Data Driven Keto Diet.
Wow… I can’t believe that I am about say it.
Most people are wrong at doing a ketogenic diet.
Yes, that is right. Your long term weight loss and happiness could be compromised because you are too strict on keto and it is the only way you were taught.
What if I told you that keto is not just about keeping it under 20 grams of carbs...
Just keep it under 20 carbs...
This seems to be the first and the only rule that people trust when following a ketogenic diet.
Is it true? Let’s dig deeper into details.
Let's first start with the why...
Why do you follow a ketogenic lifestyle? Maybe you are trying to lose some weight, revert diabetes, or maybe you stop feeling cravings when you on keto.
There are plenty of reasons to follow this diet but why do so many people rip the benefits from it?
One word... INSULIN
This hormone is responsible for the regulation of you feeling full.
So, even though your primary reason of following a ketogenic diet might be to lose weight. It will be achieved by stabilizing your insulin levels and eventually consuming less food.
If most of the benefits are directly related to your insulin levels, why the hell do we pay attention only to carbohydrates?
Carb counting seems to be the main thing that low carb and ketogenic communities are concerned about. This assumes that only carbohydrates have result in a significant insulin response.
But let me give you a quick example.
You just ate a delicious steak.
Here are the macros (100 grams):
- Protein: 27.66 grams
- Fat: 8.23 grams
- Carbs: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
So, normally you would count this as 0 carbs towards your meal. But will it raise your insulin levels?
By how much, Alex?
Well, 100 grams of this steak could be an equivalent of eating 20 carbs.
So what contributes to such a big insulin response?
Hint: it is not the fat...
20 out of 28 grams of protein could be converted to glucose and cause an insulin response.
So, keeping it under 20 grams of carbs is useless if you eat a lot of protein. You will be kicked out of ketosis.
Ok, but how much protein or carbs should I consume?
Insulin Load Is The New Carb Counting
Insulin load formula measures how many grams of food cause an insulin response and can kick you out of ketosis. Basically, it is a more accurate version of “Carb counting” because it takes into account both carbohydrates and protein.
insulin load (grams) =
total carbs - fiber + glucogenic aminos + 0.5 * "both" aminos
You can read a detailed post about the formula here.
So, this begs a question... How much protein and carbs should I eat?
The answer is... It depends on your goal.
Let’s take a look at a Well Formulated Ketogenic Diet by Dr. Phinney.
You might have noticed from the graph that a ketogenic diet is actually a spectrum and not a strict limit..
In fact, you can consume up to 20% of calories from carbohydrates and stay in ketosis IF only 10% calories come from protein.
So, if you eat 2000 calories daily you can potentially eat 100 grams of carbs IF you eat only 50 grams of protein.
Wow, Alex this is great... Can I go and eat more carbs now?
Sure, you can have higher carb days while eating less protein and low carb days while having more protein.
Are you ready for the unfortunate part of the story?
Now you have to keep up with both of your protein and carb consumption...
No worries... I want to make it extremely easy for you.
As an example, let's take a look at consuming 2000 calories daily.
Your insulin load limit per 2000 calories is 128 grams.
Calculate your personal insulin load here.
So, what if we decided to stop eating carbs all together. How much protein can we eat and stay in ketosis?
If the maximum insulin load per 2000 calories is 128 grams, then 128 grams / 0.56 ~ 214 grams of protein.
What I have done here is calculated how many grams of protein will cause a maximum insulin load that we calculated earlier.
Calculate insulin load for any food here.
Keto Golden Ratio
If you ever followed a ketogenic diet, you probably heard about “the ratio”. At the end of the day you should always end up with a calorie ratio like this: 5% carbs / 25% protein / 70% fat or sometimes people say for every combined gram of protein and carb you should eat 1 gram of fat.
People are trying to make keto easy to follow but this might be the most confusing concept. People even developed apps just to count “the ratio”.
Crazy…. I know.
So, is ratio important?
Let’s come back to the summary of “eating under 20 carbs”.
Being in ketosis does not have a strict ratio. It is more like balancing a scale between protein and carbohydrates.
On one side you can end up eating zero carbs and eating 214 grams of protein per days (2000 calories daily intake) and stay in ketosis.
On the other side, you have 128 grams of insulin load per 2000 calories where you can decide “the ratio” for yourself depending on you goals.
This gives you freedom to strategically pick days where you need to go a little higher on carbs and lower protein or vice versa and not worry about “the ratio”.
Ultimately, maximum insulin load takes care of the ratio and carb counting making it much easier for people to follow a ketogenic diet.
Calculate insulin load for any food here.
Find your personal insulin load here.
Eat Fat To Satiety
Let me show you a typical weight loss journey of a ketogenic dieter.
If you know this graph, you can tell where people make money by selling you meal plans and recipe books.
