The Insulin Response: Understanding Low Carb and No Carb Foods

This video discusses low-carb and no-carb foods and the real reason people follow low-carb diets. It explains that while carbohydrates trigger the most insulin response, protein and fat also trigger insulin to some extent. It emphasizes that the goal of a low-carb diet is to control insulin response. The video provides examples of low-carb foods such as fats and oils (coconut oil, olive oil, butter), meats (chicken, salmon, beef), eggs, dairy (cheese, heavy cream), leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper), nuts and seeds (macadamia, pecans, walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seed, chia seed), avocados, olives, and a few fruits (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries). It suggests enjoying these foods in moderation and combining them thoughtfully for a well-rounded low-carb diet.

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Key Insights:

  • A low carb diet is often considered to be under 100 grams, or even under 50 grams, of net carbs per day.
  • The real reason for being on a low carb diet is to control the insulin response, as carbs are not the only food that trigger insulin – protein and fat also trigger insulin to some extent.
  • There is technically no such thing as a zero carb food, as even foods like water and coffee contain trace amounts of macronutrients.
  • Carbs turn into glucose in the body, raising blood sugar and causing an instant insulin response, while protein and fat turn into glucose much slower.
  • Fats and oils, such as coconut oil and olive oil, are the best replacement for sugar and carbohydrates and have a very low insulin response.
  • Meats, like chicken and salmon, contain varying amounts of fat and protein, which affects the insulin response.
  • Eggs are often seen as a protein food but are actually 60% of calories from fat, making them suitable for a ketogenic diet.
  • Dairy products, like cheese and heavy cream, can fit a ketogenic or low carb profile due to their high fat content.
  • Leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, avocados, and olives are all examples of low carb foods that fit into a ketogenic diet.
  • Fruits and berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and some amounts of blueberries, can be consumed in moderation on a low carb or ketogenic diet.
  • Pairing foods with higher fat content can help lower the overall insulin response when consuming foods with carbohydrates.


Hello Health Champions. Today I want to talk about low carb foods and no carb foods and the real reason people are on low carb diets in the first place. What are the best kinds of foods to get healthy and reach your goals coming right up?

A low carb diet is often considered something under a hundred grams or even under 50 grams of net carbs per day, and for a ketogenic diet, people try to get even lower, like 25 or 30 grams per day. And some people go on a zero carb diet. But while we do want to keep the carbs under control, is that really what we’re looking for? Well, it’s really the insulin response that we’re looking for, and carbs are not the only food that will trigger insulin. Protein and fat also trigger a little bit of insulin. So, we want to understand a little bit more about the food that we choose than just the carbohydrates.

When we talk about a zero carb food, there’s really no such thing in my opinion because true zero carb foods are things like water, apple cider vinegar, tea, and coffee. They have zero of all the macronutrients and zero calories. So yeah, that’s what you can use during a fast, but they can’t sustain us in the long run. What we’re really looking for is the insulin response, and carbs are the first thing to cut back on because carbs turn into glucose and glucose raises blood sugar, and it does it instantaneously. It does it as soon as you put the food in your mouth. You have an insulin response because your body senses that sweetness.

Protein has amino acids that can turn into carbs, into glucose, but it does it much, much slower. And fat contains something called glycerol that can also turn into a little bit of glucose, but it does it super slow and it does it much later. So even though we want to cut back on carbs, I think there’s more to understand about a zero carb diet. I’m not opposed to carnivore, but people who go on a carnivore diet and are eating a lot of protein, they’re not technically on a zero carb diet because even though the meat doesn’t have carbohydrates in it, the protein turns into glucose relatively quickly. So it’s just different forms of energy that trigger different kinds of insulin.

The first category is fats and oils. They are the first best replacement for sugar and carbohydrates. And even though they can’t sustain us in themselves, they do have calories and they’re quite filling, but they have a very, very low insulin response. So things like coconut oil and olive oil, they’re 100 percent fat by weight, so obviously, 100 percent of the calories come from fat. And then something like butter, which is about 80 percent fat but has some water and trace amounts of protein and carbohydrate, but the fat is so dominant that it’s 99.5 percent of calories from fat. So for all practical purposes, butter and these pure fats are the same thing. And this is what you fill up on if you’re on a very low carb diet and you’re looking for extra calories.

