically healthy
ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 10% 10% 30% 20% 5% 10%
weighting for theraputic ketosis
ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
5% 5% 5% 5% 70% 5% 5%

references

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

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwbY12qZcF4

[3] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/andi-guide

[4] http://www.westonaprice.org/book-reviews/eat-to-live-by-joel-fuhrman/

[5] http://www.bulletproofexec.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Bulletproof-Diet-Infographic-Vector.pdf

[6] http://www.amazon.com/The-Bulletproof-Diet-Reclaim-Upgrade/dp/162336518X

[7] http://blog.paleohacks.com/ultimate-guide-paleo-diet-budget/

[8] The analysis considers the relative amount of calcium, iron, magnesium phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, panto acid, vitamin B6, choline, vitamin B12, Vitamin A, vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K across more than 1000 foods.  No weighting of these vitamins based on a view of their relative importance, though this refinement could be made to the analysis for a specific need.  This unweighted approach however highlights foods that have a broad spectrum of nutrients at significant levels.

[9] The statistical analysis in the spreadsheet downloaded compares the value of a nutrient in each food to the average of the full database of foods and gives it a score based on the number of standard deviations from the mean.  I also modified the spreadsheet such that a score for one nutrient could not be greater than three (i.e. three standard deviations from the mean).   Just because Kale has an inordinate amount of Vitamin K doesn’t mean that it ranks at the top of the list on the basis of just one nutrient.

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvfTV57iPUY

[11] If you wanted to view this cynically you could say that the fact that grains and sugars have the lowest cost per calorie enables food manufacturers to place the largest mark up on these foods when reselling them in cardboard boxes in the supermarket.  It’s harder to put a bar code on generic vegetables and meat products that are already relatively expensive.

[12] See discussion in chapter 17 Nutrient Hunger in Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet where he notes that a nourishing, balanced diet that provides all nutrients in the right proportions is the key to eliminating hunger an minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake is a key to weight loss.  

[13] http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4067184.htm

[14] http://www.gregdavis.ca/share/paleo-articles/academic/The%20Ancestral%20Human%20Diet%20by%20S.%20Boyd%20Eaton.pdf

optimal meals

To date, I’ve analysed more than 200 meals and ranked them based on different criteria for different goals.  For more details on the basis of the meal rankings see the most nutritious diabetic-friendly meals.

Each week I’m posting one of these meals.  To see the recipes posted to date click here.

A more complete ranking for each category will be published once a few more recipes have been posted.

optimal foods for weight loss

  • Prioritising foods that provide adequate nutrition with minimal calories increases your chances of achieving health, satiety and weight loss.
  • Weight loss can be achieved by eating high fibre, nutrient dense, low calorie density, low carbohydrate foods.
  • Eating more on days when you are active and less on low activity days will be more effective in the long term than monotonous calorie restriction.
  • Eating more fat than required for satiety you may not be giving your body a chance to burn body fat.

how to lose weight

Looking for a sure fire diet to lose weight, guaranteed?  Try eating this every day:

Breakfast

  • mushroom – 200g
  • spinach – 4 cups
  • artichoke – 120g
  • raspberries – 200g
  • pepper – 6g
  • parsley – 1 cup

Lunch  

  • collard greens – 2 cups
  • Swiss chard – 1 cup
  • turnip – 200g
  • steamed broccoli – 5 cups
  • Brussel sprouts – 16 oz
  • mung beans – 0.5 cups

Dinner

  • lentils – 3 cups
  • asparagus – 200g
  • mushroom – 200g

Will this meal plan lead to fat loss?  Yes.

Could most people do this in long term?  Probably not.

On first glance it doesn’t look like a ketogenic diet, however given that you probably couldn’t actually eat all that food in a day and you’d end up using so much of your own body fat it would probably be ketogenic.

This high fibre, high nutrient density low calorie density would require you to eat a massive four kilograms (nine pounds) of food a day to get 2000 calories.