The truth is, you will lose weight within the first 6 weeks of being keto even if you don’t have a significant caloric deficit. Most of the weight loss will be contributed to your water weight.
So, what happens after 6 weeks?
Hopefully, you become fat adapted, lower your insulin response, and leptin will tell your body that you are full much faster.
But often enough people continue eating the same amount of calories and realize that they stopped losing weight.
Even though “eating fat to satiety” might be one of the pillars of a ketogenic diet but it is probably not the best strategy if you want to lose weight.
Energy density to the rescue.
Energy density of food is represented in how many calories (energy) are in one gram of food.
The lower the energy density the larger portions of food you can consume with fewer calories.
Energy Density Of Macronutrients
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
- Fiber: 1.5 calories per gram
Here is a classical representation of energy density. It is not keto friendly but gives you an idea.
The same thing goes with keto foods. If you want to lose weight on keto you need to select more keto foods that have lower energy density.
What Nutrients Is Keto Missing?
People have a tendency to supplement a lot while on a ketogenic diet. It happens because they don’t get enough micronutrients when eating moderate protein and low carb foods.
What nutrients are you missing when following a ketogenic diet?
Some people might tell you that you should consume more electrolytes. It might be true but let's analyze all ketogenic foods and generate the list of nutrients that you might be missing.
If we know the nutrients that are missing we can create a nutrient targeted keto diet that can potentially reduce the need for supplementation.
Before jumping into the nutrients we need to define how determine whether the food is "ketogenic" or not.
Let’s go back to the Well Formulated Keto Diet.
Based on the carbohydrate and protein limits we can define foods to be keto friendly by the amount insulinogenic calories and insulin load of the food.
Insulinogenic 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.
Spinach contains 51% of insulinogenic calories.
That means if you are planning to eat a lot of calories from spinach that might not be a good food choice to control your insulin levels.
Could you consume a lot calories with spinach? You decide from the calculation below.
In 100 grams of spinach there are 23 calories.
It will take 2609 grams (~6 pounds) to consume 600 calories of spinach.
If that sounds reasonable to you then take a look where this food falls in terms of insulinogenic calories.
On the other hand, the insulin load of spinach is 3.29 grams.
That means if you are planning to eat some spinach that might be a be great keto friendly food choice that controls your insulin levels.
Now, that we defined what it means for a food to be keto friendly I looked at USDA food database and identified that there are 2118 food that fall under the category of being keto friendly.
So, if we eat 2000 calories of these foods there are 10 nutrients that fall under 2x of recommended daily value.
10 Nutrient Deficiencies That Correlate With Ketogenic Diet
Red bars show amino acids, green color is for vitamins, blue is for minerals, and pink is our omega-3.
Let’s take a look at nutrients that are below 200% of recommended daily intake.
Why the hell do we need 200%?
I thought we only needed 100% of daily recommended intake to be considered "good". Unfortunately, bioaviability plays a big role in nutrition. Basically, it means that nutrients from different foods are absorbed at different amounts. 200% of RDI makes sure that you are covered regardless bioaviability.
Here is the list of nutrients that are below 2x RDI:
Now, let’s create a data driven keto food list that maximizes these missing nutrients. In order to do that I use nutrient density of foods to determine which ones are the best.
What the heck is nutrient density?
It is a score that tells us how much of essential minerals, vitamins, aminos acids, and fatty acids are packed per calorie or per gram in your food.
This analysis also allows me to prioritize foods based on multiple nutrients that we need more of.
If it is getting a little confusing I will give you a simple example.
Food A has 100% of Vitamin K and 10% of Vitamin C
Food B has 70% of Vitamin K and 70% of Vitamin C
Which food has more of Vitamin K? No doubt, it is Food A.
But which food has more of both Vitamin K and Vitamin C? Clearly, we are better off eating Food B to maximize both vitamins even though Vitamin K for Food A is at 100%.
That was a simple example but that is the gist of what my analysis does. It finds the best foods based on what vitamins, minerals, aminos, and fatty acids we need to prioritize.
Here is more on the science behind the analysis.
After prioritizing for the missing nutrients I generated a list of foods that will maximize the missing nutrients.
Let's take a look at the summary of top 700 (top 10%) foods.
Macronutrient Profile per 2000 calories
The graph above shows the breakdown of this of this data driven keto diet by carbs, protein, fat, and fiber.
So... What happens if you consume 2000 calories worth of these 700 foods?
Graph below shows all the essential nutrients that you will get from the optimized keto food list.
Micronutrient Profile as % of RDI per 2000 calories
This stats puts this diet's nutrient quality at 97/100 points.
Here are links to top 100 foods for individual nutrients:
But here is a list of foods to maximize all of the missing nutrients at once. Just like in Food A & Food B example.
Keto Food List to Maximize Missing Nutrients