The Importance of Understanding Insulin

For a few decades, Americans have been following the World Health Organization's instructions, as well as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture, "eat less fat and more carbs." In fact, when I ask members how much fat they consume per day, they proudly say, "hardly any!" then brag about how much healthy whole grain cereal they eat per day.

Is our country healthy and fit because of this? Let's look at the statistics…

According to the CDC, the % of Americans who had diabetes in 1959 was .87% (1.49 million Americans afflicted), vs. 2012, 9.3% (29 million Americans afflicted). Today, 86 million adults (more than 1 in 3 Americans) have prediabetes, with blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as Type 2 Diabetes. The CDC projects by 2050, 33% of all Americans will be diagnosed with diabetes (not to mention the number of Americans that will have prediabetes). In 2005, the National Institutes of Health predicted that for the first time in the modern era, our children will not outlive their parents due to the diabetes and obesity epidemic upon us. More individuals have health club memberships today than 30+ years ago, yet our health has dramatically declined despite more Americans are “working out.” Why are we so obese? If we are following the guidelines of a low fat/high carb diet, why are so many of us diabetic? Maybe the advice of low fat/high carb was all wrong. To understand this concept, we must first understand insulin.

Dr. Jim LaValle, a nationally recognized clinical pharmacist, author, board certified clinical nutritionist, founder of Metabolic Code Enterprises, Inc., explains:

Diabetes is the result of problems with the pancreatic hormone insulin. Insulin controls the amount of glucose (blood sugar) circulating in the blood and at the rate which it is absorbed into the cells. Every cell in the body is nourished by glucose. It has a critical influence on the way the body performs. Poor blood sugar regulation is the precursor to insulin resistance - one of the most severe side effects of weight gain and primary symptom of metabolic syndrome. The primary dietary concern when it comes to insulin resistance and diabetes in excessive intake of refined carbohydrates (breads, pasta, cereal), sugar (fructose, dextrose, maltodextrin, honey), and high-glycemic foods (whole wheat breads, white bread, pasta, cereal, soda, candy, and even fruit juice). Studies have shown that obese children and adults consume much more refined sweeteners, especially in the form of soda, compared to their normal weight counterparts. Therefore, we see a connection between high sugar consumption and being overweight or obese. Many people either refuse to believe or refuse to act on the fact that excessive sugar intake has a negative impact on their health.

In summary, when you consume high glycemic foods, insulin acts to decrease the concentration of the glucose in the blood. Insulin, in fact, will promote the synthesis of protein. (We will explore this later). When someone has worked out extremely hard, truly exhausted their body, depleted their stores of glycogen, and when they consume high glycemic foods, insulin will fill those glycogen vacancies with the glucose consumed and assist the muscle to grow. (Refer to Run Your Gas Tank Empty) The problem arises when you have not emptied your glycogen stores. When there is not any vacancy for glycogen storage, the body will store the excess glucose as fat. Many people believe that cereal, bagels, pancakes, waffles, French toast, etc. are the optimal foods they can consume for breakfast because carbs give a person energy since they just woke up. Before you ate at breakfast, you were sleeping for 8 hours, and were in a state of ketosis (a metabolic state where your body's fuel is almost entirely from fat) and did no activity to empty your glycogen stores.

John Kiefer, a nutrition and exercise expert who uses his background in physics to squeeze the most out of the human body, in terms of muscle growth, fat loss, and performance, explains:

The earlier carbs slip into the diet, the earlier the body stops burning fat. By cutting off the supply of carbs, the body continues burning fat as it did throughout the night. There's no end of research to show that without carbs, the body burns a lot of fat. Once your body has stored the excess glucose that you ate as fat, your body starts craving for more carbs throughout the day." A downward spiral starts and you no longer desire healthy foods but crave sugars instead in the form of cereal, granola bars, bagels, candy, soda, and even fruit juice. A healthy breakfast is critical to prevent the cascade of poor food choices from happening throughout the day.

When insulin is high, it increases the efficiency of fat storage - insulin makes storing fat easier for the body. Eating carbs with all 6 to 8 of the traditional every two-hour meals tells the body that there if there's excess material, to do something with it. Fat, well, excess fat will get stores as fat. For carbs, if glycogen levels are full which they normally are, fat cells convert the excess into fat before storing it away.

What does all this mean?

The earlier in the day you consume carbohydrates in the form of sugar, waffles, breads, wheats, juice, etc. the earlier you will stop your body from burning fat. Pure and simple. Some who want to justify their sugar addiction is might say, "I don't have diabetes now and I am not obese.". While visually the person may appear healthy, their fasting glucose will confirm prediabetes. It takes approximately 10 years to develop Type II diabetes but it can happen more quickly. You need to be aware of the destination your health is headed towards. (For more information as to how to understand your blood sugar in reference to diabetes, refer to The Odds You Will Have Diabetes In The Next 10 Years: What Is Healthy?)

What can you do?

For breakfast, eat fats and proteins (minimal carbs). For lunch, eat fats, proteins, and non-starchy vegetables. For dinner, eat fats, proteins, non-starchy vegetables, and maybe 1 cup of fruit. If you need to snack during the day, consume proteins, fats, and some veggies or non-processed carbohydrates. Every time you consume food, fat and protein must be present. By keeping your insulin levels low, enjoy watching the fat melt right off your body!


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified