Don't Let Insulin Resistance Open the Door to Cardiometabolic Disease
Insulin Resistance is the common denominator behind multiple cardiometabolic diseases including Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. It's also associated with elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, as well as Alzheimer's disease, Polycystic Ovary Disease, and cancer. The good news is: You can reverse insulin resistance with diet & lifestyle changes.
Insulin Resistance: How it happens
Insulin is responsible for the entrance of glucose into your cells for use as fuel. When your blood sugar is elevated after a meal, your pancreas secretes insulin to facilitate its uptake by your cells. Your muscles and liver both have a high uptake of glucose. In fact, about 60% of insulin-mediated glucose uptake occurs in your muscles while 30% occurs in your liver and the remaining 10% in your fat cells. When your cells are responsive to insulin, your body is able to maintain blood sugar levels that are normal.
As you may have guessed, lifestyle plays a big role in the development of insulin resistance. Lack of exercise, a poor diet, and being overweight all play a role in your body becoming resistant to the effects of insulin.
Lack of Exercise: The less physically active you are, the less responsive your muscles are to insulin.
Poor Diet: A diet high in processed foods, especially carbohydrates, spikes your blood sugar, causing your pancreas to secrete additional insulin. Overtime, this type of diet can wear out your pancreas and lead to insulin resistance.
Being Overweight: Research has shown that fat cells produce inflammatory compounds which are associated with
Insulin Resistance: The Damage It Cause
Insulin resistance triggers a cascade of reactions in your fat cells and liver which cause elevated levels of fatty acids and cholesterol to be released into your bloodstream. To make matters worse, the elevated levels of glucose cause your pancreas to secrete more insulin in an attempt to lower your blood sugar. Overtime, your pancreas can wear out, resulting in Type 2 Diabetes.
Insulin Resistance: How You Tell If You Have It
Insulin resistance is easily measured with a blood test. It is just one of several different lab tests that evaluate how well your body handles blood sugar. Other important tests include your fasting blood sugar and your HbA1c - a blood test which gives you a snapshot of your average blood sugar over a 2–3-month period. These tests are often routinely checked during your annual checkup with your PCP.
Insulin Resistance: How You Can Reverse It
The great news is that with supervised diet and lifestyle changes, you can reverse insulin resistance and lower your risk of chronic illness, including cardiometabolic disease. Here are a few key steps you can take now:
Fill half your plate with vegetables daily
Aim for 6 servings daily of the non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, leafy greens (if you are on blood thinners, check with your physician first), broccoli, onions, radishes, etc.
Reset your sweet tooth
Avoid added sugars in the foods and drinks you consume. Processed foods or beverages that are high in sugar or fructose syrup not only increase your risk of developing insulin resistance, but also feed the harmful bacteria in your gut. These harmful bacteria can drive your food cravings, making it difficult to make healthy food choices.
Choose whole fruits (not fruit juices which lack fiber and can drive up your blood sugar) instead of processed sweets. Aim for 3 servings of fruits daily. This change can reset your sweet tooth and improve the health of your gut.
Upgrade your carbs
Most of us think of pasta or bread when we think of carbs. But these products are made from refined grains with limited fiber and nutrients. Vegetables are great sources of carbs and provide you with nutrients and fiber. Fiber is key to promoting a healthy blood sugar and preserving insulin sensitivity. Vegetables, avocados, and, especially, legumes are good sources of fiber. Whole grains are another good source of fiber.
Roasted vegetables are a great alternative to typical carbs like pasta or rice.
Choose whole foods over processed foods
Not only do whole foods provide your body with the nutrients it needs, but meals prepared from whole foods are free of the refined ingredients, sugar, fructose syrup, and chemicals that can wreak havoc with your insulin sensitivity. Avoid foods & drinks that contain fructose as these products can overtime cause weight gain, a fatty liver, and heart disease. If you don't have time to prepare whole food meals, consider buying prepared meals or meal delivery services that do the prep work for you.
Eat balanced meals regularly
A balanced meal contains lean protein (like fish), healthy sources of carbs (vegetables, legumes, fruit & whole grains), and healthy fats/oils (nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil & avocados - not trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils). This combination of protein, healthy fat & healthy carbs not only promotes a stable blood sugar response, but also gives your body the nutrients it needs to build muscle, absorb vitamins properly, and make hormones & neurotransmitters.
Skipping meals causes a detrimental swing in your blood sugar levels, leading to reduced insulin sensitivity and can result in an increase in belly fat.
Regular Physical Activity
When you are physically active, your muscles are more responsive to insulin, resulting in improved uptake of glucose by your muscles which promotes healthier blood sugar levels.
Exercise is extremely beneficial to your overall health and a vital part of reversing insulin resistance, but the truth is that you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet. To reverse insulin resistance and reduce your risk of chronic disease, you need to follow a whole food diet that provides you with plenty of vegetables and legumes.
If you are not physically active, it is best to check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen.
A Caution About Keto
While a ketogenic diet (low carb diet) can reduce blood sugar and triglyceride levels as well as lead to weight loss, it can raise LDL cholesterol and overtime lead to impaired glucose tolerance (poor blood sugar control when consuming carbohydrates).
Low carb diets are also typically lower in plant-based foods and therefore, lower in the amount of beneficial fiber and nutrients while being higher in animal proteins and fats.
Overtime, however, a ketogenic diet may actually increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. More research is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet.
Reach A Healthy Weight
Weight loss is an integral part of reversing insulin resistance. Participation in a supervised weight loss program that promotes healthy diet and lifestyle changes and addresses all other factors which have contributed to your weight gain and insulin resistance is most beneficial.
Ready to close the door to insulin resistance and reap the benefits of making lasting diet and lifestyle changes that will optimize your health?
American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Reversing Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance with Lifestyle Medicine. September 2020.
Zhang, W. et al. Ketogenic Diets and Cardio-Metabolic Diseases. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021; 12: 753039.
The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord, Massachusetts ~