Tag Archives: type 2 diabetes

optimising protein and insulin load

  • “Low carb”, “ketogenic” or “nutrient dense” mean different things to different people. Defining these terms numerically can help us to choose the right tool for the right application.
  • Decreasing the insulin load of your diet can help normalise blood glucose levels and enable your pancreas to keep up. However, at the same time a high fat therapeutic ketogenic approach is not necessarily the most nutrient dense option, and may not be optimal in the long term, particularly if your goal is weight loss.
  • Balancing insulin load and nutrient density will enable you to identify the right approach for you at any given point in time.
  • This article suggests ideal macro nutrient, protein and insulin load, and carbohydrate levels for different people with different goals to use as a starting point as they work to optimise their weight and / or blood glucose levels.

context matters

Since I started blogging about the concepts of insulin load and proportion of insulinogenic calories many people have asked:

“What insulin load should I be aiming for?” 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to give a simple answer without some context.

The answer to this question depends on a person’s current metabolic health, age, activity level, weight, height and goals etc.

This post is my attempt to provide an answer with some context.

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disclaimers

Full disclosure…  I don’t like to measure the food I eat.  I have developed the optimal foods lists to highlight what I think are the best foods to suit different goals and levels of metabolic health.

I think food should be nutritious and satiating.  If you goal is to lose weight it will be hard to overeat if you limit your food choices to things like broccoli (which contains sulforaphane), celery, salmon and tuna.

At the same time, some people like to track their food.  Tracking food with apps like MyFitnessPal or Cron-O-Meter can be useful for a time to reflect and use as a tool to help you refine your food choices.  If you’re preparing for a bodybuilding competition you’re probably going to need to track your food to temporarily override your body’s survival to force it to shed additional weight.

Ideal macronutrient balance is a contentious issue and a lot has already been said on the topic.  I’ll try to focus on what I think I have to add to the discussion around the topics of insulin load and nutrient density.

If you want to and skip the detail in the rest of this article, this graphic from Dr Ted Naiman does a good job of summarising optimal foods and ideal macronutrient ranges.   If you’re interested in more detail on the topic, then read on.

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insulin is not the bad guy

The insulin load formula was designed to help us more accurately understand the insulin response to the food we eat, including protein and fibre.

insulin load = total carbohydrates – fibre + 0.56 * protein

The first thing to understand is that insulin per se is not bad.  Insulin is required for energy metabolism and growth.  People who can’t produce enough insulin are called Type 1 Diabetics and typically don’t last long without insulin injections after they catabolise their muscle and body fat.

Insulin only really becomes problematic when we have too much of it (i.e. hyperinsulinemia[1]) due to excess processed carbohydrates (i.e. processed grains, added sugar and soft drinks) and/or a lack of activity which leads to insulin resistance.

The concepts of insulin load and proportion of insulinogenic calories can provide us with a better understanding of how different foods trigger an insulin response and how to quantitatively optimise the insulin load of our diet to suit our unique situation and goals.

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different degrees of the ketogenic diet

Words like “ketogenic”, “low carb” or “nutrient dense” mean different things to different people.   This is where using numbers can be useful to better define what we’re talking about and tailor a dietary approach.  For clarity, I have numerically defined a number of terms that you might hear.

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ketogenic ratio

The therapeutic ketosis community talk about a “ketogenic ratio” such as 3:1 or 4:1 which means that there are three or four parts fat (by weight) for every part protein plus carbohydrate.[2]

For example, a 3:1 ketogenic diet may contain 300g of fat plus 95g of protein with 5g of carbs.  This ends up being 87% fat.  A 4:1 ketogenic ratio is an even more aggressive ketogenic approach that is used in the treatment of epilepsy,[3] cancer or dementia and ends up being 90% fat.

These levels of ketosis is hard to achieve with real food and is hard to sustain in the long term.  Hence, it is typically used as a short term therapeutic treatment.

ratio of fat to protein

People in the ketogenic bodybuilding scene (e.g. Keto Gains) or weight loss might talk about a 1:1 ratio of fat to protein (by weight) for weight loss.    A diet with a 1:1 ratio of fat to protein could be 120g of fat plus 120g of protein.  If we threw in 20g of carbs this would come out at 66% fat (which is still pretty high by mainstream standards).   A 1:2 protein:fat ratio would end up being around 80% fat.

protein grams per kilogram of lean body weight

Some people prefer to talk in terms of terms of percentages or grams of protein per kilo of lean body mass.  For example:

  • The generally accepted minimum level of protein is 0.8g/kg/day of lean body mass to prevent malnutrition.[4] This is based on a minimum requirement of 0.6kg to maintain nitrogen balance and prevent diseases of malnutrition plus a 25% or two standard deviations safety factor.[5]
  • In the Art and Science of Low Carb Performance Volek and Phinney talk recommend consuming between 1.5 and 2.0g/kg of reference body weight (i.e. RW). Reference weight is basically your ideal body weight say at a BMI of 25kg/m2.  So, 1.5 to 2.0kg RW equates to around 1.7 to 2.2g/kg lean body mass (LBM).
  • There is also a practical maximum level where people just can’t eat more lean protein (i.e. rabbit starvation[6]) which kicks in at around 35% of energy from protein.

The table below shows a list of rule of thumb protein quantities for different goals in terms of grams per kilogram of lean body mass and as a percentage of calories assuming weight maintenance.[7]

scenario % calories g/kg LBM
minimum (starvation) 6% 0.4
RDI/sedentary 11% 0.8
typical 16% 1.2
strength athlete 24% 1.8
maximum 35% 2.7

gluconeogenesis

You may have heard that body will convert ‘excess protein’ to glucose via gluconeogenesis, particularly if there is minimal carbohydrates in the diet and/or we can’t yet use fat for fuel.

For some people this is a concern due to elevated blood glucose levels, but it may also mean that more protein is required because so much is being converted to glucose that you need more to maintain muscles growing your muscles.  As we become more insulin sensitive we may be able to get away with less protein because we are using it better (i.e. we are growing muscles rather than making glucose).

Most people eat more than the minimum level of protein to prevent malnutrition.  People looking to gain muscle mass will require higher levels.  Although keep in mind you do need to be exercising to gain muscle, not just eating protein.

Ensuring adequate protein and exercise is especially important as people age.  Sarcopenia is the process of age related muscle decline which is exacerbated in people with diabetes.

Sadly, many old people fall and break their bones and never get up again.   When it comes to longevity there is a balance between being too big (high IGF-1) and too frail (too little IGF-1).

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carbohydrate counting

Then there is carb counting.

  • People on a ketogenic approach tend to limit themselves to around 20g (net?) carbohydrates.
  • Low carbers might limit themselves to 50g carbs per day.
  • A metabolically healthy low carb athlete might try to stay under 100g of carbs per day.

Limiting non-fibre carbohydrates typically eradicates most processed foods (e.g. sugar, processed grains, sodas etc).   Nutrient density increases as we decrease the amount of non-fibre carbohydrates in our diet.

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protein, insulin load and nutrient density

In the milieu of discussion about protein I think it’s important to keep in mind that minimum protein levels to prevent the diseases of malnutrition may not necessarily optimal for health and vitality.

Protein is the one macronutrient that correlates well with nutrient density.  Foods with a higher percentage of protein are typically more nutrient dense overall.

