Tag Archives: vegetarian

nutrient dense diabetic friendly vegan foods

  • Eating plant-based foods can be a great way to improve nutrient density and reduce the amount of highly insulinogenic processed carbohydrates in your diet.
  • This article looks at how we can optimize a plant-based diet for nutrient density as well as diabetic friendly by reducing insulin load.
  • Finally, we will look at whether adding additional food groups such as seafood, dairy or eggs would diminish or improve the nutrient density of a plant based approach.

nutrient density

A nutrient dense diet is key to maximizing health and satiety with a minimum of calories.  Maximising nutrient density enables our mitochondria to do more with less.

If our world is full of beneficial nutrients our body realises that there is no longer an energy crisis and is more likely to stop searching for more nutrients and lets go of our stored body fat and decrease appetite.

As detailed in the ‘Building a Better Nutrient Density Index’ article, quantifying nutrient density enables us to prioritise foods that contain the highest amount of essential nutrients that are harder to obtain.[1]

The chart below (click to enlarge) shows the percentage of the recommended daily intake of various essential nutrients provided by:

  • all 7000+ foods in the USDA foods database,
  • plant based foods, and
  • the most nutrient dense plant based foods.


Restricting ourselves to ‘plant based’ foods will improve the vitamin and mineral content of the foods we eat.  However, focusing on the most nutrient dense plant based foods allows us to improve nutrient density even further

most nutrient dense plant based foods

Listed below is a summary of the most nutrient dense plant based foods sorted by their nutrient density score.  The nutrient density score (ND) is shown for each of the foods.

As you can see from the plot below from Nutrition Data, celery, which has a very high nutrient density score (ND), will provide you with a range of vitamins and minerals equivalent to 92% of your recommended daily intake with 1000 calories and 83% of your protein intake with 1000 calories.  Keep in mind though that you would need to eat five bunches of celery to get that 1000 calories though.


The fact that broccoli has a low energy density may be a benefit if you are trying to lose weight, but perhaps would not be so helpful if you are fueling for an Ironman Triathlon.

Also shown in the tables below is the net carbohydrates and calories per 100g for each of the foods listed.

The great thing about most of these foods is that they will provide you with heaps of nutrients while having a low energy density which will make it hard to over consume them to a point that they will spike your blood glucose levels.

Listed below are the most nutrient dense plant based foods.  In the second half of this article we will look at how we can choose foods that will be more gentle on blood glucose levels for those of us that are more insulin resistant.

vegetables and spices 

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
watercress 13 2 11 2.2
white mushroom 10 5 22 1.8
spinach 10 4 23 1.7
portabella mushrooms 10 5 29 1.7
asparagus 10 3 22 1.7
spirulina 9 6 26 1.5
alfalfa 9 1 23 1.5
brown mushrooms 8 5 22 1.3
basil 8 3 23 1.3
chard 8 3 19 1.3
endive 7 1 17 1.2
shiitake mushroom 7 7 39 1.2
seaweed (wakame) 7 11 45 1.1
zucchini 6 2 17 1.0
cauliflower 6 4 25 1.0
Chinese cabbage 6 2 12 1.0
turnip greens 5 4 29 0.9
chicory greens 5 2 23 0.9
escarole 5 1 19 0.9
mung beans 5 4 19 0.9
lettuce 5 2 15 0.9
parsley 5 5 36 0.8
radicchio 4 4 23 0.7
edamame 4 13 121 0.7
bamboo shoots 4 5 27 0.7
peas 4 7 42 0.7
soybeans (sprouted) 4 12 81 0.7
seaweed (kelp) 4 10 43 0.6
shiitake mushrooms 3 72 296 0.6
chives 3 4 30 0.6
paprika 3 26 282 0.6
coriander 3 2 23 0.6
collards 3 4 33 0.5
summer squash 3 2 19 0.5
beet greens 3 2 22 0.5
okra 3 3 22 0.5
mustard seed 3 37 508 0.5
celery 2 3 18 0.5
curry powder 2 14 325 0.4
arugula 2 3 25 0.4
Brussel sprouts 2 6 42 0.4
pumpkin 2 4 20 0.3
snap beans 1 3 15 0.3
carrots 1 4 23 0.2
chayote 1 3 24 0.2
cabbage 1 4 23 0.2
cloves 1 35 274 0.2
kale 1 5 28 0.2
radishes 0 2 16 0.1
jalapeno peppers 0 3 27 0.1
dandelion greens 0 7 45 0.1
pickles 0 1 12 0.1
cucumber 0 1 12 0.1
turnips 0 3 21 0.1
eggplant -0 3 25 0.1
red peppers -0 3 31 0.0
lima beans -0 20 113 0.0
yeast extract spread -0 27 185 0.0
sauerkraut -0 2 19 0.0


food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
tofu 5 8 83 0.9
soybeans 2 49 446 0.3
lentils 1 19 116 0.2
natto 1 22 211 0.2
navy beans 1 22 140 0.2
cowpeas 0 68 336 0.1
broad beans -0 54 341 0.0
peas -0 57 352 0.0

nuts and seeds

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
sunflower seeds 3 22 546 0.6
pumpkin seeds -0 29 559 0.0
brazil nuts -0 16 659 0.0
walnuts -1 22 619 -0.1
almond butter -2 26 614 -0.2
almonds -2 25 607 -0.2
flax seed -2 16 534 -0.3
pistachio nuts -2 34 569 -0.3
sesame seeds -3 17 631 -0.4
coconut water -3 3 19 -0.4
hazelnuts -3 17 629 -0.4
cashews -3 40 580 -0.4
sesame butter -3 33 586 -0.4
pine nuts -3 21 673 -0.4
butternuts -3 28 612 -0.5


food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
carambola -1 5 31 -0.1
blackberries -2 3 43 -0.3
cranberries -2 8 46 -0.3
avocado -2 3 160 -0.3
kiwifruit -2 9 61 -0.3
apricots -3 10 48 -0.4
raspberries -3 4 52 -0.4
peaches -3 8 39 -0.4
grapefruit -3 8 33 -0.4
mulberries -3 9 43 -0.5
boysenberries -3 8 50 -0.5
strawberries -3 4 32 -0.5
nectarines -3 9 44 -0.5

diabetic friendly nutrient dense vegan foods

While the foods listed above would represent a significant dietary improvement for most people, those who are insulin resistant may struggle to keep their blood glucose levels stable if they eat too much non-fibre carbohydrate that can be found in plant based foods (e.g. bread, sweet potato, quinoa, rice, beans or spaghetti).

It is hard to get too many calories and / or spike your glucose levels if you restrict yourself to vegetables like celery, broccoli and spinach.

