Today in the first blog of a series on fat storage hormones, I am going to speak a bit about insulin, its functions, what happens when there is an imbalance (or why do we gain weight) and how to avoid/fix the weight gain (and insulin resistance). While insulin resistance has numerous complications and sugar remains the primary cause of metabolic syndrome in modern world, this blog focuses on only the relationship between insulin and weight gain.
What is insulin? What does insulin do?
Insulin is a hormone (hormones are chemicals produced inside body which send signals through the blood) produced by the pancreas. Like all hormones, insulin is responsible for certain things and extremely critical for the body. Insulin is primarily responsible for carrying glucose in the blood from the food we eat to the cells for energy generation. It does the following functions:
1. It decreases blood sugar by storing the sugar as fats and by transporting blood sugars to cells for the cells to produce energy. This remains the foremost job.
2. It also transports potassium to the cells (potassium is required by the cell to convert glucose into energy)
3. It also transports amino acids to the cell for muscle building (hence proteins always have a considerable insulin index, even if they have zero glycemic index)
5. It converts extra sugar into fats (can’t stress enough how fat doesn’t become fat in the body, carbs do).
How does insulin work?
When we eat food, insulin is released to bring that blood sugar down (by transporting it to cells) BUT ALSO to transport potassium, amino acids, and glucose to the cells. Now after this transportation, the cell has received all the nutrients, and generates energy. Cells with energy send signals to brain to stop eating and we stop eating. As a negative feedback, brain then commands pancreas to STOP insulin secretion. This is the normal mechanism by insulin works in the body.
How does insulin make us gain weight?
Due to two things-over eating of carbs/proteins/in general and too many meals a day, we keep eating foods which turn into glucose in the blood or we continuously keep snacking so the glucose never comes down. As a result, insulin is secreted to bring it down by transporting to the cell. Insulin takes this glucose, this amino acid, this potassium to the cell, but the cell ALREADY HAS SUFFICIENT ENERGY. So it does not open to this insulin (cell is the lock to which insulin is the key to send glucose, potassium, amino acids inside). To open the lock (cell), the key (insulin) keeps twisting the lock (cell) and as a result, over long periods, the lock develops a resistance to the key, or the cell develops a resistance to the insulin. Now the glucose can’t go in. But insulin WAS SECRETED to do only one thing-BRING THOSE GLUCOSE LEVELS DOWN. So the insulin stores some sugar on liver, some on muscle as GLYCOGEN which can be readily converted into glucose to generate energy in emergency. but this could happen only about 500 grams of glucose. Anything extra-the glycogen depositing capacity has been exhausted now, and everything now in excess GETS CONVERTED INTO FATS. This is how the food we eat turns into fats-continuous snacking and overdoing on carbs and proteins.
Two main questions arise, what secretes insulin and how to control insulin?
What secretes insulin?
1. Sugars-direct, indirect, grains, refined flour, good sugars, bad sugars, fruit. All forms of sugars. Now it is worth noting that quitting sugar is not easy, and if you looking to quit, this will be difficult. To make the transition better, please click here. To learn about the best and worst sugar replacements you can include in your regime, please click here.
2. Proteins-We most certainly need proteins to build muscle and perform many functions in the body but the point is A HIGH PROTEIN DIET won’t work for healthy weight loss as the insulin response from proteins is considerable.
3. Eating in general- every time you eat, we secrete some insulin. So snacking secretes insulin.
4. Stress-stress sends body signals that we need glucose. So even while NOT eating, body sends insulin to prepare for the glucose that might or might not come. As a result, even if you eat anything during stress, it gets converted to fats.
5. Caffeine (same mechanism as stress).
6. MSG or monosodium glutamate (found in Chinese foods) and maltodextrin (found in many packaged foods) – has a worse insulin response than sugar itself.
How to control insulin resistance? Answer: By doing the opposite of what spikes insulin.
1. By avoiding sugar. If you have already quit sugar for a while and are looking to elevate your regime, please have a read at this blog.
2. By consuming about 100-150g of protein everyday, not overdo on it. The exact amount of protein you need depends upon your age, sex, activity levels and current health, and can vary from 0.80 grams to 1.4 grams per kilo (NOT pounds) of your body weight.
3. Fats have no effect on insulin, so by consuming fats.
4. By intermittent fasting, just two or three meals a day, nothing after dinner.
5. By adding more potassium-the MORE potassium you eat, the easier is for the cell to generate energy even if there is little glucose
6. By adding apple cider vinegar to your regime-in the morning empty stomach and with meals.
Hope you found the blog useful. Please leave a comment below to discuss further or to get in touch to improve your health. You can also reach out to me on +91 7045 647 489. Thank you for reading.