A popular adage suggests we should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”. 
We interrogated more than half a million days of food diaries to see whether it is actually helpful.
The chart below shows the proportion daily calories consumed at breakfast versus the proportion of a person’s daily target calories consumed based on their food diaries. A score of 100% would mean that they achieved their calorie goal. A score of less than 100% indicates the individual was able to consume less than their goal intake for the day.
The data from people eating three or more times a day indicates that, on average:
people who ate the least for breakfast tended to eat more across the day, while
people who consumed more of their daily calories at breakfast tended to eat less during the day.
People who front-loaded their calories at breakfast tended to eat around 20% less across the day!
Looking at the data for lunch, we see a similar trend.
If you can fit it into your lifestyle, a larger lunch seems to be better.
Where this data gets interesting is when we look at dinner.
People seem to do OK if their dinner is similar in size to breakfast and lunch. However, we tend to overeat if we consume the majority of our calories at night.
Putting it all together
When we overlay all three meals, we see that prioritising breakfast is a good idea if you want to get or stay lean.
If you are already lean and need to recover from a hard day of activity, then eating at night will help you consume more energy and store it more effectively.
But is this result due to behaviour or biology? Or perhaps a bit of both?
It’s possible to explain why we overeat at night from a purely behavioural perspective.
It can be hard to eat a lot at breakfast when you need to get off to work or at lunch when we might be at work or school and have to prepare a lunch and bring it from home.
But then at night, we have the fridge.
We have our friends and family.
We have Netflix.
We have the perfect storm of comfort food, social eating and self-soothing combined with being surrounded by less than optimal food choices that we tend to fill our patry and fridge with.
Food eaten later also has to be stored, at least until the next day to be used when we are more active.
Locking in your circadian rhythm
There have also been a number of interesting studies looking at the relationship between food timing and how it affects our body.
Compressing your feeding window to give your body a chance to spend time in a fasted state is useful. However, it seems shifting your eating window earlier in the day is also beneficial. This is commonly known as Early Time-Restricted Feeding (or eTRF).
Just like it’s beneficial to get sunlight in the morning and not gaze at blue light from our screens all night, it seems it’s also important to lock in our circadian rhythm with food in the morning and not overdo it at night.
Being a shift worker is not good for your health. Neither is eating like one. 
While keeping body fat levels low is important for diabetes management, eating earlier seems to improve our insulin sensitivity independent of weight loss.
We have greater insulin sensitivity in the morning. Our body is primed to use food. Food eaten later in the day is more likely to be stored for longer.
How to do it
eTRF is not always the most convenient thing.
Lots of people are not hungry in the morning, particularly if they tend to eat a large evening meal.
Left to our own devices, we tend to optimise for maximum storage to prepare for the coming winter.
Most people find it takes a week or two to get into the new groove of eating earlier.
Eating your main meal with the family at night is more social and eating in front of the TV when you’re relaxing can be fun. But if you need that extra edge to manage your weight or diabetes then moving some of your dinner calories to breakfast might just be worth the effort.
A reduced insulin load diet will lead to normalised blood sugars and improved insulin sensitivity.
A reduced insulin load diet can be achieved by reducing carbohydrates, moderating protein and choosing higher fibre foods.
Intermittent fasting also reduces insulin load.
Measuring your blood sugars is a simple and cost effective way to check that your metabolic health is on track.
A diet of nutrient dense, high fibre, high fat foods is the best way to optimise nutrition and minimise the risks associated with diabetes.
how to become diabetic…
In the “good old days” there were periods of feast and famine. Food was typically eaten with the fibrous packing that it came with. In today’s modern food environment we are encouraged by the food industry (and those sponsored by it) to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, pre-workout meals, post workout stacks, sports gels during exercise, and maybe some Gatorade to speed recovery.
Today’s food is plentiful, typically highly processed and low in fibre. Carbohydrate and sugar based foods have a long shelf life, can be transported long distances and therefore cheap. Win, win? Maybe not.
As we keep loading our bodies with simple sugars and carbohydrates our pancreas has to work overtime to produce insulin to shuttle excess sugar from the blood to your fat stores.
Over time we become insulin resistant and the pancreas can’t keep up. Once your blood sugars get high enough you will be diagnosed with “type 2 diabetes” and put on medication to improve your insulin sensitivity, for a time. If nothing changes in your food intake your insulin sensitivity will continue to deteriorate until you reach a point when you’ll need to inject insulin to keep your blood sugars down.
