There are a lot of ideas about how to reduce insulin resistance and high blood glucose levels that may lead to diabetes. There are very well meaning people advocating their ideas, but do these ideas work? We know that taking drugs may lower some blood sugar numbers, but it doesn’t cure the problem or address the root cause. So we need to remember that just lowering numbers in the short term is not truly our goal. Our goal is to address the cause, so we need to look at the actual cause, or what the different ideas of the causes are, and address what we believe to be the problem.
Is the problem too much sugar?
For purpose of this discussion, blood glucose and blood sugar is the same thing. However, dietary sugars and carbs, which turn to glucose in our bodies are NOT the same thing as blood glucose. High blood glucose is when the glucose levels in the blood are high, maybe because we have had too much sugar, but mostly because the cells are not taking in the glucose available to it in the blood. Why not?
The first thing you hear when you learn about diabetes is that it’s caused by too much glucose in the blood. So we assume anything that causes us to have glucose in our blood is bad. This is why the idea that anything that’s a sugar in our food is a bad thing, so maybe we need to rely on protein and fats to nourish us. The problem with this idea is basically everything we eat, our bodies can turn into glucose; even protein and fat, if our bodies need it; so let’s look a bit further.
Can fats also be a problem?
There is also a lot of research showing that excess fat lipids in our cells prevent the uptake of glucose into our cells, which keeps it in our blood, thereby raising our blood sugar. Wait, excess fat lipids? But didn’t we just learn that fat and protein (basically highly concentrated fat) is what we should rely on?
So what’s the truth? Do you see the confusion? There is actually research that says sugars, carbs, as well as fats and proteins are what cause high blood sugar levels! Are you getting confused yet?
We also have Dr Valter Longo’s work and Dr Jason Fung’s work that indicates that fasting is very effective in reducing diabetes, and bringing down blood glucose levels. So it appears we don’t eat anything, ever! Just kidding. Actually, all of this makes perfect sense when we put it all together.
Our problem is dietary excess!
When I first began researching all the different programs and the research they stand by, I was so confused. If carbs are the cause, why do many people who turn to a diet rich in fruit do extremely well? Why do the ketogenic diets work if the cause is fat lipids? How do the plant based doctors do such an effective job when they tell their clients to eat potatoes and rice? How is all of this possible?
Are these “diets” reducing dietary excess?
Most of the “diets” today are cutting off a stream of excess, and reducing the load to the body. Think about it. The ketogenic diets are rich in fat, but they rely on intermittent fasting to maintain their weight. So if you are eating significantly less carbohydrates and limiting your overall food intake, you are taxing the body less. If you are eating starches or fruit, you are relieving the body of excess fat lipids. So the cells can use or release those lipids, then allow the cells to open up to the glucose. Fasting makes complete sense in this paradigm, because it’s clearly reducing the load, clearing the cells of both fats and glucose and allowing the body to catch up on the tasks it’s asked to perform…make energy. This is probably why many people feel so much energy the second day of a fast.
Now that we suspect what the cause may be, let’s look at how the body is supposed to work:
Our bodies burn two types of fuel: fat lipids and glucose
Our bodies are so well adapted to finding food for survival, they have figured out how to make what they need from any food. They can burn both glucose and fat lipids in the cells to make fuel for the body to use. However, since glucose is easier to use, it will favor that before using the fat lipids. So if you follow this logic, if it has both, it will use the glucose first. The idea is that it should run out of glucose then start on the fat lipids to get through the rest of the day until the next meal. This is why some people say it’s long burning, actually it takes more work for the body, so it slows down the process.
It has only been recently that scientists discovered that in the absence of dietary glucose (which is important because the brain runs primarily on glucose), the body can make it from fat or protein; in a process called gluconeogenesis. This allows us to survive in times when we can only find food from perhaps meat. So if your body doesn’t have glucose, it will make glucose. That tells me that it does prefer some amount of glucose, whether dietary or not.
Quality and Quantity are important!
We also know that the phytonutrients in plant foods, especially greens, are easily used by the body. These foods are rich in fiber, nutrients, and turn easily into glucose which is an easy source for the cells to turn into energy, if the cells are healthy. So we know good quality plant foods are important; including vegetables, fruit, legumes, beans, nuts and whole grains.