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Considering minimum protein levels may be useful if you are looking to drop your energy intake to the bare minimum and while still providing enough protein to prevent loss of lean muscle mass (e.g. a protein sparing modified fast).   However, if you are looking to fill up the rest of your energy intake with fat for weight maintenance then you should be aware that simply eating foods with a higher proportion of fat will not help you maximise nutrient density.

Practically though very high levels of protein will be difficult to achieve because they are very filling, thus it is practically difficult to eat more than around 35% of your energy from protein.  Protein is also an inefficient fuel source meaning that you will lose around 25% of the calories just digesting and converting it to glucose via digestion and gluconeogenesis.

If you are incorporating fasting then I think you will need to make sure you are getting at least the minimum as an average across the week, not just on feasting days to maintain nitrogen balance.  That is,  you might need to try to eat more protein on days you are eating.

what is ketosis?

“Ketogenic” simply means “generates ketones”.

An increase in ketosis occurs when there is a lack of glucogenic substrates (i.e. non-fibre carbohydrates and glucogenic protein).  It’s not primarily about eating an abundance of dietary fat

I think reducing insulin load (i.e. the amount of food that we eat that requires insulin to metabolise), rather than adding dietary fat, is really where it’s at if you’re trying to ‘get into ketosis’.   We can simply wind down the insulin load of our diet to the point that out blood glucose and insulin levels decrease and we can more easily access our stored body fat.

insulin load = total carbohydrates – fibre + 0.56 * protein

Whether a particular approach is ketogenic (i.e. generates ketones) will depend on your metabolic health, activity levels and insulin resistance etc.

Whether you want to be generating ketones from the fat on your excess belly fat rather than your plate (or coffee cup) is also an important consideration if weight loss is one of your goals.

While people aiming for therapeutic ketosis might want to achieve elevated ketone levels by consuming more dietary fat, most people out there are just looking to lose weight for heath and aesthetic reasons.  For most people, I think the first step is to reduce dietary insulin load until they achieve normalised blood glucose levels (i.e.  average BG less than 5.6mmol/L or 100mg/dL, blood ketones greater than 0.2 mmol/L).   People with diabetes often call this “eating to your meter”.

Once you’ve achieved normal blood glucose levels and some ketones the next step towards weight loss is to increase nutrient density while still maintaining ketosis.  Deeper levels of ketosis do not necessarily mean more fat loss, particularly if if you have to eat gobs of eating processed fat to get there.

Ray Cronise and David Sinclair recently published an article “Oxidative Priority, Meal Frequency, and the Energy Economy of Food and ACtivity:  Implications for Longevity, Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease”  which does an interesting job of looking at the ‘oxidative priority’ of various nutrient and demonstrate that the body will burn through nutrients in the following order:

  1. alcohol,
  2. protein (not used for muscle protein synthesis),
  3. non fibre carbohydrate, and then
  4. fat.

What this suggests to me is that if you want to burn your own body fat you need to minimise the alcohol, protein and carbohydrate which will burn first.  To me this is another angle on the idea that insulin levels are the signal that stops our body from using our own body fat in times of plenty.   And if we want to access our own body fat we need to reduce the insulin load of our diet to the point we can release our own body fat.

insulin load versus nutrient density

The risk however with the insulin load concept is that people can take things to extremes.  If our only objective is to minimise insulin load we’ll end up just eating bacon, lard, MCT, olive oil… and not much else.

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In his “Perfect Health Diet” book Paul Jaminet talks about “nutrient hunger”, meaning that we are more likely to have an increased appetite if we are missing out on a particular nutrients.  He says

“A nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the nutrients in the right proportions is the key to eliminating hunger and minimising appetite.“

In the chart below shows nutrient density versus proportion of insulinogenic calories.  The first thing to note is that there is a lot of scatter!  However, on the right-hand side of the chart there are high carb soft drinks, breakfast cereals and processed grains that are nutrient poor.  But if we plot a trendline we see that nutrient density peaks somewhere around 40% insulinogenic calories.

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If you are metabolically challenged, you will want to reduce the insulin load of your diet to normalise blood glucose levels.  But if you reduce your insulin load too much you end up living on purified fats that aren’t necessarily nutrient dense.

If we are trying to avoid both carbohydrates and protein we end up limiting our food choices to macadamia nuts, pine nuts and a bunch of isolated fats that aren’t found in nature in that form.  Rather than living on copious amounts of refined oils I think we’re in much safer territory if we maximise nutrient density with whole foods while still maintaining optimal blood glucose levels.

The chart below shows the proportion of insulinogenic calories for the highest-ranking basket of foods (i.e. top 10% of the foods in the USDA foods database) for a range of approaches, from the low insulin therapeutic ketosis, through to the weight loss foods for someone who is insulin sensitive and a lot of fat is coming from their body.  At one end of the scale a therapeutic ketogenic may only contain 14% insulinogenic calories while a more nutrient dense approach might have more than half of the food requires insulin to metabolise.

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macronutrient splits

It’s one thing to set theoretical macronutrient targets, but real foods don’t come in neat little packages of protein, fat and carbohydrates.  The chart below shows the macronutrient split of the most nutrient dense 10% of foods for each of the four nutritional approaches.  The protein level for the weight loss approach might seem high but then once we factor in an energy deficit from our body fat it comes back down.

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In reality you’re probably not going to be able to achieve weight maintenance if you just stick to the nutrient dense weight loss foods.  You’ll either become full and will end up using your stored body fat to meet the energy deficit or you will reach for some more energy dense foods to make up the calorie deficit.  If you look at the macronutrient split of the most nutrient dense meals for the different approach you find they are lower in protein and higher in fat as shown in the chart below.

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nutrient density

The chart below shows the percentage of the daily recommended intake of essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids you can get from 2000 calories for each of the approaches.

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You can meet most of your nutritional requirements with a therapeutic ketogenic diet, however you’ll have to eat enough calories to maintain your weight to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

As you progress to the more nutrient dense approaches you can meet your nutrient requirements with less energy intake.   The beauty of limiting yourself to nutrient dense whole foods is that you can obtain the required nutrition with less energy and you’ll likely be too full to overeat.

As far as I can see the holy grail of nutrition,  health and longevity is adequate energy without malnutrition.

If we look in more detail we can see that the weight loss (blue) and nutrient dense approaches (green) provide more of the essential micronutrients across the board, not just amino acids.

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While the protein levels in the “weight loss” and “most nutrient dense” approaches are quite high, keep in mind that the food ranking system only prioritises the nutrients that are harder to obtain.

The table below shows the various nutrients that are switched on in the food ranking system for each approach.

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This table shows the number of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids counted for each approach.

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In the weight loss and nutrient dense approach, of the twelve essential amino acids, only Tyrosine and Phenylalanine has been counted in the density ranking system.

It just so happens that protein levels are high in whole foods that contain essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. 

It appears that if you set out to actively avoid protein it may be harder to get other essential nutrients.  The risk here is that you may be setting yourself up for nutrient hunger, and rebound/stall inducing cravings in the long term as your body becomes depleted of the harder to obtain nutrients.

choosing the right approach for you

I believe one of the key factors in determining which nutritional approach is right for you is your blood glucose levels which gives you an insight into your insulin levels and insulin sensitivity.

As shown in the chart below, if your blood glucose levels are high then it’s likely your insulin levels are also high which means you will not be able to easily to access your fat stores.  I have also created this survey which may help you identify whether you are insulin resistant and which foods might be ideal for you right now.

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While you may need to start out with a higher fat approach, as your glucose levels decrease and ketone levels rise a little you will be able to transition to more nutrient dense foods.