The problem comes if you are still hungry after you have eaten your fill of non-starchy veggies and are not wanting to lose more weight.  People using a plant based approach may end up filling up on energy dense higher carbohydrate foods which are more likely to raise their blood glucose and insulin levels.

As shown in the chart below, our insulin response to food is only partially explained by the quantity of carbohydrates in our food.


The analysis of the food insulin index data indicates that our insulin response is also influenced by the fibre and the protein in the foods we eat.


We can use the formula below to estimate the amount of insulin that our food will require as shown by the formula below.  Foods with a lower insulin load will enable your pancreas to keep up with demand and maintain normal blood glucose levels without the ‘blood glucose roller coaster’.

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

The higher fat foods actually have a lower nutrient density than the most nutrient dense vegetarian foods listed above.  Ideally in time someone with insulin resistance would be able to restore their insulin sensitivity through eating nutrient dense, low insulin load foods along with perhaps intermittent fasting and exercise.  However, in the meantime the lower insulin load foods will enable you to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

The list of foods below is prioritised by both nutrient density and the proportion of insulinogenic calories.  These foods will provide high levels of nutrition while also being gentle on your blood glucose levels with lower levels of insulin required.


The vegetables in this list have a lower percentage of insulinogenic calories, lower amounts of net carbohydrates and a low energy density and therefore will have a minimal impact on blood glucose levels.   While the percentage of insulinogenic calories is often high, the net carbohydrates is low so the effect on blood glucose will be minimal.

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
curry powder 2 14 325 1.5
alfalfa 9 1 23 1.5
endive 8 1 17 1.3
poppy seeds -2 23 525 1.3
chicory greens 5 2 23 1.3
escarole 6 1 19 1.2
paprika 3 26 282 1.1
mustard seed 3 37 508 1.1
caraway seed -0 28 333 1.0
coriander 2 2 23 1.0
nutmeg -8 32 525 0.9
sage -5 26 315 0.9
mace -8 34 475 0.8
beet greens 3 2 22 0.8
marjoram -6 27 271 0.7
collards 3 4 33 0.7
eggplant -0 3 25 0.7
cloves -0 35 274 0.7
zucchini 6 2 17 0.7
thyme -2 31 276 0.7
banana pepper -2 3 27 0.6
edamame 5 13 121 0.6
jalapeno peppers -1 3 27 0.6
mustard greens -2 3 27 0.6
cinnamon -5 30 247 0.6
turnip greens 8 4 29 0.6
spinach 13 4 23 0.6
sauerkraut -1 2 19 0.6
pickles -1 1 12 0.6
cucumber -1 1 12 0.6
chayote 0 3 24 0.5
basil 9 3 23 0.5
red peppers -1 3 31 0.5
asparagus 11 3 22 0.5
radishes -1 2 16 0.4
cumin -6 44 375 0.4
summer squash 3 2 19 0.4
dill seed -3 43 305 0.4
parsley 5 5 36 0.4
chard 9 3 19 0.4
chives 5 4 30 0.4
arugula 0 3 25 0.4
lettuce 6 2 15 0.4
soybeans (sprouted) 5 12 81 0.4
cauliflower 6 4 25 0.3
portabella mushrooms 11 5 29 0.3
okra 4 3 22 0.3
Chinese cabbage 8 2 12 0.3
Brussel sprouts 1 6 42 0.2
carrots -1 5 37 0.2
celery 2 3 18 0.2
turnips -0 3 21 0.2
artichokes -2 7 47 0.2
shiitake mushroom 7 7 39 0.1
watercress 17 2 11 0.1
dandelion greens -1 7 45 0.0
cabbage 0 4 23 0.0
celery flakes -4 42 319 -0.0
red cabbage -3 5 29 -0.0
white mushroom 11 5 22 -0.1
snap beans 1 3 15 -0.1
bay leaf -7 53 313 -0.1
bamboo shoots 4 5 27 -0.1
rhubarb -4 3 21 -0.1
pepper -2 47 251 -0.1
kale 1 5 28 -0.1
yeast extract spread -2 27 185 -0.2
carrots 1 4 23 -0.2
spirulina 13 6 26 -0.2
peas 5 7 42 -0.2
turnips -3 4 22 -0.3
turmeric -2 52 312 -0.3
radicchio 4 4 23 -0.3
onions -0 6 32 -0.3
carrots -1 7 41 -0.3
potatoes -4 26 158 -0.4

nuts and seeds seeds

Nuts and seeds have a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories as well as being lower in net carbs which makes them diabetic friendly.  They do have a considerably higher energy density and hence, unlike the veggies, it is possible to overeat nuts and seeds if you’re keeping an eye on your weight.

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
brazil nuts -1 16 659 1.6
pecans -6 12 691 1.6
macadamia nuts -7 12 718 1.6
sesame seeds -3 17 631 1.5
sunflower seeds 3 22 546 1.5
hazelnuts -4 17 629 1.5
coconut milk -6 5 230 1.5
coconut cream -7 7 330 1.5
flax seed -3 16 534 1.5
coconut meat -7 9 354 1.5
walnuts -1 22 619 1.5
pine nuts -4 21 673 1.5
almonds -3 25 607 1.4
almond butter -2 26 614 1.3
butternuts -3 28 612 1.3
pumpkin seeds -0 29 559 1.3
sesame butter -4 33 586 1.1
pistachio nuts -3 34 569 1.1
cashews -4 40 580 0.9
coconut -7 39 443 0.6
gingko nuts -6 15 111 -0.0
coconut water -3 3 19 -0.4


The list of diabetic friendly fruits with a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories ends up being quite short.  Some of these fruits will raise your blood glucose levels if you eat enough of them.  So if you are particularly insulin resistant then you will want to limit your quantity of fruit or stick to the lower insulin load fruits (e.g. olives and avocados rather than mango).

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
olives -6 1 145 1.7
avocado -4 3 160 1.6
blackberries -4 3 43 0.9
raspberries -4 4 52 0.8
strawberries -4 4 32 0.1
apples -7 7 52 0.0
gooseberries -6 6 44 -0.0
carambola -1 5 31 -0.0
kiwifruit -3 9 61 -0.1
boysenberries -5 8 50 -0.1
passionfruit -7 14 97 -0.1
apples -7 7 48 -0.1
pears -7 7 50 -0.1
blueberries -6 9 57 -0.2
blueberries -7 14 88 -0.3
watermelon -5 5 30 -0.3
cherries -7 9 50 -0.4
mango -5 11 60 -0.4
cranberries -3 8 46 -0.4


These legumes have a lower proportion of insulinogenic calories and lower carbohydrates, however there may still be some impact on blood glucose with the moderate levels of carbohydrates, so you may want to keep an eye on your blood glucose levels when you try these foods to see how you react to them.

