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Insulin, Carbs and Weight Loss
Effect of Carbohydrate on Insulin Sensitivity & Obesity
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Insulin Resistance Syndrome & Hyperinsulimia Caused by Refined Carbs?

Insulin, Carbs and Weight Loss

Typically, "anti-carbohydrate" authors suggest that high-carbohydrate diets cause an overproduction of insulin and that this overproduction causes overeating and obesity and leads to insulin resistance and diabetes. But the facts suggest otherwise.

Insulin, Carbs, Weight Loss - Inaccurate Theories About Insulin

Low carb plans arouse an irrational fear about the hormone insulin. Here are the facts.

  • Insulin, like other hormones in the body, has many vital functions. One function is to enable our cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. This gives us the ability to do everything from lifting a finger to recalling memories to running a marathon.
  • One false theory about insulin is that only carbohydrate in the diet will stimulate insulin production. The truth is that ALL ingested foods stimulate insulin production.
  • The second false theory is that insulin stores fat only when high carb foods are eaten. The bottom line with regard to the body's biochemistry is that fat will only be stored if too much food (from ANY source) is eaten. If the body takes in less calories than it uses in a day, all those calories will be "burned" or used for energy. It does not matter what percentage of those calories came from fat, protein or carbohydrate.
  • On the other hand, if the body takes in more calories than it burns, insulin will help to store those extra calories as fat. Again, it does not matter WHERE the extra calories come from. In fact, if the extra calories are from carbohydrate, the body actually burns some calories in order to turn carbohydrate into fat for storage. In contrast, extra fat calories can be immediately stored as fat.

Insulin, Carbs, Weight Loss - Insulin Does Not Cause Obesity

To blame insulin as the sole contributor to obesity is not only ludicrous, it's irresponsible thinking. What about all those days when we got into our cars, sat at the office all day, got the supersize meal from the drive-through, "remote-controlled" the TV all night while devouring ice cream to comfort our stress and emotions? Might this be a better explanation for rampant obesity in America?

Obesity is an extremely complex issue. It has to do not only with excess calories and lack of exercise, but also genetics, psychological issues, social issues, medical problems and so many other things. The fact that normal portion sizes at restaurants are growing ever more outrageous, and that high calorie, high fat foods are cheaper and more accessible than ever doesn't help either. Obesity is not a simple issue and insulin is not the cause.

If carbs and insulin caused weight gain, obesity rates in China and Japan would be sky high. The truth is, obesity rates in these countries are a fraction of those in the West. And the leanest and longest living people in the industrialized world are the Japanese whose diet is dominated by carbohydrates and is low in fat.

Insulin, Carbs, Weight Loss - High-Protein Diets No Solution for Insulin Resistant

About 10% to 25% of all Americans are insulin resistant. These people are likely to have high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides (fatty substances), and a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" kind), all of which contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. The muscle, liver, and fat cells of these people are less sensitive to the actions of insulin - most likely because they have fewer insulin receptors.

When insulin-resistant people eat simple or complex carbohydrate, the pancreas compensates by dramatically increasing insulin secretion to maintain normal blood glucose levels. According to the carbohydrate-bashers, this oversecretion causes carbohydrate to be stored as fat, and therefore insulin-resistant people are best helped through low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets.

There is no good evidence, however, that insulin resistance or high blood insulin levels make people fat. The truth is that reducing excess weight and increasing physical activity are more important in treating insulin resistance than is the dietary percentage of carbohydrate or fat.

Weight loss and exercise both increase insulin sensitivity, and increased sensitivity results in lower blood insulin levels. Weight loss allows the cells to "recognize" insulin more easily so that less insulin is required. Regular physical activity causes insulin to bind more easily to muscle cell receptors and to promote glucose uptake more effectively. Exercise and weight loss combined also have an additional benefit: They lower the risk of heart disease by reducing triglycerides, lowering blood pressure, and increasing HDL cholesterol.

Insulin, Carbs, Weight Loss - High Fat Diets and Diabetes

Pima Indians in Arizona, for example, weigh, on average, 65 pounds more than Pima Indians in Mexico. The Arizonan Pimas have one of the highest rates of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) in the world. Their diet is high in fat and includes much more meat than the diet of the Mexican Pimas, which is rich in complex carbohydrates from grains and beans.

Studies of human populations have linked the development of obesity, hyperinsulinemia (an excess of insulin in the blood), and/or NIDDM with diets high in fat and low in fiber and starches. Moreover, several studies have shown that increasing dietary fat leads to increases in both caloric intake and weight.

On the other hand, in general, when obese people accustomed to a high-fat diet adopt a high-carbohydrate, very-low-fat diet, their caloric intake decreases and they lose weight.

Sources include:
- US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
- Ellen Coleman, RD, MA, MPH - The Physician and SportsMedicine 97.
- UK Health Service.
- How Insulin Regulates Blood Glucose


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