Episode 6 – Control The Insulin Response and Blood Sugar, Macronutrients
In this episode, I’m going to give you a basic understanding of the insulin response, which happens when there’s an increase in blood sugar after eating a meal or a snack. All too often I see people that complain about their diabetes and they have eating habits that aren’t helping them.
When we eat, the pancreas secretes or puts out insulin, and eating carbohydrates causes the highest amount of insulin to be secreted. Insulin is known as a storage hormone, and in graduate school we referred to it as the fat hormone because it helps store carbohydrates as fat — as if in the future there was going to be a famine.
So basically, we’re telling the body to store fat when we overconsume carbohydrates, particularly the refined type like bread, cereal, pasta and of course, sugary foods, and even fruit. Metabolically, when you eat foods high in sugar and carbs, you increase both blood sugar and insulin levels.
Insulin is a hungry hormone. It signals the body not to release any stored fat. So you can’t even use your own stored body fat for energy. It just stays where it’s stored. And it’s interesting to note that insulin converts nearly half of the carbohydrates we eat to fat for storage.
For the purpose of simplicity, I’m going to consider the actions of insulin as though it’s the only hormone in the body telling your cells what to do. But insulin, like all hormones, doesn’t act alone. All hormones in the body are connected, and they’re helping each other regulate all the same biochemical reactions simultaneously.
CARBOHYDRATES & FIBER
So first, let’s follow carbohydrates through your system to see how they affect insulin secretion. And for this example, I’m going to divide your body into two parts inside and outside. The intestinal tract is made up of your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, which is your colon and rectum. It can be thought of as being outside your body since it’s in contact with the outside at both ends. It’s in the digestive tract from your mouth to your small intestines that the food you eat is digested, broken down into its smallest possible building blocks. When you digest carbohydrates, you break them down into sugar. And sugar is small enough that it can pass from the small intestine, which is outside the body, through the intestinal wall and into the blood system which is inside the body. This process is called absorption, and the purpose of digestion is absorption.
The area of the bloodstream where sugar enters is called the portal vein. Though its name is not important, it’s important for you to know that the portal vein links your small intestines directly to your liver and not to any other organs or cells. It’s at the level of the portal vein that insulin is introduced into the bloodstream proportionate to the amount of incoming sugar. The insulin and the sugar travel directly to the liver where the liver cells take up sugar from the bloodstream, because insulin tells the liver to open their doors or their receptors and let the sugar in.
Insulin does this for other cells of the body too. And the condition where insulin is no longer effective at this is known as insulin resistance.
Let’s back up a little bit and talk about carbohydrates. I know in the past couple of decades there have been all kinds of papers and studies and scientific concepts coming out about food, carbohydrates, fats, etc. That’s fine, but I’m just going to keep it very, very simple so that we have a basic understanding that we can work with.
There are two types of carbohydrates, 1) refined or simple, and 2) unrefined or complex. Refining is the process of breaking the food down to smaller pieces. Once refined carbohydrates are eaten, they’re broken down quickly and easily into glucose, which is small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes a fast rise in blood glucose levels.
Unrefined carbohydrates are those that are found in nature and contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. While the body tries to break down the unrefined carbohydrates into glucose, it also has to break apart the fiber structures. This process takes more time and energy, which will slow down the amount of glucose being absorbed into the bloodstream.
Incidentally, high fiber and unrefined carbohydrates help maintain healthy HDL cholesterol levels and have been shown to lower triglycerides as well. Fruits and vegetables are very protective against heart disease and cancer, mainly because of the fiber and the vitamins and the minerals and all the phytochemicals that are found in these types of carbohydrates.
Breads, cereals, starchy foods, desserts, sugars – these are all found to increase your risk of disease. Just as an aside, most people can safely consume grains in small amounts. But some people are allergic or sensitive to a grain protein called gluten. Gluten containing grains, which are most grains, are among the most allergenic foods.
Carbohydrates can comprise anywhere from 30 to 50% of a healthy diet, and intake of carbohydrates higher than 50% displaces vital nutrients that would otherwise come from proteins and fats. So keep in mind that healthful eating is about balance, a balance between carbohydrates, protein and fats.
Another word about fiber. Fiber is a type of a carbohydrate that contains substances such as cellulose, which is resistant to digestion. Most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, but fiber is not broken down and passes through the body undigested. Some people listening may remember the term intestinal broom, or your grandmother telling you that you had to eat your fiber!
There are two types of dietary fiber soluble and insoluble. Both are indigestible, but only the soluble type fiber can absorb water from the intestine while food is being broken down. Soluble fiber is referred to as viscous, meaning it becomes a gel. This quality tends to regulate the passage of food through the digestive system, which stabilizes blood glucose, making you feel satiated. And it also permits better absorption of nutrients.
Insoluble fiber, like soluble fiber plays a key role in controlling weight by staving off hunger pangs. Unfortunately, most people get way below the optimal level of fiber. If you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you needn’t worry about getting enough of each kind of fiber. The important thing to know is fiber intake should be at least 20 to 25 grams per day.
The next macronutrient to talk about is protein, which is essential for life. It’s an integral part of every single cell in the body. It’s needed to build and maintain skin, muscle, bones and organs. Protein is used to make hormones transport nutrients, act as enzymes, maintain water balance and support immune function through antibodies. Proteins are made from amino acids, so in order for your body to build or maintain tissue, your food choices must contain essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. So how much is enough? The answer to this is important when trying to balance blood sugar. When there isn’t enough protein in the body, we start to break down our muscle tissues to meet our body’s needs.
This next part isn’t going to make me popular with vegetarians and vegans but I have to say that in the distant past, humans were getting a lot more protein than they are getting today. Although, of course, I understand consuming too much protein can be a dangerous thing but animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids in the proportions that are needed, and it’s of a higher quality than vegetable protein. It’s more easily digested. Protein in plants is harder for the body to break down because of the plant cell walls. Plant proteins have lower bioavailability.