The table below shows the relationship between HbA1c, glucose, ketones and GKI.   Once you are getting good blood glucose levels you can start to focus more on nutrient density and weight loss.

 Risk level HbA1c average blood glucose ketones GKI
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)  (mmol/L)
low normal 4.1 4.0 70 5.5 0.7
optimal 4.5 4.6 83 2.5 1.8
excellent < 5.0 < 5.3 < 95 > 0.2 < 30
good < 5.4 < 6.0 < 108 < 0.2
danger > 6.5 7.8 > 140 < 0.2

more numbers

The table below shows what the different nutritional approaches look like in terms of:

  • ketogenic ratio
  • ratio of fat to protein
  • protein (g)/kg LBM
  • insulin load (g/kg LBM)
approach keto ratio fat : protein protein g/LBM insulin load (g/LBM)
therapeutic ketosis 1.8 2.2 1.0 0.9
diabetes 0.9 1.0 1.8 1.5
weight loss (incl. body fat) 0.5 0.6 2.5 2.4
nutrient dense 0.3 0.3 3.0 2.8

The 1.0g/kg LBM for therapeutic ketosis is greater than the RDA minimum of 0.8g/kg LBM so will still provide the minimum amount while still being ketogenic.  It’s hard to find a lot of foods that have less than 1.0g/kg LBM protein in weight maintenance without focussing on processed fats.

At the other extreme most nutrient dense foods are very high in protein but this might also be self-limiting meaning that people won’t be able to eat that much food.  As mentioned earlier, it will be hard to eat enough of the nutrient dense foods to maintain your current weight.  Either you will end up losing weight because you can’t fit as much of these foods in or reaching more energy dense lower nutrient density foods.  Also, if you found you were not achieving great blood glucose levels and some low-level ketones with mean and non-starchy veggies you might want to retreat to a higher fat approach.

The table below lists optimal foods for different goals from most nutrient dense to most ketogenic.    Hopefully over time you should be able to work towards the more nutrient dense foods as your metabolism heals.

dietary approach printable .pdf
weight loss (insulin sensitive) download
nutrient dense (maintenance) download
weight loss (insulin resistant) download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download
therapeutic ketosis download

what about mTOR?

Many people are concerned about excess protein causing cancer or inhibiting mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin).[8]  [9]

From what I can see though, the story with mTOR is similar to insulin.  That is, constantly elevated insulin or constantly stimulated mTOR are problematic and cause excess growth without being interspersed with periods of breakdown and repair.

Our ancestors would have had times when insulin and mTOR were low during winter or between successful hunts.  But during summer (when fruits were plentiful) or after a successful hunt, insulin would be elevated and mTOR suppressed as they gorged on the nutrient dense bounty.

These days we’re more like the futuristic humans from Wall-E than our hunter gather ancestors.   We live in a temperature controlled environment with artificial lighting and tend to put food in our mouths from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep.[10]

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Rather than chronic monotony (e.g. eating five or six small meals per day every day), it seems that periods of growth (anabolism) and breakdown and cleaning (catabolism) are optimal to thrive in the long term.  We need periods of both.  One or the other chronically are bad news.

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As my wise friend Raymund Edwards from Optimal Ketogenic Living says

“FAST WELL, FEED WELL.” 

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how much protein?

Optimal protein levels are a contentious topic.  There is research out there that says that excess protein can be problematic from a longevity perspective.  Protein promotes growth, IGF-1, insulin and cell turnover which can theoretically compromise longevity.  At the same time, there are plenty of studies that indicate that we need much more protein than the minimum RDI levels.[11]

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In the end, you need to eat enough protein to prevent loss of lean muscle and maintain strength.  If you’re trying to build lean muscle and working out, then higher levels of protein may be helpful to support muscle growth.  If you are trying to lose weight, then higher levels of protein can be useful to increase satiety and prevent loss of lean muscle mass.  Maintaining muscle mass is critical to keeping your metabolic rate high and avoiding the reduction that can come with chronic restriction.[12] [13]

In addition to building our muscles, protein is critical for building our bones, heart, organs and providing many of the neurotransmitters required for mental health.  So protein from real whole foods is generally nothing to be afraid of.  It’s typically the processed high carb foods that make the detrimental impact on  insulin and blood glucose levels.

The table below shows a starting point for protein in grams depending on your height.  This assumes that someone with a lean body mass (LBM) of 80 kg is burning 2000 calories per day and your lean body mass equates to a BMI of 20 kg/m2.  LBM is current weight minus fat mass minus skeletal mass which again is hard to estimate without a DEXA.

There are a lot of assumptions here so you will need to take as a rule of thumb starting point and track your weight and blood glucose levels and refine accordingly.  It’s unlikely that you will get to the high protein levels of the most nutrient dense approach because either you would feel too full or your glucose levels may rise and ketones disappear, so most people, unless your name is Duane Johnson, will need to moderate back from that level.

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Example:  Let’s say for example you were 180cm and were managing diabetes and elevated blood glucose levels.  You would start with around 117g of protein per day as an initial target and test how that worked with your blood glucose levels.  If your blood glucose levels on average were less than say 5.6mmol/L or 100mg/dL and your ketones were above 0.2mmol/L you could consider increasing transitioning to more nutrient dense foods. 

If you want to see what this looks like in terms of real foods and real meal meals check out the optimal food list and the optimal meals for the different approaches.

insulin load

Using a similar approach, we can calculate the daily insulin load (in grams) depending on your height and goals.  The values in this table can be used as a rule of thumb for the insulin load of your diet.

If you are not achieving your blood glucose or weight loss goals, then you can consider winding the insulin load back down.  If you are achieving great blood glucose levels, then you might consider choosing more nutrient dense food which might involve more whole protein and more nutrient dense green leafy veggies.

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Example:  Let’s say for example you are a 180cm person with good glucose control but still wanting to lose weight, your initial target insulin load would be 156g from the superfoods from fat lost list.  If you were not losing weight at this level, you could look to wind it back a little until you started losing weight.  If you are consistently achieving blood glucose levels less than 5.6mmol/L or 100mg/dL and ketones greater than 0.2mmol/L you could consider transitioning to more nutrient dense foods. 

summary

In summary, reducing the insulin load of your diet is an important initial step.  However, as your blood glucose and insulin levels normalise there are a number of other steps that you can take towards optimising nutrient density on your journey towards optimal health and body fat.

  1. Reduce the insulin load of your diet (i.e. eliminate processed carbage and maybe consider moderating protein if still necessary) to normalise blood glucose levels and reduce insulin levels to facilitate access to stored body fat.
  2. If your blood glucose levels are less than say 5.6 mmol/L or 100mg/dL and your ketone levels are greater than say 0.2 mmol/L then you could consider transitioning to more nutrient dense foods.
  3. If further weight loss is required, maximise nutrient density and reduce added fats to continue weight loss.
  4. Consider also adding an intermittent fasting routine with periods of nutrient dense feasting. Modify the feasting/fasting cycles to make sure you are getting the results you are after over the long term.
  5. Once optimal/goal weight is achieved, enjoy nutrient dense fattier foods as long as optimal weight and blood glucose levels are maintained.
  6. If blood glucose levels are greater than optimal blood glucose levels, return to step 1.
  7. If current weight is greater goal weight return to step 3.

references

[1] http://diabesity.ejournals.ca/index.php/diabesity/article/view/19

[2] http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

[3] http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

[4] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096

[5] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/how-much-protein-is-excessive/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_poisoning

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/08/31/optimal-protein-intake/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv-M-5-s9B0

[9] http://nutritionfacts.org/video/prevent-cancer-from-going-on-tor/

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPpAvvPG0nc

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27109436

[12] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1558S.long

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein-sparing_modified_fast

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choosing the right sized low carb band aid

  • This article identifies nutrient dense low insulin load foods that can help to stabilise your blood glucose levels and allow your own pancreas to keep up.
  • Once you normalise your blood glucose and lose some weight the progressive addition of nutrient dense low energy density foods may help continue your weight loss and improve your metabolic health.

how important is insulin sensitivity?