The next category is meats. And we have things like chicken which is 4 percent fat, depending on the part of the chicken you get, 25 percent protein. So now we have 26 percent of calories from fat and about 74 percent from protein. So three-quarters protein, 25 percent fat roughly. But if we pick something a little more fatty like salmon, it has twice as much fat. Now the percentages change rather quickly. So even if people eat carnivore and they think they’re eating all protein, that’s not really true because it doesn’t take a whole lot of fat in there to become dominant in terms of calories. Already when we’re at 10 percent fat in beef, then the fat is already over 50 percent of the calories. So remember that carbs trigger the most insulin, protein comes next with a moderate, but fat is insignificant. It kind of slows things down. So as we get things with more fat in them, as this percentage goes up, then the insulin response goes down. And by the time we’re up to 15 percent fat in the beef, now we are at 62 percent of calories. And if we can find beef that’s 25 percent fat or if we eat it with a fat sauce or something, now we get 76 percent of calories from fat, even though we’re just eating meat, which some people think of as mostly protein.

Another big factor with the food is how full or how hungry do you get? When you eat mostly carbohydrates, then your glucose and your insulin are going to fluctuate greatly. And any time it goes up and down, you’re going to get much hungrier when it goes down. If you eat something like sugar or refined carbs, it’s going to fluctuate greatly. But if you eat something like meat with fat and protein, then it’s going to fluctuate much less. So you don’t have the mood swings, you don’t have the energy swings, you don’t have the hunger swings. So it’s much easier to stick to.

Next food is eggs. Eggs have about 9 percent fat and 12 percent protein, so it’s also thought of often as a protein food. But calorie-wise, it is 60 percent of calories from fat and very, very low, basically trace amounts of carbohydrates.

Now let’s look at what a lot of people think is like the standard that we’re striving for with a ketogenic diet. We’re trying to eat maybe 2,000 calories and we’re looking to get 5 percent or less of calories from carbs. That means about 100 calories or 25 grams of net carbs per day. And then we eat moderate protein and we fill up the rest on fat. So now we see that an egg is well below in terms of carbohydrates. And then when we know what we know about the insulin response from fat versus protein, then this is going to fit pretty close in with a ketogenic profile.

Other popular choices on a low-carb diet are dairy. Now, there’s dairy with lactose and dairy without lactose. When it’s without, it’s called cheese, and it’s pretty high in fat, it’s relatively high in protein, so 34 or so 30ish percent fat, trace amounts of carbohydrate, gives us 75 percent of calories from fat and 24 percent from protein. So again, a very ketogenic food. When it comes to cheese, they’re pretty similar when it comes to fat and macros. So a brie or a cheddar or a gouda, they’re all going to have similar nutrient profiles. But when it comes to other forms of dairy, dairy with lactose, there can be huge differences. If we start off with heavy cream, for example, we have 35 to 40 percent fat in that, a little bit of carbohydrate, so 95 percent of the calories come from fat and only 3 percent from carbohydrate. If we cut back on the fat a little bit, like sour cream, it’s about half as much fat in it, but the percentage of calories from fat is still 90 percent, and the carbohydrates are just slightly higher. So that would still fit a ketogenic or low-carb profile. But when we get to skim milk, this is where we really need to pay attention because the fat content is very, very low, and proportionately, there is more carbohydrate in there than in the richer ones because the fat takes up more room. So now we have 7 percent of calories from fat only versus 95 in cream, and now a whopping 56 percent of calories in skim milk come from sugar. Then if you think about it, you’re going to use a generous scoop of sour cream, a cup few tablespoons, or you’re going to put one or two tablespoons of cream in your coffee or with your dessert. But with skim milk, you’re going to consume a whole lot more. So these carb grams, the sugar, is going to add up pretty quickly.

This, all these numbers, are per 100 grams, 3.5 ounces. So these grams by weight are basically a percentage. So 5 grams in 3.5 ounces, that’s going to add up pretty quick.

