Tag Archives: carb counting

insulin load… the greatest thing since carb counting?

In previous articles I have outlined the idea of the insulin load[1] [2]  which is similar to carbohydrate counting, but also accounts for the effect of protein, fibre ad fructose.

insulin load = total carbohydrates – fibre + 0.56 x protein

show me the data!

Most people understand that dietary carbohydrate is the primary nutrient that influences blood glucose and insulin as shown in the charts below.  However, indigestible fibre[3] and glucogenic amino acids (protein)[4] [5] also affect our blood glucose and our insulin response to food.

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We can better predict the insulin and glucose response to our food if we also account for the effect of protein and indigestible carbohydrates (i.e. fibre).  People aiming to follow ketogenic diet will want to eat foods towards the bottom left of these charts.

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I was pleased to see Jason Fung even mention the food insulin index and the Optimising Nutrition blog at the recent low carb conference in Vail Colorado  and it has been great to see a handful of people like Patricia and Mike put this theory into practice with great results as detailed in this article.

Patricia Berry Moore

This comment from Patricia Berry Moore made my day.

Marty! Are you the Low Carb Down Under Marty??!

You and Sarah Hallberg are why I started LCHF.  And went from a very unhealthy type 2 diabetic at 156 lbs to a very healthy 113 lbs.

THANK YOU!

Patricia had seen my presentation on the food insulin index, applied the theory, and it worked!

Patricia said:

I use the insulin load concept.

I find it helps me refine my macros.  A little less protein a bit more carbs and you can find that sweet spot.  For me 50g per day is perfect.

My doctor threatened me with insulin and so I started went digging and found your lectures. 

Over 10 months I lost 43 lbs (I’m 5’2″).  I was pre-diabetic for ten years and then type 2 diabetic for ten years. 

I am now off all my meds.  I was on eight different ones for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, re-flux, diabetes.

I’m never going back, so thank you!

This is Patricia’s “before photo.”  You can see a ‘puffiness’ in her face characteristic of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, which causes fluid retention.  I showed this photo to my 12 year old daughter who said “that’s how you used to look.”  Thanks dear…  I think.

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If you’ve hit a plateau it might be worth tracking the insulin load of your food for a while to fine tune your diet.   Patricia says:

I use the app Lose it! which helps me track macros. So it’s pretty easy to keep a running total of my insulin load too. 

I started at around 80g per day.  As I decreased it, my blood sugars improved. 

At this point my fasting blood glucose run at 65 – 75 mg/dL with an insulin load around 50g per day or so. 

LCHF has really saved my life Marty.

This is Patricia now.  Congratulations Patricia!

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a little closer to home

As mentioned by my daughter, this is me before and after trying out my low insulin load, high nutrient density foods.  I don’t think my hair moved in the 18 months between when these work profile photos were taken, but some inflammation and weight certainly did.  My family assures me that at my worst I was bigger and unhealthier looking than the photo on the left!

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The photo below on the left is my daughter’s “before photo” after spending 9 months in a high insulin environment.  Children born to mothers who are type 1 diabetic and dosing with lots of insulin tend to be delivered early via C-section due to their excessive size caused by the high levels of insulin from the mother.  The photo on the right is her twelve years later, all grown up!

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The photos below are the same child, “JL,” who was one of the first type 1 diabetic children to receive insulin treatment in 1922.  Without insulin he’s wasting away, literally eating his own fat and muscle, unable to metabolise carbohydrate.  Two months later the photo on the right shows that he’s been able to make a full recovery with insulin injections.

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The photo below is of another Type 1 sufferer before and after receiving exogenous insulin.  

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Hopefully from these photos you can see how there’s a “Goldilocks zone” for insulin.  Not too little.  Not too much.  Just right.  You can use the quantification of insulin load to find your sweet spot.

Mike Alward

I received similar feedback recently from Mike Alward who has also successfully applied the insulin load theory.  Mike says:

I just wanted to say thanks for your work on insulin load, food insulin index and glucose : ketone index.  It really helped me to understand what was holding me back from reaching and being able to maintain a state of optimal ketosis. 

I manage my insulin load to ~75g per day.  My BG has come down and my ketones are now in the optimal range.  My GKI is now below 3. 

I used to be pre-diabetic with blood glucose up around 6.5 mmol/L.  Now, I am in the 4.5 – 4.7mmol/L range. 

Being in optimal ketosis has helped to control my appetite and cravings (especially sugar), which has made intermittent fasting so much easier.

Keep up this important work!  

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With this reduced insulin approach Mike is able to accommodate a solid amount of protein into his diet while maintaining excellent blood glucose and ketone levels.  Like anything, you can have too much of a good thing, including protein.

