Insulin resistance is something that affects many people yet we are largely unaware of it. Essentially, it is a state of “pre-pre-type 2 diabetes” which means that if you have insulin resistance and continue with the same lifestyle, there’s a chance you might eventually end up with type 2 diabetes if you don’t do anything about it.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

The Role Of Insulin

The role of insulin is to shuttle glucose or blood sugar into the cells where it can be used. This glucose typically comes from carbohydrates although we can make this sugar from fats through a process known as lipolysis, more commonly known as “burning fat”.

When you’re insulin resistant, your insulin has trouble getting blood sugar into your cells resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. You can’t just let the blood sugar stay in your blood though, it’s toxic in too high quantities. In fact, there are around 4g glucose in your blood at any one time. This is the ideal amount. Anymore than that, and that’s when health issues arise.

When the body can’t get the glucose into the cells, it decides to increase insulin production. Slowly over a long period of time (this can be years and years), your insulin levels will rise and rise, becoming chronically elevated. However, if you were to get your blood glucose tested, it would likely be normal because your body is able to deal with the excess glucose (from your diet) due to the elevated insulin levels. But your body can’t keep it up forever. It’s exactly for this reason that I recommend if you’re getting any blood work done for glucose levels, I highly recommend insisting that you get your insulin levels monitored too.

Diabetes

When blood glucose starts to rise, that’s when you have diabetes. Almost 50% of Americans have prediabetes or diabetes. People can have seemingly have no problems for years or even decades before a diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes is made. Type 2 diabetes and its precursors, prediabetes and insulin resistance can even occur in normal weight individuals although it is far less likely compared to obese individuals.

The Problem With Insulin Resistance

When insulin goes up, it increases risk of type 2 diabetes. However, it all makes us hungry. The food we eat is also much more likely to be stored as fat because insulin acts as our fat storage problem. This is a double edged sword because it makes us more likely to have metabolic problems such as diabetes whilst making it hard to reduce how much we eat. And when we eat more foods and put on more fat, there’s even fewer places to store glucose.

The Root Of The Problem?

What drives such high glucose levels in the blood? Primarily carbohydrates. Carbohydrates elicit the greatest insulin response, followed by protein and finally fat.

If we ate fewer carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, then we would have a much lower blood sugar and insulin levels would not need to be so elevated. Carbohydrates or fat can be used as a source of energy. And as we can see, fat elicits hardly any insulin response. It’s minimal.

The Cycle

If your insulin levels are already high and you eat lots of carbs, your glucose will rise. Your body will increase your insulin levels so it can store your blood glucose somewhere in the body (typically fat cells in this case). But because insulin drives hunger and your insulin levels are already chronically elevated, you’re going to be hungry and eat more carbs. Cycle repeats.

  1. Eat carbs.
  2. Blood glucose rises.
  3. Body produces more insulin.
  4. Glucose stored in fat cells + increased insulin levels drive hunger.

Rinse and repeat. It’s a vicious cycle. Part of the problem, is many of us live in a culture where we eat plenty of carbohydrates whether they come from refined foods, cereal or grains. These are the main culprits. Ultimately, the way we get around this is to stop eating what is the norm. Omit many of the carbohydrates from the diet and focus on eating meat, fish and whole veg as the ‘core’ of your diet.

The Diet Recommended For Diabetics

Despite carbs playing a crucial role in this problem, dietary recommendations for diabetics as prescribed by the NHS are to eat starchy carbohydrates (these are better than refined carbohydrates but still don’t help the problem) and avoid fatty foods. That seems to contradict science. Is general advice causing diabetics to eat what is causing their problem?

The root of the problem for diabetics is carbohydrate consumption. All carbohydrates are effectively turned into sugar. When insulin resistance, you’re essentially intolerant to carbohydrates, so why does general advice recommend you continue to eat them? That’s like recommending someone who’s lactose intolerant drinks milk.

Fortunately, in the USA, the American Diabetes Association, has begun to recognise that low carb along with other diets can be used to manage and potentially reverse type 2 diabetes.

Do We Need Carbs?

The body requires essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. But there are no essential carbohydrates – yet we consume around 50% of our daily energy intake from carbohydrates.

When you decrease carbohydrate intake, your blood glucose goes down and so does your insulin. One study showed that the single biggest risk factor for coronary heart disease is insulin resistance which is responsible for 42% of heart attacks. Low carb is so effective, that it can reverse type 2 diabetes within a matter of weeks, even when insulin levels are out of control and are being managed by several medications. However, this doesn’t mean that patients should go back to eating a high carb diet. Low carb can be used as an effective way of keep type 2 diabetes at bay.

Low carb is not zero carb or high protein. It’s primarily fat. Furthermore, it’s been shown to reduce inflammatory markers which is exciting.

Suggestions For Reversing Insulin Resistance

  • Eat minimally processed foods.
  • Cut out sugar and grains.
  • Avoid “low-fat” or “zero fat” foods as these typically have more sugar added to them.
  • Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t eat when you’re not.

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Further Reading:

What Is The Glycemic Index?

What Is The Food Insulin Index?

11 Ways To Reduce Insulin Spikes

What Is Insulin?

References:

Advice to follow a low-carbohydrate diet has a favourable impact on low-grade inflammation in type 2 diabetes compared with advice to follow a low-fat diet

Diet For Type 2 Diabetes – Diabetes.co.uk

Four Grams of Glucose

NHS Diet Advice – Diabetes.co.uk

Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012

Relationship of Insulin Resistance and Related Metabolic Variables to Coronary Artery Disease: A Mathematical Analysis

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes Starts With Ignoring The Guidelines – TED Talk

What Can I Eat? – Diabetes.org (American Diabetes Association)