Insulin response: It ain't just the carbs

Someone on my insulin resistance forum asked about insulin response to saturated fats.

But it ain’t just the carbs, ain’t just the saturated fat which elicit the secretion of insulin in our bodies. A study on the insulin demand of different foods — which generated something called the “insulin index” — found that “”protein-rich foods … elicited insulin responses that were disproportionately higher than their glycemic responses.” (More on this from David Mendosa.)

I.e., the glycemic index (GI) value of a given food generally can be used to predict that food’s insulin response — but not always. Protein rich foods that provoke very little glycemic response will nonethless provoke insulin response. This is very relevant to people like me who are insulin resistant… & indeed to any person who’s trying to burn off the fat, since one of insulin’s functions is to take excess blood glucose & store it as fat.

Now, I hadn’t really understood this before. Insulin is involved not only in dealing with carbohydrate metabolism (blood glucose), but also with the metabolism of fats & proteins (amino acids). It plays a crucial role not just in fat deposition, but also in muscle growth.

The current rage in health and fitness is to manage the hormone insulin. But few people really understand this temperamental hormone. You see, insulin is an anabolic giant. It’s the most anabolic hormone because it stuffs nutrients like amino acids and carbs into muscle cells to promote growth. But, while it sounds great, getting aggressive with it can lead to serious fat gain. For instance, here are some basics:Insulin is a hormone released into the blood by an internal organ called the pancreas. Insulin functions in many ways as an anabolic or a storage hormone; in fact it’s been called the most anabolic hormone. When insulin is released into the bloodstream, it acts to shuttle glucose [carbohydrates], amino acids, and blood fats into the cells of the body. “Which cells?” you ask. Well, fat and muscle cells are the important ones in terms of quantity. Now, if these nutrients go predominantly into muscles, then the muscles grow and body fat is managed. If these nutrients go predominantly into fat, then muscle mass is unaffected and body fat is increased.

So obviously if there were a way to send nutrients preferentially into muscle rather than fat, trainees would have more muscle mass and less fat mass. That’s the goal of my recommended training and eating programs – to increase the muscle uptake of nutrients preferentially. Isn’t that the goal of every trainee whether they know it or not?

[from “The Anabolic Power of Insulin: An Interview with John Berardi”]

I just came across John Berardi’s site yesterday, & am still grappling with the new information it provides. I had not understood before that insulin had anabolic (building) effects with muscle in terms of shuttling amino acids around, on top of its work shuttling blood glucose around (to the brain or the muscles for energy, or turning excess blood glucose into body fat).

But based on insulin’s anabolic properties, Berardi (Ph.D. in exercise biology & nutrient biochemistry) suggests that the issue is not to avoid insulin release, per se, but to eat so that insulin is working for you, not against you:

Because insulin is a storage hormone, most people think that since insulin stores nutrients, it should be avoided because it has the potential to store fat. This is a mistake for several reasons. First, there’s no way to avoid insulin in the blood. Whenever you eat food, insulin is released.Secondly, if you theoretically could eliminate insulin, you would abolish all of its anabolic effects and its ability to store energy in the muscle. In fact, type 1 diabetics don’t produce insulin and as a result, if left untreated, they die.

But don’t go the opposite route, either. If blood levels of insulin are always highly elevated, trouble results. Chronic elevation of insulin leads to large amounts of fat gain, risk for cardiovascular disease, and ultimately to type 2 diabetes. This second type of diabetes is characterized by obesity, cardiovascular disease, and the poor ability of the muscle to store nutrients, which leads to muscle wasting and tons of fat storage. This is called insulin resistance.

So my point is that you need insulin, but you must learn how to balance the anabolic effects against the fat storage effects; to trick it into making you muscular while making you lean at the same time. And this is done two major ways; first by increasing insulin sensitivity in the muscle while decreasing insulin sensitivity in the fat cells and, second, by controlling the insulin released during specific times of the day.

[same source]

Which is what the nutritional plans Berardi designs are all about. Anyway, if anyone wants to follow this up further, there’s a source for you.

Another article at the same site is also informative: “Optimizing Insulin Sensitivity and Body Composition Through Diet and Exercise” by Jason Feldman.

Again, this is relevant to anyone who is trying to get rid of that unwanted body fat.

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