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Insulin & Sugar

Insulin and Sugar Resources

What is Insulin?

The hormone insulin is a key player in the process of metabolizing the food we eat.  When we eat, food is broken down by enzymes into glucose and released into the blood.  This causes our blood sugar to rise.  As this happens, a response in triggered in the beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin.  Insulin, a storage hormone, enters the bloodstream and essentially mops up the excess glucose and shuttles it into liver (to be stored as glycogen), muscle (to be burned for energy), and adipose tissue (to be stored as fat) in order to return blood sugar levels to a normal range.  Any consumption of protein or carbohydrate will mobilize insulin into action, while fat has no effect on insulin.  The higher the blood sugar spike, the more insulin will be released into the bloodstream. When you spike your blood sugar repeatedly, you run the risk of developing…

Insulin Resistance

When you spike your blood sugar and high levels of insulin are mobilized in response, insulin initially does its job effectively.  However, there is a lag time for insulin to clear to bloodstream after it has done its job of returning blood sugar to normal levels.  Since insulin is a storage hormone and the levels remain high despite low blood sugar, a hunger response is sent to the body telling you to eat more so the high levels of insulin can store more glucose.  This is why we can eat a heavy, carb-laden meal and still crave food an hour or two later.  This begins a negative feedback loop, where we continue to eat, spike blood sugar, and continue to mobilize insulin.  The big problem with this is that every time insulin is spiked and shuttles glucose to the cells, the cells become less receptive to insulin.  When the liver, fat, and muscle cells become less receptive to insulin, this is called insulin resistance.  As this occurs, the pancreas must produce more and more insulin to respond to the same amount of blood glucose as it did before the cells were insulin resistant.  This in turn causes higher and higher levels of insulin in the blood, which causes overeating and further insulin resistance.  Since insulin is now so much less effective at shuttling glucose to the cells, blood sugar remains consistently above the normal range throughout the day.  This repeatedly sends signals to the pancreas to produce more and more insulin, but since they insulin is now ineffective this does little good.  Eventually, the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas burn out, stop producing insulin, and lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

What are the Effects of this Process?

This process results in a number of devastating effects:

  • Increased storage of fat and Obesity
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Coronary Heart Disease

“When insulin levels become too high… metabolic havoc ensues with elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, diabetes, and obesity all trailing in its wake. These disorders are merely symptoms of a single more basic disturbance in metabolism, excess insulin and insulin resistance.” – Michael Eades, Protein Power

How do we Avoid Insulin Resistance?

The most effective diet for avoiding insulin resistance is one that controls insulin by keeping it low.  This is best accomplished with the following

  • Consume foods that have a low glycemic load.
    • These foods, such as leafy vegetables, certain fruits, protein sources, and fat, will have a much smaller effect on the increase in blood glucose.  This means less of an insulin spike at every meal.
  • Eat meals that have high/moderate fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrates
    • Carb-laden meals are a sure way to spike your blood sugar and develop insulin resistance over time.  By eating meals composed of natural animal protein, animal fat, and fruits and vegetables, you will keep blood sugar and insulin low all day long.
  • Avoid sugar
    • Since refined sugar (glucose) needs very little work to be broken down, it will immediately enter the bloodstream and cause blood sugar to skyrocket.  Avoiding sugar in meals is likely the most crucial factor in keeping your insulin levels low over time.
  • Eat Whole Foods
    • This goes hand in hand with sugar avoidance.  If you consistently eat a diet of only meat, fat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and moderate fruit, this is a built in path to success in avoiding processed sugar.
  • Exercise
    • While this isn’t a nutrition tip, it’s noteworthy since resistance training has been well correlated with reducing insulin sensitivity by causing cells to improve their ability to accept glucose.