Tag Archives: energy density

how to use energy density to fine-tune your nutrition

This article looks at energy density and how you can use it to fine-tune your diet to reach your goals.

What is energy density?

Energy density, a measure of the calories in a given weight of food, is the is the third component of Nutrient Optimiser algorithm that you can use once you have nutrient density and insulin load dialled in,


It makes sense intuitively that bulky food full of water and fibre will help you to feel full, even though they don’t provide a lot of energy.


Imagine if all you had to eat were non-starchy, fibrous vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and celery.  You would struggle to get enough energy.

Your stomach can only hold so much.


However, we gravitate to higher energy density foods to ensure we get the energy we need.

We get a dopamine hit from energy-dense foods helps to ensure our survival a species.  This drove us to hunt down, dig up or fight with bees to get energy-dense foods.

However today, in a world of engineered foods, full of refined carbs and added fats, lower energy density foods may be helpful to reverse engineer your food environment if you are trying to lose weight.

Who should consider lower energy density foods?

Focusing on lower energy density foods only needs to be a priority once you are eating nutrient dense foods and have stabilised your blood sugars. People who are obese and insulin resistant often don’t do well with only celery, broccoli, mushrooms, grapefruit and lettuce to eat.  Hunger and appetite often win in the long run.

While insulin resistant people often have plenty of stored body fat, their insulin levels are still very high.  They may struggle to access their stored body fat and avoid the cravings driven by the blood sugar rollercoaster.  A nutrient dense low carb diet with ‘fat to satiety’ can help these people stabilise their blood sugars without hunger.


Focusing on more nutritious foods that stabilise blood sugars is enough to help many people lose some weight.  However, many find that their weight loss stalls after a while when using a ‘fat to satiety’ approach.  Not fearing fat may have helped them start their journey, but ramping up their fat intake to higher and higher levels often doesn’t achieve the desired results.

At this point, lower energy density foods and meals can be useful to help take the next step to lose more body fat once your blood sugars are stable and you are in the habit of eating nutritious food.  An extreme version of this approach is the Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF) as detailed in Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook and this article.

In short, the PSMF is often used by bodybuilders or weight loss clinics to provide the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and protein necessary with the minimum amount of calories to prevent loss of muscle mass and prevent cravings in dieting.

Low energy density foods

If you’re interested in trying out a lower energy density approach, the nutrient dense low energy density foods listed below will provide plenty of nutrients without too much energy.

Screenshot 2018-03-18 03.49.06

Focusing on these foods will allow you to get all the nutrients you need without too much energy and be able to sustain a long-term energy deficit without excessive cravings.  This chart shows how these foods stack up in terms of nutrients compared to the average of all foods in the USDA database.

Screenshot 2017-12-26 04.20.44.png

Higher energy density foods

Alternatively, we can use energy density parameter to identify foods with a higher energy density to fuel your athletic endeavours or endurance event without having to resort to energy gels which will provide fast digesting energy but not a lot of nutrition.


The list of food will provide you with more energy while still being nutrient dense.  This list contains more nuts, seeds, dairy and fattier cuts of meat.

Screenshot 2018-03-18 03.49.54

As shown in this chart, these high energy density foods are not as nutrient dense as the lower energy density foods, however, they are still an improvement compared to the average of all of the food in the USDA database.

energy dense foods for athletes - with all foods.png

Energy density and satiety

Satiety is complex and involves more than just eating foods that are bulkier.   Ensuring your diet contains enough protein (the most satiating macronutrient) and micronutrients (to avoid cravings), along with stabilising swings in your blood sugar (with a lower insulin load diet) are all pieces of the satiety puzzle.

One of the most interesting pieces of research into satiety is a 1995 paper by Susanne Holt and colleagues, A satiety index of common foods.[3]  This study fed participants 1000 kJ (239 calories) of various foods and looked at how much people ate at a subsequent meal.  The study found that how much our stomach stretches is a significant factor in determining how satiating a particular food is.

The chart below shows SELFNutritionData.com‘s analysis of the data from the 1995 paper which they used to develop their Fullness Factor[4].  This regression analysis shows that satiety per calorie tends to be positively correlated with:

  1. lower energy density (i.e. calories per 100g of food),
  2. higher protein content,
  3. higher fibre, and
  4. lower fat.


