"Insulin and weight gain are practically synonymous. But there's more to it."
This is a peculiar hormone because it can be used both ways and it is equally effective for losing weight and fat as well as gaining weight.
The purpose of this hormone is to transport nutrients into muscle cells. Glucose is one of them. When glucose in the blood rises, insulin is secreted and the glucose is transported via this hormone into the cells together with other nutrients. If it was not secreted to shunt glucose away, blood sugar levels from starch consumption would rise too high and induce coma and death.
Insulin has major benefits such as enhancing muscle growth, recovery, and repair by delivering to the muscles the raw materials needed for protein synthesis. It also inhibits muscle breakdown.1,2,3,4,5
Promoter of Death
However, chronically high levels of it lead to death by way of diabetes and heart disease. This is done gradually and slowly and the road is riddled with poor enjoyment of life and addiction to food.6,7,8
At the same time it lowers the fat set-point of your body. It makes it very easy to build fat. In a study published in Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology in 1978, rats that were injected with insulin had an increase in fat, and rats injected with glucagon had a decrease in fat.9
The difficulty with insulin is that its secretion from the pancreas is very extreme in both directions. It is not fine-tuned. Insulin is usually secreted in excess amounts and when the muscles have received enough glucose and nutrients, they stop receiving the inflow of insulin and insulin is shut off as suddenly as it was turned on.
Insulin then takes the sugar supply away and brings the glucose level too low. This is the state of hypoglycemia.
This is the sugar low you experience after eating a very starchy and sugary meal.
So the drop in insulin now takes all the benefit away and prevents the muscle cells from receiving nutrition. Over a prolonged basis, muscles will atrophy.
Counterpart to IGF
Insulin is the counterpart to Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF) and a chemical that acts like a hormone that comes from the liver. While IGF tries to raise blood sugar through lipolysis, insulin works to lower blood sugar. It gets the cells to absorb sugar and the sugar it does not absorb is converted by insulin to fat and cholesterol. In the presence of insulin, you will not be able to burn fat.
It blocks the human growth hormone (HGH) and ALL the other fat-burning hormones. So after reading about all the hormones relating to fat, you will see that it is an either-or proposition. Either fat-burning hormones or fat-storing hormones are going to be present or dominant.
Focus on Controlling Insulin
With the group of people who cannot lose weight, insulin is the prime target. Lack of knowledge can also cause you to be eating foods that spike insulin.
Hidden Sources of Insulin
There are hidden sources of excess sugar. I hear the strangest things when talking with people, especially in an office.
Oh, I don't consume sugar. The 12 Full Throttles I drink a day are "sugar free". And that liter of ZERO Coke has "no sugar" and 'no calories'! And these protein bars that taste of cookie dough and caramel are 'sugar free.'
Or something like that.
Look guys, here is the deal. If it is man made and tastes sweet, there is sugar in it or it has something in it that does the same thing sugar does or worse.
Artificial sweeteners are toxic. Even if it is not man-made and it tastes sweet, it has sugar in it, but probably not as concentrated as man-made foods.
Due to the epidemic of diabetes in the US, the Glycemic Index was created where foods were listed based on the insulin response it creates.
Pure table sugar for example, has a very high GI because it will cause a large spike in insulin.
Lettuce for example has a very low GI index because it has virtually no response from insulin.
The foods that cause spikes in insulin are mainly starchy carbohydrates.
The carbohydrate family of foods encompasses a very broad and diverse array of foods.
All these foods are listed in the GI index based on their impact on insulin, but what is very helpful to know about this index is the common denominator of what makes a carbohydrate a high GI food or a low GI food.
That common denominator is fiber content and water content. On balance, the higher the fiber content and the water content of the food, the less insulin will be secreted. Coincidentally, water content and fiber content tend to go hand in hand when it comes to carbohydrates.
A Starch and a Carbohydrate
This is why I make the distinction between a STARCH and a CARBOHYDRATE.
A starch is a carbohydrate but a carbohydrate is not necessarily a starch.
A starch is a carbohydrate with little fiber and water content. Technically it is a carbohydrate with low fiber content. What is the dividing line? There is none. When you look at the foods you eat it is pretty easy to tell where they belong.
White bread dissolves in water to a mushy substance. There is no fiber in there.
