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What is insulin and why is it important?

By Darren O'Toole | In Health, Nutrition | on February 16, 2017

For those looking to lose weight from a position of being overweight or obese, the term ‘insulin’ and variations such as ‘insulin sensitivity’ and ‘insulin resistant’ may crop up when discussing why a specific nutritional plan may need to be initiated for your health. But what is insulin and why does it matter?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar from carbohydrates (in the form of glucose) that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycaemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia).

To take sugar from the bloodstream and into the muscle cells or the liver cells, insulin needs to act as a transporter because sugar cannot go directly to these locations. Once you eat, and your blood sugar rises, insulin attaches to and signals cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream.

Insulin sensitivity

To help to efficiently burn fat, one of the key things that we need to do is to increase our insulin sensitivity. Simply put, insulin helps us to move the food we eat into the muscle and to be stored as glycogen. If we overeat, the remainder of this food is stored as fat (we only have so much space in our muscles for glycogen).

However, if our insulin sensitivity is poor (insulin resistant), which it often is in obese people, then we need to release loads more insulin to do the same job. The result is – more of what we eat gets stored as fat. If we are insulin resistant, we’ll find it hard to:

  • Shift fat
  • Build muscle
  • Sleep
  • Recover from training

More seriously, ultimately diabetes may result. To solve this, we can do 3 key things:

1. Cut the carbs

Not completely, but very low. We still need to challenge insulin to do its job (which removing carbs will stop) but we don’t want to over-strain this inefficient system. A maximum of approximately 50-75g per day should help to reboot your system.

2. Green tea before meals

This helps to boost insulin sensitivity. Have a cup 20 minutes before your meals and it’ll start to send your food into where we want it to go (muscles as glycogen) and not where we are trying to shift it from (fat stores).

3. Farewell fructose

Fructose (found in sports drinks, fruit juices and fruits) is known for its insulin-resistant properties. Now, this does mean seriously limiting your fruit intake with a focus on ones such as berries and nectarines.

For more nutritional information, including a selection of high protein, low carb breakfast recipes, download the FREE ‘Nutrition in a Nutshell’ eBook!

Free nutrition eBook

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