What is insulin resistance?
More people than ever before are at risk of diabetes, but there is also now much more understanding that you can mitigate the risk of diabetes through diet. Insulin resistance is also known as 'pre-diabetes', the period before developing full diabetes, so it is a vital phase to manage through your diet to try to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Our nutritionists explain the symptoms of 'insulin resistance' and how to manage them through your diet.
What is insulin?
'Insulin' is a hormone produced by cells in the pancreas called the 'beta islet cells' and is important for a number functions in your body, the most important being its role in energy production. Insulin takes the glucose in your blood into your body's cells where the glucose is used for your energy production.
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Insulin also enters our brain through the ‘blood brain barrier’ - this is a barrier that protects your brain and limits what can enter it. Insulin is allowed into your brain because it carries serotonin, which is produced in the gut and serotonin is your 'happy hormone', responsible for balanced moods and your daily motivation. So insulin plays a vital role in your energy, mood and motivation.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is where your body's cells become resistant to the insulin produced by your pancreas, and is usually caused because insulin has been produced at a too high level over a long period of time. The body's cells stop accepting so much insulin, which means your blood glucose isn't used for energy production, leaving higher levels of glucose levels in the blood. The pancreas then tries to correct the high blood glucose levels by producing more insulin, which over time can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
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9 symptoms of insulin resistance
There are a number of symptoms of insulin resistance, however it's important to note that some people will not experience any symptoms and will need to rely on blood tests to diagnose it.
1. Feeling hungry even after eating a meal
Feeling hungry all of the time, even after a meal, may indicate that your body's cells are not getting the glucose they need. Furthermore, eating all of the time due to hunger can worsen insulin resistance.
2. Urinating frequently
As blood glucose levels rise, the body attempts to excrete some of it though the kidneys. This causes a higher volume of urine to be made, and an excessive need to urinate. You may also enjoy our nutritionists article 'What colour should your urine be'.
3. Excessive thirst
As the kidneys produce more urine to excrete the excess blood glucose, you will need to drink more water to compensate for the loss.
4. Feeling unusually tired
This can be an indication that your body's cells are not getting the glucose they need to produce energy. Also read 'How to beat chronic fatigue'.
Due to the role of insulin in taking serotonin into your brain cells, if the brain cells are resistant to insulin, they will have trouble accepting serotonin which is your happy hormone and important for your mood and motivation.
Your diet really can improve your mood - discover '5 best foods to improve your mood'.
6. High blood triglyceride levels
Triglycerides are the fats in our blood and responsible for energy and good health. High blood glucose levels come hand in hand with high blood triglyceride levels, and too much triglycerides in your blood, it can raise the risk of heart disease.
The higher your BMI, the more likely you are to have insulin resistance. A higher BMI is an indication of long-term blood sugar imbalance, where excess blood sugar is stored in the liver and the fat cells around the abdomen.
8. High blood pressure
High blood pressure can be an indicator of insulin resistance. This is because the kidneys help to control blood pressure, and higher levels of insulin in the blood can increase the retention of salt which can also increase blood pressure.
9. Skin tags and skin discolouration
With higher insulin levels in the blood, there is an increase in a hormone called 'insulin-like growth factor', which triggers the growth of skin tags, and dark, velvety patches of skin, especially in the armpits, neck and groin. Learn about the 'Best foods and vitamins for glowing skin'.
Best diet for insulin resistance
You can help reduce the risks of insulin resistance through your diet and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods with a balance of protein and complex carbohydrates.
Consume protein with complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates, for example whole grains and vegetables, provide slow releasing sugars. Eating protein alongside the complex carbohydrates slows down the release of sugars from the carbohydrates even further. This combination limits the spike of blood sugar and is easier for the body to manage.
Avoid refined figures, white and refined foods
Refined sugars and sugar added to food and drinks cause a spike in blood sugar which contributes towards insulin resistance. Refined sugars include case sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener or syrup, concentrated fruit juice, and anything ending in '-ose' including sucrose, fructose and dextrose.
Also read '7 ingredients in supplements to avoid'.
White and refined foods such as white bread, white rice and some pastas can cause a spike in blood sugar levels which in the long term can contribute towards insulin resistance and diabetes.
Lower you calorie intake
A high-calorie diet can increase the likelihood of you developing insulin resistance.
A wholefood, plant-based diet is one of the best diets for reversing insulin resistance. Not all plant-based diets are healthy however, so make sure that you choose a plant-based diet based on whole and unprocessed foods. Multiple research papers have shown a positive association with a low-fat plant-based diet and insulin resistance and sensitivity.
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