Managing your blood glucose levels through diet seems to be a major issue, if not THE most significant issue when it comes to health, longevity and reducing your risk of the leading causes of death (i.e. heart attack, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease).[1]

As indicated by the charts below the lowest risk of the diseases associated with metabolic disease occurs when your HbA1c is less than 5% (i.e. an average blood glucose levels less than 100 mg/dL or 5.4 mmol/L).[2]

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Insulin is an anabolic hormone that helps store nutrients and prevent their breakdown.   High levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) can lead to excess fat storage.  Excess insulin can also prevents us from accessing stored body fat.

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is low carb the best approach for everyone?

There are people who will argue that you can eat as much fat as you want.

At the same time there are people who will argue that you can eat as much protein as you want.

And you guessed it, there are also people who argue that you can eat as much carbohydrate as you want.

So who is right?

It seems that Christopher Gardner’s recent study Weight loss on low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diets by insulin resistance status among overweight adults and adults with obesity: A randomized pilot trial[3] might bring some clarity to the macro nutrient wars.[4]

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As always, context matters.

It seems that there is no one single approach that is optimal for everyone all the time.

As well as encouraging participants to eat nutrient dense whole foods, Gardener’s study divided the participants up based on their insulin sensitivity and asked them to restrict carbohydrates or restrict fat as much as they could over a period of six months living in the real world without tracking calories.

As you can see from the chart below:

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This observation from Gardener’s study also aligns with the findings of the results of a 2005 study Insulin Sensitivity Determines the Effectiveness of Dietary Macronutrient Composition on Weight Loss in Obese Women (Cornier et al, 2005)[5] which also found that people who were insulin resistant did better with LCHF while those who were insulin sensitive did better on the HCLF approach.

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Similarly, people who are insulin resistant improve their fatty liver on a low GI diet.[6]

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Again, the results from Pitas (2005) show that people who are insulin sensitive lose more weight on a high glycemic diet while the people who were insulin resistant lose more on the low glycemic load diet.

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In this video David Ludwig explains why someone who is insulin resistant might do better with a reduced carbohydrate approach.

am I insulin resistant?

So the obvious question then is whether or not you are insulin resistant and how do you tell?

Insulin resistance, and the compensatory hyperinsulinemia that follows, appear to be caused primarily by excess body fat, particularly around the abdomen and organs, which leads to inflammation, insulin resistance and elevated blood glucose levels.[7]

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So if you have big belly there’s a pretty good chance you are also insulin resistant and have elevated blood glucose and / or high insulin levels.  So having a waist circumference greater than half your height is a good indication you are insulin resistant.[8]  [9] [10]

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Unfortunately your size is not a perfect indicator of your metabolic health.  Some people manage to store more fat before inflammation and insulin resistance sets in.[11]  These people are called metabolically healthy obese.[12]    Conversely some people can look thin on the outside but still have fat around their organs which causes insulin resistance.  These people are called TOFIs (thin outside, fat inside).[13]

A more accurate way to ascertain if you are insulin resistant is to test your blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose levels are consistently above 5.0mmol/L or 90 mg/dL before meals then you might have a problem.  If you wanted to get more serious you could get a fasting insulin test, a HOMA-IR test, test your glucose : ketone ratio or get an oral glucose tolerance test.

If you have elevated blood glucose and insulin levels you probably need to eat less processed carbohydrates.  If you are obese but have great blood glucose levels then it’s probably time to incorporate some more lower energy density higher nutrient density foods to help you reduce your calorie intake.

nutrient dense low carb foods for blood glucose control

For most people, the nutrient dense foods shown in the ‘building a better nutrient density’ article would be a major improvement.

People who are insulin sensitive but still want to lose weight would do well with low calorie density high nutrient density foods.

However, for someone who is insulin resistant, the most nutrient dense foods, which have about 50% insulinogenic calories, may lead to unacceptable blood glucose swings.   People who are unable to produce enough insulin or are insulin resistant need to manage their insulin budget and make sure that the insulinogenic foods that they do eat maximise nutrient density in order to provide adequate amino acids for muscle growth and repair and sufficient vitamins and minerals.

Where this gets more interesting is when we combine nutrient density with the proportion of insulinogenic calories to optimise both glucose levels and nutrient density.   Listed below is a summary of the top 1000 foods of the 7000+ foods in the USDA database when we prioritise by both nutrient density and insulin load.

Included in the tables below are a number of parameters that may be useful:

  1. The nutrient density score is based on the number of standard deviations above the average that a particular food is from the average.
  2. The percentage of insulinogenic calories is the proportion of the energy in the food that can turn to glucose and require insulin.
  3. The net carbs per 100g is the amount of digestible non-fibre carbohydrates in the food that can raise your blood glucose levels.
  4. The insulin load is the weight of food per 100g that will require insulin to metabolise.
  5. The energy density is the number of calories per 100g of the food. If you’re watching your weight as well as your blood glucose numbers than keeping the energy density down will also be of interest.

Vegetables

Listed below are the highest ranking vegetables.

While many of these vegetables have a high proportion of insulinogenic calories (i.e. digestible non-fibre carbohydrates that can raise blood glucose levels) they are also highly nutritious and have very low levels of non-carbohydrates and energy per 100g.  Most people would have to eat a lot of these to have a significant impact on blood glucose levels.

Most of us would do well to focus on filling up on any of these vegetables to help keep overall calories down to assist with weight loss which is critical for improving insulin resistance.  If you typically avoid vegetables due to blood glucose concerns then you could start out slowly  and progressively increase your intake of these vegetables while keeping an eye on your blood glucose levels.

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
celery 2.63 49% 1 2 17
turnip greens 1.31 39% 1 4 37
rhubarb 1.46 57% 3 3 21
lettuce 1.34 52% 2 2 17
broccoli 1.21 57% 4 6 42
asparagus 1.12 46% 2 3 27
winter squash 1.22 80% 7 8 39
artichokes 0.83 33% 3 4 54
Chinese cabbage 1.02 60% 1 2 16
okra 0.94 57% 4 5 37
summer squash 1.00 65% 2 3 19
bamboo shoots 0.90 52% 3 4 28
seaweed (kelp) 0.74 43% 4 5 50
bell peppers 0.86 64% 6 7 43
cabbage 0.81 53% 3 4 30
snap green beans 0.74 47% 4 5 40
radishes 0.70 50% 2 2 19
peas 0.69 58% 5 7 51
kale 0.75 74% 8 10 56
dill 0.42 30% 2 4 52
thyme 0.27 21% 14 19 359
mushrooms 0.65 70% 2 5 30
jalapeno peppers 0.52 54% 4 5 35
collards 0.44 46% 2 5 40
paprika 0.19 17% 8 16 389
black pepper 0.24 36% 24 29 327
beets 0.34 44% 4 5 48
chives 0.27 34% 1 3 37
bay leaf 0.21 37% 34 38 406
mung beans 0.33 46% 1 3 26
onions 0.52 77% 7 8 41
mustard greens 0.27 45% 2 3 30

fruit

This list of diabetic friendly fruits is quite short compared to the veggies.