And something that irks me just a little bit is how people that are into Keto are eating all kinds of meat because it’s got fat and that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to get the body to create energy using fat. What these people don’t understand is that even protein, if the portions are too big, the body will turn this into sugar. This is a process called gluconeogenesis, and it’s very well known. This might be the problem that people on the keto diet have when instead of being able to stay in that state of ketosis, they break that state when they eat too much protein. The old fashioned concept of calorie counting actually applies here because with any calorie containing nutrient, consuming an excess of the body’s needs is going to result in a repackaging process that is stored fat. The body cannot store extra protein or amino acids for later use.
The ideal protein consumption, arguably, ranges between 55 and 125 grams per day, or about 30% of total calories in healthy adults. I understand that there’s a great controversy around this, but this is a discussion about insulin and blood sugar so we’re not going to get into that kind of controversy. Those with more muscle mass are going to need more protein to maintain their lean muscle.
Protein from vegetable sources include lentils, nuts, soy and grains. Soy protein, or any of these sources alone don’t have the protein efficiency ratio, which is the protein quality that animal protein does, and soy protein is not recommended by me due to genetically modified organisms or GMOs. But for your information, soy protein is also low in methionine, which is one of the essential amino acids and therefore not allowed as a sole source of protein for infant formulas because of its low protein efficiency.
So you can try experimenting with protein amounts for yourself, and after a while check the following parameters lean muscle, mass energy levels, blood sugar balance or overall well-being. And keep in mind that it’s predominantly exercise, not dietary protein intake that increases and maintains muscle tissue. The takeaway here is that animal protein is of significantly higher quality than vegetable protein. And lean animal foods are health promoting and do not cause any diseases.
And now about fats. High carb, low fat diets are out! The research is overwhelming that a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates is detrimental to our health, particularly heart health. A low fat, high carb diet leads to changes in glucose and insulin metabolism, and this is not good for those wanting to get their blood sugar under control. Some of the most therapeutic compounds known to man, as well as some of the most damaging, are found in fats. Fats are the most concentrated form of energy that’s found in food.
The physiological processes that require fat for healthy functioning or hormones:
The immune system
The nervous system
You’ve probably heard that the kind of fat we eat is just as important as the amount. So, for example, a cold pressed oil like flaxseed is one of the most energizing and healthful of all oils because it contains both omega three and omega six fatty acids, the two essential fatty acids or EFAs that the cells in your body need and that can only be gotten from your diet.
Partially hydrogenated oil is loaded with trans fat, which lowers levels of the good cholesterol, the HDL, and raises levels of the bad cholesterol, or LDLs and VLHLs deals, and total serum cholesterol, making it very dangerous to your heart and arteries.
Back to the insulin response. Remember, when we eat a meal the food is broken down into nutrients that are absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to an increase in blood sugar and it’s this rise in blood sugar that triggers the release of the hormone insulin. But the body has to keep a very tight rein on blood sugar levels because too high or too low can have very bad effects.
People with type one diabetes don’t produce enough insulin and have to take insulin to be able to pick up the sugar in the blood and bring it where it needs to go.
People with type two diabetes have insulin, but the cells are resistant to the insulin coming in. This is perhaps better known as insulin resistance and is thought to be caused by free fatty acids that tend to accumulate in the muscle and liver cells and inhibit the proper working function of the insulin receptors. These aren’t the healthy fatty acids that I discussed earlier. These fatty acids are thought to be from a diet that’s high in processed sugars or fructose, and high in saturated fats.
Remember earlier when I said that hormones work together? Well, for example, people wanting to lose weight say they should raise their metabolism. But more often than not, it’s hormone issues and not metabolism that’s responsible for excess weight. When our hormones are out of balance, we’re out of balance.
All the glands, but especially the adrenal and thyroid glands, are responsible for the energy of the human body. And when these systems are unbalanced nutritionally, we will have symptoms. Chronic stress and cortisol can contribute to several harmful physiological events. Cortisol’s main role is to increase blood sugar during a stressful situation. High blood sugar is a normal and healthy response because this is how your body goes into alert mode for the task at hand. But unfortunately, if you’re under chronic stress, your cortisol levels are probably always high. These physiological mechanisms ensure that your body and brain get what they need when they need it. High cortisol also breaks down muscle tissue to get the body the energy it needs and blocks protein from going back into the muscle. Instead, cortisol is redirected to the liver and broken down into carbohydrates.
If you’re concerned about the insulin response that you may be having, it’s a good idea to take steps to lower your cortisol. And the way to do this is to incorporate calming lifestyle routines, like getting more sleep and giving your body a rest from eating. Get some sun. Go for a walk. There are many things that you can do to keep your cortisol levels where they should be so that you’re not experiencing wild fluctuations in blood sugar.
One positive benefit of cleaning up our diets is to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, which relieves the liver so it can function and take the trash out of the body, like metabolic wastes, environmental toxins, and pesticides in our food. If the trash remains in the body for too long disease appears. So it is highly beneficial to take the stress off the liver and keep the intestinal tract running smoothly. Of course, you can take probiotics to help this process along, and there are other supplements that you can take also to improve your insulin response, your blood sugar, and your cortisol levels. But the place really to begin is with the macronutrients, your carbohydrate intake, your protein intake, your fat intake and what type of fats you’re eating. And pay attention to your portion size. I know these things are easier said than done, but you can do it!
To see a free condensed copy of my ebook which contains important information go HERE
Basic food designations (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fiber and processed food)
Hormones and glands
Optimal food portions and shopping list
Why take supplements, and what supplements to take
50 recipes and 50 meal plan examples