Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why Low Carb part 2 - Insulin

So last time I promised everyone a layman’s explanation of Insulin and how it affects our bodies.

I’ll start with the basics. Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas. It’s basic job is to move sugar from our blood to our cells where it can be used for energy. If the cells have all the sugar they can use and there is still some left over, insulin then causes this excess sugar to be stored as fat. Too much sugar in your blood is very bad for your body.

In Type One diabetics, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to remove all the sugar from your blood. In Type Two diabetics the pancreas continues to make insulin, but the cells have stopped responding to it. When this happens the kidneys have to work overtime to filter the sugar out of your blood, and chronic high blood sugar is what leads to all sorts of problems that Diabetics suffer from (numbness, blindness, etc).

Insulin also stops your body from burning fat, because it tells your fat cells that there is already enough sugar for your energy needs. When Insulin is not present your body then turns to burning stored fat for energy. So it makes sense that if you want to lose fat, that you should try to keep your insulin levels under control.

What happens when you eat a high carbohydrate (sugar) meal? Within minutes of consuming a high carb food your blood sugar spikes. Your body panics because too much sugar is very damaging to your body and releases massive amounts of insulin. The Insulin takes all the sugar out of your blood as quickly as possible, giving what it can to your cells and storing the rest as fat. Too much insulin takes out too much sugar and then because your blood sugar is too low, you start to crave sweets. This becomes a viscous cycle causing your body to store fat and preventing it from burning fat. It’s also what creates the high that so many food addicts crave and the subsequent crash that inevitably follows a binge.

So how do we make sure that we keep our insulin levels low so we can lose weight? One way is to restrict how many calories and fat we consume. On a low calorie, low fat diet when insulin is released there is very little fat to store so your body is forced to release some of it’s stored fat to survive. If you increase your body’s energy needs through vigorous exercise it increases this effect. This causes you to lose weight and is the recommended method of most doctors. The problem, as so many of us know first hand, is that because you are eating a lot of carbs and your blood sugar isn’t stable, you feel hungry shortly after eating. You have to exercise extreme amounts of will power to overcome your body’s signal to eat. You become grouchy and irritable and when you can no longer resist, you over-indulge.

When you eat a low carb diet, you are not causing your blood sugar to rise. Your body releases very little insulin, and burns the fat for fuel. If your body needs more energy than is available in the food you ate, it is able to easily release it from stored fat tissue. You don’t have cravings or feel sluggish because your blood sugar levels are finally steady, instead of spiking up and down. Protein and Fat are very satisfying and you don’t tend to over indulge like you would with carbs. Think back to when you over eat. It’s likely that you over indulged with chips and cake and ice cream and pasta, etc. Another benefit is because you are getting adequate amounts of protein, you won’t lose muscle like you do with more traditional diets.

I can’t stand being hungry. I hate it. I have very little self control when I get that way. That’s why I love the low carb diet. I can lose weight without feeling like I’m starving myself.

I cheated this weekend a bit because it was my son’s 2nd birthday so I had a pieces of cake and some pizza. I felt sick for days afterwards. It was a huge wake-up call and a reminder that Sugar is poison. Are bodies are not designed to eat this way. Low carb is by far the more natural way to eat.

Think about it this way, if civilization came to an end tomorrow and you were forced to flee into the mountains and live off the land, what would you eat? You would have mostly meat that you were able to hunt or trap and vegetables that you were able to grow or gather. When it was in season, if you were lucky enough to find some, you might be able to have a piece or two of fruit. You wouldn’t be eating grains much. If you want sugar you would have to brave a beehive for some fresh honey. The high carbohydrate foods that have become a staple of our western diet would be a luxury item rarely consumed.

For thousands and thousands of years our bodies evolved to perform on this type of low carb diet. It is only in the most recent part of our evolutionary history that sugar and flour have been so available and inexpensive. That’s why I am always saying that the low carb lifestyle makes sense to me, it's natural for us to eat this way!

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