What You Should Know About Insulin

Let’s talk insulin.

Mention the “I word” to a low carb dieter, or even a clean eater, and you can virtually see them turn white as the blood drains from their face in abject horror.

To them, insulin is the big bad guy in the nutrition world.

They refer to insulin as “the storage hormone” and believe that any amount of insulin in the body will immediately cause you to lay down new fat cells, put on weight, and lose any degree of leanness and definition.

Fortunately, that’s not quite the case.

In fact, while simplifying things in terms of nutrition and training can often be beneficial, this is a gross over-simplification of the role of insulin within your body, and the truth is entirely different.

Far from being the dietary devil, insulin is really nothing to be afraid of at all.

What Insulin Does

The first part of the insulin worrier’s claim (that insulin is a storage hormone) is true – one of insulin’s main roles is to shuttle carbohydrate that you eat around the body, and deposit it where it’s needed.

That doesn’t mean that all the carbs you eat are stored as fat though.

You store glycogen (carbohydrate) in your liver, your muscle cells and your fat cells, and it will only get shoved into those pesky adipose sites (fat tissue) when the muscles and liver are full.

Additionally, unless you’re in a calorie surplus, you simply cannot store body fat.

Look at it this way –

Insulin is like the workers in a warehouse.

Calories are the boxes and crates.

You could fill that warehouse fit to burst with workers (insulin) but if there are no boxes (calories) to stack, those shelves won’t get filled.

So if you’re burning 3,000 calories per day, and eating 2,500 calories (or even 2,999) your body can’t store fat. It doesn’t matter if all those calories come from carbs or sugar, you simply won’t store them, as your body needs them for fuel.

Granted, this wouldn’t be the world’s healthiest diet, but as far as science is concerned, it comes down to calories in versus calories out, NOT insulin.

It Isn’t JUST Carbs

People fret over carbs having the biggest impact on insulin levels, and how carbohydrate (particularly of the simple/ high-sugar/ high-GI variety) spikes insulin levels, but plenty of other foods raise insulin too.

Whey protein, for instance, is highly insulogenic, and can cause a spike, particularly when consumed post workout.

Dairy foods too will have a relatively large effect due to the natural sugars they contain, and even fats can raise insulin levels.

Additionally, the insulin effect is drastically lowered when you eat a mixed meal – i.e. one that contains carbs plus protein and/ or fat.

This slows the digestion and the absorption of the carbs, leading to a much lower insulin response. Add fibre into the mix too, and the raise in insulin is minimal, so even if we were worried about it before, the solution is simple – eat balanced, nutrient-dense meals, and you need not worry.

Insulin Builds Muscle

Going back to the idea of insulin being a storage hormone, and the notion that it delivers “stuff” to cells:

Fancy taking a guess at what else it delivers, beside carbohydrate?

It delivers nutrients to your muscle cells.

Therefore, if you’re forever trying to keep insulin levels low for fear of fat gain, it’s highly unlikely you’ll build muscle optimally. It’s for this reason that I’d never put clients looking to bulk up and make lean gains on a low-carb diet.

No Insulin Can Still Equal Fat Storage

Contrary to all those low-carb diet practitioners once again, it is possible to store fat when insulin levels are low.

Dietary fat when consumed in a caloric surplus is actually converted to body fat tissue far more readily than carbohydrates are, showing that once again, fat gain or fat loss comes down to calories in versus calories out, not insulin levels.

Why low-Carb (and Low-Insulin) Diets “Work”

Many folk will point towards the scientific and anecdotal evidence of low-carb diets working as reasoning for keeping insulin levels low.

I won’t argue – a low-carb diet, where insulin release is kept to a minimum can certainly work, but this has very little to do with the hormone itself.

When you cut carbs, you typically cut calories, putting you into a deficit.

Additionally, the average person will eat more protein and more vegetables when going low-carb, so they feel far fuller and eat less. Plus, protein and fibre both have a high thermic effect, meaning they actually burn more calories during the digestion process.

Bottom Line: Insulin – Not So Bad After All

You don’t need to worry about insulin if you –

Train hard and regularly
Eat a balanced macronutrient split (i.e. ample protein and fat, and carbs to suit activity levels and personal preference.)
Are relatively lean.
Eat mostly nutrient-dense foods.
Have no issues with diabetes.

You can still store fat with low insulin levels, and you can burn fat and build muscle when insulin is present.

Looking at insulin in isolation as either “good” or “bad” really is a prime example of missing the forest for the tress, so chill out, and let insulin do its thing while you focus on the big picture.

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How Insulin Resistance Affects Weight Loss

Although it is an undeniable fact that diet plays a significant role in making people becoming overweight, there are however several other factors which need to be taken into consideration due to the fact that they influence weight gain in one way or the other.

For instance, our metabolic health – the state of the different chemical reactions related to the production of energy and other products needed to sustain life from consumed food – can actually be regarded as one major weight loss factor which is not only affected by diet but equally by other factors such as stress, sleep, and exercise.

The amount and type of food that an individual eats has a significant role to play in his or her metabolism and the ability of the body to make use of that food. As a way of illustration, high glycemic index carbohydrate foods are generally known to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream leading to an almost instant increase in blood sugar levels. However, once the body notices an excess amount of glucose in the bloodstream, it secretes insulin from specialized cells in the pancreas to salvage the situation and in doing so maintain its metabolic health.

Closely related to the effect of diet on weight loss, this article takes a look at the concept known as insulin resistance, its causes and how it impinges on individual’s ability to effectively lose weight.

Insulin’s Functions
Insulin is a hormone produced by specialized cells in the pancreas and its major role is actually to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Insulin is particularly known for its assistance in controlling blood glucose (sugar) levels through the removal of any excess amount of glucose from the bloodstream and the storage of it as either glycogen in liver and muscle cells or as fat in fat cells.

