Insulin Resistance – 5 ways to better your blood sugar
Insulin resistance is one of the most neglected health targets that we could easily screen for in our healthcare system as a way to practice preventative medicine. It is an opportunity for us to flag blood sugar dysregulation and improve our metabolic heath before it translates into long term disease risk. Insulin resistance is not alone a key predictor of baseline metabolic health, but it is also something we screen for when assessing hormonal patients. In fact, insulin resistance is a huge success limiting step in addressing the underlying cause of a lot of hormonal disruption in people with PCOS, acne, weight management issues, irregular periods, excessive hair growth, and poor energy. This is the key that puts people at risk for long term health outcomes, and is often overlooked.
Insulin is produced by your pancreas and is released in response to your blood sugar rising. When we eat, our body breaks down our food and metabolizes it into glucose, which needs a signal to be transported into our cells to make energy and fuel. The way I explain insulin resistance, is how loud does your body have to yell to give your cells energy? I explain to patients that insulin “talks” to the cell to let glucose in for energy production. The more the cell doesn’t listen, the louder the insulin has to shout at the cell. So your blood sugar may be “fine”, but you still had to yell.
Insulin in your blood makes you tired and have low energy. This causes downstream cardiometabolic and hormonal disruptions. It is so important to highlight that weight gain and obesity is not the patient’s fault…their metabolic state predisposes them to more weight, low energy, and hormonal dysfunction. If there’s a family history of metabolic disruption, that patient is even more at risk. As a preventative measure, when someone presents with symptoms that indicate blood sugar dysregulation, we can test fasting glucose and fasting insulin on bloodwork which can provide us with some insight on where that patient falls on the spectrum of insulin sensitivity and resistance. This provides an opportunity to be preventative, where we can flag this prior to the patient becoming diabetic and implement the necessary diet, lifestyle, and supplemental changes.
In general, insulin resistance can be greatly influenced by our diet and lifestyle. Sustainable changes to regulate your blood sugar don’t have to be complicated. Here are 5 things that you can implement to help to regulate your blood sugar today:
1. Eat breakfast & eat regularly throughout the day – When we skip breakfast and end up fasting for a long period of time, we end up in a lower blood sugar state in the morning, and then when we do end up eating later on in the day, our insulin response to our meal is exaggerated. This meal should be high in protein to kick start our metabolism and regulate our blood sugar early on in the day, and eaten within 2 hours of waking up. Try to avoid skipping meals to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels as stable as possible. Skipping meals puts us more at risk of having those blood sugar spikes.
2. Eat a source of protein at each meal – protein helps to stabilize our blood glucose/blood sugar levels, meaning we will have less of an insulin response to food. Protein can come from plant or animal sources. We ae largely under fuelling on protein as a collective. The required daily intake for survival is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If someone is physically active or vegetarian, their required intake can then range anywhere from 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. When we under fuel, your blood sugar dysregulation than promotes cravings for foods that are quicker to metabolize and give you fuel (such as carbohydrates) and this spike in our blood sugar will not keep us energized and satiated for a long period of time. It’s always best to consult with your healthcare practitioner regarding what your protein intake should be depending on your health and movement pattern, and familiarize yourself with different sources to ensure we are getting around 30-40 grams of protein in each meal.
3. Increase the amount of fibre you are consuming – fibre also helps to stabilize our blood sugar levels and blunts our insulin response from food. Fibre is abundant in fruits and vegetables, nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts), seeds (e.g. chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds), legumes, lentils, beans, peas, oats, and other whole grains. A solid goal for fibre consumption can range from 25-30 grams per day. This can also help to promote healthy bowel movements and digestive function.
4. Stress management & physical activity – again, not an easy thing to just flip a switch on, but thinking about the areas of your life that are contributing to stress, and coming up with a plan on what strategies will work best for you to help improve how you are managing your stress (e.g. meditation, physical activity, therapy, breathing exercises, journaling, etc.) Stress in our life causes increased cortisol production which can directly influence our insulin functioning. For physical activity – any movement you can do to move your body more is going to help improve your insulin resistance. Specifically, walking, strength training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) have been shown
specifically to support insulin resistance. If you can walk after a meal for 10-20 minutes, that’s an amazing way to reduce some of the glucose in your body (since you’re using it for your walk), and improve your insulin signalling. It’s a really great idea to make a goal that you feel is achievable and sustainable for your lifestyle. For example, committing to a physical activity goal of at least 20 minutes daily of some specific and intentional movement is a great place to start.
5. Reduce alcohol, smoking, intake of processed and refined foods and artificial sweeteners. Alcohol can increase our blood glucose levels, causing a spike in insulin production. Processed and refined foods like cookies, cereals, crackers, candy, chips, bars (anything in a package) typically contain added sugars and chemicals that increase blood sugar levels and insulin response. We are only human, so being mindful of these food choices and having everything in moderation will support a positive relationship with food, healthy balance and a sustainable way of eating.
This is a very general list and recommendations can be catered toward your specific needs and health goals if you work alongside a healthcare practitioner. It’s also really important to follow up on progress objectively with blood sugar markers to see what changes have had positive influences, and if any other interventions are necessary.
Health doesn’t have to be complicated, and small, sustainable changes can add up to have a large benefit in the present and long term. If we have an opportunity to positively influence your metabolic and hormonal health now and in the future, why wait?
This article is intended for informational purposes and does not replace medical advice. To see if these treatments would be right for you speak with you health care provider or book in for a free discovery call.