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
tofu 9 8 83 1.1
peanuts -3 29 599 0.5
natto 2 22 211 0.5
soybeans 3 49 446 0.5
peanut butter -4 27 593 0.4
lupin seeds 1 50 371 0.2
miso -1 25 198 0.1
lentils 1 19 116 -0.0
navy beans 0 22 140 -0.0
broad beans 0 54 341 -0.1
hummus -4 20 177 -0.1
peas -0 57 352 -0.1
chick peas -2 27 164 -0.2
kidney beans -0 63 337 -0.3
black beans -1 63 341 -0.3
cowpeas 1 68 336 -0.4
garbanzo beans -2 67 378 -0.4
pinto beans -1 64 347 -0.4

what about pescetarian, lacto, ovo options?

In the development of this article I spoke with Barry Erdman who runs the Vegetarian Low Carb Diabetic Healthy Diet Society Facebook group.

Barry has been a strict vegetarian since 1970 and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes nine years ago.  Barry maintained a nutrient dense plant based diet after his diagnosis, however found that he needed to incorporate dairy, eggs and some oils (e.g. MCT, coconut) into his vegetarian diet in order to achieve acceptable blood glucose control.  Barry told me that when he lost 30 lbs when he switched from a vegetarian diet to a LCHF keto lacto ovo vegetarian diet eliminating all grains, bad oils and fruit (except berries).

Barry also came to the conclusion that he would need to incorporate some fish oil into his diet in order to provide adequate levels of essential fatty acids which are not available in significant quantities in plant based products.

Barry asked me to have a look at how a lacto, ovo, pescitarian diet would stack up against the straight vegan approach.  So listed below are the most nutrient dense lacto (dairy), ovo (eggs), and pescetarian (seafood) diabetic friendly foods.


For those who are interested in adding eggs or seafood I have listed them based on their nutrient density and proportion of insulinogenic calories.

eggs and dairy

food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
butter -6 3 718 1.7
cream -5 5 340 1.6
egg yolk 5 12 275 1.5
cream cheese -4 10 350 1.4
sour cream -4 6 198 1.4
limburger cheese -2 15 327 1.2
cheddar cheese -2 20 410 1.2
camembert -2 16 300 1.2
whole egg 5 10 143 1.2
blue cheese -2 19 353 1.1
Monterey cheese -2 19 373 1.1
muenster cheese -2 19 368 1.1
brie -3 16 334 1.1
Swiss cheese -1 22 393 1.1
gruyere cheese -1 23 413 1.1
feta cheese -1 15 264 1.1
Colby -3 20 394 1.1
edam cheese -2 21 357 1.1
goat cheese -3 14 264 1.1
gouda cheese -2 21 356 1.1
ricotta -3 12 174 0.9
sour cream (light) -4 9 136 0.9
mozzarella -0 26 304 0.8
parmesan cheese -2 35 420 0.7
Greek yogurt -2 9 97 0.6
milk (full fat) -1 7 64 0.4


food ND insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
mackerel 2 10 305 1.6
caviar 8 23 264 1.1
cisco 4 13 177 1.1
sardine 6 19 208 0.9
herring 5 19 217 0.9
fish roe 12 18 143 0.8
trout 10 18 168 0.8
anchovy 8 22 210 0.8
sturgeon 10 16 135 0.7
salmon 11 20 156 0.6
tuna 5 23 184 0.4
oyster 10 14 102 0.3
flounder 9 12 86 0.3
halibut 11 17 111 0.1
crayfish 12 13 82 0.1
perch 8 14 96 0.1
crab 14 14 83 0.1
rockfish 9 17 109 0.0

macronutrient comparison

The image below shows a comparison of the macronutrients of these different approaches compared to the average of all of the foods in the USDA foods database.

The nutrient dense vegan approach will provide a lot of of fibre which will make these foods very filling and hard to overeat, however perhaps not particularly diabetes friendly.

The diabetes friendly approach has more protein and only 30% net carbohydrates so it will have are more gentle effect on blood glucose levels.

With higher levels of fat from fish, dairy and eggs, the pescetarian approach is 40% fat which will be more gentle on the blood glucose levels of someone with diabetes.

2017-02-26 (10).png

comparison of essential micronutrients

This chart shows the nutrients provided by the vegan approach compared to the average of all the foods in the USDA database.  We get a lot of vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin A but no omega 3 fatty acids and lower quantities of vitamin B-12.

2017-02-26 (12).png

This chart shows the nutrients contained in the diabetes friendly vegan approach.  While this approach has more fat and less carbohydrates the nutrient density is lower overall.

2017-02-26 (14).png

This chart shows the nutrient density of the pescetarian approach which is higher overall.

2017-02-26 (15).png


So in summary, there are some great nutrient dense options for people with diabetes who choose to follow a plant based dietary approach.  Supplementing a plant based diet with some seafood will provide essential fatty acids and boost protein levels.

more information

If you’re interested in learning more about the nutrient density ranking system check out:

other approaches

The table below contains links to separate blog posts and printable .pdfs detailing optimal foods for a range of dietary approaches (sorted from most to least nutrient dense) that may be of interest depending on your situation and goals.   You can print them out to stick to your fridge or take on your next shopping expedition for some inspiration.

dietary approach printable .pdf
weight loss (insulin sensitive) download
autoimmune (nutrient dense) download
alkaline foods download
nutrient dense bulking download
nutrient dense (maintenance) download
weight loss (insulin resistant) download
autoimmune (diabetes friendly) download
zero carb download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download
vegan (nutrient dense) download
vegan (diabetic friendly) download
therapeutic ketosis download
avoid download

If you’re not sure which approach is right for you and whether you are insulin resistant, this survey may help identify the optimal dietary approach for you.


optimal foods for different goals

A number of attempts have been made to rank foods based on their nutrient density or some other measure.

Useful parameters that can be used to optimal foods for different goals include:

  • nutrient density / calorie,
  • nutrient density / cost,
  • nutrient density / weight,
  • fibre / calorie,
  • fibre / weight,
  • calorie / weight,
  • cost / calorie, and
  • percentage insulinogenic calories.

This article details a new system that combines these parameters to identify optimal foods for different goals such as:

  • weight loss,
  • diabetes and nutritional ketosis,
  • therapeutic ketosis, and
  • athletes and the metabolically healthy.

My hope is that all this number crunching will help take the some of the guess work and ambiguity out of nutrition.

If we agree that we should focus on nutrient dense foods that don’t overload our pancreas’s ability produce adequate insulin, then we can move closer to agreeing which foods are optimal for an individual’s individual needs.