Putting it more succinctly, one of insulin’s basic role is to transport excess blood sugar out of the bloodstream through binding with receptors on cell membranes and allowing glucose (and other nutrients) to flow into the cells for the body to use as energy. Thus insulin serves as a gatekeeper for glucose getting into body cells.

However, unhealthy eating lifestyles especially overeating caused by either “conditioned response” (a learned habit) or “emotional eating” often leads to increased blood glucose levels which make the body to secrete additional insulin as a way of attempting to maintain equilibrium in its metabolic health.

Generally, excess insulin secretion promotes excessive storage of glucose as fat in the body. Nevertheless, this situation can over time degenerate into one where insulin receptors may become less responsive to the effect of insulin.

Development of Insulin Resistance
If there is a cycle of fluctuating elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream (caused by excessive consumption of high glycemic index carbohydrate-containing foods) and a counteracting secretion of insulin by the pancreas, with time, this interplay can result in insulin receptors becoming “de-sensitized” or “numbed” to the effect of insulin. This condition is what is generally referred to as insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance can therefore be regarded as a situation in which normal amount of insulin secretion becomes ineffective at producing an insulin response from muscle, liver, and fat cells. The cells of the body in this condition have essentially become incapable of responding adequately to insulin to the degree they normally should.

Due to this non-responsiveness, a situation is created whereby the pancreas is forced to secrete more and more insulin in order to control and normalize blood glucose levels. The only way that the body can overcome this difficulty is for the pancreas to produce enough insulin to bring the situation under control.

Unfortunately, not everybody is capable of producing sufficient amounts of insulin, a situation which inevitably results in a constant elevated blood glucose levels leaving the person feeling tired and cranky. Insulin resistance basically changes the way in which glucose and fat are metabolized by the body and is considered to encourage the excessive storage of fat in major fat-storage areas such as the hips, thighs, and stomach.

Furthermore, insulin resistance is a precursor to Type II Diabetes which has a 90% prevalence rate among those with diabetes. It is also noteworthy to mention that nearly everyone with a fatty liver has some degree of insulin resistance, and that 90% of people with diabetes have fatty livers. Moreover, it is estimated that about 80 million Americans suffer from insulin resistance.

Besides diet, another contributor to insulin resistance may be the lack of adequate sleep. A recent Boston study of twenty healthy men, aged between 20 and 35, found that lack of adequate sleep during a one-week period was able to cause a 20% drop in insulin sensitivity. Another independent study also observed that eight out of their nine subjects showed markers of insulin resistance after just about three nights of lack of deep sleep.

In summary, it can be deduced that the more fatty tissues an individual has, the more insulin resistant the body cells may become thereby making it even more difficult for the individual to be able to effectively lose weight.

Insulin resistance in and of itself can therefore be considered a very serious problem confronting a lot of individuals trying to lose weight. However, since an individual’s dietary lifestyle has been shown to have a significant influence on insulin resistance, adopting healthier eating habits in conjunction with getting more actively involved in physical exercise and having more adequate night sleep can help in restoring insulin sensitivity.

Insulin Pens For Diabetes – Everything You Need to Know

Insulin pens for diabetes are simply an insulin delivery system that allows the injection of insulin into the bloodstream of a diabetic. It comprises of an insulin cartridge, a pen needle, and a dial to measure the insulin dose. Its appearance is similar to that of a pen, only it is larger. Some of these parts are either disposable or non-replaceable. The insulin cartridge for one may need a replacement from time to time and the insulin needles are entirely disposable.

Insulin pens for diabetes are used extensively in most countries, excluding the United States where vials, injections and syringes are the preferred tools for insulin injection. They come in various sizes ranging from 1.5 ml to 3.0 ml.

Types of Insulin Pens :

There are several manufacturers of insulin pens which make it possible for users to have a variety of options. There are the pre-filled pens that are usually recommended for type 2 diabetics. These pens have pre-mixed insulin dosage, making it easier for users to determine how much insulin is to be used. These pens are disposable and require replacements once the insulin cartridge becomes empty. The drawback of this type is that it does not accommodate any adjustments to exercise and diet.

The other type of pen is the durable pen. It makes use of replaceable insulin cartridges which are discarded only after their contents are fully used up. Once a new cartridge is in place, the pen is ready for use again.

A new addition to the existing insulin pens, pens that have built-in memory allow users to store the time, date, and the amount of dosage. This makes it easier for users to tract their usage of insulin.

Advantages of insulin pens for diabetes :

There are three advantages to using insulin pens – ease of use, accuracy, and portability.

Site for injection – The first step to using an insulin pen is to select the site where you want to inject your insulin dosage. There are a few in the body that make for good injection sites, including the abdominal area, thighs, buttocks, the area of the back just above the waist, legs, and upper arm. When choosing a site for injection, always stay an inch away from the previous site and two inches away from the navel or any scars. Also, be careful not to use sites that are swollen, bruised or tender.

To use your insulin pen, first clean the site for injection with an alcohol pad or a cotton ball dabbed with alcohol. Then, take off the cover of the pen and check how much insulin is left. If the insulin looks a bit cloudy, you can mix it gently by rolling the pen in your hands. Clean the end of the insulin pen afterwards.

The next step is to insert the disposable needle in its place. Once this is properly set in place, you can clear out any air pockets inside the pen by holding the pen up in the air while pushing the end of the pen until a drop of insulin is ejected. You may need to repeat this process for a couple of times until you see a drop of insulin at the tip of the needle.

Set the amount of insulin you want to use. Pinch and hold the site where you would want to inject the insulin. Insert the needle all the way down into your skin and continue pinching the skin for a few seconds more. Pull the pen out and gently massage the area of injection. Put the insulin pen cover back in its place.