Let’s talk fat lipids. Our bodies use fat, they need fat, and fat lipids are important. Many people talk about “healthy fats”, and the need for them. But remember, too many fat lipids clog the cells and prevent the intake of glucose. So we need a sweet spot of not too many and not too few. We also need good quality. Our cell membranes are made with fat lipids, but if these lipids are of poor quality, the receptors, which sit on the cell membranes won’t function correctly. So the types of fats you consume are as important as the types of carbs you consume. So how much and what kind are important? We never realize just how important the quality is, and I want to push you to think about it. When you ask the question “what are healthy fats”, first ask yourself what you want your cell membranes made of. Do you want them made of the fats in tortilla chips? Or perhaps that delicious feta cheese made by the farmer who milked her own cow, which was allowed to spend the day in a pasture and eat the healthy fresh grass? (Her name is Susan, by the way.)
There are also great plant based fats that are naturally healthy, such as avocados and nuts. When people ask about olive oil, I usually say, just eat the olive; you don’t know what they do to that olive oil. In fact, for those who eat a strictly plant based diet, they can get enough fats even from the plants they eat. Who knew? It’s easier for our bodies to break down all the elements they need when they aren’t being taxed to break down the processed foods, or even healthy foods in excess. Take if from me, you can eat an excess of healthy foods, they are delicious.
So how should we eat?
Basically, what I have told you is as long as we are choosing very healthy foods and not eating to excess, we should do well. Now let’s talk about excess.
We live in a country of excess. In fact, even most diets will start out by saying “eat more…”. We feel we need to eat lots of nuts or avocados, because fats are healthy. We feel we need to eat more protein, or more sweet potatoes, or more greens. Well, this all leads to excess, even of health promoting foods, which is not health promoting anymore.
Start with your vegetables!
I like the idea of stacking your foods with the most important first. Eat your veggies first. Yep, just like your mother or grandmother may have said. If you can fill up partially on a huge salad or steamed greens, you get your essential nutrients; now you can have a satisfying food. Perhaps salad dressing on your salad, or butter on your broccoli, or a plain baked potato. These are all valid strategies that I talked about in my article, The Logic of Losing Weight. So how do we decide what we should eat after the vegetables?
Choosing your Food Rules
Essentially, you end up choosing your food rules that allow you to determine what you should eat after you have partially filled up with your vegetables. These rules will tell you what to stack your meals with. Will you follow a whole food plant based lifestyle? If so, you may choose a sweet potato without butter and salt, but perhaps add some salsa, or corn and black beans. A meal that will feel good to you and satisfy you.
Perhaps you will choose a ketogenic diet. That would probably mean you will put butter on your broccoli, perhaps add a chicken thigh, and skip breakfast. This will be satisfying, and if you get hungry at breakfast, you can add oil to your coffee.
Perhaps you are a fruitarian and will have a delicious fruit salad for breakfast, and maybe steamed vegetables for lunch, then a banana for dessert.
These are all meals from whole foods that are basically healthy. However, if I choose one style of food rules, I really don’t have a right to shame you for your food rules. In fact, we should all leave open the option of changing our food rules. The person following a ketogenic diet may have problems digesting fats, and may need to turn to a more starch rich diet and eat some rice. The vegan may have to turn away from large amounts of nuts, and add more sweet potatoes into their diet. We really don’t know what our bodies need until we listen to what they are telling us.
Start where you are
Basically, the first steps to reducing insulin resistance is to reduce the overall dietary excess, and eat better quality foods. You can decide your own food rules, or follow a prescribed diet; but be sure to be flexible and listen to whether that is working or you or not. You may have to make changes along the way to find out what does work best for you. Remember, you are eating food, not fat, carbs and protein. Look at the quality of the food, eat only when you are hungry, and stop before you get completely full. Drastic changes are good for some people, but are hard to do. Making logical changes from what you are doing now is likely easier to maintain over a long time. It’s the long term we are looking for.
One more thought: what are you eating for breakfast? It’s said that what we have for breakfast sets us up for the day, whether on a good path or a bad path. My suggestion would be to figure out how to get vegetables into your breakfast. My favorite lately has been vegetable soup for breakfast. Now that it is warming up, I am moving toward steamed greens and sweet potato. It’s a great way to start the day!
If you need help incorporating healthy foods into your daily diet, or are confused what food rules you should choose, feel free to contact me for a free consultation. Just go to my Contact Me page and send me a message!