Insulin is one of the 3 fat storing hormones as mentioned in the article "3 fat storing hormones & their effect on weight".
Insulin - a "fat storing" hormone
After consuming a meal, our blood sugar levels rise, more or less, contingent on the meal. In order to balance blood sugar levels, insulin is released by the pancreas. The main job of insulin is to uptake glucose from the blood and transport it to the cells that might need it for energy, such as liver, muscle or fat (among others) thus creating stable blood sugar levels. (for more details please refer to the 3 fat-storing hormone article)
The higher our blood sugar levels
(meaning, the more glucose circulating within our blood)
the more insulin is required to remove excess glucose.
Chronic, high levels of insulin lead to:
- insulin resistance and risk of type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high levels of cholesterol & triglycerides
- either high or low blood sugar levels
As mentioned, different food has a different effect on blood glucose. Some food spikes insulin more than others. Meaning, some food is converted more quickly into glucose raising blood sugar levels. -
Food and Insulin Response
Carbohydrates, especially high glycemic, highly processed, nutrient-stripped carbohydrates, such as white bread and rice, pasta, yams, cookies & cakes, waffles, candy, and soda or juice spike blood sugar. Protein, too, leads to an insulin metabolism, as well as high fat products, such as meat and cold cuts.
High glycemic food puts a high demand on our pancreas to produce more insulin, increasing among other things, our risk for type 2 diabetes.
But, glycemic index tells us only one story. More importantly, we rarely only it one food item and rarely eat 100g of it. Hence, another metric should be of greater interest to us: glycemic load.
Glycemic Index versus Glycemic Load
Glycemic index (GI) tells us how quickly a particular carbohydrate turns into sugar. It FAILS to take portion size into account. Clearly, eating 30 g of rice has a very different response than eating 100 g of rice. Conversely, consuming mainly high-glycemic foods can lead to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease but also overweight.
- a glycemic index of 70 or more is high
- a glycemic index of 56 to 69 is medium
- and a glycemic index of 55 or less is low
Foods with a low glycemic index have been shown to help control type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation, and improve weight loss.
Glycemic load (GL) looks at the normal serving size of a food AND its glycemic index.
- a glycemic load of 20 and over is high (University of Sidney)
- a glycemic load of 11 - 19 is medium
- and glycemic load of 0 to 10 is low
Examples of Glycemic Index versus Glycemic Load:
- glycemic index of watermelon = 72 (high)
- 1 serving of watermelon is approx. 120g and contains ~ 6g of carbohydrates (per serving)
- to calculate glycemic load from glycemic index we devide glycemic index by 100 and multiply this by the foods carbohydrate content
- thus, glycemic load of 1 serving of watermelon: 72/100 * 6 = 4.32
- GI = 72 (high) but GL = 4.32 (low)
- inspite of having a high glycemic index, one serving of watermelon carries a low glycemic load
Lower Carbohydrate Food But Higher Glycemic Load:
a) we have enough rice to make 130g cooked rice
- 130g cooked white rice = 40g carbohydrates
- Glycemic index of white rice = 85 (high)
- Glycemic load of white rice = GI/100*carbohydrates --> 85/100*40= 34
b) we have enough couscous to make 200g cooked couscous
- 200g cooked couscous = 45g carbohydrates
- Glycemic index of couscous = 60 (medium)
- Glycemic load of couscous = GI/100*carbohydrates --> 60/100*45= 27
--> you see, even though couscous is higher in carbohydrates, glycemic load is lower (given that couscous contains MORE fiber than white rice)
Yet, as a rule of thumb:
food low in carbohydrates tends to carry a low glycemic load.
If interested, Australian researchers published a list of common food items and their glycemic index and glycemic load. But, just because a food is low in carbohydrates, such as protein, does NOT mean it doesn't have an effect on insulin. Similar to carbohydrates (and fats), protein requires insulin for metabolism. Some studies suggest, that higher total protein intake is associated with increased insulin resistance.
Insulin Responds & Glycemic Load
High Insulin Response with High Glycemic Load > 20:
Keep in mind, this is based on PORTION SIZE!
- Juice (you don't need juice nor soda/pop)
- Grains: processed & some whole grains, such as bagels, french bread, cereal (esp. low fiber), cornflakes, instant oatmeal, white & whole wheat bread, pasta, corn tortilla, couscous
- Rice, white but also rice & oat milk
- Vegetables, such as white potato (and of course french fries) and pumpkin,
- Some non starchy fruit, such as pineapple, melons, grapes
- Processed snacks, chips, pretzels, sweets, ice cream, baked goodies, and even raisins
- Dairy Products, especially milk
In terms of dried fruit for example, 60 g of raisins or figs have a higher glycemic load than 60 g of prunes*.
(*60g of raisins have a GL of 28, 60g of figs have a GL of 16 while 60g of prunes have a GL of 10.)
Medium Insulin Response with Medium Glycemic Load > 10-19:
- Grains: whole grain oats and oatmeal, whole wheat pasta and some whole grain, high fiber bread, barley and bulgur
- Brown rice and rice cakes
- Vegetables, such as sweet potato
- Snacks, such as whole grain graham crackers
Lower Insulin Response with Low Glycemic Load < 10:
- Fiber rich whole grain bread, such as barley pr pumpernickel, cereal with 100% bran and whole-wheat tortilla
- Beans and pulses, such as chickpeas, pinto or black beans, or lentils
- Starchy, fiber rich vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, or carrots
- Fiber rich fruit, such as apples, grapefruit, and watermelon
- Fatty protein sources, such as fatty fish
- Whole Eggs
- Nuts and seeds, such as cashews, almonds, chia and flax among many other
- Dairy products (although, heavy creams, creme fresh, and full fat plain yogurt tend to be much lower than other dairy products)
Now, you might have detected that I listed dairy twice. Dairy is tricky as it can actually lead to a spike in blood glucose levels, especially milk. Worse, it doesn't matter if it's low fat or high fat milk.
High Fat Products Tend to Have the Lowest Insulin Spike
The Glycemic index of a food will vary depending on the rate of digestion. Rule of thumb: The faster the digestion of a food, the higher the glycemic index BUT
Glycemic index of a food is influenced by processing & cooking method, fiber content, level of ripeness, and food combination.
Ways to Reduce Insulin Response From High Glycemic Food
Why would you want to reduce insulin response to food? To reduce:
- pancreas' activity to release insulin
- risk of insulin resistance & thus type 2 diabetes
- excess storage and conversion of blood glucose to fat
- insulin's' effect on inhibiting fat release
Add fat and fiber. Both tend to lower glycemic, hence insulin response, of a food. That's the reason why I suggest we pair our fruit with nuts and/or seeds.
- Add cinnamon
--> cinnamon isn't just an antioxidant, it, too, reduces blood sugar and increases insulin sensitivity --> 1 tsp of cinnamon per day; cinnamon (cassia > ceylon) contains coumarin, excess intake can contribute to liver problems
- Eat your food along with an egg (a whole egg)
- Drink chia seed water post meal
--> given high fiber content of chia seeds, these small powerful seeds can slow down digestion. If you don't like chia water, then add it to oats, yogurt, when baking or making stir fry veggies but don't forget to allow the seeds plenty of time to soak (quell)
- Add the spice turmeric, especially together with black pepper
--> turmeric naturally reduced blood sugar and protect our kidneys
- Apple cider vinegar
--> spike your water with a 1 tsp of this powerful blood sugar reducing fermented drink --> if you consume apple cider vinegar together with carbohydrates, blood sugar response is reduced by 20% --> consume maximal 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar per day
- Cook with garlic
--> garlic reduces blood sugar levels, inflammation, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure Constant snacking or eating, excess intake of simple, high glycemic carbohydrates but also excess protein, especially whey protein contributes to heightened blood glucose levels. If unused for energy (excess glucose) will, with the help of insulin, be converted to fat in our fat cells.
Keep in mind, we rarely just eat one food item. The glycemic response to food is contingent on a variety of factors and how we combine our food.
Now, you might ask
given, that you might remember from the article "3 fat storing hormones & their effect on weight" that insulin increases fat storage and blocks fat breakdown
- how to reduce the conversion of glucose to fat
Eat with a lower blood sugar response in mind. Control your portions. Focus on a healthy, balanced, colorful, and fiber rich diet. Make use of spices. They come with many health benefits. Allow enough time between your meals and expend enough energy so your liver and muscles crave to be filled with glucose. Balance your stress level as well as mood. Live a healthy lifestyle and don't forgo sleep. But keep in mind, fat storage is part of the game and is completely normal; we store some we expend some. It just needs to be in balance.
- how heavy weight training, intense HIIT workouts and sprint sessions contribute to insulin balance
just believe me, it does. More on this subject later! Thank you for reading. Feel free to like, share, and comment. Other articles that might be of interest to you:
https://www.fienergy.net/3-fat-storing-hormones-weight-loss/ https://www.fienergy.net/healthy-eating-easy-tips-that-support-weight-loss/ https://www.fienergy.net/diets-diet-mistakes-and-how-you-lose-weight-for-good/