If you want to skip the detail, the end result of is a number of simple lists of optimal foods for different goals that you can access via the links below. If you want more detail then read on.

goal blog cheat sheet detailed list
therapeutic ketosis visit download download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis visit download download
fat loss visit download download
athletes and metabolically healthy visit download download

Firstly let’s take a look at a number of approaches that have previously been used to rank and prioritise foods.

low carbohydrate diets

As popularized by Dr Robert Atkins, limiting carbohydrates is a simple way to prioritise foods to reduce insulin demand.

By restricting carbohydrates intake, a range of foods are excluded, particularly those that are highly processed and contain added sugars.

While a low carb approach will reduce the insulin load of our food, no specific consideration is given to nutrient density or food quality.


Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)

In contrast to Akins’ approach, Joel Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)[1] ranks foods based on micronutrients per calorie.[2]

I think there is an element of genius to Fuhrman’s nutrient density ranking system.  However when you look in the detail you find it is based on a select range of vitamins and minerals without any consideration of beneficial amino acids or fatty acids.

Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach has come under criticism for excluding a number of essential nutrients and placing extra emphasis on more fringe measures such as “oxygen radical absorbance capacity”.


To determine the ANDI scores, an equal-calorie serving of each food was evaluated. The following nutrients were included in the evaluation: fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, beta carotene, alpha carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin K, phytosterols, glucosinolates, angiogenesis inhibitors, organosulfides, aromatase inhibitors, resistant starch, resveratrol plus ORAC score.

While claiming to be “evidence driven”, without the inclusion of amino acids or fatty acids Fuhrman’s “nutritarian” approach ends up being heavily biased towards plant based foods.[3]   

Another issue with Furhman’s ANDI is that it can be skewed by a single nutrient present in very high quantities. For example, kale ranks at the top of Furhman’s list primarily due to its massive amount of Vitamin K.  Unfortunately, a mega dose of Vitamin K, which is a fat soluble vitamin, may have limited use by itself.  Rather than finding foods that are high in one nutrient it would be ideal to identify foods that were high in a broad range of nutrients.

Ranking foods in terms of nutrient density per calorie also tends to prioritise leafy veggies, which is great if you are trying to lose weight but not ideal if you’re an athlete trying to fuel up for an intense workout on kale and watercress.

While I think most people would benefit from consuming more green leafy vegetables, in the long term I think they will also benefit from foods with adequate protein protein and beneficial fatty acids.

In the short term someone who is obese has plenty of excess fatty acids and amino acids to spare so they will likely feel great as they are losing weight, however as their weight loss slows and they stop feasting off their own protein and fat the benefits of the a very low fat, very low protein approach may diminish.


Professor Dr David Katz and an auspicious group of friends have developed the NuVal[4] food ranking system which uses the following sixteen positive ‘numerator nutrients’ to compare and rank common foods:

  • Fibre
  • Folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • total bioflavonoids
  • total carotenoids
  • Magnesium
  • Iron


The sum of the ‘numerator nutrients’ is divided by the sum of the ‘denominator nutrients’ listed below to calculate a score of between one and one hundred:

  • saturated fat
  • trans fat
  • sodium
  • sugar
  • cholesterol


The NuVal system also considers the following ‘additional entries’:

  • protein quality
  • fat quality
  • glycemic load
  • energy density

It’s interesting to note the foods to which it gives a score of 100 including:

  • non-fat skim milk,
  • sweet potato,
  • tomatoes,
  • beans,
  • bananas,
  • blueberries,
  • mango, and
  • wheat bran.

While the stated goal of the NuVal system is to combat diabetes, the food insulin index[5] shows that many of these foods will be problematic for a diabetic trying to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Some of the more puzzling scores thrown up by the system include:

  • shrimp – 40
  • lobster – 60
  • coconut – 24
  • chicken – 57
  • beef – 46

Other concerns with the NuVal system include:

  • Because it biases heavily against saturated fat, some diabetic friendly foods like beef and coconut are further down the list.
  • The number of foods analysed is fairly limited.
  • Only sixteen vitamins and minerals are included in the analysis.
  • Dietary cholesterol is penalised by the NuVal system although dietary cholesterol does not necessarily lead to cholesterol in the blood or heart disease.
  • The NuVal algorithm has been calibrated to fit the views of the panel of experts, hence it is likely that it will simply reinforce previously held views.
  • Considering added sugar and the glycemic index are a good start, however I think using the food insulin index would be more useful as it is a better measure of the actual amount of glucose being metabolised.

Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet Roadmap

Dave Asprey has developed the Bulletproof Diet Infographic[6] which is a simple ranking of foods to avoid, and preference based on both nutritional density and toxins.


While I think Asprey’s ranking system is excellent, the downside is that it features only a select range of foods and does not explain why each of the foods has been given a particular ranking, although there is a good discussion of the toxins and various other considerations in his Bulletproof Diet Book.[7]

Asprey’s list also doesn’t differentiate between what would be most appropriate for someone with diabetes versus an athlete, or someone aiming for therapeutic ketosis or wanting to lose weight.


Another noteworthy foray into the realm of optimising nutrition is Rob Reinhardt’s Soylent.[8]

Reinhardt set out to produce a manufactured food that ticked off all of the micronutrient Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) values, while reducing the cost and the hassle of food preparation.

While Reinhardt notes that his creation would be healthier than the ramen noodles that he was living on before creating Soylent[9], there are a number of downsides to this food replacement which is basically a protein shake on steroids.

Using manufactured foods leaves you exposed to not getting all of the non-essential micronutrients or even the beneficial nutrients that haven’t made it to the current list.  Eating real whole foods seems to be a safer option to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Mat Lalonde’s nutrient density

After reviewing the various options available and finding them lacking, Dr Mathieu Lalonde developed an excellent ranking of foods based on nutrient density per weight of food using the USDA food database.[11]

Lalonde also included a broader range of nutrients than Fuhrman or Katz by also considering beneficial amino acids and fatty acids.

This analysis identified organ meats as one of the more nutritious foods, followed by herbs and spices, nuts and seeds.


In this video of his AHS2012 presentation Lalonde noted that people wanting to lose weight may wish to prioritise in terms of nutrient density per calorie, however he chose to analyse nutrient density in terms of weight as that might be more relevant for athletes (Lalonde is a CrossFit athlete as well as a biochemist). [12]

After watching this video and hearing about his quantitative approach to nutrient density I was left excited, yet a little unsatisfied, wondering what the ranking might look like in terms of nutrient density / calories.

fibre per calorie

One of the more interesting concepts in the area of nutrition recently is that what you eat could affect your gut bacteria.

