Dieting and Insulin Resistance

Dr. Christopher McGowan
November 18, 2021

According to the American Diabetes Association, over 10% of the population of the United States has some form of diabetes. Out of that nearly 35 million people, it is estimated that around seven million have diabetes but aren’t diagnosed. Many of these cases (if not most) of diabetes can be traced to having an inactive lifestyle and a poor diet, and one of the main dietary concerns is the impact of foods on insulin levels in the blood. Indeed, recent studies continue to demonstrate that insulin resistance is both a key contributor to diabetes as well as weight gain and a variety of other conditions. 

What is Insulin Resistance?   

Insulin is a type of hormone that is produced by the pancreas and is responsible for regulating blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) levels in the bloodstream. After a meal, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood in order to carry off newly arrived glucose molecules to other parts of the body. The cells can then either use the glucose for energy or it becomes converted to body fat for storage and later use. Insulin also plays a role in other metabolic activities, such as the breaking down of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, but its impact on blood glucose levels is the main reason it can lead to health problems. 

When the body is functioning normally, insulin is secreted into the bloodstream as needed to keep blood sugar levels normal. In people with insulin resistance, however, the body no longer produces sufficient amounts of insulin and tends to use any that is produced in a less efficient way. As a result, blood sugar levels stay elevated and begin to cause a variety of symptoms and disruption to many metabolic processes. Over time, this state of hyperglycemia (too much glucose in the bloodstream) can lead to diabetes mellitus.  

Dietary Tips for Insulin Resistance

There are many factors involved in insulin resistance and diabetes, but diet choices are some of the most important considerations in terms of treatment and management. The good news is that the dietary recommendations for insulin resistance are also highly valuable in weight loss as well. By modifying your diet, you can potentially prevent the onset of diabetes and lose some excess body weight. The following are some tips for how to make changes to your diet: 

Foods to Avoid: In general, it’s important to avoid or reduce foods that are likely to increase your blood sugar. In fact, the regular consumption of foods with a lot of sugar is one of the main drivers of insulin resistance. The more sugar that is consumed, the harder it is for the pancreas to produce insulin; the resulting higher blood sugar levels can then lead to a variety of health problems, including type 2 diabetes. The following examples are foods to avoid or eat only in moderation: 

  • sweet beverages, like soda and fruit juice 
  • alcohol, particularly grain alcohol and beer 
  • processed and packaged snacks
  • sugary desserts, like cookies, ice cream, and candy 
  • refined grains like white bread that have lower fiber content 
  • milk and other dairy products
  • fried foods 
  • any food high in saturated fat

Foods to Embrace: While the list of foods to avoid is fairly straightforward and probably understood intuitively by most people, it may not be as clear what foods are ideal for an insulin resistance diet. In general, you want to look for foods that have a low glycemic index; this means foods that more slowly increase blood sugar levels after consumption. You can search different types of foods in this resource recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but below are some examples as well:    

  • fresh veggies of any kind, but only eat starchy vegetables like potatoes in moderation 
  • fresh fruit is full of vitamins, but it can also satiate a craving for something sweet
  • foods with high fiber content like whole grains, nuts, legumes, lentils, and oatmeal can help balance blood sugar levels 
  • lean proteins like chicken, turkey, or fish give you the protein you need without excess fat content 
  • though most dairy products have a high glycemic index, egg whites and low fat cheese are good, low-carb sources of protein and other nutrients 
  • when cooking, switch out butter for healthy oils like olive and sesame 

Making such dietary changes as a way to reverse insulin resistance doesn’t necessarily mean totally giving up your favorite foods. Anyone can make a healthy diet plan that allows them to eat what they like in moderation. It’s more of a re-balancing of dietary habits in order to make sure your blood sugar levels stay at a manageable level relative to your body’s insulin production level. Ultimately, an insulin resistance diet is about living a healthy lifestyle and permanently shifting your relationship with food by developing new habits that will have positive benefits for your long-term health and wellbeing.   

Additional Considerations   

Making modifications to your diet through a new meal plan, however, is really only one aspect of addressing insulin resistance. Exercise and overall increased physical activity are also important factors in keeping blood sugar at a healthy level. In fact, extensive research has shown that regular exercise can actually increase your insulin sensitivity and thereby make it easier for cells in the body to use glucose in the bloodstream. Moreover, studies indicate that this state of higher insulin sensitivity can linger for up to 24 hours. 

The idea of increased exercise can be intimidating to some, but almost any activity that gets you moving around can have a positive impact on blood sugar. This can include going for a walk or dancing or even gardening. Even finding small opportunities throughout the day to add a little more movement to your life can be beneficial. For example, you could take the stairs instead of riding the elevator or you could park a little further away from your destination when running an errand to get extra walking in.  

In addition to lowering your blood sugar, regular exercise increases the number of calories you burn every day. In combination with some of the dieting changes noted above, lifestyle changes like additional exercise can help you burn off excess body weight. Carrying excess body weight is another contributing risk factor to insulin resistance and to the potential of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, so taking steps to lose weight can have an additional positive impact on maintaining good insulin sensitivity. It can also have the added effect of reducing the chances for heart disease/cardiovascular disease as well as lowering your blood pressure.  

Learn More About Weight Loss Options

The desire to lose weight often goes beyond concerns about insulin resistance and is often personal and emotional. The changes to your diet and activity level noted here are important tools for managing your blood sugar level, but they aren’t necessarily as effective at managing weight loss. Weight loss research continues to show that those traditional methods are just not effective over the long term for most people. If people lose weight at all, they often put it all back on within a couple years. 

At True You Weight Loss, we understand how difficult this journey can be; for many people, weight loss attempts have been just a series of failures. That is why we offer a series of state-of-the-art non-surgical weight loss procedures that can help you lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off. If you would like to learn more about how to finally find the freedom you’ve been looking for, contact us today to request a consultation.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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