Many people find that as their insulin resistance improves they are able to handle a higher insulin load diet which may enable a higher nutrient density and less fat.   If you are highly insulin resistant you may need to focus on a very low insulin load, high fat approach.  As your blood glucose levels stabilise you will be able to transition to more nutrient dense foods that may have a higher insulin load.

Mike says:

My insulin load target is ~90g – 100g of protein / day.  I am 6’0″.

Mike likes to track a range of different health makers.

I track my weight calories, macros, calculated insulin load, blood glucose, blood ketones and GKI.

Not everybody “geeks out” on this stuff.  I am totally into “nerd safaris” to research non-conventional wisdom health. 

I just got several folks to calculate their insulin load, and their heads almost exploded when I introduced them to GKI.  

You can see in the chart below how Mike’s ketones have increased as he has reduced the insulin load of his diet.

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The chart below shows how Mike’s glucose : ketone index (an approximation of insulin levels) has decreased as he lowered the insulin load of his diet.

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Tracking the insulin load of your diet is a little more complex than just counting carbs, but not that much more work if you’re already tracking your food intake.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of tracking everything you eat forever, but it can be useful to keep a food diary for a time to reflect and refine.

If you just want to know what you should eat these lists of optimal foods for different goals may be useful for you.

how to calculate your insulin load

So how do you calculate the insulin load of your diet?

If you’re already tracking your food intake it’s a pretty simple thing to do.  Below is an example output from MyFitnessPal[6] showing the food intake for the day comprising of:

  • carbohydrates (70g),
  • fibre (63g), and
  • protein (104g)

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So we start with the insulin load formula:

insulin load = carbohydrates (g– fibre (g) + 0.56 x protein (g)

Insert our values:

insulin load = 70g carbohydrates – 63g fibre + 0.56 x 104g protein

and calculate insulin load:

insulin load = 65g

It’s not that much different to tracking net carbs, but instead you also account for protein which also requires insulin.

I initially developed this calculation for people with Type 1 Diabetes (like my wife) who need to calculate their insulin dosage but it can work in a similar way for someone wanting to reduce the demand on their pancreas to the point that it can keep up and maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Reducing your insulin levels to normal healthy levels will allow your stored fat to be used for energy and manage your appetite.   As you track your insulin load you can keep eliminating the foods that are driving it up until the point that you see the weight loss and blood glucose levels that you’re chasing.  More recently I have incorporated this as a metric you can track in the Nutrient Optimiser to achieve your target glucose and ketone levels.

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The appropriate insulin load will vary from person to person.  A small woman aiming for weight loss using a lower protein ketogenic approach might have an insulin load as low as 40g per day while a larger man looking who is active and looking build muscle might have an insulin load as high as 300g per day.

A higher insulin load diet would allow more plant based foods, less fat and potentially a higher nutrient density (e.g. 40 to 50% of insulinogenic calories).  The first priority will be to reduce the insulin load of your diet to the point where you can normalise your blood glucose levels and reduced insulin (e.g. 20 to 30% of insulinogenic calories).

The best idea is to start tracking where you’re currently at and look to reduce your daily insulin load until you achieve excellent blood glucose levels (i.e. average less than 5.6 mmol/L or 100 mg/dL).  Once you normalise your blood glucose levels you could keep winding it down further until you achieve your desired level of ketones.  As your body heals and you start to reduce the amount of fat around your organs you may be able to tolerate a higher insulin load diet and more nutrient dense diet in time.

a little more on the insulin load theory

So is it all about the insulin load?  What about calories and conservation of energy?

In a metabolic ward context we typically find conservation of energy / CICO holds true.  If anything someone on a high fat diet may be able to maintain their weight with less calories because fat is easier to digest and products less wasted energy (enthalpy).  But in a free living environment how much we eat is influenced by our appetite which is influenced by the nutrient density of our food choices as well as our levels of insulin resistance.

This video gives a good overview of how insulin (either injected or from our own pancreas) affects  whether we store fat on our body or release it to be used for fuel and how excess insulin can be problematic.

Most people think of macro nutrients in terms of carbohydrates, protein and fat as per the the picture below.   They think that if we eat too much fat it will be stored as body fat.  But the reality is a little bit more complex than that.

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In the chart below the grey slices of the pie chart (i.e. the non-fibre carbohydrate and the glucogenic protein) are the components of your food that are glucogenic and will require insulin to metabolise.

The blue components are ketogenic (i.e. the dietary fat and the ketogenic protein) and do not require insulin to metabolise.  If you’re lucky enough to be insulin sensitive you will burn the food you eat and your appetite will be well regulated with minimal change in body weight.

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Indigestible fibre (black slice) doesn’t significantly affect our insulin response or even contribute to calories for us but rather is used to feed the bacteria in our gut.  Fibre is a true ‘free food’.