Next category is leafy greens. And some people think that because all vegetables are virtually all carbohydrate, that you should avoid them. But we need to understand again what impact do they have and how do they affect insulin? So if you eat something like lettuce, then it has virtually no fat, it has a little bit of protein, a little bit of carbs. If we break out the percentage macros, calories from the different kinds, then we find 39 percent of calories from carbohydrates. And that sounds dreadful. But it doesn’t really matter because there is so few calories. There’s virtually no calories in there at all. So you don’t have to worry about it. Furthermore, there is a ton of fiber and a ton of water. So this gets absorbed extremely slowly. So you want to think of these foods as filler material that don’t really enter the equation at all. And they’re still good for you because you have fiber and you have minerals, and the fiber feeds your gut bacteria and the minerals are great for everything that your body does.

If we have arugula or if we have spinach, then the numbers change slightly but not very much. These are still essentially the same thing. Think of them as good filler that doesn’t matter. So when we compare these numbers to the keto macros of 75, 20, and 5, what we want to think about is what are we going to have with these vegetables? So let’s say that we just have lettuce plus two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Well, now that extra virgin olive oil is going to totally dominate the picture. So simply, two tablespoons is going to take the fat percentage calories to 97 percent and the carb calories down to 2. So again, they’re just fillers. Whatever you eat with them is what matters.

Next category is non-starchy vegetables. So these are not leafy vegetables, but they’re almost as low carb. So things like broccoli and cauliflower and bell pepper, they’re going to be very, very low in fat. They’re going to have a few grams of carbs, 2, 3, 4 grams. So again, even though the percentages from carbs look devastating, with 50, 55, 68, it doesn’t really matter because there are so few calories. That if you have something with it, like meat or fish or some fat, then that is going to dominate the picture completely. So these don’t really matter. All you have to worry about is count up the total number of carbs and make sure that they don’t get out of control.

Nuts and seeds are very popular snacks on a ketogenic diet. And my favorite is going to be macadamia. It’s the highest in fat, very low in carbs. So 93 percent of calories come from fat and 3 percent come from carbs. Pecans are going to be very close to that profile, and walnuts are also great, but they’re going to be a little bit lower in fat and higher in protein. So if you’re really trying to restrict your protein, then you might want to limit the walnuts. But all in all, the percentage from carbs is extremely low, and the percentage from fat is very high. So it’s a very keto-friendly way to go.

My two favorite seeds are going to be flaxseed and hemp seed. And also, chia seed is quite similar to flax. These are going to be a little bit lower in fat but still quite high. They’re going to have 83 and 72 percent of calories from fat. They can be extremely low in carbohydrates. They do have some carbohydrates, but it’s fiber. So again, you can subtract that.

Next up are two of my favorite fruits, most people call them vegetables, of course, and that’s avocado and olives. They’re high in fat. That’s why they make avocado oil and olive oil. It’s very easy to just squeeze those fruits and get straight oil out of them. They’re very low in protein, very low in carbs. So 90 percent of calories come from fat in an avocado, and 86 percent of calories in olives.

Now, here is what people usually refer to when it comes to fruit and berries. And here are the only ones that I think fit on a regular basis into a low-carb or ketogenic diet. You still want to watch the amounts, but these are things that you can have in moderation: blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Those are the lowest. Blueberries are a good bit higher, but you could have a little bit occasionally. All three of these have right around 5 grams of carbs, which is all sugar in this case. And they’re percentage-wise, of course, the carbohydrates are going to be dominating. So it’s not a great thing if you eat a whole bowl. If you eat a pound’s worth, which you could easily do, then that’s going to throw you out of ketosis. It’s going to trigger a bunch of insulin and mess up your plan. But if you measure it out and you have like half a cup, which is about 100 grams, we’ll get you 5 grams of carbs. But now also keep in mind that it’s going to matter what you have it with. So if you take four tablespoons of heavy whipping cream together with half a cup of berries, now the macros are going to change. Now you have 85 percent of calories from fat. You have 11 from carbohydrates. So again, you can’t eat just cream and berries, but you can treat yourself to a little bit here and there. It’s a nice dessert. Put some stevia on it, half a cup of berries, a little bit of cream. And as long as you don’t overdo the amounts, you’ll still be fine.

Thanks so much for watching. I’ll see you next time.