Same goes true for pizza crust, chocolate, candy, ice cream, and everything else we love!
Celery is also a carbohydrate but its starch content is very low. Its fiber content is VERY High.
Other groups of foods that fall in the carbohydrate family are sugars. These have no fiber at all. There is nothing holding it together and keeping it intact. It dissolves right away and become glucose very efficiently, thus creating the insulin spike.
So what's the big deal? The big deal is the popular marketing term 'LOW CARB.' This started with the Atkins craze and just got crazier.
The greatest fat-burning foods are
So what was the big deal about the low carb diet? They were referring to starches. Low fiber, low moisture carbohydrates that shot insulin levels through the roof thereby shunting sugar (formed from the starches consumed) away from cells for energy, converting it to fat, and causing muscle atrophy from malnutrition.
True this helped people with the health imbalance that needed to lower insulin and needed more dense protein in their diet so the Atkins low-carb high-protein diet worked great for them ... until their condition changed and their body healed. The Atkins diet then CAUSED the plateau. It did not provide the next step.
Not to mention there are those with conditions that make high-protein diets almost toxic.
Another Insulin Myth - Protein is Low GI:
One of the byproducts of the Atkins craze is the idea that protein does not cause insulin spikes.
This is false.
Eating a large amount of protein in one sitting will cause an insulin spike.10 A small amount like 3 to 4 oz of meat will not.
Granted, it is a smaller spike in insulin (about 30% compared to a starch) but still a large enough spike to cause problems.
So the Atkins diet that says you can have 'liberal' amounts of meats and cheeses has not worked consistently. People whose pancreas is more sensitive will release a lot more insulin. Also if the level of insulin resistance is high, insulin is not used by the cells and it converts the protein you eat to body fat.
Another Myth - All Starches Cause Insulin Spikes
Yes, I know I just went over the difference between a starch and a carb and that starches are the thing to avoid.
Not totally true.
A small amount of starch will not cause an insulin spike, but a large amount will.
On balance, a gumdrop or Tootsie Roll will not turn you into a blimp.
The insulin response from a small candy or small amount of starch will not cause a spike.
This is important and helpful because in designing an eating plan for weight loss, some people really need a transition and because of this fact, we can still incorporate starches into their diet until they are not needed.
Also a starch combined with a high fiber carbohydrate and/or a protein will reduce the insulin response as well.
So in a pinch you can use this information to make your decisions when a starch is all that is available or you are really hungry and there are different foods available. Keep it small, combine macronutrients and keep the fiber high if you can. Emergency over.
There is a way to make starches friendly when needed.
I hope this helps clear some confusion.
- 1 Grizard J, et al. Insulin Action on Skeletal Muscle Protein Metabolism During Catabolic States. Reprod Nutr Dev 1999;39:61.
- Gelfand RA, Barrett EJ. Effect of Physiologic Hyperinsulemia on Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Breakdown in Man. J Clin Invest 1987;80:1.
- Miers WR, Barrett EJ. The role of Insulin and othe rHormones in the Regulation of Amino Acid and Protien Metabolism in Humans. J Basic Clin Phsiol Pharmacol 1998;9:235.
- Fryburg DA, et al. Insulin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 Enhance Human Skeletal Muscle Protein Anabolism during Hyperaminoacidemia by Different Mechanisms. J Clin Invest 1995;96:1722
- Airhart J, et al. Insulin Stimulation of Protein Synthesis in Cultured Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle Cells. Am J Physiol 1982;243:C81.
- Brunning PF, et al. Insulin Resistance and Breast Cancer Risk. Int J Cancer 1992;52:511.
- Boutron-Ruault MC, et al. Foods as Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer: A Case-Control Study in Burgundy (France). Eur J Cancer Prev 1999;8:229.
- Chatenoud L, et al. Refined-Cereal Intake and Risk of Selected Cancers in Italy. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:1107.
- deCastro J, Paullin S, DeLugas G. Insulin and Glucagon as Determinants of Bodyweight Set Point and Microregulation in Rats. J Comp Physiol Psychol 1978;92:571.
- 10 Lee. John R., Estrogen Dominance Syndrome. What your doctor may not tell you about Menopause. Warner Books. 1996 p.43.