If the insulin load of our diet is too high we are more likely to store a portion of the food.  If we are insulin resistant our body will have to generate more insulin to deal with the non-fibre carbohydrate and glucogenic protein while increasing our chances that some of the food we eat will be stored on our body.  We feel hungry and need to keep eating to obtain adequate energy.  Calories still matter, but outside a controlled metabolic ward, body fat accumulation is more about managing fat storage and appetite than about counting calories.  

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Calories still matter, but outside a controlled metabolic laboratory, body fat accumulation is more about managing fat storage and appetite than consciously counting calories. Many people refer to insulin as the thermostat that controls our metabolism and our fat storage.

The good news here is that we can use our understanding of the storage properties of insulin to our advantage.  If we are able to decrease the insulin load of our diet we are less likely to store fat and more likely to be able to use some of our stored body fat for energy.  This will mean that we feel less compelled to eat because we are able to use up our own body fat rather than constantly eating.   This reduced dietary insulin load scenario will lead to lower insulin levels, less storage, more use of body fat for fuel, a decreased appetite and a reduction in energy intake.  

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So, to reduce the insulin load of diet include you can:

  1. eat more fibre,
  2. eat less digestible carbohydrates, and
  3. make sure your protein intake is not excessive.

can you eat too much fat?

Can you still eat too fat much while keeping the insulin load of your diet low?

The short answer is yes, especially if you’re chasing a certain macro nutrient value or high ketone values.  Some people are able to stay very lean on a high fat ketogenic diet, but others need to also manage their dietary fat inputs to achieve their goal of body fat output.

The good news is that a low insulin load nutrient dense diet diet will typically lead to increased satiety and reduced energy intake.

The bad news is that excess energy, whatever the source, will lead to fat gain, inflammation and insulin resistance.

Many people recommend that you should eat ‘fat to satiety’.  Unfortunately, high fat foods can be easy to overeat, at least for some individuals. There is no need to force yourself to eat extra fat if you are trying to lose weight.  There’s no need to go out of your way to add extra fat and oils to your food.  If your goal is weight loss, you can obtain more than enough fat from whole-food sources.

basal insulin and insulin resistance

The other unfortunate fact is that the insulin produced in response to food is less than half of the amount of insulin that your body produces.  You pancreas is constantly producing basal insulin to manage the flow of energy out of your liver and to remove excess energy from your blood stream.

In addition to reducing the insulin load of your diet you may also need to increase the periods between your meals (intermittent fasting) and focus on building lean muscle mass to improve your insulin sensitivity.  This will allow your insulin levels to decrease even more so that body fat can be accessed for fuel.

Implementing an intermittent fasting regimen can be useful for people who find that reducing the dietary insulin load doesn’t lead to enough reduction in appetite.

As detailed in the how to use your glucose metre as a fuel gauge article, waiting until your blood glucose levels drop can be a useful way to increase the timing between meals and to understand whether your hunger is real.  Once your blood glucose levels normalise you can even use your your bathroom scale to help time your fasting / feasting cycle to achieve your weight loss goals.

You can get a substantial decrease in insulin levels with a regular 18 to 24 hour fast.  After this drop in insulin you may find your hunger levels actually decrease after a longer period of not eating.  image23.png

summary

  • To regain control of your appetite you need to insulin load of your diet to the point that your pancreas can keep up and maintain normal blood glucose levels consistent with your personal metabolic health and level of insulin sensitivity.
  • If your blood glucose and insulin level are high then you should work to decrease the insulin load of your diet.
  • As the insulin load of your diet decreases you should see your blood glucose levels come down, your appetite reduce and your ketone levels come up.
  • If you’re still not seeing the results you want then the next step is to try intermittent fasting to further reduce your insulin and blood glucose as well as mitigate your overall food take.
  • As your blood glucose levels start to normalise you can start to focus on more nutrient dense foods with a lower energy density that may be helpful if weight loss is your goal.

The foods lists in the table below have been optimised to suit different levels of insulin resistance and tailored to your weight loss goals.

approach

average glucose

waist : height

(mg/dL)

(mmol/L)

therapeutic ketosis

> 140

> 7.8

diabetes and nutritional ketosis

108 to 140

6.0 to 7.8

weight loss (insulin resistant)

100 to 108

5.4 to 6.0

> 0.5

weight loss (insulin sensitive)

< 97

< 5.4

> 0.5

bulking

< 97

< 5.4

< 0.5

nutrient dense maintenance

< 97

< 5.4

< 0.5

 

post last updated: April 2017

references

[1] http://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/03/23/most-ketogenic-diet-foods/

[2] http://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/03/22/ketosis-the-cure-for-diabetes/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_fiber

[4] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/07/06/insulin-index-v2/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glucogenic_amino_acid