Typical daily fibre intake is around 17g for those of us in western civilisation compared to the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 25 to 30g per day.[17]

It is said that African hunter gatherer children obtain more than 150g of fibre per day from eating unprocessed foods in their natural state[18], and before the invention of fire and cooking our ancestors were eating more than 100g of fibre per day.[19]

Fibre is not digestible by the human gut and hence it does not provide energy or cause a rise in blood sugar or insulin.  Fibre in our food neutralises the insulinogenic effect of carbohydrate.[20]

If we rank for fibre per calorie we end up with a few spices such as cinnamon, curry powder, or cocoa at the top of the list along with veggies such as turnip, artichoke, sauerkraut, and cauliflower.

  1. cinnamon
  2. turnip greens
  3. artichoke
  4. curry powder
  5. sauerkraut
  6. cauliflower
  7. raspberries
  8. lettuce
  9. blackberries
  10. lemon peel

Again, this list is interesting, but not something you can live by.  Somehow we need to combine all these approaches to arrive at a more useful list that balances all of these considerations.

what are the “essential nutrients”?

So after reviewing these ranking systems I thought it would be interesting to design my own that would build on these previous approaches as well as considering the insulin response to food to make it more useful for people with diabetes.

The obvious starting point is to agree on the nutrients that should be included.  Listed below are the commonly accepted list of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.[21]


  1. Choline
  2. Thiamine
  3. Riboflavin
  4. Niacin
  5. Pantothenic acid
  6. Vitamin A
  7. Vitamin B12
  8. Vitamin B6
  9. Vitamin C
  10. Vitamin D
  11. Vitamin E
  12. Vitamin K


  1. Calcium
  2. Copper
  3. Iron
  4. Magnesium
  5. Manganese
  6. Phosphorus
  7. Potassium
  8. Selenium
  9. Sodium
  10. Zinc

amino acids

  1. Cysteine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Phenylalanine
  6. Threonine
  7. Tryptophan
  8. Tyrosine
  9. Valine
  10. Methionine
  11. Histidine

fatty acids

The list of essential and conditionally essential fatty acids is shorter than the other lists and is largely made up of omega 3 fats that the human body cannot manufacture in sufficient quantities. We need to go out of our way to incorporate these into our diet.

  1. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22:6 n-3)
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (20:5 n-3)
  3. Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) (22:5 n-3)
  4. Alpha-linolenic acid (18:3 n-3)

Given that a large part of my focus is to create a system that prioritises diabetic-friendly foods, I thought it would be good to give some more detailed consideration to other ‘good fats’, given that fat typically comprises more than half of the calories for someone following a reduced carbohydrate approach.  Listed below are the additional fatty acids that research shows to be beneficial.

  1. Arachidonic acid (20:4)
  2. Oleic acid (18:1)
  3. Lauric acid (12:0)
  4. Capric acid (10:0)
  5. Pentadecanoic acid (15:0)
  6. Margaric acid (17:0)

You can read more on the reason for inclusion of these additional good fats the Good Fats, Bad Fats article.

nutrient density score

Building on Joel Fuhrman and Matt Lalonde’s nutrient density approach, the nutrient score score is a relative score calculated by comparing the amount of a particular nutrient in each food against all of the foods.

For example, if a particular food has an average amount of Vitamin C compared to the 8,000 other foods in the database it will get a score of zero because it is zero standard deviations from the mean.  If it has a large amount of a certain nutrient then it will receive a high score.

If the amount that a particular nutrient is two standard deviations from the mean then it will get a score of two for that nutrient.  If however it is five standard deviations from the mean it gets a maximum score of three in order to avoid prioritising foods that have massive amounts of one single nutrient versus foods that have solid amounts of a range of essential nutrients.


One example of where this limitation comes into play is kale, which has a massive amount of Vitamin K versus spinach which has a high amount of Vitamin K but also has a range of other nutrients.  Because of the upper limit on the score for a single nutrient the system gives a higher priority to spinach, which has a more well-rounded nutrient profile rather than simply being an overachiever in one or two nutrients.


The nutrient score for a food is the sum of the individual nutrient scores across the forty three nutrients.  The higher the score the more nutritious that food is in comparison to the other foods in the database.

Weighting one nutrient as more important than another could be useful for an individual with a particular goal or health condition (e.g. DHA for someone battling brain cancer).  However I have chosen to keep ‘clean’ to avoid arguments about bias with equal weighting given to each nutrient.[22]  This system will simply highlight foods that have a wide range and a high quantities of nutrients.

weighted multi criteria analyses

Ranking foods by an individual parameter is interesting, however it doesn’t produce a balanced list of foods that you can live by.  Where things start to get interesting is when we combine the different parameters using a multi criteria analysis to suit different goals.

As an engineer I often use a multi criteria analysis (MCA) to analyse a lot of data.  A numerical MCA is a useful way to make sense of a large amount of data and shortlist from a wide range of options.


The available parameters from the USDA foods spreadsheet are:

  • nutrient density / calorie,
  • nutrient density / weight,
  • fibre / calorie,
  • fibre / weight,
  • calorie / weight, and
  • percentage insulinogenic calories.

The table below shows the weightings given to each criteria refined to create a shortlist of foods to suit different goals.


ND / cal

ND / weight fibre / cal fibre / weight calories / weight

insulinogenic (%)

fat loss


5% 5% 5% 25%




30% 10% 5% 5%


diabetes & nutritional ketosis


20% 10% 5% 10%


therapeutic ketosis


20% 5% 5% 0%


  • Someone aiming for therapeutic ketosis will want to minimise their insulin load while maximising nutrition in the context of a very high fat diet.
  • Someone with diabetes or trying to achieve nutritional ketosis will also want to minimise their insulin load, however they should also look to maximise nutrient density and obtain adequate fibre.
  • Someone who has control of their blood glucose levels but is still trying to achieve fat loss will likely benefit from a diet with a reduced calorie density while still maximising fibre and nutrition.
  • An athlete’s primary priority will be to maximise nutrients without as much concern for calorie density or insulin load.

reality check

I have refined these weightings used in the MCA by reviewing the top 500 foods (of the 8000 foods in the USDA foods database) for each scenario.


fibre (g) 

weight (g)  % protein % net carbs % insulinogenic

% fat

fat loss


1614 29% 13% 33%




436 26% 12% 31%


diabetes & nutritional ketosis


413 30% 4% 21%


therapeutic ketosis


357 14% 3% 14%


average all foods


899 26% 38% 52%


It’s interesting to see that the net carbohydrates ends up being relatively low for all scenarios when we maximise nutrient density.  It appears that starchy carbs (e.g. grains and sugars) have a relatively low nutrient density compared to other available foods.