The most energy dense foods

The table below shows the energy density (i.e. calories per 100 g) of a range of foods and their weight per 500 calories.

food calories / 100g weight / 500 calories (g)
mushrooms 15 3333
celery 16 3125
broccoli 31 1613
oranges 47 1064
apples 65 769
fish 168 298
steak 250 200
Mars Bar 451 111
cookies 476 105
chips 1242 40
oil 1879 27

You might be able to eat more at dinner if you had a 40 g of chips for lunch compared to three kilograms of mushrooms or celery even though they both contain the same amount of energy.

Show me the data!

For those who like to see the numbers, the table below shows the energy density, nutrient density, macros and % insulinogenic of a range of food lists that we can quantify.  The list is sorted from the lowest energy density to the highest energy density.

  • The energy density of real food can range from 30 to 450 calories per 100 grams.
  • The lowest and highest energy density foods are not necessarily the most nutrient dense, however, nutrient dense food tends to have a lower energy density.
  • The foods that contain very high levels of fat will be energy dense and not necessarily as nutritious on a calorie for calorie basis.
  • The weight loss approaches have a lower energy density.  However, if you are trying to maintain weight or are very active you can still get a fairly nutritious outcome with higher energy approach.
approach nutrient density score density (cals/100g) protein (%) fat (%) net carbs(%) insulinogenic (%)
lowest energy density 61 30 20 10 52 63
weight loss (insulin sensitive) 93 83 42 17 26 50
weight loss (insulin resistant) 92 104 41 25 19 42
highest fibre foods 64 105 20 9 42 53
the most nutritious foods 93 107 43 18 24 49
highest protein foods 57 131 77 21 2 45
maintenance 90 240 40 25 26 48
energy dense foods for athletes 87 351 34 36 21 40
lowest fibre foods 41 404 20 76 3 14
well formulated ketogenic 47 426 16 73 4 13
most ketogenic foods 30 467 15 80 3 11

When do we use energy density?

The table below shows when Nutrient Optimiser uses energy density diet based on your blood glucose levels and waist to height ratio.

approach average blood sugar HbA1c (%) waist : height ratio energy density
(mg/dL) (mmol/L)
weight loss (insulin resistant) 100 – 108 5.4 – 6.0 5.0 – 5.4% > 0.5 lower
weight loss (insulin sensitive) < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% > 0.5 lower
Bodybuilder (bulking) < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% < 0.5 higher
endurance athlete < 97 < 5.4 < 5.0% < 0.5 higher

If you haven’t yet, make sure you head over to the Nutrient Optimiser get your free report complete which includes a list of foods and meals tailored to your goals.



[1] https://betterdoctor.com/health/the-ironman-who-runs-on-fat-not-sugar/

[2] https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/content/counteracting-insulin-resistance-low-carb-high-fat-diet-prof-tim-noakes

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

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

nutritious high energy density foods for athletes

If you’re an athlete, the “problem” with nutrient-dense foods like non-starchy vegetables and organ meats is that it can be hard to get enough fuel to support your activity.

Foods designed for athletes are energy dense but are not nutrient dense but rather are fast burning foods that don’t contain a lot of essential nutrients.  These foods may provide fuel for the short term, but they can lead to gut distress in the short term and as well as inflammation and insulin resistance in the long term.

To overcome these problems, this list of foods has been designed to be both nutrient dense and energy dense to ensure someone who is very active can get enough fuel while maximising nutrient density as much as possible.

Energy density

The energy density of the foods listed below comes out at 367 calories per 100g compared to 231 calories per 100g for all foods in the USDA foods database.  They will contain enough energy to fuel an active life without spending all day chewing or overfilling your stomach.


From a macronutrient perspective these foods will provide you with:

  • more protein for muscle recovery,
  • more fat to produce energy,
  • more fibre due to the lower level of processing, and
  • less non-fibre carbohydrates which will normalise blood glucose levels while still providing some glucose for explosive power.


The chart below shows that these foods are quite nutrient dense, with all of the nutrients achieving greater than the daily recommended intake.

Nutrient dense, energy-dense foods for athletes

Listed below are the top 10% of the foods using this ranking including:

  • nutrient density score (ND)
  • energy density (calories/100g) and
  • their multi-criteria analysis score (MCA).


