Insulin and Weight Loss
Welcome back to The Science of Fat Loss Hints, Tricks, and Tips: Part 5 to learn how controlling insulin and blood sugar helps to facilitate fat loss, increases energy and helps to sculpt your body. Most people don’t realize that insulin and weight loss are tied together. Being a holistic personal trainer and nutritionist in Los Angeles for the past 17 years has given me some interesting and key insights into healthy eating, exercise and holistic lifestyle changes. We will start by discussing how blood sugar, insulin and weight loss are interrelated and focus on the science and then discuss what you can do to moderate your blood sugar and insulin by eating certain foods to lose weight.
Please note, It is beneficial and important to get the correct advice on your exercise routine, overall nutrition program, daily calorie intake and developing healthy habits. If you need help, call your Personal Trainer Los Angeles to get started today at (310) 720-8125.
When we think of losing weight, we think of cutting calories, but what if the real problem wasn’t calories at all? What if the cause of weight gain had nothing to do with calories but everything to do with how our bodies assimilated our food? Could there be a correlation between belly fat, insulin, and blood sugar levels?
What is Insulin?
Let me give you my simplified “little elf “version of what role insulin plays in the body; this is the way I explain the role of insulin and weight loss to my clients.
Insulin is a carrier hormone. What does it carry? It carries sugars in the blood from the food that you eat and stores these sugars in various places in the body.
I think of insulin as little elves, like Santa’s helpers, who drop off or deposit sugars, from food, into various places in the body. These little elves, carry sugar in their nap sacks and can deposit sugar either into the liver, muscle cells or fat cells. Why fat cells? Well, that all depends on what you’re eating. Simply put, when you eat healthy whole foods, there’s a better chance that your “little elves” make a deposit of sugar or glucose into your muscle cells and liver. When your eating “crappy”, there’s a better chance that the food that you’re eating will get deposited into fat cells.
Total Calories Matter, But So Does Quality
What’s important for you to know is that not all calories are equal. Let me give you an example, you can have a female that wants to lose weight and is eating 1500 calories a day. Based on the quality of what she is eating, she can either gain weight, maintain weight or lose weight.
These 3 scenarios are all based on the quality of food that she is consuming. In other words, on a 1500 calorie diet, the outcome can change based on the type of foods or the quality of food.
This is why the glycemic index and glycemic load is so important; it is representative of whether a person will gain or lose weight based on food quality. Importantly, whole foods that are either low or moderate glycemic index foods, will help you lose weight. Foods such as chicken, fish, blueberries, yams, sweet potatoes, apples are all examples of whole foods that will help you lose weight.
For more on seeing a chart on the gylcemic index, click here. If viewing the chart, as you can see, most of the foods that are whole foods or non-processed foods, they are generally low to moderate on the glycemic index scale.
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load – The Keys to Understanding Carbs
- Glycemic Index (GI) – A measure, 0-100, of how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises your blood sugar levels.
- Foods high on the GI – cause a sharp increase in postprandial blood glucose concentration that declines rapidly. Foods that are high glycemic index foods, can cause weight gain.
- Foods low on the GI – result in lower blood glucose concentration that diminishes gradually.
- Examples include:
- Fruits – Grapefruit (120 grams) is 25 which is low, peaches (120 grams) are 56 which is medium, and watermelon (120 grams) is 80 which is high.
- Vegetables – Raw carrots (80 grams) are 35 which is low, a boiled sweet potato (150 grams) is 61 which is medium, and a microwaved regular potato (150 grams) is 93 which is high.
- Grains, Bread, and Cereals – Barley (150 grams) is 22 which is low, Couscous (150 grams) is 65 which is medium, and a French baguette (30 grams) is 95 which is high.
- Glycemic Load (GL) – A measurement obtained by multiplying the quality of carbohydrates in a glycemic index food by the number of carbs in a serving of that specific food. This method is considered to be the better way of determining the impact of carbohydrate consumption on blood sugar. It does this by taking into account how much carbohydrate is in a serving of a particular food.
- High GL is 20 or more
- Low GL is 10 or less
- For example:
- Watermelon – Although this fruit is high on the GI chart, it contains relatively low carbohydrates because it is mostly water, so the GL for watermelon is only 5
Generally speaking, low to medium glycemic index foods are ideal. For more on seeing a chart on the gylcemic index, click here.
Insulin and Weight Loss: The Predominant Player
Insulin is the primary player in the control of how fuel sources such as carbohydrates are stored, either as body fat or as stored glycogen into muscle cells. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in muscle cells and is essential for muscles to have enough energy to work, flex, contract, and move. Now, there are two vital concepts to understand regarding insulin which are sensitivity and resistance.
- Insulin Sensitive – When a person is healthy they are more insulin sensitive which means that when they eat carbs, they store carbs into muscle cells as glycogen.
