Sugar is the main culprit for most people’s weight issues, and insulin is the key hormone that regulates its levels in our bloodstream. Scientists have researched insulin for years, uncovering its intricate mechanisms and how it affects weight management.
This article explains how insulin works, its connection to weight loss, and what we can do to preserve its function.
When we eat, our digestive system breaks down food into simple nutrients – amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars – and sends them into the bloodstream.
Once sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates enters the bloodstream, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin. Insulin transports glucose into the blood cells, which use it to produce energy for essential biological processes. This brings blood sugar levels into normal range, signaling to the pancreas to lower insulin production.
If we eat more carbohydrates than necessary for vital bodily functions, the pancreas pumps more insulin in an attempt to achieve optimal blood sugar levels. Chronically elevated insulin levels disrupt the body’s response to the hormone, leading to insulin resistance, diabetes, inflammation, and other serious conditions.
On its own, insulin doesn’t contribute to weight gain in healthy people. When the body functions properly, insulin helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and supports healthy metabolic processes.
The more glucose we have in the blood from excess food intake, the more insulin is released to decrease it. Chronically elevated insulin levels eventually cause the cells to stop responding to insulin in a condition called insulin resistance. Excess sugar that can’t enter the cells is stored for later use in the liver and muscles. If high levels of blood sugar persist, the liver starts storing the excess sugar in fat cells, leading to weight gain.
An increase in weight usually results from various factors affecting appetite regulation and metabolism and can’t be attributed just to insulin. There are other important hormones that interplay with insulin in a sophisticated system that affects appetite, energy levels, fat accumulation, and weight gain.
Most foods contain carbohydrates, which the digestive system breaks down into glucose. Every time we eat, the pancreas releases insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
The reason why high-carb diets are associated with increased insulin and weight gain is that sugar is the body's go-to energy source. If we provide it only with carbohydrates, especially if these come from highly processed, refined sources (white flour, white rice, sweets, sugary drinks, etc.), the body never uses up its sugar stores. With a constant supply of sugar, the body does not turn to alternative energy sources such as fat.
However, the solution to maintaining low, steady insulin levels is not as simple as cutting all carbs from our diet. Some high-carb foods such as legumes contain dietary fiber, which has been found to improve insulin sensitivity. Together with the other nutrients that they contain, legumes, whole grains and other carbohydrate-rich foods provide many health benefits. Instead of simply avoiding carbohydrates, we should make smart choices about what we eat and the total nutritional composition of food.
People who eat balanced, regular meals with enough carbohydrates to meet their energy needs experience short periods of elevated insulin. Additionally, the other nutrients in the food slow down the release of glucose and decrease the total amount of insulin that is delivered.
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Insulin resistance happens when the cells in our body stop respond to insulin and don’t absorb glucose in the blood. The result is that the pancreas continues to produce more of the hormone while blood sugar levels remain high.
Factors that contribute to chronically elevated insulin include genetics, lack of physical activity, overeating, and visceral fat, especially around the waist.
It is important to note that you can have normal weight and still be insulin resistant. Because insulin resistance doesn’t typically present any noticeable symptoms, it is recommended to regularly check blood sugar levels.
Once a person becomes insulin resistant, it is difficult to burn fat and lose weight, and the two conditions perpetuate one another. Maintaining low insulin levels is the key to preventing insulin resistance.
Medical professionals view insulin resistance as the precursor to type 2 diabetes. The condition is also a risk factor for heart disease, liver damage, strokes, and cancer.
The good news is that you can reverse prediabetic conditions such as insulin resistance with these lifestyle modifications (and discipline):
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Insulin plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels in our bodies. Overeating, physical inactivity, and other unhealthy lifestyle habits can cause our cells to ignore insulin, resulting in serious health problems. This includes our ability to maintain optimal weight, which may lead to diabetes, heart diseases, and other serious conditions.
To restore a healthy insulin function, make sure to employ all the well-known strategies for better health. They will also help you in your weight loss efforts.
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