[6] https://www.myfitnesspal.com/

the Goldilocks glucose zone

  • The body requires somewhere between 160 and 600 calories per day from glucose.
  • This glucose can be sourced both from ingested carbohydrates as well as the glucogenic portion of protein not used for growth and repair.
  • Rather than raising blood glucose immediately, amino acids from protein circulate in the blood until they are required.
  • Excessive glucose from either carbs or protein will lead to increased insulin requirement, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and a range of other issues associated with hyperinsulinemia and metabolic syndrome.
  • Someone who is insulin resistant and/or has diminished pancreatic function does not produce adequate insulin to maintain normal blood glucose. Rather than using diabetes medications or exogenous insulin, the alternative option is to decrease one’s dietary insulin load to a point that the body’s natural insulin production can keep up.
  • We can manage our dietary glucose to achieve normal blood sugars by considering the total insulin load from carbohydrate plus the glucogenic portion of protein.

background

Rather than simply focusing on the ideal macronutrient split, this article endeavours to take the discussion one step further to look at how we can optimise the split between dietary glucose and fat given that glucose can be obtained from both carbohydrates, and the glucogenic portion of protein in excess of the body’s requirement for growth and maintenance.

the Goldilocks glucose zone

This article outlines a basis upon which to determine the optimum balance between what are often polar extremes.

On the high glucose end of the argument we are faced with the following issues:

  • high insulin levels,
  • obesity and excess fat accumulation,
  • high blood glucose levels,
  • heart diseases risk, and
  • the plethora of issues that accompany metabolic syndrome and hyperinsulinemia.

At the ketogenic extreme, we have concerns about a range of issues including:

  • inadequate fuel for the brain,
  • limited food options,
  • a lack of vitamins and minerals,
  • low fibre,
  • stunted growth,
  • impaired athletic performance, and
  • high cholesterol levels.[1]

Somewhere in the middle, there must be an optimal balance of fuel for each individual, a balance between the extremes.

But how do we find this balance point?  Then what do we monitor to ensure we stay there?

Not too hot.  Not too cold.

Not too hard.  Not too soft.

What we are searching for is the “Goldilocks glucose zone”.

the safe starches debate

The ‘safe starches debate’ has been intriguing and has informed my thinking on this controversial issue.

The discussion started at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium with a panel hosted by Jimmy Moore. [2]  It continued on the blogs of the two lead representatives of each side of the argument, Paul Jaminet [3] and Ron Rosedale [4].

the case for limiting carbohydrates

On the low carb end of the debate, we have Ron Rosedale who argues that:

1. Non-fibre carbohydrates are:

  • detrimental as they lead to increased insulin levels, oxidation and accelerated ageing, and
  • unnecessary as we can obtain our glucose needs via gluconeogenesis from protein.

2.  Glucose can be manufactured from glycerol or from lactate and pyruvate recycling.  In some respects, this is even better than making glucose from protein. [5]

natural glucose utilisation level

On the not so low carb end of the argument, Paul Jaminet argues that the human body runs on a fuel mix of about 30 to 35% of calories from carbohydrates (say 600 calories per day).  The remaining 70% or so of our fuel comes from fat.

Jaminet recommends that people follow a ‘low carb’ diet, however, Jaminet’s version of low carb is a carbohydrate intake somewhere less than the body’s 30% requirement for glucose.  This forces some proportion of the glucose needs to come from gluconeogenesis.

The figure below from The Perfect Health Diet represents this concept graphically. [6]

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some perspective

When you look at this in the context of the fact that the typical western diet has 40 to 50% of calories coming from carbohydrates,[8] we are really arguing over whether a low carb diet or a very low carb diet is best for our metabolic health.

Jaminet’s glucose flux has a lot of similarities with Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve. [9]   Jaminet’s 600 calories equates to 150g of carbohydrates which aligns with the top end of Sisson’s ‘effortless weight maintenance zone’.

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But what if limiting carbohydrates to less than 150g per day is not working for you (e.g. your blood sugars are not in normal range or you are not achieving weight loss)?

What can we learn from the food insulin index data to help us build on standard carbohydrate counting?

How can we determine the optimum fuel mix for our individual situation, body and goals?

minimum carbohydrate requirement

One of the concerns about a low carbohydrate diet centres on the understanding that the brain needs carbohydrates.

This seems to stem from Institute of Medicine’s advice that the brain needs about 400 calories per day from glucose.  This equates to 100g of carbs which most people wind up to 130g to provide a safety factor.

The IOM, however, notes that a person who is fat adapted can run on lower amounts of carbohydrates as their brain is fuelled by ketones and there is no minimum requirement for carbohydrates, only glucose which can also be obtained from gluconeogenesis. [10] [11]  In spite of this, nutritionists still recommend a minimum carbohydrate intake.

Jaminet makes a similar differentiation that a typical sedentary person requires about 600 calories for glucose per day, however, this may decrease to 300 calories per day for someone on a ketogenic diet.