- Insulin Resistance – When a person is unhealthy, they are more insulin resistant which means that when they eat carbs, it gets stored primarily as body fat.
Let me give you a great way to understand insulin sensitivity vs. insulin resistance. I’ll explain by using my lock and key example.
So let’s say you have 10 keys and 10 doors with locks. The “keys” represent insulin and the “doors and locks” represents storage sites for insulin, these storage site are muscle cells and the liver.
In this example all 10 keys have access to 10 doors and locks. This represents a healthy person, where if the person has a certain amount of blood sugar consumed in their diet, they have plenty of places to put that blood sugar. They are insulin sensitive. They are less likely to gain weight.
In an example of insulin resistance, you would have “10 keys” (insulin), but only have 3 “locks and doors” available (storage sites). In this example, this person is much more likely to gain weight and develop diabetes. The “locks and doors” have been shut or closed off due to poor eating habits. This is what happens to people who are pre-diabetic or diabetic.
What about Protein and Fat?
It’s not just about carbs though overeating protein along with fats may also lead to insulin resistance. According to Christopher Newgard, Ph.D., director of the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Duke University, “Insulin resistance occurred in animals with a diet high in the branched-chain amino acids (protein), but only if they were ingested along with a high level of fat in the diet.” “I want to be clear that our animal data suggest that there is nothing wrong with obtaining protein from sources that are high in branched-chain amino acids, as long as you are not eating beyond what your energy needs are,” said Newgard, who is also a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology and professor of medicine at Duke. “If you add a lot of unneeded protein to a fatty diet, perhaps that’s where you get into problems. The ancient Greeks were right: everything in moderation.” In other words, over eating a high fat and protein diet can also cause insulin resistance.
Going From Insulin Resistance to Insulin Sensitive – The Road to Weight Loss
When normal insulin levels are unable to force blood glucose into cells, the body reacts by raising insulin as a reaction to overcome the resistance which ultimately leads to obesity. Resistance occurs as a reaction to having too much insulin over time. The body compensates by increasing insulin which makes things worse because the continual rise in insulin leads to more resistance creating a vicious cycle, so what can you do to go from insulin resistant to insulin sensitive? It all starts with what happens when we eat.
The Insulin Response
When we eat, the pancreas responds by producing insulin. Insulin is the hormone that unlocks the cells to move sugar (aka glucose) inside where it is used for fuel. When you are insulin resistant, the cells no longer respond to the insulin hormone; they resist it entirely.
What Causes Insulin Resistance
Weight gain is a primary cause, but it is made even worse when you include visceral fat because it sends out inflammatory chemicals that harm the cell’s response to insulin.
According to David G. Marrero, Ph.D., who is the president of health care and education at the American diabetes association. He states, “Fill the trunk with 500 pounds of gravel, and it’s harder to run. It needs more gas, and it wears out the engine to get the same level of performance.” That’s obesity. He further states, “Now think of insulin as the gas line between the fuel tank and the engine. Insulin resistance squeezes it, so when you need more fuel, it’s harder to get.”
Because it is hard for insulin resistant cells to take glucose from the blood, sugars build up and lead to obesity and potentially diabetes. Also, having the extra blood glucose tells the pancreas to make more insulin which makes this vicious cycle even worse because the insulin is now informing the body to store the excess sugar as fat. There are ways to stop this cycle and turn things around starting with stabilizing the blood glucose levels.
Blood Glucose – The Motherboard to Weight Loss
Blood glucose or blood sugar levels could be the reason you aren’t losing weight. According to Osama Hamdy, M.D., a medical director of the clinical obesity program at Joslin diabetes center in Boston and author of The Diabetes Breakthrough, “ The cycle starts when you gain weight,” Dr. Hamdy says. Once you have blood sugar problems, it is that much harder to slim down. However, dropping pounds is not impossible.
Understanding the complexities of blood sugar, belly fat and insulin and how to interrupt it is the key which starts with our eating. Avoiding drastic drops in our blood sugar can be achieved by eating smaller portions of the right combinations of food throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels.
The right combination should include:
- lean protein for muscle and metabolism – make this 30% to 40% of your diet and overall calories
- healthy fat for the absorption of vitamins and minerals – make this 20% to 30% of your diet and overall calories
- healthy forms of carbohydrate for energy – make this 30% to 50% of your diet and overall calories
A1C Test – Determining Blood Sugar and Diabetes
- The A1C test is a diagnostic tool to determine if a person has type 1 and type 2 diabetes as well as monitoring how well diabetes is being managed.
- The results will show how well diabetes has been controlled over the prior two to three month period.
- This test measures explicitly what percentage the hemoglobin (the red blood cells that carry oxygen) is covered in sugar.
