In a world of keeping a food diary, weighing food, hitting macronutrients, hitting your calorie goal, etc, whether to eat low fat or low carb, high fat or high protein, one underrated factor that will have its impact across all diets is INSULIN.
What is it?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to regulate your blood sugar levels. When you eat food, the carbohydrates get broken down into glucose (name for sugar/energy in the blood). Insulin is then released into the blood stream to transport glucose to either working cells in your muscles or your liver where it is stored as glycogen (name for stored sugar/energy). However, when you have more glucose in your body than what your cells need, insulin starts to store glucose to fat cells (hence the name fat storage hormone).
Why worry about it?
The problem with insulin is that in these modern days, insulin levels are constantly high, leading to not only fat storage, but insulin resistance. Consistently high insulin levels will mean that muscle and liver cells can become resistant. Therefore, fat cells are produced instead to store energy. Another danger stemming from the resistance happens when the body realises that blood sugar levels are still high, leading to even more insulin being released in an attempt to finally regulate blood sugar. This may exhaust the pancreas, which in the long term, can develop diabetes as you do not secrete enough insulin to regulate normal blood sugar levels.
What causes the secretion of insulin?
I highly recommend you take your insulin education further by researching the many ways insulin is spiked. For the interim, I will cover two of the main ways insulin spikes from my experience with client's habits and research so far.
Firstly, is the overconsumption of carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates/simple sugars. We know consuming too many carbohydrates for what your body needs will result in fat gain. Moreover, there is the issue of people consuming more refined carbohydrates in their diet. After multiple stages of manufacturing and refining, these carbohydrates are stripped of many of its other natural nutrients, especially fibre, to meet specific tastes and textures in foods. The result is carbohydrates that are quickly digested, evoking big insulin secretion. Multiply this scenario every time one eats refined carbohydrates (syrups, white flour, white rice, pasta (especially white), fruit juices, honey, cereals, bars etc.)
The second main way insulin rises, is through stress and cortisol. When an individual experiences stress, cortisol (the body's stress hormone) is secreted by the adrenal glands. This puts your body into a fight or flight mode by rushing glycogen (stored carbohydrates/energy) into your blood stream (hence raising blood sugar levels) to either fight or run away from predators.
In past times, the extra energy would have been burnt off, however in today's society, stress is experienced daily! Think of any types of trauma (physical/emotional, relationship issues, finances and in particular WORK. Since we are no longer fighting or running from predators, this means we are not burning the raised levels of blood sugar/energy, and so, insulin is once again sent to regulate blood sugar levels back down. Repeat this process every time you experience stress…
What to do about it?
There are many ways to lower your insulin levels, but the above reasons are two big factors that we consistently see in our clients, friends and family. This means;
- Avoiding refined sugars and grains found in many syrups, white flour, white rice, pasta (especially white), fruit juices, cereals, bars etc. When looking at the nutritional information on the back of food label, look for no added sugar and its many hidden names. (check out https://bit.ly/2rcDK9X)
- Try to eat WHOLE meal and grains. Modern milling processes means it can be more easily digest and hence spiking insulin. (Plus, you may miss out on many other great nutrients).
- Improve your fibre intake through beans, whole grains and vegetables to name a few. Fibre helps to slow digestion and lower insulin activity.
- Add vinegar where you can (improves insulin sensitivity). Heard of the Apple Cider Vinegar rave?
- Acknowledge the source of your stress and work towards improving it through more sleep, exercise, joyful activities, etc.
- Continue to educate yourself in nutrition!
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.