The types and amounts of food you eat every day doesn’t just affect your health in the long-term. Everything you eat has an immediate effect on your blood sugar. How your body responds to a hormone called insulin often determines how healthy you are. Insulin sensitivity — or lack thereof — can destroy your health over time. It can give you diabetes, elevate your blood pressure, and raise levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. Let’s look at what insulin sensitivity it, and everything you can do to improve it.
What is insulin sensitivity?
The purpose of eating food is to give your cells energy. Your body uses and stores energy in the form of glucose. After a meal, your body converts what you’ve eaten into usable energy. When glucose (sugar) enters your bloodstream as your food digests, your blood sugar rises. This signals to your pancreas that it’s time to make insulin.
Insulin is the hormone your pancreas produces to take sugar out of your blood and transport it to your cells where it’s needed. Once sugar leaves your bloodstream, your blood sugar drops back down to a normal level — approximately less than 140 mg/dl two hours after eating.
How much insulin your body needs to make in order to control your blood sugar depends on your level of insulin sensitivity, or how readily your cells accept the sugar insulin has to offer. High insulin sensitivity requires smaller amounts of insulin; low insulin sensitivity requires more. Low insulin sensitivity, unfortunately, can cause a number of other problems down the line.
In some people, the cells don’t respond as well to insulin as they’re supposed to. The more sensitive you are to insulin, the less insulin your body needs to make in order to metabolize glucose and keep your blood sugar within a safe range. When your cells don’t allow the proper delivery of insulin, sugar stays in your blood — which can raise your blood sugar to very high, sometimes dangerous levels. This is known as insulin resistance.
What happens when your body becomes resistant to insulin?
Low insulin sensitivity triggers a vicious cycle that can wear your pancreas out. When cells become insulin resistant, they no longer absorb the sugar in your blood. Thus, sugar starts to build up in your blood, raising your blood sugar.
High blood sugar forces your pancreas to make extra insulin to compensate for the sugar overload. But insulin-resistant cells still won’t use insulin properly regardless of how much insulin your pancreas tries to make. If you consistently consume high amounts of sugar, eventually, your pancreas just won’t be able to keep up with such a high demand for more insulin hormone. It might just stop producing insulin altogether.
Insulin resistance can eventually lead to diabetes, as well as organ and nerve damage. It can affect your blood pressure and cholesterol as well. Whether you have pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or you’re not in the danger zone yet, improving your insulin resistance can change your life. Here are a few things you can do to treat poor insulin resistance before it causes long-lasting damage.
1. Eat more fiber
Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate. This basically means that, unlike straight sugar, fiber moves through your digestive system slowly. Fiber keeps you fuller for longer periods of time because when it does break down into a simpler sugar, that sugar enters your bloodstream slowly. This causes a much slower release of insulin, and doesn’t cause a drastic blood sugar spike. Keeping your blood sugar under control will help your cells readily absorb the sugar in your blood.
To get more fiber in your diet, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of whole grains. Beans, nuts, and seeds — plant-based protein foods — are also excellent sources of dietary fiber.
2. Add fruits and vegetables to your plate
Produce is one of the best sources of fiber you can find. Fruits and vegetables are also plant foods. Diets largely made up of plant-based sources of nutrition tend to lead to better insulin sensitivity. For a number of reasons, people who eat more fruits and vegetables are more likely to have consistent blood sugar readings within normal range.
If you can, eat the skin on all your fruits and vegetables, too. The peels of certain fruits, like avocados, bananas, and oranges, you obviously aren’t going to eat. But avoid peeling your apples, tomatoes, zucchini, etc. The skin contains most, but not all, produce’s fiber, and a large percentage of their vitamins and minerals. This is one reason why eating whole fruits and vegetables is still important, even though you can remove the skin when adding them to a smoothie. Consuming all the edible portions of a food ensures you’re getting all the nutrition, especially the fiber that keeps your blood sugar under control.
3. Consume fewer carbs
About 50 percent of your daily calories should come from carbs. For a large number of people, these don’t turn out to be good carbs. White bread, sugary beverages and cereals, candy, potato chips, and desserts are all high in sugar. Remember, eating a lot of sugar makes your pancreas work overtime. Fewer carbs, spread evenly throughout the day, helps insulin do its job without overwhelming the rest of your body.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should replace carbs with high-fat, high-calorie foods. You should first try to incorporate more protein and healthy fats into your diet, to balance out your macronutrient intake. Eating fewer simple-carbohydrate foods, like candy and other junk foods, will really help maintain your blood sugar and improve your insulin sensitivity.
4. Cut out added sugars
Added sugars — the kind of sugar added to foods during processing — are a major contributor to poor insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes risk factors. The problem is, many junk foods that have added sugars in them are much higher in sugar per serving than a piece of fruit or a bowl of whole grain cereal. Just a serving or two of potato chips can send your blood sugar through the roof. Cutting back on your added sugar intake can make a huge difference.
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