Insulin ain’t just for diabetics.
What’s the deal with insulin? How does insulin work? Why should I care about my carbohydrate consumption? How can blood sugar effect my weight gain?
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in your pancreas. It’s released when there is glucose in your blood, and for my discussion it does two things. Note that glucose comes from the sugar and carbohydrates you eat. My explanation comes from here and here.
First, it goes around to cells and basically tells cells to open up and let some glucose in. Glucose thus provides energy for your cells.
Second, it tells the liver and muscles to convert glucose into glycogen, which is then stored and can be converted back later for energy.
Importantly, your liver and muscles have a limited capacity for glycogen, and the excess is stored as fat. Around half of the carbs you eat will become fat if you don’t lower your production of insulin.
Moreover, if insulin is active in your body, any existing fat will not be converted back into glucose for use by your cells.
Now, let’s talk about fat because there is very compelling evidence that there is more to weight gain than calories and exercise. Gary Taubes, responsible for Good Calories Bad Calories, this article in the New York Times, and this highly recommended lecture, talks about the the importance of carbohydrates and insulin in your diet. As Sean from Underground Wellness says, low fat, low calorie diets are stupid.
Why? Your body seeks balance. If you eat less food, your body uses less energy, making you feel tired and SLOWING YOUR METABOLISM. If you exercise more without eating, your body demands food, making you RAVENOUSLY HUNGRY. Even if you eat lots of fat, this fat can’t be stored without insulin (because of alpha glycerol phosphate and science you’d better get from someone like Gary Taubes).
Insulin is the key to weight gain. Type 1 diabetics, who can’t produce insulin, lose weight before they start taking insulin injections, no matter how much they eat. With less insulin, your body will not store glucose into fat. How do you keep your insulin levels low? Eat less high carbohydrate or sugary foods. Limit soda, candy, and ice cream as well as potatoes, rice, and bread. As diabetics learn early on, a can of soda or a bowl of rice both have the same effect on blood glucose levels, and it ain’t pretty.
Carbs and sugars can be part of a balanced meal, but that’s all they should be: PART. Again; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread and spaghetti with store bought tomato sauce are examples of garbage meals. Small amounts of high quality carbs, fair amounts of proteins and high quality fats, and lots of vegetables is what EVERYONE ought to be eating.
Another factor here, from Dr. Bernstein’s book, is that if you eat until you are stuffed, your pancreas thinks “INCOMING!” It gets into defensive mode and starts shooting out insulin, as well as some glycogen just to make sure there isn’t too much insulin. Dr. Bernstein calls this the Chinese restaurant effect, and this can get messy. Avoid eating until you’re stuffed; go for satiated.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, wherein the pancreas has been sending out wild amounts of insulin, causing cells to stop responding to the constant insulin barrage. It’s as if insulin was a drug and your cells need more and more of that drug to get their fix. Things that can lead to type 2 diabetes include being overweight, which makes you require more insulin, and constantly eating too many carbohydrates, which causes you to produce too much insulin. Insulin levels are reduced by eating fewer carbs and exercising, which burns up the glucose so it’s not stored.
Later I’ll talk about how controlling your insulin can give you more energy.
I’m out, didn’t mean to keep you from your bagel and mocha frappaccino.