While the vegetables and spices in this list aren’t particularly energy dense, they will ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need to perform at your best.  The lower energy density vegetables have been removed because they won’t be that helpful fueling for race day.

food ND calories/100g MCA
spinach 17 23 1.6
yeast extract spread 11 185 1.4
seaweed (wakame) 13 45 1.3
portabella mushrooms 13 29 1.2
shiitake mushrooms 7 296 1.1
broccoli (sulforaphane) 11 35 1.0
shiitake mushroom 11 39 1.0
seaweed (kelp) 10 43 0.8
cauliflower 9 25 0.7


Seafood packs some nutrient density and energy density at the same time.

food ND calories/100g MCA
cod 13 290 1.9
crab 14 83 1.4
anchovy 10 210 1.3
salmon 11 156 1.3
lobster 13 89 1.3
fish roe 11 143 1.3
caviar 8 264 1.2
halibut 11 111 1.2
trout 10 168 1.2
sturgeon 10 135 1.1
crayfish 11 82 1.1
pollock 10 111 1.0
oyster 10 102 1.0
shrimp 10 119 1.0
haddock 9 116 0.9
rockfish 9 109 0.9
sardine 7 208 0.9
octopus 8 164 0.9
flounder 9 86 0.8
white fish 9 108 0.8
perch 8 96 0.8
mackerel 4 305 0.7
whiting 7 116 0.7
herring 5 217 0.7
tuna 6 184 0.7
clam 6 142 0.6
scallop 7 111 0.6

eggs and dairy

Eggs are nutritionally excellent.  Butter has plenty of energy.

food ND calories/100g MCA
egg yolk 6 275 0.9
butter -5 718 0.7
whole egg 5 143 0.5

fats and oils

Fats and oils don’t contain a broad range of micronutrients, but they’re a great way to fuel without excessively raising your blood glucose or insulin too.  From an inflammatory perspective, they’re going to be better than process grains and glucose for fueling as well as keeping insulin levels low to enable you to access your fat stores during endurance activities.

food ND calories/100g MCA
grapeseed oil -4 884 1.3
peanut oil -5 884 1.1
olive oil -6 884 1.1
soybean oil -6 884 1.1
beef tallow -6 902 1.1
duck fat -6 882 1.1
soy oil -6 884 1.1
lard -6 902 1.1
coconut oil -7 892 1.0
walnut oil -7 884 1.0
palm kernel oil -6 862 1.0
mayonnaise -4 717 0.8

grains and cereals

The more nutrient dense bran component of wheat makes the cut. However, the more processed and more popular grains don’t make the list. Many people find the “train low, race high” approach to be useful to ensure you are fat adapted through fasted or low glycogen training but have some glucose in the system for explosive bursts on race day.

food ND calories/100g MCA
wheat bran 10 216 1.3
baker’s yeast 12 105 1.2
oat bran 5 246 0.8


Legumes are moderately nutrient dense and have a higher energy density than most vegetables.  Properly prepared legumes can be a cost-effective way of getting energy and nutrients, though not everyone’s gut handles them well.

food ND calories/100g MCA
peanut butter 1 593 1.1
soybeans 2 446 0.9
peanuts -1 599 0.9
cowpeas 2 336 0.6
black beans 1 341 0.5
broad beans 1 341 0.5

nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a great way to get some energy in, though they’re not as high in the harder to find nutrients.

food ND calories/100g MCA
sunflower seeds 4 546 1.4
pumpkin seeds 1 559 1.1
almond butter 0 614 1.1
almonds 0 607 1.0
pine nuts -2 673 1.0
walnuts -1 619 1.0
brazil nuts -2 659 1.0
flax seed 1 534 1.0
sesame seeds -2 631 0.9
sesame butter -1 586 0.9
hazelnuts -2 629 0.9
macadamia nuts -4 718 0.8
pecans -4 691 0.8
cashews -2 580 0.7
pistachio nuts -2 569 0.7

animal products

Organ meats also do well in terms of nutrient density.  Fattier cuts of meat will pack some more energy.

