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What the heck are insulinogenic calories and insulin load?

Insulinogenic calories formula determines the percentage of calories in the food that could raise your insulin levels.

At the same time, insulin load formula determines the number of grams in the food that could raise your insulin levels.

This could be important if you are trying to stabilize your insulin levels or to follow a ketogenic or other low carb diets.

Traditional way of counting “insulin load”

In the keto and low carb communities people stick to carb counting. This assumption implies that only carbs significantly contribute to your insulin response. Whether it is total carbs or net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) the premise is the same.

Example:

  • 100 grams of carbs ~100g glucose
  • 100 grams of fat ~0g glucose
  • 100 grams of protein ~0g glucose

I know that we want to make things easy for people but how about making it easy and data driven.

Insulin Response To Macros

Before I dig deeper into the numbers I want to make sure that people understand the fact that anything that you eat will cause an insulin response. The real question here is how significant the response is. The significance of the response is dependant on macronutrients in the food.

100g fat ~0g glucose

Research suggests that fat causes very insignificant insulin response to the point of it being negligible.

100g carbs ~100g glucose

Carbohydrates cause a significant insulin response as show in the figure above.

100g protein ? g glucose

Now, let’s talk about protein and more specifically individual amino acids.

Amino acids are divided into 3 categories: Ketogenic, Glucogenic, and Both.

From the graph above, ketogenic aminos are not able to be converted into glucose. So, they won’t be able to significantly contribute to the insulin response.

100g ketogenic aminos 0g glucose

Essential Ketogenic Aminos:

  • Leucine
  • Lysine

On the other hand, glucogenic aminos are able to convert to glucose if required and cause a significant insulin response just like carbohydrates.

100g glucogenic aminos 100g glucose

Essential Glucogenic Aminos:

  • Histidine
  • Methionine
  • Valine

Non-essential Glucogenic Aminos:

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartate
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine

So, what is the "Both" category of aminos? The name says it all. These aminos have a potential to be converted into glucose to cause a significant insulin response if required, but they also can be converted into fatty acids and cause a negligible insulin response.

100g "both" aminos at least 50g glucose

Essential "Both" Aminos

  • Isoleucine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Tryptophan

Non-essential "Both" Aminos

  • Tyrosine

The last but not least is fiber. Fiber from whole unprocessed foods is digested by the intestinal bacteria and won't be convert into glucose. Fiber from whole foods causes very insignificant insulin response to the point of it being negligible when calculating insulin load and insulinogenic calories.

100g fiber ~0g glucose

So, based on the insulin response from macronutrients I came up with a pretty accurate formula for the insulin load and insulinogenic calories for foods and recipes.

Formula:

insulin load (grams) =
total carbs - fiber + glucogenic aminos + 0.5 * "both" aminos

insulinogenic calories =
(carbs - fiber + glucogenic aminos + 0.5 * both aminos) / total calories

I use these two formulas to also determine if any particular food is ketogenic or not. We are finally making keto data driven.

What happens when there is no information about individual amino acids?

I love USDA food database but some foods have no information about their amino acid profile. So, I needed to come up with an easier formula that relies only on grams of protein in foods.

Krebs H.A. published a chapter: Metabolic Fate of Amino Acids back in 1964. In section 6 of this chapter he talks about gluconeogenesis of protein and indicates that based on his research of casein 57g of glucose can be derived from 100g of protein. (reference)

He also references Lusk (reference) who study gluconeogenesis in dogs and arrived at 58g of glucose per 100 grams of protein from an animal.

Finally, Wilder’s (reference) ketogenic formula references 54g of glucose per 100g of protein.

Based on this research, I decided to make a fall back formula to be 56g of glucose per 100g protein.

Formula:

insulin load (grams) = carbs - fiber + 0.56 * protein

insulinogenic calories = (carbs - fiber + 0.56 * protein) / total calories

Calculate insulin load for any food here.

Find your personal insulin load here.