Insulin, Sugar and Weight Gain
Unless you live off the grid, you are well aware that sugar is one of the biggest culprits to blame for America's obesity crisis. But those little crystals we use to sweeten our coffee and baked goods is only part of the problem. What we really need to focus on is ALL carbohydrates and how they impact a little hormone called INSULIN.
What is Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It is secreted whenever your blood sugar rises. Blood sugar rises when glucose (sugar) enters the blood stream after eating foods that include carbohydrates.
When blood sugar spikes, insulin comes to the rescue, either directing it to be used as energy (YAY!!) or stored as fat (BOO!!)
Not all carbohydrates are treated equally. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables all contain carbohydrates but also provide a dose of healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber. This helps keep the blood sugar spike low. These can be especially helpful when engaging in moderate to vigorous activities such as exercise to provide lasting energy throughout a workout.
Refined sugar, like the sugar added to your coffee or tea and added to baked goods and soda, is not so kind. Sugar may grow from the ground in the form of sugar can but it is highly refined and contains no nutrition value...only calories. AND... when it enters the blood stream, it causes a massive sugar spike resulting in the production of insulin and glucose being pushed into fat cells for storage. Bottom line is consuming refined sugar results in a blood sugar spike causing insulin to be secreted to collect and push this glucose into fat cells causing weight gain.
In addition to the sugary beverages and baked goods, some so called "healthy" foods can also cause a spike in insulin. Foods that have been refined or processed such as white bread and pasta, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn and high glycemic fruits like bananas and pineapple can have the same effect. Does this mean you have to take the banana out of your green smoothie? No! You will just want to be aware of WHEN you consume it. Just before a vigorous workout or long walk or hike is best as you will end up using the glucose to fuel your workout and support a strong finish!
As your pancreas continues to pump out insulin, it gets tired. It goes into a kind of autopilot, secreting and pumping out insulin to the point the body becomes resistant to it. This is called Insulin Resistance and is partly responsible for the rise in obesity among Americans.
So what can you do to control your insulin?
It all comes down to the recommendations you have heard time and time again. Eat healthy (low carb, whole foods), exercise regularly and get plenty of restful sleep. You will also want to be aware of what healthy fruits, vegetables and grains are likely to spike your blood sugar (High Glycemic) and which keep it under control (Low Glycemic). There is a great app you can download that will help you quickly identify these foods called Glycemic Index Load Net Carbs. Stick to foods that rank low on the Glycemic Index.
Healthy Food is YOUR responsibility
According to The American Heart Association, Americans consume an average of 77 grams of added sugar, almost three times the recommended amount for women. Big Food Companies make it harder and harder to spot healthy foods. Labels like "All Natural", "Gluten Free", "Great Source of Whole Grains" and "Heart Healthy" make it difficult to pass up that box of cereal with the picture of the farm at sunrise on the front.
By law, these companies need to provide ALL the facts, not just the ones that help them sell. However, these facts are on the nutrition facts label that is usually hidden from view through strategic display placement in the supermarket.
The info is there, it is YOUR responsibility is to gather the facts and make an INFORMED decision...but you need to know where to find it and how to decipher all that info! No worries, I broke it down into a few simple steps.
If a food does not meet most or all of these requirements, it is time to break up with it and find a healthier alternative:
I challenge you to go through your pantry and fridge right now. Do a little detox and get rid of foods that break multiple rules. If you are having trouble deciphering, I recommend the app Fooducate. This app allows you to scan the barcode of a food, provide a letter grade with reasons and recommend healthier options for the foods that may not make the grade. Give it a try!
And do NOT feel guilty about throwing away food that doesn't meet the grade. I sympathize with the thought of neighbors not having enough food, but no one should be eating unhealthy Frankenfood. Throw it out, ease your guilt with a food pantry donation of HEALTHY non-perishables and move forward knowing you are doing your part for your health AND your community!
Look at you....ROCKSTAR!!
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I'm Liz. Mom, wife, teacher, Health Coach. My passion lies in everything health and wellness. When new research and trends pop up, you can bet I am finding the best resources to information, weeding out the not so good and making the great easy to digest. From meal planning and recipes to exercise and mindfulness, wellness touches upon so many dimensions. Your path to optimal health is out there and I can help you find it.