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
olives 0.02 15% 3 3 90
avocado 0.01 18% 5 6 131
raspberries 0.09 42% 6 6 58

nuts, seeds and legumes

The great thing about nuts and seeds is that they have a low percentage of insulinogenic calories and are often low in non-fibre carbohydrates.   The drawback is that they have a much higher energy density due to their higher fat content and are not as high in nutrients as the non-starchy green veggies.  Keep in mind that you can overdo the nuts if you are keeping an eye on your weight as well as your blood glucose levels.

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
pecans 0.15 5% 4 9 762
pine nuts 0.16 11% 9 18 647
tahini 0.17 16% 13 26 633
peanuts 0.17 18% 7 28 605
sunflower seeds 0.18 20% 11 24 491
macadamia nuts 0.12 5% 5 9 769
hummus 0.26 32% 8 14 175
pistachio nuts 0.16 23% 19 34 602
sesame seeds 0.12 18% 14 27 603
almonds 0.11 16% 15 27 652
brazil nuts 0.09 9% 4 15 704
chia seeds 0.10 16% 8 21 511
tofu 0.17 28% 2 8 112
walnuts 0.10 15% 7 25 683
coconut meat 0.09 11% 16 20 703
hazelnuts 0.10 16% 15 27 692
cashew nuts 0.11 22% 24 33 609
flaxseed 0.08 12% 2 16 568

dairy and eggs

Eggs and cheese are great in terms of proportion of insulinogenic calories.   The nutrient density of these foods is above average but not as high as the non-starchy vegetables.  As with the nuts, keep in mind that the energy density of these foods is high so it is possible to overdo them if you are keeping an eye on your weight as well as your blood glucose levels.

dairy20and20eggs

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
butter 0.11 0% 1 734
cream cheese 0.15 10% 8 348
goat cheese 0.18 22% 25 451
egg yolk 0.18 19% 15 317
Gruyère cheese 0.18 21% 22 412
sour cream 0.12 9% 4 197
Limburger cheese 0.17 18% 15 327
cream 0.10 5% 5 431
Edam cheese 0.18 22% 20 356
blue cheese 0.17 20% 18 354
Gouda cheese 0.18 23% 20 356
cheddar cheese 0.16 20% 20 403
Muenster cheese 0.16 20% 18 368
Camembert cheese 0.17 20% 15 299
Monterey 0.16 20% 19 373
Colby 0.16 20% 20 394
feta cheese 0.17 22% 14 265
brie cheese 0.15 19% 16 334
provolone 0.17 24% 21 350
Swiss cheese 0.18 26% 25 379
parmesan cheese 0.19 30% 31 411
mozzarella 0.15 23% 18 318
whole egg 0.17 29% 10 138

seafood

Getting an adequate intake of omega 3 essential oils is important and it’s hard to do without eating fish. Higher protein lower fat fish such as cod will require more insulin to process though this is typically not an issue unless you have type 1 diabetes and need to calculate and time your insulin doses or have advanced type 2 where your insulin response is not well matched to your glucagon response from the protein.

seafood-salad-5616x3744-shrimp-scallop-greens-738

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
caviar 0.30 32% 22 276
anchovy 0.34 42% 21 203
herring 0.26 34% 18 210
sardine 0.24 36% 18 202
swordfish 0.28 41% 17 165
rainbow trout 0.28 43% 17 162
mackerel 0.28 45% 17 149
tuna 0.30 50% 17 137
sturgeon 0.26 47% 15 129
salmon 0.28 50% 15 122

animal products

Higher fat animal products will have a lower insulin response but but they also have a higher energy density.  All these foods have more nutrients than average but not as many as the non-starchy vegetables.

7450703_orig

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
chicken liver 0.43 48% 20 165
beef liver 0.46 58% 24 169
bacon 0.18 23% 30 522
pepperoni 0.13 14% 17 487
chorizo 0.15 17% 19 448
foie gras 0.11 11% 13 459
pate 0.13 16% 13 315
beef ribs 0.11 13% 12 349
duck (with skin) 0.12 17% 14 331
salami 0.12 18% 12 258
lamb 0.14 24% 18 308
beef steak 0.16 28% 21 305
frankfurter 0.10 14% 11 322
ground turkey 0.19 37% 19 203
chicken drumstick 0.17 36% 22 238

is low carb a band aid or cure?

Some people say that a reduced carbohydrate approach only addresses the symptom (high blood glucose) rather than the cause (insulin resistance).  However, the studies highlighted above suggest that the low carb “band aid” also helps with the healing process (e.g. fat loss).

If you are insulin resistant, then reducing the insulin load of your diet using the foods listed above to the point you achieve excellent blood glucose levels will most likely be helpful.

insulin load (g)=total carbohydrates (g)-fiber (g) + 0.56*protein (g)

As shown in the plots below, it’s the non-fibre carbohydrates, and to a lesser extent the protein, that drives our insulin and blood glucose response to food.

image03

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I’ve hit a plateau in my low carb diet, what now?

Let’s say you’re someone who has done well with a low carb diet.  You’ve heard the message not to fear fat, reduced your carbs and seen a near miraculous improvement in your blood glucose and insulin levels.  But, you haven’t quite reached your goal weight yet.

Listed below is a range of pieces of advice that you might hear given to people in this situation:

  1. Just eat more fat.
  2. Reduce total carbs.
  3. Focus more on nutrient dense low calorie density more satiating foods.
  4. Reduce net carbs.
  5. Reduce the insulin load of your diet.
  6. Eat more fibre.
  7. Exercise more.
  8. Lift heavy things to build lean muscle.
  9. Develop a fasting routine.
  10. Eat more plant based foods.
  11. Get more sunshine.
  12. Get less blue light at night.
  13. Eat only during daylight hours.
  14. Sleep more.
  15. Do some high intensity exercise.
  16. Cut out nuts and dairy.
  17. Track your calories and reduce them until you start losing weight.
  18. Stop stressing about your blood glucose levels so much, you’re just raising your cortisol!
  19. Get another hobby and stop navel gazing so much!

In the list above I’ve crossed out (a) and (b) which I think could be counter productive.

As suggested by the studies noted above, there may be a point as you achieve normal blood glucose levels that someone would benefit from focussing on higher nutrient density and lower energy density rather than just low carbs.

The million-dollar question is, what is the cut over point where you can move on from the LCHF blood glucose rehabilitation approach and start focusing on weight loss in order to further improve your metabolic health?

I think the point at which you deem yourself to have become metabolically flexible is when your average blood glucose levels are less than 100mg/dL or 5.4mmol/L.  At this point you will also be starting to show low level blood ketones.[14]  It is at this point you can start adding some of the nutrient dense low energy density foods to see what effect they have on your blood glucose levels.

When to start focussing on high nutrient density low energy density foods

The chart below (click to enlarge) shows a comparison of the nutrient density for the following dietary approaches:

  1. all foods,
  2. high nutrient density foods,
  3. nutrient dense low carbohydrate foods, and
  4. nutrient dense low calorie density foods.

image09

The low carbohydrate foods listed above will be more nutritious compared to the average of all of the foods available.  However, if you have normal blood glucose levels it might be a good idea to try to incorporate more nutrient dense low energy density foods that may be more filling and nutritious to help you to continue to progress on your weight loss journey.