Injecting excessive amounts of insulin will cause you gain even more body fat. Recently we have learned that it’s not just the high blood sugars that are diabolical for your health, high levels of insulin are also toxic. 
Doesn’t sound like much of a solution does it?
…and how to reverse it
While there are many aspects to managing diabetes including stress, sleep, food quality and environmental toxins, the simplest and most effective thing you can do to achieve optimal blood sugars is to do the opposite of what caused the problem in the first place.
Listed below are the main things that cause diabetes and what we can do to reverse it.
leads to diabetes
Excessive sugar and simple carbohydrates in the diet generate high insulin load
Reduce foods in your diet that require insulin 
Constant food with no significant periods between meals when insulin levels are reduced
Create periods when your body does not have significant amounts of circulating insulin (i.e. intermittent fasting).
Sounds simple. But it’s not easy or quick to reverse years of metabolic damage. Your body is hard-wired to retain fat so it can survive the next famine.
Worth the effort? People who have done it say yes. That’s why they’re so annoyingly passionate about it!
Remember the type 1 diabetic roller coaster blood sugars in the last post? The CGM plot shows the blood sugars of the same person a few months later on a low insulin load diet. 
foods that require insulin
You’re likely already aware that foods containing carbohydrates require your pancreas to produce insulin.
protein requires about half as much insulin as carbohydrates per gram on average,  and
carbohydrates in the form of indigestible fibre do not require insulin. 
So if you’re trying to reduce the insulin load of your diet you should:
limit simple processed carbohydrates that do not contain fibre,
choose high fibre foods (such as non-starchy vegetables) to obtain vitamins and minerals while keeping net carbohydrates low, and
back off on the protein if you’re not achieving the normalised blood sugars, weight loss or nutritional ketosis results you’re after.
Rather than simply counting carbs, you could get a bit fancy and calculate your total insulin load using this formula:
Most people will achieve nutritional ketosis with an insulin load of around 100 to 150 grams. Athletes and weight lifters will be able to tolerate more without messing up their blood sugars. Inactive people aiming for weight loss may need to reduce their insulin load further. I don’t think that it’s ideal for most people to weigh and measure their food for extended periods.
If you’re not getting the results you want then tracking your food in MyFitnessPal or something similar can be a useful in the short term to retrain your dietary habits.
measuring for ketones versus measuring blood sugar
Once you get over seeing a little drop of your own blood, measuring your own blood sugar is pretty simple and painless, and is much cheaper than measuring blood ketones. In Australia and Canada blood sugar strips are about $0.16 compared to blood ketone strips which are about $0.80.  In the US ketone strips are much more expensive, and basically unaffordable. Ketostix (which measure ketones in your urine) will typically only work for a little while until your body learns to use fat for fuel.
relationship between blood sugars and ketones
Blood sugar can be a useful way to see if you’re in ketosis. The chart below shows my blood sugars versus ketones over the last nine months or so that I’ve been trying to achieve nutritional ketosis.
Based on my n=1 experience I’ve added the ketone levels which correlates HbA1c, average blood sugar and ketones. This suggests that excellent blood sugar control for me is achieved when I’ve got ketone levels between 0.5 and 1.3mmol/L.
average blood sugar
is more ketosis better?
The point way out to the right with a high ketone level of 2.1mmol/L and a blood sugar of 4.0mmol/L occurred after I cycled to work two days in a row on Bulletproof Coffee with a good amount of MCT oil.
In TheArt and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance  Volek and Phinney say that “light nutritional ketosis” occurs when blood ketones are between 0.5mmol/L and 1.0mmol/L and “optimal ketosis” is between 1.0mmol/L and 3.0mmol/L.
Based on the fact that an optimal blood sugar corresponds to a ketone reading of 1.3mmol/L and the low end of healthy normal blood sugars corresponds to a ketone reading of 2.1mmol/L I wonder if there is really any value in aiming for higher ketone values?
It’s interesting to note that Sami Inkenen, when rowing from the US to Hawaii on an 80% fat diet,  was only getting ketones of around 0.6mmol/L . If you’re striving for mental focus then loading up with butter, coconut oil and MCT oil to jack up your ketones might be for you.
If your aim is exercise performance or fat loss then ketones between 0.5mmol/L and 1.3mmol/L might be all you need to aim for. I also think loading up on dietary fat at the expense of getting adequate protein, vitamins and minerals may be counterproductive in the long term.
