There is a clear connection to be made between stripped carbs, insulin release, and weight gain. High insulin levels cause us to gain weight and store fat. How does that happen? Little by little we are figuring it out. The fact that the obesity and diabetes epidemic continues to worsen day by day underscores that we are operating under a fundamental misconception: If things continue to get worse no matter how hard you try, it’s time to reexamine the fundamentals. The information we get from advertisements and cereal boxes is frankly inaccurate. I have a special name for the nutritional claims on food products: advertising.
What do we understand? Biochemists, who work at the cellular level, appear to be figuring it out first. Insulin is released by the pancreas in response to a signal that is generated as soon as we start to eat, and perhaps even in anticipation of eating. Think about the expression “mouth-watering.”
Certain foods make your blood sugar rise, and the pancreas releases insulin in response to those rising blood sugars. Then insulin escorts the blood sugar molecules throughout the body, after which blood sugars return to pre-meal levels. The faster you absorb the food, the faster your blood sugar rises. The more insulin you need to catch the sugar and remove it from the bloodstream, the more readily you store fat. Insulin is the fat-storage hormone. And the rate at which the sugar enters your bloodstream dictates how much insulin you are going to need. If all the sugar shows up at once, you need a lot of insulin to catch it. But if the sugar drips in bit by bit, you only need a little bit of insulin to catch it.
What happens next? Some sugar molecules are used immediately by active muscles and brains. Others go to the liver, where they are converted into strands of glycogen which, like pearls on a necklace, can be popped off later, one at a time, to keep blood sugars normal during the long stretches between meals, especially from dinner to breakfast. After that, any remaining blood sugar gets stored as fat. If you don’t need it now, and you have enough for later, then the rest goes into deep storage. Fat is deep storage.
We store fat as molecules of triglycerides, consisting of three fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol backbone. Glycerol is formed from carbohydrate. The more carb we eat, the more glycerol we can make, the more triglyceride we make, and the more fat we store. Carbohydrates, notably stripped ones, which spike insulin levels, are an essential component of fat storage. That’s critical.
Fatty acids are a free ride as far as insulin is concerned, meaning that fat doesn’t need to be escorted by insulin the way sugar does. When fat is digested and broken down into free fatty acids, the free fatty acids can be used right away, or they can become attached to glycerol to form triglyceride molecules. The brain is able to use either glucose (blood sugar) or free fatty acids, whichever is available, for fuel.
Now, let’s return to insulin. While many hormones in our bodies affect triglyceride breakdown to release fatty acids for use (as fuel), insulin is the one hormone that facilitates triglyceride storage. In the presence of insulin therefore, we will always store fat instead of releasing it. High insulin levels stimulate fat storage. In contrast, low insulin levels facilitate the release of fatty acids. A high-insulin state prevents mobilization and use of fatty acids, so it is impossible to lose weight in the presence of large amounts of insulin. Ideally, insulin levels should be high only after meals, which is when there would be no need to break down fat to obtain nutrition.
Therefore, fat cells release fatty acids only when there is a relative deficiency of insulin. You can lower insulin levels by increasing your intake of nourishing fats, by reducing stripped carbs, by increasing activity levels, and by calming your mind to reduce insulin resistance. Some people find that cutting grain consumption, even whole grains, helps a lot.
You don’t get to wake up every morning and dial in what you want to weigh. But you do get to dial in hundreds of things that directly affect your insulin levels. Pick just a few, and see what happens.