If your appetite is influenced by obtaining adequate nutrients from your diet and / or energy density then it may be wise to reduce the carbs in your diet only as much as you need to normalise your blood glucose levels, otherwise you may risk compromising the nutrient density of your diet.

image19

The extent of the carbohydrate restriction (or the size of the band aid required) depends on the extent of the metabolic damage that you have sustained.  It may not be sensible to sign up for a full body cast (e.g. very high fat therapeutic ketogenic diet) if you only have a broken toe (e.g.  mild insulin resistance).

image20

As you start to heal your insulin resistance you may be able to progress from the higher fat diabetic friendly list of foods above to incorporate more more nutrient dense, lower energy density foods.

Then maybe in the long run, once you optimise your weight loss, you might be able to focus on the most nutrient dense foods for optimal health.

references

[1] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[2] http://www.diabetes.co.uk/hba1c-to-blood-sugar-level-converter.html

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.21331/full

[4] The results of Gardner’s full study should be available in late 2016.

[5] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2005.79/epdf

[6] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/1/136.full.pdf+html

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25515001

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waist-to-height_ratio

[9] https://www.google.com.au/search?q=obesity+code&spell=1&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjpg8b94P7LAhUCE5QKHS63AP4QvwUIGSgA&biw=1218&bih=939

[10] http://bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2431-13-91

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolically_healthy_obesity

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOFI

[14] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/07/20/the-glucose-ketone-relationship/

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.

image13

image11

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.

image24

image22

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.

image17

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!

image07

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!

image15

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.

image06

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

image03

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.

image19

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)

image09

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.

image21

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.

image04

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.

image05

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.  

image08

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.  

image10

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] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/03/23/most-ketogenic-diet-foods/

[2] https://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/

balancing diet and diabetes medications

  • High blood glucose levels (glucose toxicity) and high insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) are both bad news for your health.
  • The highest priority in the treatment of diabetes should be to reduce foods that require large amounts of insulin.
  • Over reliance on medications can lead to ‘learned helplessness’, meaning that people do not use a dietary intervention to what is primary a dietary disease.
  • Periods of fasting and intense exercise also improve insulin sensitivity.
  • A lower insulin load diet and improved insulin sensitivity will enable you to reduce and possibly eliminate medications.

when do you need insulin?

Last year I was tracking my blood sugars.  I was concerned with what I saw.

Based on my average sugars of about 6.2mmol/L my HbA1c would have been about 5.5%.  I wasn’t happy because I knew it was still well away from ideal. [1]  I knew that improving my blood sugars was likely the key to losing the weight that I had been struggling with.

In an odd sort of way I was jealous of my wife who has type 1 diabetes.  She could manipulate her blood glucose levels manually with her insulin pump, but I wasn’t sure what to do to bring my blood glucose levels down to more healthy levels.

Given that doctors will typically not give insulin until your HbA1c is greater than 7.0% [2] there was no way a doctor was going to prescribe me with insulin.  My doctor told me to lose some weight to combat the developing signs of fatty liver in my blood tests.

In January 2015 I found Jason’s Fung’s videos [3] and kicked myself in the butt.  Intermittent fasting seemed to do the trick to break the insulin resistance even though I had been following a lower carb paleo approach for a while.  I was able to get my blood sugars back down to an average of 5.4mmol/L to give me an estimated HbA1c of about 4.8% and in the process of actively trying to manage my blood glucose levels I lost ten kilograms.

Fasting and improving insulin sensitivity

Dr Jason Fung [4] has recently increased the focus on fasting and dietary intervention and discourages an over-reliance on insulin to manage diabetes.

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Jason says that focussing on medicating the symptoms of diabetes rather than addressing the root cause of insulin resistance can lead to a ‘learned helplessness’ where people do not pursue a dietary solution to what is largely a dietary problem.

Addressing diabetes by giving insulin to address the symptom of high blood glucose levels is like giving an alcoholic alcohol to relieve the symptoms of their alcohol withdrawal. 

Meanwhile, Dr Richard Bernstein says that most of his type 2 diabetics need to remain on small doses of insulin in addition to minimising carbohydrate in order to achieve ‘normal blood sugars’.[5]

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In this video Dr Bernstein however notes a number of negative consequences of taking exogenous insulin including:

  • inconvenience,
  • it can make you fat if you eat a lot of carbohydrate, and
  • it can cause hypoglycaemia (i.e. low blood glucose levels).

the balance between diet and medication

So how do we find the optimal balance between an over-reliance on exogenous insulin and medication while still achieving normal blood sugars?

Dr Ted Naiman of BurnFatNotSugar.com says that when he sees a new diabetic patient he checks their fasting insulin and C-peptide levels to understand whether they are still producing insulin or if their pancreas is already burned out.

If you don’t have access to these tests another option is to test your ketones and blood glucose levels to establish the ratio of glucose to ketones, which can also help you estimate your insulin levels (see the glucose : ketone index).

High insulin and high blood glucose means that you are insulin resistant (i.e. hyperinsulinemia).

Low insulin and high blood glucose means that you are insulin deficient and your pancreas is not producing enough insulin (i.e. type 1.5 diabetes, LADA).

Dr Naiman (pictured below – he practices what he preaches!) says he “avoids insulin like the plague” if at all possible, preferring to focus on diet, fasting and exercise.

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Ted says that if you are still producing insulin but have high blood glucose levels the urgent need is to reduce the insulin load of the diet, start an exercise routine to improve insulin sensitivity, and ideally commence intermittent fasting ASAP!  If you continue to consume a diet with a high insulin load you risk burning out the beta cells of your pancreas at which point you will require insulin.

Ted has produced an excellent summary of intermittent fasting and the various ways to put it into practice that you can download here.  For more detail you also can check out Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat or Jason Fung’s series on the topic.

the dangers of glucose toxicity

As discussed in the Diabetes 102 article there are a range of well-established risk factors for high blood sugars including accelerated brain shrinkage, cancer, obesity, heart disease and stroke.

This article from Jenny Ruhl’s Blood Sugar 101 lists a number of other complications related to high blood sugars including nerve damage, beta cell destruction, heart disease, diabetic retinopathy, and kidney disease.

Just in case you weren’t already aware… elevated blood glucose levels are very bad news!

If you want to be healthy, feel good, look good and live a long life, then your number one priority should be to do whatever it takes to achieve excellent blood sugars.

the dangers of insulin toxicity

I was interested to hear Professor Tim Noakes tell Robb Wolf in episode 273 of the Paleo Solution Podcast

You really want to keep your control through diet and minimal medication and never use insulin.

What I take this to mean is not that insulin is forbidden for people who need it, but rather that you should do whatever you can to not get to the point that you need to be injecting insulin to control your blood glucose levels.

Dr Fung points to the ACCORD Study[6] along with the ADVANCE, VADT and ORIGIN studies which showed worse outcomes for people with type 1 diabetes who targeted a lower HbA1c of 6.0% rather than a more typical 7.5%.

The figure below from the ACCORD study shows the reduction in HbA1c with intensive therapy (i.e. more insulin) to “successfully” reduce blood sugar levels.  What they found however was that the people in the intensive therapy group were 22% more likely to die (i.e. all-cause mortality) in spite of having ‘better’ blood glucose levels!

