The Insulin Trap

December 01, 2014

The Insulin Trap 

 Reference: Lustig, Fat Chance 

 What is the insulin trap?   It’s what most of us are in when we eat food in modern civilization, and it’s what keeps us fat. Let’s start with some simple physiology. First, what is insulin? Insulin is primarily your survival and storage hormone, not your blood sugar controlling hormone. It is released in response to the “relatively” rapid rise in blood glucose that comes in response to eating high glycemic foods. Throughout most of human history, insulin would be released during periods of high glucose intake, in other words, in fall – just before winter when fruits and gourds and grains were ripe. At that time, we gorged, knowing winter was coming. 

Insulin was the key hormone adapted to help us store extra calories. It turns on the production of fat in your liver and tells your fat cells to go into import mode. Second, how long does insulin last? Aha! That’s the key question. Insulin lasts for some 6-8 hours. Blood glucose rises for as long as it takes to process the glucose you have ingested. In modern civilization, we have white flour and sugar (otherwise known as scones, cookies, cake, donuts, bakery,) that is rapidly digested resulting in virtually immediate glucose blood rise. With that sort of rising, you get a rapid spike in insulin. 

Third: what happens next? This is the trap. Your blood sugar rises, and falls rapidly. The glucose is gone in 3 hours, but your insulin lasts for 8 hours. For 5 hours you have your blood glucose being depleted below what you feel good with, and your brain feels like it is starving. You become hypoglycemic and must eat more food, quickly to prevent feeling so bad. Those extra calories, in effect, go into fat because you didn’t have them for energy and your glycogen storage "tank" of 1500 calories is already topped off.   

But you ate them as a response to the blood glucose drop. Therein lies the trap. It’s the hormonal response that forces you to eat more calories than you needed.   You tricked your body to go into storage mode by eating foods that released more glucose than we were designed to experience throughout most of human history. That gives us a clue. How we were designed? We were designed to eat very low glycemic foods with lots of fiber. Think pumpkins, cucumbers, broccoli, spinach, wild berries, crab apples, dandelions, grass seed….. 

  Dandelions? Grass seed???   Yes, those were what we ate prior to 10,000 years ago. We have improved “dandelions” into carrots, grass seed into wheat (into bread and flour), crab apples into Golden Delicious – and on and on. We have changed our foods into high sugar foods because that makes them taste better.   By so doing, we have shifted the means by which we digested them. In our prior history, we digested foods in our colon where the resident bacteria released glucose very slowly – so slowly, we hardly used insulin at all.  Or, as in the case of green vegetables, by making beta-hydroxybutyrate slowly in our colons.  That slow release of glucose would last for hours – more like the 8 hours of time that our insulin lasts. 

 But wait, the insulin trap is even more devious and pernicious. As fat cells get larger (aka, you get fat), they become insulin resistant. To get the same response of glucose control, our fat cells need higher and higher levels of insulin, all the time. High blood sugar is dangerous and our body must protect against that as best it can. Once you are overweight, your insulin is then high all the time, forcing you to be in storage mode continuously. You must eat a razor-thin margin of food, at the precise intervals of need in order not to gain weight. 

But you can’t lose any. There you have it. The insulin trap. Our modern food has such concentrated carbohydrate content, we are stuck in it all the time. And carbs taste good. How can I escape the trap? Easy. Lower your glycemic index of food: eat vegetables that are not root-based or fruiting-body-based. Go for leaves and stems (spinach, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus). Don’t eat fruits that are higher in sugar: bananas, pineapples, watermelons. Eat more fat. Fat is insulin neutral. It makes you feel full. 

 WWW. What will work for me? In my mind I’m thinking this before every meal. Bread says to me, “You will be hungry again in 3 hours if you eat me!” so I try not to. Thanksgiving has been tough.   I had tons of turkey. Unfortunately, tons of everything else, too. Well, winter is coming. Time to eat like it’s winter.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. The insulin trap is the effect carbs have on us when we eat processed, high carbohydrate foods.   T or F              Answer:  True. You got it
  1. The nitty gritty is that when I eat freely available carbs now, I have to eat more later because I feel crummy. That’s the trap. T or F                     Answer:  Couldn’t have said it better myself
  1. You get fat because you eat too much. T or F                  Answer:  True but backwards. You ate too much because your ate the wrong foods first, and ate more later.
  1. The only way to escape the insulin trap is to get out of it. T or F                   Answer: True. You have to stop eating those carbs
  1. I can lose weight by eating fat. T or F                        Answer:  So true, you might almost say that the ONLY way to lose fat is to eat it.