- Having a higher A1C percentage corresponds to higher average blood sugar levels which result in a higher risk of developing diabetes or complications of diabetes.
- An ideal A1C test is below 5 – work with a nutrition coach to help you lower this test.
Metformin for High A1C Results
Even though diet and exercise can help with blood sugar levels, some people do need the assistance of medication. Metformin is a medication prescribed for type 2 diabetes that works by lowering glucose production in the liver and improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin; thus insulin sensitivity is increased leading to your body using insulin more effectively.
But given my experience as a practitioner and a health coach, I will warn you that you should not overly rely on medications alone to control blood sugar. I’ve heard this before, that people feel like they are taking a magic pill and that they don’t need to change their lifestyle. Just like any medication, you can build tolerance to the point where the medication becomes less effective or non-effective over time; and most medications have symptoms especially when you take larger doses. Before making any changes to your medications, please consult a doctor.
Importantly, make sure that you overhaul your lifestyle immediately and take massive action to change your life. If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, this is an emergency and you must take action and fundamentally change your lifestyle. Understand that your body is malfunctioning at a high level and only massive action will change your health and your life.
Foods For Insulin Resistance
- Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, and dark leafy greens
- Citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges
- Protein-rich foods including lean meats and fish (preferably with high omega-3) like salmon and sardines
- High Fiber Diet – 30 to 35 plus grams for women and 40 to 55 plus grams for men
See my free free grocery list to further help improve blood sugar and insulin resistance.
Belly Fat – The Unhealthy Truth
Two types of belly fat that accumulate in the abdominal area are subcutaneous and abdominal, or visceral fat which is a critical player in many health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic ailments.
- Subcutaneous Fat – This is the fat you can pinch around the waist area which can be difficult to lose but is not as much of a health threat as its counterpart.
- Visceral Fat – This is the fat that is located around the internal organs which you cannot pinch nor see but is a more significant health risk. The reason visceral fat is such a health risk is that unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat releases metabolic products directly into the portal circulation system which then goes directly to the liver. So, your liver is then getting an abundant amount of free fatty acids some of which spill over to the pancreas, heart and other organs. These organs are not equipped to store fat which ultimately results in organ dysfunction which then disrupts the regulation of insulin, blood sugar, cholesterol, and even the heart function.
Supplements and Tips to Help Decrease Insulin Resistance
Insulin Resistance Supplements
The following five supplements can help decrease insulin resistance and inflammation in the body.
- Chromium – By taking 200 mcg/day to 1,000 mcg/day of supplemental chromium can improve blood sugar levels by enhancing the effects of insulin.
- Omega 3s – Omega 3s help with insulin sensitivity; eat more fish and possibly add an omega 3 supplement to your supplement protocol.
- DHEA – Taking this adrenal gland hormone at bedtime can improve mobilization of abdominal fat that contributes to insulin resistance and inflammation.
- Magnesium – Magnesium helps to improve insulin sensitivity and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Flavonoids – These powerful compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and teas inhibit inflammation and alleviates insulin resistance.
- White Bean Extract – The alpha-amylase inhibitors found in white bean extract has been shown to reduce the drastic spikes in blood sugar following a high GI meal and may also reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance.
Weight Loss and Insulin: Tips
Five tips to further help decrease insulin resistance as well as increase overall health and vitality.
- Sleep – Getting enough sleep is vital because losing 1-3 hours of sleep per night can increase insulin resistance.
- Exercise – Incorporating cardio and strength training will help decrease visceral fat and increase muscle and bone density. For more information see strength training for weight loss.
- Healthy Diet – Making healthier choices and eating every few hours can help stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance. For more on healthy eating see free grocery list.
- Keep Portion Sizes Low – This will help to avoid hyperinsulinemia which can happen if you overeat at mealtime. Eat every 3 to 4 hours, small meals.
- Avoid All Forms of Sugar – Make sure to watch for hidden sugars that are not on labels. Checking the ingredients to look for sugar and if it is near the top, there is too much in that food item. This list includes table sugar (fructose), high fructose corn syrup, agave, and syrup which when consuming large quantities promotes insulin resistance.
- When cooking root veggies such as sweet potatoes, yams or white potatoes, boil them don’t bake them. This lowers the glycemic index of the food dramatically.
- Eat protein with every single meal and add leafy veggies (fiber). This will overall reduce the aggregate glycemic index of the meal.
Get started today and improve your health inside and out to make 2019 your year to be fit and fabulous!
Weight Loss is the #1 Health Goal in America
Weight Loss is the #1 Health Goal in America. And, there is a strong correlation between belly fat or a large belly and degenerative disease. Whether you want to look great naked or simply just want to live longer, getting leaner and healthier has to be one of your priorities in life. If you interested in learning more about getting lean and healthy, please check out my 10 part series on the science of weight loss.