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This may sound contradictory, because at the same time we know that reduced HbA1c levels actually lead to better health outcomes in the general population.  So what’s the difference?  Why are these studies suggesting that trying to normalise blood glucose levels are dangerous?  Is there something about people with diabetes that makes it unhealthy for them to have lower blood sugars?

There is plenty of debate on what these studies really mean, [7] [8] [9] however Dr Fung says it is the use of medication in the absence of dietary intervention that is making the difference.  Simply applying more insulin or other medications without addressing the diet is not only illogical it’s very dangerous!

This aligns with the data shown below[10] which shows that reducing HbA1c is highly beneficial when it comes to heart attack and stroke risk, however doing it through the use of antidiabetic medication does not help.

image007

Ivor Cummings does a great job on his blog of highlighting a wide range of studies that demonstrate that insulin resistance is by far the dominant risk factor for heart disease. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]  All we do when we medicate a high carbohydrate diet with insulin is to exacerbate the insulin resistance.

So is insulin all bad?  Not necessarily.  Insulin is important for a range of bodily functions including growth.  However, high levels of insulin to cover high levels of dietary carbohydrate is a recipe for metabolic disaster.

Rather than relying on insulin, Dr Fung recommends a low insulin load diet combined with periods of fasting to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin and blood sugar levels.  Dr Fung told me that people need to “reduce both blood glucose and insulin to reduce glucotoxicity and insulin toxicity.”  He says a HbA1c of less than “6.0% is defined as normal, although the lower you get, the better. However, this only applies if you are using diet rather than medications.” [16]

two sides of the same coin?

Both Dr Fung and Dr Bernstein focus primarily on non-medical interventions which include:

  1. A low carbohydrate / low glucose load / low insulinogenic diet. I suggest you focus on foods from this list and meals from here to bring your blood sugars under control.
  2. Exercise will improve your insulin sensitivity and help to remove excess glucose from your system. High intensity short duration exercise is ideal along with regular movement through the day.  Rather than forcing yourself to exercise out of guilt you may find once you balance your blood sugars with diet rather than medication you have more energy and want to move more.
  3. Fasting is a great way to restore insulin sensitivity and reduce blood glucose levels naturally. It might be considered by some to be extreme, however it’s the most aggressive and effective approach to move the metabolic needle in the right direction.  And it’s not that hard, particularly if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose and you’re looking down the barrel of major health complications.

Bob Briggs does a great job of putting this into simple terms that are easy to understand and apply.

refining insulin levels for type 1 diabetics

For someone with type 1 diabetes balancing dietary insulin load with exogenous insulin is an ongoing process of fine tuning.

Getting the basal insulin dose is important, particularly if you’re following a reduced carbohydrate approach, as it can represent up to 80% of the daily insulin dose.  Unless you’re fasting you are unlikely to have a higher basal : bolus ratio than this.  Covering too much of your food with basal insulin can be dangerous if you need to skip or delay a meal for any reason (e.g. sleeping in on the weekend).

The scatter plot of blood glucose readings below shows my wife Monica’s blood glucose readings.  We use this data to review and refine her basal insulin rates (80% of her insulin dose) every couple of weeks.

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While we are still on a journey, her blood glucose levels are the best they’ve been in her adult life and we’ve seen massive improvements since switching to a more nutrient dense low insulin load diet.

If her blood sugars drift up in a particular period of the day she will increase the basal rate on her pump in the two hours leading up to the point where the blood glucose levels are high.  Conversely, if there are a cluster of hypos (lows) at a particular point in time she will drop back the basal insulin leading up to that time.  Ideally we try to keep the high / low bars on the top chart on the red line, but not below it.

Her basal rates (shown below) are lower over night with a higher dose in the morning to cover the ‘dawn phenomenon’ which is the body’s way of supplying glucagon and adrenaline in preparation for the day ahead.

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We’ve experimented with reducing basal insulin rates and running higher blood glucose levels to avoid lows and to reduce the overall insulin load.  However this hasn’t really worked as Moni just doesn’t feel good with higher blood glucose levels.

It’s a delicate balancing act between blood glucose levels and insulin load.  Your mileage may vary.  You’ll need to refine things based on how you feel and with what you are comfortable with.

It’s also a good idea to look at the data over a longer period to make sure you’re not just reacting to recent events.  Diet, hormones, stress, sickness and exhaustion all influence blood sugars and insulin requirements.

Knee jerk reactions to recent events can throw everything out of whack.  We’ve found it better to make small refinements rather than large changes.

Some female diabetics also refine their basal rates around their monthly cycle as insulin resistance typically increases by around 15% in the four days leading up to their period.  It’s worth tracking this and being ready to adjust insulin dosage.

the law of small numbers

The most important thing to know is that managing the insulin load of your diet is the most important thing you can do to improve blood glucose control.  If you have a high degree of variability in your blood glucose from hour to hour due to a highly insulinogenic diet you’ll never be able to bring blood glucose levels down without risking going too low.

Most endocrinologists will recommend against targeting optimal blood glucose levels due to the risk of hypoglycaemia (low glucose levels).  However reducing the insulin load of the diet will mean that the amplitude of the blood glucose swings are smaller, which will enable you to bring the overall average blood glucose level down using the basal insulin and smaller food bolus and correcting insulin doses.

Bernstein talks about the ‘law of small numbers’.  If you are consuming a high carbohydrate diet then you will need ‘industrial doses’ of insulin and there is no way to calculate the insulin dose perfectly, so the errors compound and the resulting blood sugar swings are out of control.  It’s the severe blood glucose swings that make you feel really bad, even more so than high or the low blood sugars alone.

adjusting insulin doses for type 2 diabetics

For the most part the observations from people with type 1 diabetes also apply to those with type 2 diabetes.  A type 2 diabetic can balance their dietary insulin load with the insulin produced by their own pancreas supplemented with insulin sensitising drugs such as Metformin or injected insulin.

The first priority when transitioning to a low carbohydrate diet is to avoid driving your blood sugars low with too much medication.   Rather than going low all the time it’s better to reduce your medications to a point where higher blood glucose levels will remind you that you need to manage blood glucose by controlling your diet.

If your medications are too high you will likely end up having to eat extra food to treat low blood glucose levels all the time.  So not only do you have more insulin than you want (which will stop you using stored body fat for energy) you have to eat more than you need because of excess medication (which will also get stored as fat).

It’s hard to give an exact target blood sugar range, however the following guidelines may be useful:

  1. Blood glucose levels less than 4.0mmol/L (73mg/dL) are typically considered low (unless you are young and / or have high ketone levels). If you are seeing these blood glucose levels you should decrease your diabetes medications.
  2. Post meal blood sugars should be less than 6.7mmol/L (120mg/dL). If you’re seeing higher blood glucose levels than this after meals then you shouldn’t eat what you just ate again.
  3. A fasting blood sugar of less than 5.0mmol/L (90mg/dL) and an average blood sugar of less than 5.4mmol/L (100mg/dL) is ideal.

Once you reduce your dietary insulin load (i.e. by reducing carbohydrates, moderating your protein and maximising high fibre foods) you will not require as much medication and may need to reduce your medications to prevent hypos (low blood sugars).

If your dietary insulin load reduces further you will be able to reduce, and possibly eliminate, your diabetes medications as your own pancreas is able to keep up with your decreased insulin requirements.

If you are able to further reduce your insulin load your blood sugars will come closer to normal levels.  With reduced insulin you will be able to use your body fat stores for fuel and ideally lose weight.

