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Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome

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January 6, 2016 | Published by


fast food cheeseburgerWe have always been told that carbohydrates are the good guys of nutrition and that, if we eat large amounts of them, the world should be a better place. In such a world, the experts tell us there will be no heart disease and no obesity.

The truth is, overeating high-carb foods can prevent a higher percentage of fats from being used for energy, thus leading to a decrease in endurance and an increase in fat storage. Have you noticed the abundance of advertisements for low-fat foods? These foods are laden with carbs, and too much of them can push you into “metabolic syndrome.”

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome (also known as Syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome) is a combination of disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It affects a great number of people, and prevalence increases with age. Some studies estimate that 25% of the U.S. population is affected.

Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

  • Fasting hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
  • Diabetes mellitus type 2 or impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance, or insulin resistance
  • High blood pressure
  • Central obesity (also known as visceral, male-pattern or apple-shaped adiposity), overweight with fat deposits mainly around the waist
  • Decreased HDL cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides

Read more on signs, symptoms and tips for metabolic syndrome

Does Eating Fat Make You Fat?

Your body’s response to excess carbohydrates in your diet is what makes you fat. Your body has a limited capacity to store excess carbohydrates, but it can easily convert those excess carbohydrates into body fat. It’s hard to lose weight by simply restricting calories. Low-calorie, high-carbohydrate diets generate a series of biochemical signals in your body that will take you out of the balance, making it more difficult to access stored body fat for energy. Result: you’ll reach a weight-loss plateau, beyond which you simply can’t lose any more weight.

We all need a certain amount of carbohydrates in our diet. The body requires a continual intake of carbohydrates to feed the brain, which uses glucose (a form of sugar) as its primary energy source. The brain is a glutton for glucose, gobbling more than two thirds of the circulating carbohydrates in the bloodstream while you are at rest. To feed this need, the body continually takes carbohydrates and converts them to glucose.

What’s Glycogen Got to Do With It?

belly fat by Flickr user Craig SunterAny carbohydrates not immediately used by the body will be stored in the form of glycogen (a long string of glucose molecules linked together). The body has two storage sites for glycogen: the liver and the muscles. The glycogen stored in the muscles is inaccessible to the brain. Only the glycogen stored in the liver can be broken down and sent back to the bloodstream to maintain adequate blood sugar levels for proper brain function.

The liver’s capacity to store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen is very limited and can be easily depleted within 10-12 hours. Thus, the liver’s glycogen reserves must be maintained on a continual basis. That is why we need carbohydrates.

If you’re an average person, you can store about 300-400 grams of carbohydrate in your muscles. In the liver, where carbohydrates are accessible for glucose conversion, you can store only about 60-90 grams. This is equivalent to about two cups of cooked pasta, and it represents your total reserve capacity to keep the brain working properly.

Once the glycogen levels are filled in both the liver and the muscles, excess carbohydrates have just one fate: to be converted into fat and stored in the adipose (fatty tissue). In a nutshell, even though carbs themselves are fat-free, excess carbohydrates end up as excess fat. Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates will generate a rapid rise in blood sugar. To adjust for this rapid rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream, which lowers the levels of blood glucose.

The problem is that insulin is essentially a storage hormone, evolved to put aside excess carbohydrate calories in the form of fat in case of future famine. The insulin that’s stimulated by excess carbohydrates aggressively promotes the accumulation of body fat. In other words, when we eat too much carbohydrate, we’re essentially sending a message via insulin to the body that says, “Store my fat.”

Not only do increased insulin levels tell the body to store carbohydrates as fat, they also tell it not to release any stored fat. This makes it impossible for you to use your own stored body fat for energy. The excess carbohydrates in your diet not only make you fat, they make sure you stay fat. It’s a double whammy, and it can be lethal.

Diets high in refined sugars release more insulin, thereby allowing less stored fat to be burned. High insulin levels also suppress two important hormones: glucagon and growth hormone. Glucagon promotes the burning of fat and sugar. Growth hormone is used for muscle development and building new muscle mass.

Insulin also causes hunger. As blood sugar increases following a carbohydrate meal, insulin rises with the eventual result of lower blood sugar. This results in hunger, often only a couple of hours (or less) after the meal.

Cravings, usually for sweets, are frequently part of this cycle, leading you to resort to snacking, often on more carbohydrates. Not eating makes you feel ravenous, shaky, moody and ready to “crash.” If the problem is chronic, you never get rid of that extra stored fat, and your energy is adversely affected.

Tips for Better Insulin Management

The best suggestion for anyone wanting to utilize more fats is to moderate the insulin response by limiting (or eliminating) the intake of refined sugars, and keeping all other carbohydrate intake to about 40% of the diet. Generally, non-carbohydrate foods do not produce much insulin.

Insulin responses can vary greatly from person to person, though more refined foods tend to evoke a stronger and/or more rapid insulin reaction. One reason for this is refined carbohydrates lack the natural fiber which helps minimize the carbohydrate/insulin response.

Consumption of natural fiber with carbohydrates can reduce the extreme blood sugar reactions described above. Low-fat diets cause quicker digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in the form of sugar. By adding some fats to the diet, digestion and absorption is slower, and the insulin reaction is moderated.

Recommendations for better insulin management include long-term restriction of carbohydrates and an increase in dietary fats. For some people, it means lowering carbohydrate intake to below 40% of their total diet, sometimes even as low as 20%. By moderating carbohydrate intake you can increase your fat burning as an optimal and efficient source of almost unlimited energy.

Sound Rules to Balance Your Blood Sugar

  1. Protein

Know how much protein your body needs. Never consume more or less protein than your body requires. Generally, adult protein requirements range from a low of 35 grams per day for a sedentary obese individual to as much as 200 grams per day for a lean active athlete.

You should have protein at every meal and the total per day should equal your daily requirement. For every 3 grams of protein at a meal you need to have 4 grams of carbohydrate and 1.5 grams of fat. You can multiply protein by 1.25 to obtain the amount of carbohydrate and by 0.5 to obtain the amount of fat. This is a rough estimate and you should not become overwhelmed trying to get this absolutely precise.

  1. Carbohydrate

If you find yourself hungry and craving sugar or sweets 2-3 hours after a meal, you probably consumed too many carbohydrates that last meal. Whenever you have a problem with hunger or carbohydrate cravings, look to your last meal for a clue to the reason why.

No matter how consistently you follow this dietary strategy, you are bound to make mistakes. This is especially true at parties or when traveling. Remember, if you’re only unbalanced for a short period of time, you’re only one meal away from rebalancing. It’s like falling off a bike – you just get back up and continue your journey.

  1. Fat

Choose your fats carefully, and avoid hydrogenated oils (like canola oil) where possible. Good quality sunflower oil is a good choice. Most people can tolerate olive oil as their oil of choice. It is best purchased in small glass bottles. Fish is a good source of EPA, which is beneficial fat that can help balance out your hormone levels and decrease inflammation.

  1. Water

Try to drink plenty of water per day. If you are a heavy caffeine user, gradually reduce caffeine intake to zero whenever possible, as the breakdown products of caffeine will tend to increase insulin levelsGood Sugar.

  1. Exercise

Try to get 30 to 60 minutes of walking in 4-5 days a week if the weather permits. If you are seriously debilitated, you will have to wait until your health improves.

  1. Nutritional supplementation

An excellent choice is Dr. Wilson’s Good Sugar®, a unique dietary supplement designed to promote healthy sugar metabolism optimal blood sugar balance. Good Sugar is a sugar-free dietary supplement containing nutrients and plant extracts that support the body’s ability to properly metabolize sugars and maintain blood sugar levels within the normal “good sugar” range. It also provides crucial but often deficient nutrients needed for optimal sugar metabolism, and delivers powerful antioxidants that can help prevent oxidative damage.

dr eric bakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com


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