Insulin and Carbohydrates

Lately there seems to be more media attention paid to the ever-present evidence that consuming too much sugar (and too many carbohydrates in general) is the real culprit when it comes to heart disease and many degenerative problems that negatively effect our health for the long-run. Starches and grains (especially, but not limited to, the kinds you find in refined and processed products), fructose, sucrose (table sugar), all raise our blood sugar and/or insulin levels, some more quickly than others;some with more immediately dire effectsEating a diet that is high in starches and sugars is unhealthy for just about anyone, but especially dangerous for diabetics of both types. I have been told a few times that it is rare for type 1 diabetics to become insulin resistant, however, I have discovered that this is just not true. With diabetics, just as with anyone else, the more carbohydrates you eat, the more insulin you need. Research shows that anyone can become insulin resistant, and that there are increasing numbers of Type 1s becoming so, especially, disturbingly, more and more children. Unhealthily elevated levels of insulin, whether it comes from one’s own pancreas or is injected, is a major contributor to insulin resistance, obesity, cancer, heart disease. The list goes on. Insulin is a large part of what ages us.

The primary, evolutionary, role of insulin is to enable us to store excess nutrients as fat. As our ancestors passed through times of famine, insulin was released to take any excess energy (sugar) and store it as fat, to shore up the body against the hard times that were always ahead. In this day and age, in western countries especially, in which we live in a state far from what our ancestors would have considered “famine;”in which for many people a day’s exercise consists of walking from a desk to a water-cooler (or worse–a soda machine!), there is an epidemic of insulin resistance building.
Our cells become insulin resistant because they lower their receptor activity and number of receptors to protect themselves from the toxic effects of high levels of insulin.
There are studies that show that heart attacks are 2 to 3 times more likely to happen after a high-carbohydrate meal than after a high-fat meal. The immediate effect of a high-carb meal is a rise in blood sugar, and subsequently a rise in insulin, whether produced by the pancreas or injected. Insulin also increases cellular proliferation, and recent studies are showing a strong correlation between high levels of insulin and certain cancers.
So, it seems a bit of a no-brainer that we would all, diabetic or otherwise, want to keep our insulin levels low. How do you do that? Keep carbohydrate consumption low, limited to the healthy carbs (high amounts of low-glycemic vegetables including sea vegetables, moderate amounts of nuts, and small-to-moderate amounts of low-glycemic fruits) that bring with them a load of nutritional benefits. 

All carbohydrates become sugar in the blood. This is part of how our bodies keep going. However, carbs do break down at different rates. Non-starchy vegetables break down slowly, with minimal impact on insulin/sugar levels. Grains and starchy vegetables, higher on the glycemic index quickly break down, causing rapid rises in insulin, sugar and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). There is a lot of debate about whether it is actually healthier for us to burn fat for energy, rather than carbohydrates, or at least a much larger percentage of fat than the USDA recommendations would have us eating. It seems that in general we are actually much better adapted, genetically, to converting fat to glucose, rather than ingested carbohydrates (unless we are hardcore athletes in constant training, and therefore in constant need of quick glucose). It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are various genetic factors that come into play in how we metabolize what we eat:some people are obviously able to metabolize carbohydrates more quickly and efficiently than others, but epigenetic factors also represent a part in our individual response mechanisms. The bottom line is that we all use insulin, and insulin’s longterm effects not only contribute to the plethora of complications from which diabetics can suffer, they also contribute in myriad ways to many aging-related problems for the rest of us.



2 thoughts on “Insulin and Carbohydrates

    • Hi Clare, thanks for checking out my blog, and for the link. I know, I have done lots of research on all of this stuff, but don’t have the time to put it all on here. I’ve discovered that mostly what other parents of T1DM kids want is recipes, food ideas, etc. I will bit by bit be adding links, and the extensive list of books I’ve read on the various aspects of diabetic nutrition. Also, my publisher doesn’t want me putting all of the info on the blog, so, I’m keeping it pretty general for now, getting up recipes as much as I can.
      I love your blog–just checked it out! Keep up the good fight, keep spreading the word! It’s unbelievable the misinformation given to diabetics (and the rest of us!) by the corporate-backed “nutritionists.” Again, thanks for the link–I’m going to add it to my blogroll.

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