On the other end of the argument though, if you have good control of your blood sugars you should be showing some level of ketones in your blood. If you consistently measure at a ketone value of less than 0.2mmol/L then it’s likely your blood sugar is not yet optimal.
what to do?
If you find this interesting and want to experiment I recommend that you buy a blood glucose metre and track your blood sugars for a while. I enter my results into a spreadsheet and look at the average of the past twenty results.
You can adjust your insulin load (i.e. less carbs, more fibre, moderate protein) until you achieve your target blood glucose level. As you test you’ll also notice that some foods cause your blood sugars to rise more than others. Make sure you scratch those off your “do again” list.
You might also notice as you get your blood sugars under control you will get a metallic taste in your mouth, stronger smelling urine or a different body odour. These are all signs that you’re transitioning into ketosis. These symptoms typically don’t last for too long. If at first you don’t succeed, throw in some intermittent fasting. I use bulletproof Coffee  to help me skip breakfast and sometimes lunch a couple of times a week.
Intermittent fasting is more effective than constant calorie restriction which can cause your metabolism to slow down due to conserve energy for the famine it thinks is coming.  Having extended periods when insulin levels are low allows your body to learn to use body fat for fuel.
Once you begin to reset your insulin sensitivity you might start to notice a lack of inflammation and puffiness. You may also find that you’re finally losing that stubborn weight and breaking through that dreaded plateau. You may notice you feel great and your head is clearer than it’s been for a long time. Or that that may just be my experience.
physiological insulin resistance
Some people find that as they reduce their carbohydrates that their fasting blood sugars will drift up. This has been termed ‘physiological insulin resistance’ and is where the body develops a level of insulin resistance in the muscles to prioritise glucose for the brain. For some people this can be a transitionary phase on the way to stable ketosis. It’s not thought to be something to be concerned about as it doesn’t cause elevated levels of insulin which is what can be really detrimental.
However some type 1 diabetics find it to be an issue long term and choose to increase the carbohydrates and protein in their food so they are just outside nutritional ketosis to reduce this effect.
My experience is that during this phase my post meal blood sugars were great even though the fasting blood sugars were higher than optimal. As I continued to persist with more fat and added some intermittent fasting this went away and I was able to achieve lower fasting blood sugars.
Particularly during this time it is important to keep an eye on your average blood sugar (i.e. both fasting and after meals) and make sure it’s under 5.4mmol/L (100mg/dL).
can you eat too much fat?
It’s good to see medical researchers  and the media  coming out and admitting that the fear of fats over the past 30 years has led to diabolical health outcomes.
The fear of fat has forced people to eat more simple carbohydrates which has led to the diabetes epidemic. I analysed a number of dietary scenarios to see if there is any truth to the fear that low carbohydrate diets do not provide adequate nutrition and that you need your “heart healthy whole grains” to achieve optimal health, provide enough sugar for the brain, support growth in children etc. While a grain-based diet can be cheaper, my analysis suggest that a high fat diet that focuses on high fibre, high nutrient density, non-starchy vegetables is better in terms of the nutrition it provides and managing insulin demand.
The optimal diet to balance vitamins and minerals, amino acids and insulin load appears to contain between sixty and eighty percent calories from fat. It is possible to meet the recommended daily intake for most vitamins and minerals with 80% of calories coming from fat.
At the other end of the scale, higher levels of carbs may leave you storing more fat than you want to due to high insulin levels.
which foods are optimal?
What foods are optimal? It all depends on your unique situation, goals and even finances.
The list of foods below is a summary of the highest ranking foods using the weighting shown below in order to identify low insulin, high nutrient density food choices will lead to improved blood sugar control, mood, mental clarity, weight loss and overall health.
ND / calorie
fibre / calorie
ND / $
ND / weight
calorie / 100g
$ / calorie
Next time you’re wanting a nutritious meal that will push you into ketosis or lower your blood sugars you could consider some of these foods.
I’ve also developed this ‘cheat sheet’ using this approach to highlight optimal food choices depending, whether they be reducing insulin, weight loss or athletic performance. Why not print it out and stick it to your fridge as a reminder of your optimal foods or to inspire your next shopping expedition?
peppers / capsicum
fats and oils
eggs & dairy
nuts & seeds
organ means (liver, kidney, heart etc)
In the next article we’ll look at which foods are optimal for weight loss by prioritising low calorie density, high fibre high nutrient density foods that will also help stabilise your blood sugars.