The big differentiator across the approaches is calorie density.  If someone has stabilised their blood glucose and insulin levels then the next step in the journey may be to decrease calorie density to naturally manage food intake.  The fat loss approach is slightly more insulinogenic however practically it will be difficult to fit in all the food.

the results

While this process is somewhat convoluted the end result is a fairly simple list of foods that are ideal for different goals.  I have included a shortlist of the highest ranking foods on the blog here along with ‘cheat sheets’ that you can print and stick to your fridge or compile your food lists from.

It’s been great to see many people benefit from focusing these shortlists.  If you’re inquisitive and like to ‘peek under the hood’ I have also included links to a more detailed list that shows the basis of the rankings for each food.

goal blog cheat sheet detailed list
therapeutic ketosis visit download download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis visit download download
fat loss visit download download
athletes and metabolically healthy visit download download


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

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

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

[4] https://www.nuval.com/

[5] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/the-insulin-index/

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

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

[8] https://www.soylent.com/

[9] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/12/the-end-of-food

[10] http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424

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

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

[13] http://solvingnutrition.com/engineering-the-cheapest-and-healthiest-diet-on-a-budget/

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

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

[16] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/

[17] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/dietary-fibre

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

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

[20] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/what-about-fibre-net-carbs-or-total-carbs/

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

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

Atkins versus the vegans

Dr Fung also noted that the Atkins approach often doesn’t work over the long term because things other than carbohydrates require insulin.

The food insulin index data demonstrates that a number of high protein foods such as steak, cheddar cheese, white fish and tuna cause a significant insulin response even though they contain minimal carbohydrate.


The irony of low carbers eating protein to avoid carbs to minimise insulin secretion although the insulin index data shows that protein foods cause a significant insulin effect has not been lost on the vegan community as shown in this thought provoking video below.

In response to this, Gary Taubes has acknowledged that protein does stimulate insulin, however has stated that

“the assumption has always been that this effect is small compared to that of carbohydrates, and that it is muted because protein takes considerably longer to digest.”

Is protein a significant issue an issue for people trying to control blood sugar and reduce the insulinogenic load of their food?

Does the fact that protein takes longer to digest mean that the insulin secreted in response to protein doesn’t matter?

Perhaps the food insulin index data can help us find the answer.

[next article…  how much insulin is required to cover protein?]

[this post is part of the insulin index series]

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

diet wars… which one is optimal?

  • This article summarizes the  analysis of a range of dietary approaches to:
    • understand whether a high fat diet can provide optimal nutrition, and
    • to identify common factors across a range of healthy dietary approaches.
  • The table below shows the macronutrient split of the approaches evaluated.  They are sorted by the total score for each of the dietary approaches based on insulin load, vitamins and minerals and protein of each.

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  • The chart below shows the total score for the approaches graphically, sorted from highest to lowest ranking, left to right and the contribution of each of the components that make up the total score (insulin load, vitamins and minerals, and protein).


  • The highest ranking approaches involve organ meats.  If you’re not into liver then non-starchy vegetables are your next best option to maximise nutrients while keeping the insulin load low.
  • The extreme high fat approach (3% carbs from spinach and 10% protein) does not provide optimal levels of vitamins and minerals. This style of approach may be useful for more extreme therapeutic treatments for epilepsy, Parkinsons, or cancer, however supplementation may be required if this were used over the long term.
  • A diet with 80% calories from fat and 7% of calories from carbohydrates can meet most of the recommended daily intake values for vitamins and minerals.
  • A diet with 75% fat and 10% carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables can achieve an optimal balance between vitamins and minerals and insulin load.
  • The fruitarian and budget grains approaches both scored poorly across the board.
  • Dietary approaches without animal products struggle to provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
  • Optimal nutrition can be provided using a range of macronutrient profiles. When we consider the insulin load, nutrients and protein quality, the highest scoring dietary approaches use between 50 to 80% fat, 13 to 34% protein and 7 to 16% carbohydrates.  Within this window we can then refine the diet based on the goals of the individual whether they be weight loss, blood sugar control / ketosis or athletic performance.

[download printable .pdf version]

standard advice for diabetics

When my wife was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at ten she was advised to eat at least 130g of carbohydrates with every meal.  The insulin dose was kept fixed to cover this amount of carbohydrates.  Then if she went low she had to eat more carbs to raise her blood sugars.

Welcome to the everyday blood sugar roller coaster that takes over your life as a diabetic!


It wasn’t till after we got married and started thinking about having kids that we were able to find doctor with an interest in diabetes who told her that she could tailor her insulin dose to what she wanted to eat (i.e. carb counting).  Though the advice was that diabetics shouldn’t have to deprive themselves of anything they wanted, and that they should eat like everyone else, a diet full of “healthy whole grains”.

During her pregnancies we’d go to see the endocrinologists at the hospital who would look at her blood sugars and tell her that they should be lower.  We’d ask how to achieve this but they would have no useful response.  It wasn’t until we discovered Paleo and then low carb through family members and social media that she found that she could improve blood sugar control through diet.

More recently by refining our diet to prioritise low insulinogenic, high fibre and high nutrient density foods I’m pleased to say that she’s been able to find another level of improved blood sugar control, increased energy and reduced depression and anxiety that so often comes with blood sugar dysregulation.

She’s now able to enjoy working as a teacher rather than just getting through the morning and needing to sleep the afternoon before picking up the kids.  Her only regret is that she didn’t discover this earlier so she didn’t have to spend decades living in a fog with limited energy.

For the general population nutrition isn’t such a big deal, but for diabetics and their carers it is a matter of life and death, or at least a decision that will greatly affect their health and length of life.

In order to understand whether there is any basis to the claim that a low carbohydrate diet cannot provide adequate nutrition I have undertaken a nutritional analysis of a range of possible diets.   A handful of these are profiled below.

ranking system

In the last article we looked at how we could use a combination of the following parameters to compare meals:

  1. insulinogenic load,
  2. nutritional completeness (vitamins and minerals), and
  3. amino acid sufficiency (protein).

This same approach has been used to compare a range of dietary approaches.  Each daily meal plan was normalised to a 2000 calorie per day diet.

Where not following a present meal plan I designed the daily meals using the highest ranking food using the food ranking system and adjusted the quantities to suit the target macronutrients.

high fat, low carb, extreme ketogenic

Steve Phinney talks about a “well formulated ketogenic diet” (WFKD) window [1] in his comparison with other dietary approaches.   In this scenario I designed an extreme ketogenic diet to minimise insulin demand and maximise ketosis with 3% carbs and 10% protein.


