What is Insulin and It’s Connection to Fat Storage

Steve TheunissenNutritionLeave a Comment

Insulin is one of those words that everybody’s heard of, but many can’t actually explain. Asked what it is and why it’s important, they shuffle their feet and uncomfortably shrug their shoulders. For those people concerned with controlling their body fat levels (and who isn’t?) that creates a problem. Insulin, you see, has a critical part to play in determining whether your body is lean and mean or flabby and lethargic. Let’s find out how.

The Carb / Insulin Connection

carb-insulinEvery piece of food that we eat travels down into our stomach and is broken down into small particles that travel through the gastro-intestinal tract. When that food is in the form of carbohydrate it gets broken down into glucose. Now, your body can only use so much of that glucose at any one time. What doesn’t get used gets stored by your body. To transport that spill-over glucose to its storage site, your body produces a hormone called insulin. You could liken insulin to a railway carriage cart that carries glucose around the body.

If the body didn’t produce insulin, we’d end up with a whole lot of excess sugar in the blood. This would make the blood extremely thick and difficult to move through the veins and arteries. This would require the heart to pump a lot harder to move the blood around the body.

The Fat Storage Train

There are only a couple of places that the insulin can carry the extra glucose to. The first place is the liver. There it will either be used or moved on to the next location, which is the muscle cell. The more muscle we have, the more glucose is required for maintenance and energy. That’s why the more muscle you have, the leaner you will be. If the muscle cell rejects the glucose that is offered to it because it’s already saturated, that glucose will then be stored as body fat.

The more high carb food you eat, the more your pancreas will be releasing insulin. Over time, your liver and muscle cells will stop responding to the insulin that is transporting the spill-over glucose to them. At that stage, you will have developed insulin resistance. This will, of course, force the insulin to keep dumping it’s load as fat storage. You will develop a low sensitivity to insulin and your body will keep sending out more glucose to try to fuel the cells. That glucose will just continue to be stored as fat.

Stop! I Want To Get Off

How do we avoid getting into this dangerous state with our insulin levels. Well, that requires that we stop insulin production at the source – the foods we eat. By cutting back on carbs and increasing our consumption of proteins and healthy omega-3 fats we will dramatically decrease the rate of insulin production. This will allow us to, in effect, reprogram the cells – to utilize proteins and fats and stop rejecting carbohydrates.

The key types of carb to restrict are simple carbs that are digested quickly and lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar, such as processed sugar and flour products. These lead to surges of insulin production, which clear the sugar from the blood, leading to hypoglycemia. Consequently, this makes you hungry again and you’ll and to eat more simple carbs. You will be on treadmill to fatville!

Insulin Control Tips

  • Eat blueberries – studies show their ability to increase insulin sensitivity (1)
  • Supplement with Vitamin D – 4000 IU daily will improve your insulin resistance (2)
  • Add cinnamon – a teaspoon a day in your smoothie will assist insulin uptake in muscle cells (3)
  • Eat nuts – almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts – they’re all beneficial in helping to control insulin levels (4)
  • Exercise – high intensity interval training, such as CrossFit, will dramatically improve your insulin balance (5) 

Insulin Key Facts

  • Insulin is produced when you eat carbohydrates
  • Insulin transports glucose to muscle cells, the liver and fat cells
  • Insulin resistance fast tracks the insulin to fat cells
  • Reduce simple carbs to lower insulin levels
  • Eat more protein and essential fats to recharge your muscle cells

References
[1] http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20100917/blueberries-may-help-improve-insulin-sensitivity
[2] http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7180948
[3] http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7180948
[4] http://jn.nutrition.org/content/139/7/1333.full
[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21716152

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Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer who lives in New Zealand with his wife, Shelley, and two daughters. For the last decade, Steve has taught literacy to Middle School students. He also runs a fitness boot camp for pre-teens.

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