The understanding of the absolute minimum glucose requirement comes from research by George Cahill who undertook extreme starvation experiments and found that people could survive on as little as 40g of glucose per day (i.e. 160 calories). [12]

In the fed state the body will rely on glucose from ingested carbohydrates.  After a period of fasting, it transitions to using glucose from the glycogen stores in the liver and muscles.  Once the glycogen stores are exhausted the body will obtain glucose via gluconeogenesis from cannibalising muscle.

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At this point however the brain and the rest of the body have largely transitioned to being fuelled by fat so it only needs to obtain 40g of glucose per day from protein via gluconeogenesis.   This would equate to around 5% of calories from glucose (not necessarily from carbohydrates).

I am not suggesting that starvation ketosis is optimal for most people.  The point is that the body can survive on very little glucose if it needs to for quite a long time.

The longevity crowd will tell you that this is an evolutionary advantage so you can prolong life until a time when there is enough nutrition to reproduce and thrive.  People who could use their fat and muscle for fuel survived to be your ancestors, and those that couldn’t didn’t.

what is the minimum protein requirement?

According to Nuttall and Gannon [13] the body requires between 32 and 46g of high-quality dietary protein to maintain protein balance.

This equates to around 6 to 7% of calories in a 2000 to 2500 calorie diet being taken “off the top” for growth and maintenance, with everything else potentially available as excess.

The same paper notes that the American diet typically consists of between 65 and 100g of protein per day (i.e. 13 to 16% of calories).

three macros or two fuel sources?

Something that has been very interesting to me that I had not understood until recently was that protein is made up of glucogenic and ketogenic amino acids.  Some amino acids can turn into either glucose or fat. [14] [15]

The table below shows the differentiation of amino acids into different categories.

  glycogenic ketogenic both
non-essential Alanine

Arginine

Asparagine

Aspartate

Cysteine

Glutamate

Glutamine

Glycine

Proline

Serine

Tyrosine
essential Histidine

Methionine

Valine

Leucine

Lysine

Isoleucine

Phenylalanine

Tryptophan

Threonine

I will be discussing this concept in more detail in a separate article (The Insulin Index v2), however in essence, what this means is that there are really only two fuel sources for the body, glucose and fat, with “excess” protein being turned into one or the other.

the “well formulated ketogenic diet”

Steve Phinney is probably the most well respected authority on the ketogenic diet.   This figure shows a comparison of what Phinney calls the “well formulated ketogenic diet” (WFKD) as a triangle with a number of possible dietary approaches shown for comparison. [16]

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A WKFD can contain 30% protein and 5% carbs or 20% carbs and 10% protein.  A WKFD, however, cannot, however, contain 30% protein and 20% carbs because we would get too much glucose which would increase insulin and suppress ketosis.

As shown in the WFKD figure above the protein content of a ketogenic diet can range between 0.8 and 2.4g/kg lean body mass.  However, if we are running higher levels of protein we will only achieve ketosis if we also limit carbohydrates.

Listen to Steve Phinney discuss this concept from 2:51 in this video.

Interestingly, the slope of the line along the face of the WKFD triangle corresponds with the assumption that 7% of protein goes off to muscle growth and repair with 75% of the remaining ‘excess’ protein being glucogenic.   This also aligns nicely with the observation from the food insulin index data and the theoretical proportion of glucogenic amino acids in protein.

the Goldilocks glucose zone

Listed below are the various levels of glucose requirement in terms of calories discussed above along with the equivalent carbohydrates and the percent of glucogenic calories in a 2250 calorie diet.

approach glucogenic calories insulin load (g) glucogenic (%)
 glucose utilisation  (Jaminet) 600 150 26.7%
 ketogenic threshold (Phinney) 500 125 22.2%
 ketogenic maintenance (Jaminet) 300 75 13.3%
 starvation (Chaill) 160 40 7.1%
  • The glucose utilisation is Jaminet’s approximation of the glucose calories used by a non-ketogenic person each day. If we run above this level our glycogen stores will become overfull, with excess glucose spilling into the blood, requiring insulin and being stored as fat.  Below this level, we need to obtain some of our glucose from protein via gluconeogenesis.
  • The ketogenic threshold represents the theoretical boundary between the WFKD and the rest of the world according to Phinney’s protein vs carbohydrates plot. Below this point, our glycogen stores will become depleted to a point that we be forced to rely on our protein and fat stores for energy rather than carbohydrate.  After a period of consuming fewer carbs than required to keep our glycogen stores topped off, we will start to show ketones in our blood and rely on ketones and fat more than glucose.  This level is about 500 calories per day which is about 22% of a 2250 calorie per day diet.
  • The ketogenic maintenance level is based on the 300 calories per day that Jaminet says we need from glucose if we are fat adapted. With a greater proportion of energy coming from fat in the form of ketones we require less glucose for brain function.
  • The starvation level represents what people can survive on as an absolute minimum. In this extreme starvation state, the body is cannibalising muscle via gluconeogenesis to convert to glucose to survive.  This is not something I recommend you try at home.  However, it is useful to know that the body can survive (but not necessarily thrive) at very low levels of glucose for a significant period of time.

