What is insulin and why is it so important?
Insulin is a hormone responsible for controlling your blood sugar levels. When your cells become desensitized to insulin, your cells are unable to take up glucose for use as energy and glucose remains in your bloodstream. These elevated blood glucose levels can wreaking havoc on the body's tissues and lead to a diabetes diagnosis. Improving the ability of your body’s cells to react to insulin is key for remaining healthy and chronic disease free.
Improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood glucose levels go hand-in-hand. Here are three of the most important ways to keep blood sugar in check:
1. Size does matter
Excessive fat tissue, especially abdominal fat, is a primary risk factor for the development of diabetes. Although the exact mechanism(s) responsible for the association between obesity and insulin resistance is still a topic of debate, it is widely accepted that stored fat releases cytokines, which are responsible for local and systemic inflammation in the body and impaired insulin sensitivity.
Studies have found that even a modest weight loss of 5-10% of body weight can improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. Rather than turning to a fad diet or juice cleanse, work on committing to a sustainable eating pattern inclusive of whole, plant-based foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes. While eating Plantable, you can be assured that you are setting your body up for hormonal balance and health.
2. Get moving
Believe it or not, exercise isn’t just about weight loss. Both aerobic and resistance training are essential for reducing chronic disease risk factors, especially related to improved insulin resistance. During exercise, your muscles break down glycogen (stored glucose in the muscle) for energy. After exercise, your muscles replenish their glycogen stores with glucose from your blood, effectively lowering blood sugar levels and improving your body’s response to insulin.
Researchers are still debating which combination of exercise (i.e. moderate vs. vigorous, aerobic vs. resistance) is best at improving insulin resistance. However, studies have shown that a person’s overall activity level (sedentary vs. lightly active, moderately active or vigorously active) throughout the course of a day is what appears to matter most.
So, don’t stress about getting the ‘perfect’ amount of exercise each week. Formal exercise is obviously very beneficial but making an effort to decrease time spent sedentary can have a lot of benefits too. Even if weight loss isn't a result, movement can still have a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels. Walking to work, taking the stairs or taking a walk around the block on your lunch break all count towards your daily movement.
3. Increase soluble fiber intake
Soluble fiber reduces increases in blood glucose levels following a carbohydrate-rich meal by slowing the rate of absorption of nutrients. Good sources of soluble fiber include fruit, oats, legumes, barley and flaxseeds. Aim to get 25 grams of total fiber (includes soluble and insoluble) per day if you are female and 38 grams of fiber per day if you are male. Ideally, this fiber should come from whole foods versus fiber supplements or 'fiber-packed' processed foods.