The positives of this approach are:

  • extremely low calorie density,
  • extremely high fibre (150g per day compared to the average western intake of 17g per day),
  • extremely high nutrient density,
  • extremely filling, and
  • although 70% carbohydrates, the massive amount of fibre means the insulin load is only moderate, making it better for a diabetic than the typical western diet.

The negatives of this approach are:

  • without any fat in the diet you may not be able to actually absorb all the nutrition from the fat soluble vitamins A, E and K,
  • vitamin B, vitamin D, cholesterol and saturated fat are non-existent,
  • protein quality is only moderate without any animal protein, and
  • it may be hard to cook many of these foods without any added fats.

If you’re interested in a ketogenic diet you’re probably not going want to follow this sort of extreme vegetarian-style diet.  However there are a few things that we can learn from this approach that we could incorporate into a ketogenic approach.

high fibre, low calorie density

Eating high fibre, low calorie density foods will help to keep you full.  Non-starchy vegetables are bulky, contain a lot of water, fibre as well as lot of nutrients.

protein hunger

While counting calories will work over the short term, your body will win out over your mind and your iPhone app in the long term if you’re not giving it the nutrients it needs.

Recent research [1] suggests that we will keep eating until we get enough protein and eating foods low in protein leads people to eat more calories than they need.

Ensuring that you’re getting adequate protein (say 15 to 30% of calories) will cause you to be satiated with less calories.

nutrient hunger

In a similar way, if you’re not giving your body the vitamins and minerals it needs it will keep on seeking out more food.

In his Perfect Health Diet [2] Paul Jaminet notes that a nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the required nutrients in the right proportions is the key to eliminating hunger and minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake.  

intermittent fasting

If you keep your calorie intake consistently low for an extended period of time your body will sense an impending famine and slow down your metabolism, leaving you tired, cold, depressed and miserable.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit with restricted calories a few days a week by missing a few meals on low activity days and then eating to satiate your hunger on higher activity days.

In our current food environment we don’t give our body any time when it’s not awash with calories and insulin than enable your bodies to use our stored body fat for energy.

Eat when you’re hungry.  But conversely, don’t be afraid to not eat when you’re not hungry.

“Break-fast” is an important meal, even if it occurs at 3pm in the afternoon!

eat fat to lose fat?

The reason that eating a high fat diet leads to increased satiety is that your body can access your stored body fat.

In most people eating a ketogenic diet leads to greater satiety because you’re using body fat for fuel, which leads to a reduction in food intake.

Conversely if you are eating a diet full of simple carbohydrates your insulin levels will stay high and your body fat will be locked away.

When you lose fat, your body burns the saturated fat on your body.  If at first you don’t succeed by reducing your insulinogenic load and intermittent fasting consider cutting back your dietary fat intake to create a caloric deficit which will be filled by your body fat. [3]

Some people can eat massive amounts of fat while keeping carbs low and lose weight, [4] however others can lose their way on a LCHF or ketogenic diet by eating too much dietary fat and end up not getting the results they hoped for.

Jimmy Moore emphasis that you need to eat fat to satiety[5]  If you mainline dietary fat and are not hearing your natural satiety signals you’re not going to give your body the best chance to burn body fat.

insulin sensitivity

One of the most famous diet studies looking at low carb diets is Dr Chris Gardner’s A to Z Study. [6]  Gardner, a practicing vegan, was surprised to find that it was the Atkins dieters who lost the most weight in his study.

More interestingly though were the results of a follow-up analysis where he assessed peoples’ insulin resistance.  He found was that people who were insulin resistant lost the most weight on the low carb diet while the insulin resistant lost nothing on the higher carbohydrate diets. [7]

How do you know if you’re insulin resistant?  Your weight and waist line are pretty good indicators, but your average blood sugar is even better.  If you want to know what diet is right for you, pick up a blood sugar metre from your local chemist and do some testing.

