Insulin Index is the Way to Understand Weight Loss and Diabetes Control

November 09, 2015

The Insulin Index: The Best Way to Manage Diabetes and Weight Loss 

Published: Nov 9th 2015 

 Reference:   AJCN Miller, AJCN Holt and Miller,   Diabetes Blog

 What’s the Insulin Index? It’s the measure of how much your insulin goes up in response to a standard dose of any given food when compared to a standard dose of white bread (1000 kjoules worth or about 250 calories.)   We know white bread provides you with very easily digestible carbohydrates and has a “high” glycemic index. 

We want to know how much insulin you secrete in response to foods because that is what really controls diabetes and weight gain/loss. Dr. Miller has developed this idea over the last 20 years and now has over 180 foods posted online. You can easily look up many lists.   The core finding is essentially that the more sugar (which is a pure carbohydrate of two kinds: glucose and fructose) and carbohydrate (which is mostly glucose in very long strings that have to be broken down to simple glucose) foods have, the higher the insulin release. 

The wild card to be put in here is that protein itself becomes insulinogenic when eaten in large quantities.   That is because your liver is quite competent at converting extra amino acids into glucose. You can only use so much protein to build or replace muscle. After that, the building blocks of protein, amino acids, are easily converted into glucose, and that spikes insulin. 

 How does that convert into information you can use?   Well, the highest insulin index foods will be those made from pure glucose.   Hence Jelly Beans (117) and Pancakes (110) will be very high compared to white bread (100).   But so will baked beans (88) and boiled potatoes (88).   That happens because those are foods filled with carbohydrates – imagine a baked potato is nothing more than a bucket of Mardi Gras necklaces in which each bead is a glucose. When you eat food made from those carbohydrates, your body can unzip those strings of carbs very effectively and rapidly, and that leads to the release of insulin. These are also foods that have been altered from their native state, altered by farmers to be larger and more carbohydrate-filled, and finally, cooked in a fashion to make the carbohydrate much more accessible. 

 Now, what is intriguing is that a lot of low-fat dairy ends up being very insulinogenic. Low-fat yogurt, for example, has a glycemic index of 31 but an insulin index of 84.   Skim milk has a glycemic index of 29 but an insulin index of 60. Low fat cottage cheese has a glycemic index of 10 but an insulin index of 52.   Why?   Dairy doesn’t have glucose in it in a pure form but rather in the form of lactose, which takes a while to digest. But the extra protein floods in rapidly. 

 And what is the role of fat? It’s insulin neutral so has little effect. How do I synthesize all this information? I believe our metabolism was shaped by millions of years of eating green plants which have carbs tightly wrapped up in fiber. These got digested in our colons, very slowly.   We still have those foods.   We call them spinach, asparagus, cucumbers, broccoli, eggplant – any green vegetable that grows above ground. 

Civilization has led us to grow and manufacture foods that are richer in carbs than we have ever seen before. They get digested in our small bowels. They used to be seasonal, and available only I the fall, but are now available year-round. They cause a dramatic spike in glucose, which causes a dramatic spike in insulin. During most of human history, that was very beneficial because that led you to store calories in September and October so that you had a calorie reserve for January and February. 

 WWW. What will work for me?   I measure my insulin and glucose and those of my clients and find this to be very true. Many folks, trying to lose weight and control their diabetes, can’t succeed because they are eating too much protein. When you shift them to more fat and more green vegetables, their insulin goes down and you can measure it. They lose weight, their diabetes gets better. They use less insulin if they are taking it as a medication. I’m fascinated how sabotaging dairy is for weight loss. At least low-fat dairy.   In my home, we have the full-fat stuff, or whipping cream.   I suspect the admonition to drink low-fat dairy and eat low-fat yogurt is exactly opposite what we should be doing.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. The insulin index measures how much insulin my body makes in response to different foods. T or F                          Answer:  True
  2. Foods very high in simple glucose like pancakes, have very low insulin indexes. T or Answer:   Exactly false. If you said true, go to jail, go directly to jail and read the article again. Dramatically opposite
  3. Dairy is an insulogenic food. Why?                      Answer: It has low level of pure glucose but a flood of animal protein, which can also set off insulin.
  4. Insulin serves as my storage hormone, saving calories to burn later in the year when the times are leaner. T or F                         Answer:  For the last 65 million years of mammalian history. Changed recently in the last 10,000 years with agriculture and dramatically in the last 100 years with industrial civilization and wealth.
  5. To lose weight, I have to get my insulin level down, so that I stop storing calories.  T or F  Answer:   Exactly.  It’s easier to control my diabetes if I’m not shifting calories in and out of fat cells all the time and just use them slowly as they show up.      Perfect, which is what green plants will do for you as they are digested very, very slowly by the wonderful biome of helpers in your colon that release beta-hydroxybutyrate as they digest the cell walls of complex, green vegetables.