Carbohydrates & Insulin Resistance: FInding a Happy Medium

by Marsha Hudnall

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Insulin resistance causes belly fat | How carbs cause insulin resistanceOver 40, apple-shaped (excess abdominal fat), struggling to lose weight but continuing to gain, battling high blood triglycerides, low HDLs (the good cholesterol) and high blood pressure.

Do you recognize this woman?

If it’s not you, you likely know someone who fits this description. It’s a profile that goes along with a condition called metabolic syndrome (formerly known as syndrome X). It affects millions of women today, and at its core is insulin resistance.

What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance simply means the cells in your body have become less sensitive to the effects of insulin. That means glucose (blood sugar) has a harder time getting into cells to be turned into energy. To overcome the resistance, your body produces more insulin, which generally works – for a while anyway. At some point, however, the pancreas (it makes insulin) may fail to produce enough. If this happens, glucose builds up in the blood, and you’ve got what’s officially known as type 2 diabetes.

Most people who are insulin resistant, however, don’t develop diabetes because they do make enough insulin to do its intended job. But all is not well in this scenario – a high level of insulin can lead to metabolic syndrome and increased risk of heart disease.

Does Insulin Resistance Make Us Fat?

Although insulin resistance can lead to the health problems described above, many people are more concerned whether high insulin levels causes us to gain weight. There is scientific support that too much insulin may affect the body’s ability to use calories efficiently, thereby causing fat gain, but the question is what comes first – does excess body fat cause insulin resistance or is it the other way around?

How Do I Improve Insulin Resistance?

Regardless which came first, many weight-struggling Americans are cutting out carbohydrates to control insulin levels, hoping to lose weight and avoid diabetes and heart disease in the future. But this approach can be just as unhealthy as the problem it’s trying to solve. Because carbohydrates are critical to health, eliminating them won’t leave you feeling well. The trick is in the balance – eating carbohydrates in balance with other nutrients.

Consider these healthy steps to not only improve insulin levels but to foster long-lasting well-being.

  • Move. We’ve said it before: Just 30 minutes of walking or other physical activity – even in 10-minute bouts – can do wonders for your health and insulin sensitivity. It can also help you lose unhealthy body fat that may be creating problems with insulin in the first place.
  • Eat well. At least three balanced meals and a snack or two a day is what most active people need to feel well. What’s balanced? It includes a healthy amount of carbohydrates. Check out our plate model for healthy eating and past FitBriefings on healthy eating to learn more. If this represents a big improvement in your eating style, you may again see body changes that could positively affect your insulin status.
  • Choose whole carbohydrates more often, such as whole grain breads and cereals, beans, whole fruits and vegetables. More refined carbohydrate foods such as white bread and sugar are lower in fiber, which means they may be digested more quickly and therefore impact insulin levels more than higher-fiber foods. But note that we’re not saying you can’t have the more refined choices; there’s room for treats in a healthy eating plan.
  • Think positively. How we think plays a major role in our physical well-being. Set yourself up for being your best with a healthy attitude that supports your efforts instead of sabotaging them. For many women who come to Green Mountain, this means being positive about yourself even when our bodies are larger than societal ideals.

Remember,  the healthy goal is not to be thin, but to be well and enjoy life.

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