American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


Elevators and Insulin

I haven’t been able to write since my grandfather passed. I would sit at my computer, trying to find something to say, but nothing would come.

Then last week a dear friend entered hospice after a long and valiant fight against ovarian cancer. She always encouraged me to write and tell the truth about food and health, even when the truth wasn’t popular.

The time we have here is short, and I don’t want to waste it. I want her to be proud of my bravery, like I am proud of hers.

I’m not quite ready to talk about cancer yet, but I can talk about insulin. sugar still life

We are born genetically programmed with the amount of insulin we can make in our lifetime. That’s why Type 2 Diabetes runs in families, and why some people can eat horribly and never develop the disease while others get it quite young.

Insulin’s main job is to open the door to let glucose and fat (the energy nutrients) into our cells. Glucose and fat are big molecules, and they need special transporters to get them into cells. Insulin is the signal that tells our cells to move these transporters into place and open them up to receive their fuel. Our brains and red blood cells pretty much only use glucose for fuel, so have these transporters available all of the time.

Why do we need this complex procedure? Why can’t all cells always be open to take in fuel? Because we need a steady supply of glucose in our blood to fuel our brains and red blood cells. If our muscles take all of the glucose, our brains would shut down. Our bodies use insulin to regulate how much fuel is stored, and how much is circulating and available for our brains and blood.

When there’s plenty of fuel, right after we eat, insulin is released so our cells take it in, leaving just enough in the blood. When there’s less fuel available, say several hours after we eat, our cells use what they stored earlier to fuel their activity.

A pretty elegant system, don’t you think?

If this process gets less efficient, like when there is a lot of saturated fat getting in the way of the insulin signals, our body produces more insulin to get the glucose out of the blood and into cells.  This is called insulin resistance, and is the first sign of pre-diabetes. We end up using way more insulin than we should at each meal. Eventually, we run so low on insulin stores our bodies can’t keep up and we develop Type 2 Diabetes.

How do we conserve our insulin to make sure we always have enough? I’m so glad you asked.

First, don’t waste it. Foods that are high in processed, refined and simple sugars are digested quickly. Their glucose enters our blood stream all at once, signaling our body to release lots of insulin. Foods that contain natural fibers, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts are digested slowly (the fiber slows them down) and our bodies need to send out only a little insulin to handle the trickle of glucose entering our bloodstream.

Its like hotel elevators. If everyone arrives at the same time, the hotel needs tons of elevators to get everyone up to their rooms. If people arrive a few at a time, the hotel only needs a few elevators to get everyone upstairs.

Second, exercise regularly. Exercise stimulates our cells to move the glucose transporters into place without insulin. You can lower your blood sugar by getting 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, no insulin required. The more you move, the better this works.

What about fat? Eating too much saturated fat, from animal products like meat and cheese, makes it harder for insulin to do its job and we need to send out more insulin to keep our blood sugar in the healthy range.

Insulin also sends the signal to store fat, and it likes to store it around our middles and under our chin – not the safest places to have extra fat. They are close to the heart and arteries that go to the brain. When there isn’t as much insulin circulating around, fat gets stored more in our hips and thighs, which is much safer for our hearts and arteries. A full booty is more attractive than a double chin.

Fill your plate with whole, natural foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts. Avoid sugary foods, refined grains and fatty meats. Get up and move for just one total hour a day.  You will not only conserve insulin, you will look and feel better too.

, , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply