If you’ve seen my TED talk, then you know I spend a fair amount of time teaching folks how to use their insulin more efficiently so that they don’t run out, and so they have enough (hopefully) to last a lifetime. Insulin is like a valet service that escorts blood sugar from your blood to all your cells. If you don’t have enough, your sugars start to rise. The fact is that even though you need insulin to live, it is not your friend. You want to use as little as possible. You want the levels of insulin in your bloodstream to stay as low as possible. Just like blood sugar, you want your insulin levels to remain low. Why?
Well, there are a number of reasons. The first reason is that you can think of insulin as the fat-storage hormone. If you control your insulin levels, you control the amount of fat you deposit. And not just that, but insulin prefers to store fat in your belly, the worst place possible. Belly fat is called “visceral” fat. Visceral fat is the bad stuff. You may have heard of people who are shaped like apples vs. people who are shaped like pears. And you may know that apples are the ones who are at higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease? Those are the folks with high insulin levels. And that’s the second reason you want to conserve your insulin.
The third reason is that insulin stiffens your blood vessels and raises your blood pressure. Fourth, insulin raises triglycerides, one of the cholesterol measurements that makes up your lipid panel. And believe me, you do not want your triglycerides to rise! Why not? Because it’s associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Do you see the pattern?
Fifth, insulin interferes with fertility. If you have heard of “polycystic ovarian syndrome,” or PCOS, you may already know that this syndrome reduces fertility, making it hard for certain women to conceive. Doctors treat some cases of PCOS with diabetes medicine. Does that strike you as odd? It should.
Finally, insulin coats the satiety centers in your brain, which makes it hard to tell when you’re full. If you’ve ever had the experience of cruising the cabinets after dinner, even though you know your stomach is full, maybe it’s because your insulin levels are high. When your insulin levels are high, it’s hard for your brain to tell that you’re full. So it thinks you still need food. In fact, you don’t; your belly is full. It’s just that your brain doesn’t realize it.
How can you lower your insulin levels? A few ways. Start by shifting your diet in the direction of real food, colorful high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits and beans; high-quality protein; and nourishing fats. All of these foods are absorbed slowly. At the same time, begin to reduce your consumption of manufactured calories, stripped carbohydrates, and other edible inventions, all of which are absorbed very quickly. Other ways to lower your insulin? Activity, rest & relaxation. Get more sleep. Take a walk, even a short one. Take a nap. Every little bit counts. Practice makes progress; perfection is the enemy of progress.
What can you expect as your insulin levels begin to drop? It takes about three days for your body to notice that you don’t need as much insulin as you used to. Once that happens, you may notice that you aren’t quite as hungry as you were before. That’s normal, so don’t be concerned if you notice it happens to you. In about two weeks you should notice that your pants are starting to fit better.
I want to spend a minute talking about the typical American breakfast: toast, bagels, waffles, muffins, cereal, biscuits, bread, pancakes, and so on. All stripped carbs. Who taught America to eat white flour and sugar for breakfast? Stripped carbs waste your insulin by the bucketful. What a lousy way to start the day.
If you’re looking for just one thing to change, one thing that will give you a lot of bang for your buck, one thing that will make a big difference, then change your breakfast. Skip the white flour and sugar, and try a spoonful of peanut butter. Or finish the leftover sweet potato in the refrigerator. Maybe scrambled eggs, or hard boiled. You could have a cup of leftover refried beans. Or eat a slice of cheese, with or without an apple. Jarlsberg (a kind of Swiss) is a favorite in my house. There are plenty of quality cheeses at the supermarket, but don’t buy the ones called “processed American cheese food.” If someone has to tell you that something is food, it probably isn’t.