food ND calories/100g MCA
lamb liver 12 168 1.4
veal liver 10 192 1.2
ham (lean only) 11 113 1.2
lamb kidney 11 112 1.2
beef liver 9 175 1.1
chicken liver 9 172 1.1
turkey liver 9 189 1.0
pork chop 8 172 0.9
chicken breast 8 148 0.9
pork liver 7 165 0.8
beef kidney 7 157 0.8
pork shoulder 7 162 0.7
veal 7 151 0.7
leg ham 6 165 0.7
ground pork 6 185 0.7
lean beef 7 149 0.7
sirloin steak 5 177 0.6


post updated October 2017

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 forksoverknives.com. [7]   This makes sense intuitively but appears initially to be at odds with the low carb high-fat approach.

calorie density… what 500 calories look like

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 SELFNutritionData.com‘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.




[1] http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(12)00132-3/abstract

[2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012410540900003X

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18439712

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23128764

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14995052

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6303104

[7] http://www.forksoverknives.com/the-calorie-density-approach-to-nutrition-and-lifelong-weight-management

[8] https://youtu.be/XZGgeGHU1Bs?t=31

[9] https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/eat_more_often_gain_weight.aspx

[10] https://youtu.be/2UPQfdIlzaA?t=466

[11] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=C6KTATgbTacC&pg=PA264&lpg=PA264&dq=neal+barnard+energy+density&source=bl&ots=JomyWaNJn7&sig=nAPHWYJL_V-NtSZeKl_82DigERU&hl=en&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjQjJqtiJvMAhVDHJQKHWe7AXsQ6AEIIzAB#v=onepage&q=neal%20barnard%20energy%20density&f=false

[12] http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Volumetrics-Diet-Science-Based-Strategies-ebook/dp/B007JLK9HW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461080587&sr=1-1

[13] http://health.usnews.com/wellness/slideshows/the-10-best-diets-for-healthy-eating

[14] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/3/412.abstract

[15] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/88/6/1459.abstract?sid=238201eb-6207-4843-886b-9e1410e5a716

[16] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/1/174.abstract?sid=238201eb-6207-4843-886b-9e1410e5a716

[17] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14995052

[18] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490955

[19] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4182946/

[20] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943062/

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

[22] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/15701207_A_Satiety_Index_of_common_foods

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

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

[25] https://www.dropbox.com/s/n8tzuiixb1n1cxi/Weight%20Loss%20on%20Low-Fat%20vs.%20Low-Carbohydrate%20Diets%20by%20Insulin%20Resistance%20Status%20Among%20Overweight%20Adults%20and%20Adults%20With%20Obesity-%20A%20Randomized%20Pilot%20Trial%20%281%29.pdf?dl=0

[26] http://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[27] http://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/03/22/diabetes-102/

[28] http://diabetesupdate.blogspot.com.au/2007/05/misunderstanding-ukpds-7-is-not-good.html


post last updated July 2018

Low Carb Down Under Videos

Back in November 2015 I had the privilege to present at Low Carb Down Under events in Melbourne and Brisbane.  While I was a bit out of my comfort zone stepping out from behind the keyboard, it was a great opportunity to share some thoughts from the blog and meet some amazing people.  

managing insulin to optimise nutrition

The first video, Managing Insulin to Optimise Nutrition, outlines my take on the Food Insulin Index and how we can use it to rank foods based on their insulin demand.  To date the article, the most ketogenic diet foods, has received more than 125,000 views and the video has been viewed more than 3000 times.  I hope the video will help to get the word out there more about what I think is a very useful concept!

engineering the optimal diet

The second video, Engineering the Optimal Diet, outlines how we can quantify nutrient density and combine it with the food insulin index to prioritise foods selections for different goals.   The full article, optimal foods for different goals and the lists of optimal foods for different goals is what I’m most excited about on the blog and hope it will will have the greatest long term impact on what people eat and their health.   

thanks LCDU!

I stayed with Dr Rod Tayler in Melbourne and got to chew Dr Kieron Rooney’s ear for the whole weekend.   Meeting Gary Fettke, Grant Schofield, Peter Bruckner, Ken Sikaris, Shae Wheeler and a whole pile of other wonderful people was a real honour.  

Thanks again to Dr Rod Tayler for the labour of love that is LCDU and to Peter Williams who is a gentleman and the consummate professional with his video production.  Together they have not only facilitated some great events but have also created a massive free resource of online videos.