Updated: May 30, 2020
The key to controlling fat storage, release and cravings is to control insulin release by controlling blood sugar.
When we eat high carbohydrate and processed foods, our blood sugar spikes way up and then crashes down much like a roller coaster. This up and down roller coaster leads to sugar cravings, hunger and poor energy.
Have you ever experienced a 3 pm dip in energy, leading you to seek out the nearest vending machine or coffee bar? This is due to a crashing down of your blood sugar after lunch, which leaves you feeling tired, irritable and craving sugar and/or caffeine to bring your blood sugar and energy back up. While this snack may help you feel better for a moment, it unfortunately just leads to yet another spike in blood sugar and insulin and then another crash that may leave you scouring the cupboards for a snack before dinner is ready or cause you to overeat at dinner. It’s a vicious cycle that many of us find ourselves in day in and day out.
Furthermore, the spikes in insulin caused by the spikes in blood sugar tell your body to store fat and when this is happening multiple times a day, it is difficult to lose weight even when calories are controlled!
You feel defeated and wonder why you can’t seem to have the willpower to stick to your diet and lose the weight or avoid unhealthy foods. You are stuck on this roller coaster and cannot seem to get off.
But take heart! There is a way off of this roller coaster.
By learning to control insulin spikes, we can control the cravings, feel more energized and stable throughout the day. We can signal to our bodies to tap into stored energy (body fat) between meals to fuel us thereby finally losing unwanted body fat while feeling great.
We do not need to “white knuckle” it to stick to our diet if we understand the hormones and biology at play and how to work with our physiology rather than challenging it.
So how does one do this? While the forces at play are many, for the purposes of this post, we will focus on the nutritional aspect. Check out our blog on sleep and stress as well for more tips to help you on your journey!
First, we need to have an understanding of macronutrients.
Our food is made of three main macronutrients. There are carbohydrates (i.e. table sugar, fruit, potato, grains etc). There are proteins (i.e. meat, egg whites, soy, etc) and there are fats (i.e. oils, butter, lard, etc). Many foods are made of a combination of these macronutrients. For example, an avocado is a fruit that is high in fat, but also in fiber, which is a non-digestible form of carbohydrate. A steak is high in protein but also fat. Beans are high in carbohydrate but contain some protein as well.
Carbohydrates are the macronutrient most responsible for raising blood sugar and causing insulin spikes, however it needs to be noted that excessive protein intake can also lead to blood sugar rises and there by insulin spikes, although on a slower longer curve than seen with carbohydrate intake. Take a look at the image below for a visual on how high and long glucose rises depending on the micronutrient consumed.
Since carbohydrates are the most responsible for rises in blood sugar and insulin, a good understanding of them is needed in order to learn to control blood sugar and insulin through dietary intervention.
Let’s take a deeper dive in to understanding carbohydrates.
What is a carbohydrate exactly?
Carbohydrates are a family of molecules that come in 3 forms: Sugar, Starch and Fiber.
Sugars are carbohydrates in their most simple form, which is why they are often referred to as simple carbohydrates. Examples of this are glucose, (the sugar that travels through our blood), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and others.
Starches are what are called a complex carbohydrate as they are made of long complex chains of sugar molecules. Examples are potato, bread, and grains.
Fiber is another complex carbohydrate but is unique in that it is not able to be digested by humans and tends to move through the gut slowly. It adds bulk without digestible calorie to food, helping us to feel more “full.” Fiber is also known to help feed our good gut microbes and keep us regular.
Generally speaking, the more fiber in a carbohydrate, the slower that carbohydrate will be digested and therefore the rise in blood sugar (and so insulin release) will be slower, longer and less steep.
The term that refers to how high and how fast a food raises blood sugar is called glycemic index. Foods are rated percentage wise in relation to the effect of pure glucose. For example, a food with a glycemic index of 30 will raise blood sugar only 30% as much as pure glucose where a food with a glycemic index of 90 will raise it almost as much and as quickly as pure glucose.
It makes sense then that what carbohydrate you do choose to consume, you would want it to have a low glycemic index, especially if you are wanting to control blood sugar and insulin response.
Another important term is glycemic load, which considers not just how quickly and how high a food can raise blood sugar, but also the amount of the blood sugar effecting food consumed. This is important in that someone could choose a food with a lower glycemic index, but then eat entirely too much of it. This would also have a negative effect on blood sugar overall because it would add up to too large of a load and still require quite a bit of insulin.
So, the name of the game for weight loss and prevention of chronic diseases related to high insulin is to control your blood sugar.
Your individual needs and metabolic health determines how much carbohydrate you can get away with or your personal carbohydrate threshold.
Do you need help determining your individual carbohydrate threshold? I would love to help! Check out my custom fitness and nutrition program!
Forever Yours in Health,