Low carb darlings bacon and eggs provide the 10% allowable protein.  In an effort to maximise the vitamins and minerals within the available macronutrient constraints I have used 200g of nutrient dense high fibre spinach to fill out the 3% carbs.  Then 60ml of coconut cream in 2 coffees and the rest split across 60g of equal parts cream, coconut cream and olive oil.

The analysis below form NutritionData shows that we get a good range of amino acids from the bacon and eggs, adequate fatty acids, no harmful transfats, and very low glycemic load.  This diet provides good amounts of selenium, choline and niacin, however the nutritional completeness score is low at only 38 with less than optimum levels of a wide range of other vitamins and minerals.  If we were to substitute the bacon and eggs with chicken liver we are able to achieve an improved nutritional completeness (from a score of 38 to 53).


We can get good level of amino acids from an extreme end ketogenic diet, particularly if we are selective with our choices of meats.  However the vitamins and minerals obtained from food are less than optimal compared to other approaches that allow more vegetables.  The detailed nutritional analysis of this dietary approach shows that with only 3% carbs coming from 200g of spinach we are not meeting a handful of the RDI daily targets for vitamins and minerals.  Someone on this style of diet should consider taking a supplements to cover off on these deficiencies.


not so extreme ketogenic

So if a diet made up of 3% carbs from spinach and 87% fat from bacon, butter and cream won’t provide meet our daily dietary requirements for vitamins then how what level of carbohydrates is required to meet the recommended daily intake levels and what level is required to achieve optimal nutrition?

The nutrition analysis shows the results if we drop the fats slightly and the carbs to 7% using a head of broccoli and 500 grams of spinach.

The nutritional analysis below shows that we could achieve the RDI daily values for most of the vitamins and minerals with an 80% fat diet and only 2000 calories per day.


The analysis below takes this a little further so we are getting 75% of calories from fat.  At this point we are getting excellent nutrient and protein scores and well exceeding the RDI for vitamins and minerals.



Wahls’ Paleo Plus

By following a highly nutrient dense ketogenic diet Dr Terry Wahls claims to have reversed her Multiple Sclerosis [2] and is undertaking experiments to verify that this high nutrient density approach works for others with Multiple Sclerosis.

The aim of the Wahls Paleo Plus, as detailed in The Wahls Protocol[3] is to achieve nutritional ketosis, [4] while maximising nutrients as far as possible with non-starchy vegetables as well as coconut oil, coconut cream and MCT oil which help facilitate nutritional ketosis which a higher level of carbohydrates.

Whals’ approach aims to not just meet but exceed the nutrient recommended nutrient intake levels as shown in the comparison of both the Wahls Diet and the typical US diet against the recommended daily intake for a range of key vitamins below.


While supplements can still be useful, it is ideal to obtain all your nutrients from real food as they are usually better absorbed in their natural form and with fats (fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K) than in tablets and isolation.  Eating real food also ensures you get a wide range of nutrients that can be found in plants in nature rather than just the limited number of vitamins and minerals on the recommended daily allowance checklist.

The daily diet shown below is taken from one of the daily diet plans in the Wahls Paleo Plus meal plan approach in The Wahls Protocol[5]


As shown below this diet scenario achieves an excellent nutritional completeness score.  Although the carbohydrate count is moderately high at 18% of calories the fibre is also high at 37g which mitigates the insulinogenic effects of many of the carbohydrates.  Whals also uses generous helpings of MCT oil and coconut oil to make sure the diet is ketogenic while still supplying high amounts of fibre and nutrition.

This dietary approach is excellent if you are willing to put in the effort.  Dr Wahls’ dietary approach brings together the best of low carbohydrate / low insulin thinking with the learnings from the Paleo template which emphasises eating food that could be found in nature before the advent of agriculture.


Bulletproof diet

Dave Asprey’s approach to “Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting” has become  popular as it provides many of the benefits of intermittent fasting without the same intensity of hunger [6].

Asprey notes that this is ideal for someone with a normal life and a day job (e.g. someone who is not a professional bodybuilder) who doesn’t want to be distracted by hunger pangs through the morning. [7]

While the high fat breakfast does not provide a broad range of nutrients by itself, the Bulletproof Diet [8] aims to maximise nutrients through the use of real food at lunch and dinner.

Bulletproof Coffee provides your body with a holiday from insulin for a large portion of the day which is a good thing if you follow it up with highly nutritious meals when you do eat.

This diet scenario aims to be ketogenic while achieving a good nutrient profile using real food during the rest of the day.  For the meals other than breakfast I have picked nutrient dense high fat foods in line with Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet, including chicken liver at dinner. [9]

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The analysis demonstrates that you can get adequate nutrition while fasting in the morning or using fatty coffee or tea, particularly if you use nutrient dense foods through the rest of the day.


Atkins Diet

The modern low carbohydrate diet movement basically instigated by Dr Robert Atkins who recommended reducing carbohydrates to achieve weight loss.

The Atkins approach involves using a low carb induction phase (i.e. max 30g of carbs) and then slowly increasing the carbohydrates once weight loss is achieved and insulin sensitivity restored.  No restrictions are put on protein, and vegetables are not emphasised as much as with the more recent Paleo and LCHF movement.

The meal plan below is from the Everything Atkins website. [10]   It has high protein levels at 32% and low end fibre at only 9g per day.  While the aim of this approach is to keep insulin levels low the high protein and low fibre values of this approach end up generating quite high levels of insulin and not be ideal if your goal is weight loss.



Dr Bernstein’s diabetes diet

This approach follows the guidelines set out in his book Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution[11]

Eighty one year old Dr Richard Bernstein is himself a type 1 diabetic and diabetics who are disciplined enough to follow his diet swear by it and achieve excellent results.

Bernstein was an engineer and was one of the first people to obtain a blood glucose metre to test his own blood sugars.  He soon realised that carbohydrate containing foods raised his blood sugar and went on to experiment and work out how much a certain amount of carbohydrate containing foods raised his blood sugar and how much insulin it took to lower his blood sugars.  He wrote up his methodology but was unable to get it published, being told that there was no value for diabetics obtaining normal blood sugars. [12]

Bernstein went on to study medicine in order to get people to recognise his ideas.  “Dr B” as he is affectionately known by his disciples, is the father of carbohydrate counting for type 1 diabetics.



Bernstein’s general advice is to eat a diet that contains no more than 30g carbs per day (i.e. 6g at breakfast, 12 at lunch and 12g at dinner).   Protein levels are based on the patient’s need to gain or lose weight. [13]   This gives a good nutrient score, an excellent amino acid score and a relatively low insulin load.