If your average blood sugars are in the excellent range according to the values below then focussing on carbohydrates as your primary goal may not be ideal.

risk level HbA1c average blood sugar
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)
optimal 4.5 4.6 83
excellent < 5.0 < 5.4 < 97
good < 5.4 < 6.0 < 108
danger > 6.5 > 7.8 > 140

food choices for weight loss

We can use the food prioritisation system [9] to identify foods that align with these goals by prioritising nutrient density (20% weighting), fibre (10% weighting), and low calorie density (30% weighting).

ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / $ ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 10% 10% 5% 20% 30% 10%

The resultant foods are listed below, in order of priority, using these weightings.

A few items that you would not generally expect to see on a ketogenic diet come to the top of the list such as lentils and mung beans due to their low calorie density, high fibre content and low cost.

This weighting system does not give a high priority to fats and oils as they are coming from the body fat stores.  The list of nuts and seeds is also quite short in view of their high calorie density.

I’ve also developed this ‘cheat sheet’ using this approach to highlight optimal food choices depending, wither they be reducing insulin, weight loss or athletic performance.   Why not print it out and stick it to your fridge as a helpful reminder or when you’re looking for some inspiration for your next shopping expedition?

vegetables & spices

  • spinach
  • chives
  • turnip greens
  • coriander
  • mushrooms
  • broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • kale
  • artichokes
  • Bok choy
  • peas
  • kidney beans
  • lettuce
  • sweet potato
  • carrots
  • lima beans
  • seaweed
  • asparagus
  • celery

animal products

  • organ meats
  • oyster
  • herring
  • sardine
  • pork sausage
  • ham
  • chicken
  • pork
  • turkey
  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • anchovy
  • crab
  • lobster
  • trout
  • beef

fruits

  • avocado
  • olives
  • guavas
  • raspberries
  • kiwifruit

dairy

  • whole egg
  • egg yolk
  • ricotta cheese
  • parmesan cheese
  • feta cheese
  • milk

nuts, seeds & legumes

  • lentils
  • chick peas
  • mung beans
  • kidney beans
  • lima beans
  • coconut milk
  • peanut butter
  • peanuts
  • brazil nuts
  • coconut meat

fats and oils

  • butter
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • fish oil
  • flaxseed oil

example daily diet

Below is an example daily meal plan for someone wanting to lose weight by reducing calorie density and maximise nutrition using the prioritised list of foods above.  There’s nothing radical or objectionable here other than the high amounts of nutrient dense green veggies you need to eat in a day.  Some added fat is used for cooking.  There are no snacks and no calorie dense nuts and seeds.

image007

Using this approach we achieve great nutrition and protein scores along with an impressive 36g of fibre per day.

This approach involves eating nearly two kilograms of food which would leave you feeling quite full.

Although this diet is full of veggies it still has 60% of the dietary calories coming from fat.  If we ran a 1/3 calorie deficit in the early stages of a weight loss program we would have 73% of the calories coming from fat when your body fat is included.  This would very likely be ketogenic.

With the high amount of fibre, the net carbs are quite low at 44g per day which would still qualify as low carb diet.

If you find your blood sugars are unacceptably high you should consider backing off on the carbohydrate containing foods.   On the other hand if your blood sugars were excellent you could even consider increasing the non-starchy veggies to increase satiety and reduce the calorie density.

In our next article we’ll look at nutrient dense foods options that might work for you if your blood sugars are excellent and you’re doing intense exercise.

references

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ATDvhZQo4A&t=1677

[2] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/the-diet/

[3] http://livinlavidalowcarb.com/blog/tag/ron-rosedale

[4] http://live.smashthefat.com/why-i-didnt-get-fat/

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Keto-Clarity-Definitive-Benefits-Low-Carb/dp/1628600071

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

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

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

[9] https://www.dropbox.com/s/ninuwyreda0epix/Optimising%20nutrition%2C%20managing%20insulin.docx?dl=0