Depending on your goals and level of dedication (or OCD), you might get to a point where injecting small amounts of insulin is no longer worth the hassle.  This is something that you should work through with your doctor who prescribed the insulin and / or medications.

 

references

[1] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/diabetes-102/

[2] http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/treatment-approaches/type-2-diabetes-and-insulin/

[3] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/diabetes-102/

[4] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/

[5] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/diabetes-102/

[6] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0802743#t=articleTop

[7] http://phlauntdiabetesupdates.blogspot.com/2012/10/new-page-why-lowering-a1c-below-60-is.html

[8] http://diatribe.org/issues/10/learning-curve

[9] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518370/

[10] http://www.cardiab.com/content/12/1/164

[11] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2004.01371.x/epdf

[12] http://www.thefatemperor.com/blog/2015/5/5/hilarious-apob-now-being-used-as-predictor-of-insulin-resistance-cholesterol-lchf

[13] http://www.thefatemperor.com/blog/2015/4/30/insulin-resistance-the-primary-cause-of-coronary-artery-disease-bar-none-lchf

[14] http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/4/4/e001524.full.pdf+html

[15] http://www.thefatemperor.com/blog/2015/5/3/cholesterol-lchf-whats-the-only-thing-that-matters-for-repeat-heart-attacks

[16] https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/lchf-for-type-1-diabetes/

how much insulin is required to cover protein?

Given that protein appears to contribute to insulin demand I ran a number of scenarios with the food insulin index data to see if insulin requirement is better predicted by carbohydrate in a food plus some proportion of the protein.

Microsoft Word Document 14052015 104549 AM.bmp

The analysis indicates that insulin demand is related to carbohydrate about 60% of the protein.

There’s not a lot of information on the split between glucogenic amino acids and ketogenic amino acids out there, however it seems that only leucine and lysine are exclusively ketogenic and cannot be converted into sugar, while isolucine, threonine, phenylaline, tyrosine and tryptophan are both ketogenic and glucgoenic.  The remaining thirteen of the twenty one amino acids are exclusively glucogenic, meaning that they can be converted to sugar.

The proportion of protein that can turn to glucose relates to the amount of excess protein to the body’s needs, so it will be affected by a number of factors including a person’s activity levels, how much protein and carbohydrates they eat.

The correlation of food insulin index with carbohydrate about half the protein is better than carbohydrate alone (R2 = 0.435 compared to R2 = 0.461) and we no longer have the issue of high protein foods sitting on the vertical axis as shown below.

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Accounting for protein in addition to carbohydrate seems to better predict insulin demand.

So in summary, while protein doesn’t spike blood sugar as much as carbohydrates, protein does still require a significant amount of insulin.  People not achieving the desired results from carbohydrate restriction alone may benefit from moderating their protein intake.

[next article…  fibre… net carbs or total carbs?]

[this post is part of the insulin index series]

[Like what you’re reading?  Skip to the full story here.]

ketosis… the cure for diabetes?

  • 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.

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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. [1]

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 reverses diabetes
Excessive sugar and simple carbohydrates in the diet generate high insulin load Reduce foods in your diet that require insulin [2]
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. [3] [4] [5]

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foods that require insulin

You’re likely already aware that foods containing carbohydrates require your pancreas to produce insulin.

Recently I stumbled across some recent food insulin index test data [6] that indicates:

  • protein requires about half as much insulin as carbohydrates per gram on average, [7] and
  • carbohydrates in the form of indigestible fibre do not require insulin. [8]

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.

insulin load

Rather than simply counting carbs, you could get a bit fancy and calculate your total insulin load using this formula:

Microsoft Word Document 25032015 45826 AM.bmp

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. [9]  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.

tracking BGs [Last saved by user] 16042015 82501 AM.bmp IMG_7191

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.

HbA1c average blood sugar ketones
 (%)  (mmol/L)  (mg/dL)  (mmol/L)
low normal 4.1 3.9 70 2.1
optimal 4.5 4.6 83 1.3
excellent < 5.0 < 5.4 < 97 > 0.5
good < 5.4 < 6 < 108 < 0.3
danger > 6.5 7.8 > 140 < 0.3

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 The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance [10] 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, [11] [12] was only getting ketones of around 0.6mmol/L [13]. 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 [16] 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. [17] [18] 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 [19] and the media [20] 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.

I have developed a system to prioritise food choices based on the insulin properties of various foods as well as a range of other factors including:

  • nutrient density per calorie,
  • fibre per calorie,
  • nutrient density per dollar,
  • calorie density per weight, and
  • calories per dollar.

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 insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 5% 5% 10% 50% 10% 5%

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?

vegetables

  • turnip greens
  • coriander (cilantro)
  • rosemary
  • spinach
  • parsley
  • peppers / capsicum
  • chives
  • mustard greens
  • collards
  • mushrooms
  • Swiss chard
  • artichokes
  • broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • kale

fats and oils

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

fruits

  • avocados
  • olives

eggs & dairy

  • whole egg
  • goat cheese
  • goat cheese
  • parmesan cheese
  • cheddar
  • cream
  • camembert
  • feta
  • cream cheese
  • blue cheese
  • Colby cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • edam cheese
  • brie
  • gouda
  • mozzarella
  • ricotta
  • cottage cheese

nuts & seeds

  • brazil nuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • pecans
  • pumpkin seeds
  • almonds
  • macadamia nuts
  • pine nuts
  • coconut milk
  • coconut meat
  • pistachio nuts
  • cashews

animal products

  • organ means (liver, kidney, heart etc)
  • chorizo
  • bratwurst
  • herring
  • chicken
  • frankfurter
  • mackerel
  • duck
  • beef sausage
  • bacon
  • turkey
  • anchovy
  • ground beef
  • lamb
  • bologna
  • turkey
  • beef steak

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.

references

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oZ4UqtbB_g

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/

[3] http://www.diabetes-book.com/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuJ11OJynsvHMsN48LG18Ag

[5] https://www.facebook.com/Type1Grit

[6] http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/11945

[7] Some anecdotal evidence and studies such as http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4342171/pdf/IJE2015-216918.pdf indicate that it’s the protein in excess of the body’s needs for muscle growth and repair that gets turned to glucose and requires insulin.

[8] http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/indigestible-carbohydrates-1023.html

[9] http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/BEST-PRICE-10-X-ABBOTT-FREESTYLE-OPTIUM-KETONE-TEST-STRIPS-10-TOTAL-100-STRIPS/181527585627?_trksid=p2054897.c100204.m3164&_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIC.MBE%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D20140407115239%26meid%3Db2cedda776824d9f8ed5d131a3232ea7%26pid%3D100204%26rk%3D3%26rkt%3D24%26sd%3D281508543955

[10] http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Science-Carbohydrate-Performance/dp/0983490716

[11] https://gumroad.com/l/CK219

[12] http://www.fatchancerow.org/

[13] https://twitter.com/samiinkinen/status/451089012166385664

[14] https://www.facebook.com/ketogains

[15] https://www.facebook.com/ketogains

[16] https://www.bulletproofexec.com/bulletproof-fasting/

[17] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oZ4UqtbB_g

[18] http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drsquat6.htm

[19] http://www.touchendocrinology.com/articles/nutrition-revolution-end-high-carbohydrates-era-diabetes-prevention-and-management [20] http://time.com/2863227/ending-the-war-on-fat/

[21] https://www.dropbox.com/s/h0zd5pjgw0gfqgq/Appendix%20D%20-%20Nutritional%20analysis%20of%20typical%20diets.docx?dl=0

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