By following this approach type 1 diabetics are able to achieve better blood sugar control by having smaller inputs and thus smaller errors in the important parameters of diabetes management such as carbohydrate intake and insulin dose.

high fibre vegetarian

Vegetarian luminary Michael Pollan famously condensed his recommendations for diet into the meme “eat food, mostly plants, and not too much.”  I’ve try to maximise nutrition and minimise insulin demand by selecting nutrient dense high fibre vegetables based on the ranking system discussed above.

I’ve used mung beans, spinach, lentils and Brussel sprouts to achieve adequate protein while still being vegetarian.  Without the lentils it was hard to get enough energy into the diet to meet the 2000 kcal / day requirement.  This approach requires you to eat more than 4kg of food to get adequate calories and in the process you get 143g of fibre!


The nutritional analysis below shows that we get an extremely high level of nutrients overall with the highest vitamin and mineral score of all of the scenarios of 94, however there is no vitamin D, B, saturated far or Choline which is typically obtained from animal products.

On the amino acid score we have a range of the basic amino acids from the plant proteins although not as much as with dietary approaches that contain animal products.   The glycemic load is also high however the percentage of insulinogenic calories is still reasonably low at 27% due to the massive amounts of fibre.


This dietary approach is an extreme example of what can be achieved using high fibre vegetables without animal products.  While some people may choose to eat this way for ethical reasons it would be preferable to also add enough animal protein to cover off on the missing nutrients and amino acids.

Many people feel fantastic on a vegan style diet for a while but then stop feeling great and regress after a period of months.  It may sound macabre, but in the early stages of weight loss a person is probably getting the nutrients that are lacking in their diet from burning their own body fat and muscle protein.  As weight stabilises they will start to notice the effects of the missing vitamins, minerals and amino acids that are important for brain health.

Zone diet

The Zone Diet was published in the mid-90s by Barry Sears and aims to provide a “balanced” approach to nutrition than the recommending a macronutrient split of 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 30% protein.  While 40% carbohydrates is high in comparison to low carb and ketogenic approaches discussed above it is significantly less than the typical diet at the time it the book was published.

About five years ago I read the Zone Diet and started recording what we were eating and found that we were consuming more like 60% carbohydrates.  We found exciting results in weight loss, blood sugar control and a range of other health markers as a family by reducing our macronutrients closer to the 40:30:30 macronutrient split.

The Zone Diet approach has been used widely by the CrossFit community who are active and need to fuel their significant amounts of exercise and recovery.  I have analysed a diet plan that I found in the CrossFit Journal. [14]


The nutritional analysis shows that this diet approach has a moderate nutrient density but still has a high glycemic load.  We don’t seem to be getting any increased benefit from increasing carbohydrates or eating more fruit.  This approach might be acceptable for people who already have excellent blood sugar control and exercise a lot.


grains on a budget

This approach prioritises nutrient density per dollar and allows grains, peanuts and low fat products.   It generally aligns with the standard American / Australian Diet with its high level of “healthy whole grains”.  Breakfast is corn flakes with reduced fat milk and a coffee with sugar, lunch is a Vegemite sandwich on multi-grain bread and dinner is spaghetti with mince and cheese, with fruit for morning tea and lunch.


The nutritional analysis shows that the diet overall is lacklustre.  It has 60% carbohydrates and with only 25g of fibre while it generates the highest insulin requirement of any of the dietary approaches.

Although the diet contains a range of “hearth healthy whole grains” and fruits it is still quite low in nutrients and minerals compared to the other lower carbohydrate dietary approaches discussed above.

While this approach may be cheaper than buying fresh fruit and veggies we don’t seem to get anything special in terms of nutrition by using “heart healthy whole grains” in spite of the higher glycemic load.


Mediterranean Diet

This scenarios models the Mediterranean diet[15]   which is often recommended for people to follow by dieticians.  It uses olive oil which is a monounsaturated fat and minimises butter and steak and other foods that contain saturated fats.  While this approach is nutritious, its downfall is the high insulinogenic load and it doesn’t provide a better outcome than the lower carbohydrate approaches.



Durianrider’s fruitarian diet

In this scenario I have modelled a fruitarian diet to understand the other extreme.

Durianrider (aka Harley Johnstone) is a passionate advocate for the high carbohydrate, low fat, low protein diet.  He runs the blog 30 Bananas a Day [16] and seems to make his living from advertising revenue from YouTube videos where he aggressively critiques other people’s lifestyles and nutritional approaches.

Durianrider is also very active and does an extraordinary amount of cycling and running to burn off his nearly 7000 calories per day of fruit per day which includes:

  • 1 watermelon 20lb
  • 1/2 head of celery
  • 3000 calories of bananas – a box full
  • sultanas – approx. 1/2 cup
  • citrus – oranges, 15 lbs

This approach is very high carbohydrate with an extremely high glycaemic load.  This approach has the highest insulin demand with 71% of the calories being insulinogenic.   The amino acid profile is low compared to the other approaches, with a number of nutrients completely missing without any animal products.  In spite of the massive amount of fruit we don’t get a great result in terms of vitamins and minerals and the overall amino acids from proteins is low.

This approach is extreme, and without massive amounts of exercise to burn all the sugars from the fruits this dietary approach would quickly lead to an overloaded pancreas and type 2 diabetes.


[If you like what you’ve read here, please check out the full story.]

[Star Wars graphic from Diet Doctor]


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

[2] Dr Wahls’ “Mind Your Mitochondria” TED talk has more than two million views.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc

[3] http://www.amazon.com/The-Wahls-Protocol-Progressive-Principles/dp/1583335218

[4] It’s a little bit more painful and a little more expensive to get a blood ketone metre, but it’s an excellent way to confirm whether you’re burning fat for fuel.  See http://www.dietdoctor.com/lose-weight-by-achieving-optimal-ketosis for a concise overview of testing for your own ketones at home.

[5] http://www.amazon.com/The-Wahls-Protocol-Progressive-Principles/dp/1583335218

[6] Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat does a good job of covering the science and the benefits of intermittent fasting – http://www.eatstopeat.com/

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

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

[9] See http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0243/9705/files/Bulletproof-Diet-Infographic.pdf?8043

[10] http://www.everythingatkins.net/samplemenus.html

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

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFNGdKSXx64

[13] Bernstein’s design for a diabetic diet for type 1 diabetics is not primarily to achieve ketosis.  Ensuring that a diet has adequate protein and other nutrients is important.  Bernstein’s approach aims for a maximum of 7% of calories from carbs and adequate protein to manage growth or weight.

[14] http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/cfjissue21_May04.pdf

[15] http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/weight_loss_diet_plans/diet_meal_plans/5_day_1500_calorie_diet_meal_plan?page=3

[16] http://www.30bananasaday.com/