The chart below shows these glucose levels superimposed on a plot of protein versus carbohydrate.  The points on the left-hand side of the chart labelled with calorie values represent the point at which all glucogenic calories come from carbohydrates with only the minimum 7% protein for maintenance ingested (i.e. no “excess” protein). Microsoft Word Document 19052015 35145 AM.bmp

As we move to the right we have increasing levels of protein and decreasing levels of carbohydrates to maintain the same total number of glucogenic calories (assuming that 75% of “excess” protein converts to glucose).

The only thing we can be certain of here is that the concepts shown graphically in this figure will not be accurate due to the fact that it is built on a number of layers of theory.  And everyone’s body is different.  However, this chart gives us a conceptual framework with which to manipulate our diet to achieve our goals.

The take home message is that, if we are trying to reduce the glucose load of our diet to the point at which our own pancreas can keep up, we need to think, not just in terms of carbohydrates, but in terms of total glucose (or insulin load) from carbohydrates plus excess protein.

I don’t think the body minds that much whether it gets glucose from carbohydrates or protein. [17]  My view is that it is better to maximise vitamins (generally from carbohydrate containing foods) and amino acids (from protein containing foods) as far as possible while at the same time keeping our glucose load within our own pancreas’ ability to keep our blood sugars at normal levels.  What this means is that some people may need to restrict their carbohydrates and their protein more than others to achieve normal blood sugars.

what about the Kitavans?

When faced with the hormonal theory of obesity many people are quick to point to hunter gatherer populations such as the Kitavans that do quite well on high levels of carbohydrates.

Some people seem to tolerate high levels of carbohydrate from whole food sources.  Perhaps they are metabolically flexible such that they can store carbohydrates as fat and quickly use them again, or they are very active and hence using up their glycogen stores regularly, and are very insulin sensitive and adapted to handle significantly more than 600 carbohydrate calories per day from whole food sources.

It may also be that people eating predominantly unprocessed high fibre foods are less likely to be in a caloric excess meaning that they do not have a lot of left over calories to store as fat or to require excess insulin.

Dr Jason Fung points out in this video that in spite of a higher glucose load the Kitavans managed to keep low insulin levels, which seems to be the critical factor.

If you are highly active with great insulin sensitivity and you can consume high levels of carbohydrates while maintaining normal blood glucose and staying lean then good luck to you.  I’m jealous.  Enjoy, at least while it lasts!

It is worth noting that a number of the champions of the low carbohydrate movement such as Tim Noakes, [18] Ben Greenfield [19] and Sami Inkenen [20] found that they had or were becoming diabetic after decades of extreme exercise on a high carbohydrate diet, hence transitioned to a low carbohydrate approach to manage their blood sugars.

comparison of dietary approaches

To help make more sense of this concept I have shown a number of dietary approaches from the article Diet Wars… Which One is Optimal? on the protein vs carbohydrate chart below.

image011

  • Bernstein’s approach is designed to be high protein, low carb, to provide diabetics with their glucose needs from protein which releases glucose more slowly than carbohydrate.
  • This version of the Atkins diet is unlikely to be ketogenic due to the high levels of protein. Reducing carbohydrates and/or protein is likely to be necessary to achieve ketosis, and possibly the weight loss that is typically the aim of the Atkins diet.
  • The Zone and Mediterranean diets, though generally thought to be moderate carbohydrate dietary approaches, are still well above Jaminet’s glucose utilisation threshold.
  • Terry Whals’ Paleo Plus approach achieves a good balance between maximising nutrition through the use of high fibre vegetables and MCT oil without excess protein.
  • The 80% fat diet approach is below the ketogenic maintenance level of 300 glucogenic calories per day but still above starvation ketosis. Personally, I think it would be hard for most people to get optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, fibre and possibly protein at these levels without supplementation or focussing on nutrient dense organ meats.  However it may be desirable for someone using ketosis therapeutically for something like cancer or epilepsy.

The typical western diet contains between 40 to 50% carbohydrates, 35 to 40% fat and 15 to 20% protein. [21]  The figure below shows that between 1970 and 2000 carbohydrate intake increased from around 42% to around 49% for men while protein intake has largely stayed constant.  During this period obesity increased from 14.5% to 30.9%. [22]

image014

It’s fair to say that macronutrient composition is only part of the story, but perhaps if we moved the carbohydrate intake back towards the ketogenic corner (along with a shift to more whole unprocessed foods) this trend would turn around again?

what is our light on the horizon?

So how do you decide what dietary approach is optimal for each individual?  What is right for you?  What is the lighthouse on the horizon that you can guide your boat of metabolic health towards?

Back in the Diabetes 102 article we reviewed a number of risk factors that appear to be related to blood sugar control such as the heart disease risks shown in the chart below. [23]

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Building on this I developed this table showing the relationship between HbA1c, average blood sugar and ketone values for different heart disease risk categories.

  HbA1c average blood sugar ketones
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)  (mmol/L)
low normal 4.1 3.9 70 4.0
optimal 4.5 4.6 83 2.5
excellent < 5.0 < 5.4 < 97 > 0.3
good < 5.4 < 6 < 108 < 0.3
danger > 6.5 7.8 > 140 < 0.3

Everyone should be striving for optimal blood sugar control in order to manage their overall health and reduce a plethora of risks.

The point where you achieve excellent blood sugar control (i.e. average blood glucose less than 5.4mmol/L) is about where most people will start to show low levels of ketones in their blood.  This is likely to be somewhere around Phinney’s ketogenic threshold (orange line in the protein / carb plot).

People with more severe issues such as extreme insulin resistance, epilepsy, morbid obesity or cancer may choose to push deeper into ketosis beyond the point of simply achieving normal blood sugars and normal HbA1c.  This may require more discipline, intentional supplementation and limitation of food selection than most people are willing to invest.

what gauges do we use to steer the boat?

The most successful diets are the ones that people can stick to.

To this end I have developed a list of optimal foods that prioritises low insulin load, high fibre, nutrient dense foods based on your personal goals (e.g. weight loss, blood sugar control, nutritional ketosis, athletic performance or therapeutic ketosis).  I have also developed this database of optimal meals that will enable you to easily choose simple everyday meals that will provide high levels of nutrition while achieving a low insulin load.

If you have diabetes or insulin resistance then I recommend that you track your blood sugars and ‘eat to your meter’.  You will quickly learn what meals raise your blood sugars and hence what to avoid.

With the understanding that non-fibre carbohydrates plus excess protein raise blood sugar and require insulin you can work to manage your diet until you achieve the excellent blood sugar levels with a reduced or ideally eliminated reliance on medications.

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Many people benefit from journaling or tracking food intake on an app such as MyFitnessPal or Cronometre.   Rather than looking at calories or carbohydrates I encourage you to consider insulin load which can be calculated using this formula.

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As shown in the table above, you will likely need to get below an insulin load of 150g per day to be under the blue line and under 125g per day to be ketogenic.

While I don’t think it is healthy, natural or normal to consciously monitor everything you eat for extended periods, many people find it useful for a period of time to retrain their habits or to help guide them toward a short term goal.

As a worked example I have calculated the insulin load, % insulinogenic calories as well as the % carbs and % protein for Deshanta from the Optimising Nutrition Facebook group who provided her MyFitnessPal food diary which is summarised in the table below.

carb (g) fat (g) protein (g) fibre (g) insulin load (g) % insulinogenic % carb % pro
143 92 113 42 164 39% 24% 27%
99 99 125 41 128 32% 14% 31%
129 102 134 40 164 36% 20% 30%
50 81 125 17 103 30% 10% 37%
86 88 125 19 137 35% 17% 32%

I’ve also plotted this on the chart below indicating that her diet puts her just outside the realm of a ‘well formulated ketogenic diet’.  If she wanted to improve her blood glucose control further she could consider moving back towards the more ketogenic bottom left of the chart by reducing carbohydrates and / or protein.

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If you’re interested in seeing how you can refine your diet to balance your blood sugars with consideration of your blood sugars and glucose load as well as your vitamins and amino acid you could join this closed Facebook group.

what are the levers we can use to steer the boat?

In order to reduce the insulin load of our diet we should do the following:

  1. Increase fibre from non-starchy vegetables (e.g. spinach, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli etc). These will provide vitamins and minerals as well as indigestible fibre that will feed the gut which will also improve insulin resistance. [24]  Increasing fibre in our diet will increase the bulk and the weight of our food without increasing calories or insulin and will tend to decrease our cravings for processed carbohydrates.
  2. Reduce carbohydrates, particularly ones that come in packages with a bar code. Enough said.
  3. If you are not getting the desired results, look to reduce your protein intake until you are achieving excellent blood sugar control and/or your target HbA1c.
  4. If you are still not getting the results you want then look at some form of intermittent fasting to improve your insulin sensitivity and to kick-start ketosis. [25]

Once you are achieving normal blood sugars you may want to occasionally test your blood ketones to confirm you have achieved nutritional ketosis; however tracking your blood sugars will be adequate for most people.

Once you have achieved your desired level of blood sugars, weight and metabolic health you can drop back to monitoring less frequently, just to make sure you are not regressing and then ramp up the efforts again if required.

Then, go outside.  Move.  Have fun.  Find a hobby.  Enjoy life!  And stop thinking so much about food!

 

references

[1] http://www.thepaleomom.com/2015/05/adverse-reactions-to-ketogenic-diets-caution-advised.html

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

[3] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2012/11/the-safe-starches-panel-from-ahs-2012/

[4] http://drrosedale.com/blog/2011/11/22/is-the-term-safe-starches-an-oxymoron/

[5] http://drrosedale.com/blog/2012/08/18/a-conclusion-to-the-safe-starch-debate-by-answering-four-questions/#ixzz3aDeqQiQ9

[6] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2011/11/safe-starches-symposium-dr-ron-rosedale/

[7] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2011/02/ketogenic-diets-i-ways-to-make-a-diet-ketogenic/

[8] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-eat-healthy/art-20046590

[9] http://www.marksdailyapple.com/press/the-primal-blueprint-diagrams/#axzz3aSDCTDIi

[10] http://lcreview.org/main/130g-carbsday-rda/

[11] See also discussion in Chapter 7 of Richard Feinman’s “The World Turned Upside Down: The Second Low-Carbohydrate Revolution”.

[12] http://www.med.upenn.edu/timm/documents/ReviewArticleTIMM2008-9Lazar-1.pdf

[13] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636610/

[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glucogenic_amino_acid

[15] https://www.dropbox.com/s/4dkl03mz2fci71v/The%20metabolism%20of%20%E2%80%9Csurplus%E2%80%9D%20amino%20acids.pdf?dl=0

[16] https://youtu.be/8NvFyGGXYiI?list=PLrVWtWmYRR2BlAsGG9tr6T-B4xSum8SCc&t=1234

[17] Though it does take more energy to convert protein to glucose, hence a calorie is not a calories when it comes to protein being converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis.

[18] http://thenoakesfoundation.org

[19] http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/05/low-carb-triathlon-training/

[20] http://www.samiinkinen.com/post/86875777832/becoming-a-bonk-proof-triathlete-fat-chance

[21] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23324441

[22] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5304a3.htm

[23] http://www.cardiab.com/content/pdf/1475-2840-12-164.pdf

[24] http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Maker-Power-Microbes-Protect-ebook/dp/B00MEMMS9I

[25] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/tag/fasting/

 

 

post updated July 2017

proportion of insulinogenic calories

Someone looking to “go low carb” will typically try to make a decision on whether a food meets their goals simply based on the number of carbohydrates per serving or per 100g shown on the label.

This approach has limited benefit though, as the food may or may not contain a lot of water which makes it hard to compare in terms of carbohydrates per calorie.

Another way is to look at the amount of protein and fat in relation to the carbohydrates, but again this is a difficult calculation to make when you’re looking at the nutritional label in the shopping isle.

If we take the concept of “net carbs” and the idea that protein has some insulinogenic effect we can calculate the proportion of insulinogenic calories using the following formula:

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This calculation could be useful to determine whether one food is better than another if you’re trying to reduce your insulin load to the point that your pancreas can keep up.

As demonstrated by the chart below, the lower the proportion of insulinogenic calories in your food the less likely your meal is going to require large amounts of insulin, raise your blood glucose or cause you to store fat.

food insulin index table - correlation analysis 26052015 53725 AM.bmp

Sure, this is not a simple calculation we can quickly while we’re out shopping.  However using readily available nutritional data we can compare and rank a wide range of foods, making us better informed when we prepare our shopping list.

An extensive list of the foods with the lowest proportion of insulinogenic calories can be in this list of the most ketogenic diet foods.

Or we can combine it with other nutritional parameters to highlight ideal foods for weight loss, diabetes, therapeutic ketosis or athletic performance.

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[next article…  application of insulin load for type 1 diabetics]

[this post is part of the insulin index series]

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putting it all together… protein and net carbs

So far we’ve learned that carbohydrate alone isn’t a fantastic predictor of insulin requirement.

image003

The observation that protein requires about half as much insulin as carbohydrate improves our estimation of insulin demand.

Then understanding that fibre neutralises the insulin effect of carbohydrates also helps us predict the amount the amount of insulin required by a particular food.

Microsoft Word Document 25032015 40944 AM.bmp

Using net carbohydrates with an allowance for about half the protein gives us a better way to estimate insulin requirement of food compared to using carbohydrates alone.

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In order to help us compare various food options we can calculate the proportion of insulinogenic calories of our foods using this formula:

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And if we want to keep track of the insulinogenic load of our diet too keep our blood sugars under control or to maintain or achieve nutritional ketosis we can use this formula:

image005

This deeper understanding of the impact of the influence of carbohydrates, protein and fibre may also be useful when it comes to choosing foods with a lower insulin load or even more accurately calculating insulin dosages for diabetics.

[next article…  how long does it take to digest protein?]

[this post is part of the insulin index series]

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